Lane Etiquette

by Thomas Day

Since writing my lane-splitting rant [M.M.M. #50 July 2002], I’ve received a fair number of comments, mostly positive, from bikers who’ve either experienced California’s road rules or would like to. Riding around the cities this past fall, I was often reminded that some of the negative responses ought to be dealt with, if this motorcycling freedom has even the slightest chance of happening. The recurrent complaint I hear is that Minnesota cagers are so incompetent, or unobservant of motorcyclists, that they’ll be squashing us like bugs if we try lane-splitting. Like I said the first time, compared to California drivers you guys think Minnesota drivers are incompetent? You need to get out-state more.

However, compared to California motorcyclists (and the environment where they thrive) Minnesota motorcyclists have a long way to go. It’s certainly not true that California riders are more patient, kind, or well-mannered than Minnesota riders, the problem is that we’re so ill-mannered compared to most Minnesotan drivers. The average southern Californian is about as aware of his/her environment as an ant might be of the EmpireState building. They’re gun-totting, lane-swapping, maneuverability-impaired, coffee-drinking, cell-phone-abusing, SUV-driving oblivion on wheels. They’re used to rude, unpredictable, irrational behavior on the road (and everywhere else). So, rude, unpredictable, irrational bikers are just one more bit of foolishness they have to tolerate (or gun down).

Minnesota, on the other hand, is somewhat nice. Minnesotans mostly expect other people to be reasonably polite and respectful. As we fill up with immigrants from the other 49 states, that tendency is quickly vanishing, but that’s nothing to be proud of. Still, way too many Minnesota motorcyclists don’t fit into a “nice” classification. So, in the interests of furthering my agenda (getting to split lanes in Minnesota) I thought I’d explain some of the rules of safe and polite lane-splitting.

1. You don’t split lanes when the traffic is already traveling at the legal speed limit. That’s greedy and dangerous and stupid. If you have extra testosterone to burn, take it to a race track where real men and women ride fast and take chances.

2. Before sharing the lane with a car, be sure you’ve caught the driver’s attention, at least once, and that the driver has looked you squarely in the face-shield through the objects-are-closer-than-they-appear mirrors. Surprises are for Xmas, birthdays, and I Know What You Ate Last Summer movies.

3. If you end up parked beside a cager, don’t make him sniff your exhaust. Get past quickly or wait till you can, but don’t park your butt next to a window. This is especially true at stop lights and stop signs. I’ve seen many child-like bikers sneak up to a light’s start-gate, planting their exhaust pipe practically in a driver’s-side window. Unless you enjoy getting a look-that-will-kill, don’t play the “I’m an idiot” card this blatantly.

4. If you insist on being a noise irritant, don’t split lanes. Blasting past an open window with a blaring exhaust is intent to do harm and ought to be, at least, an assault-and-battery misdemeanor. Don’t make enemies for the rest of us, and expect us to worry about your “rights.” In fact, if you have to ride a bike that sounds like an unmuffled diesel tractor, stay on the farm, away from multiple-lane roads, away from civilization in general. We’re a tiny percentage of the road-using public and you’ve given the majority good reason to be pissed at all of us. Thank you for your contribution.

5. I found the best time to split a lane is when the cars in the lanes I’m splitting are right next to each other. If the cagers don’t see me, I want to be sure they see each other. You risk getting squashed if that turns out to be a poor assumption, but I think it’s safer than trying to slip through a pre-existing blind spot.

6. Don’t loiter next to moving cars. I try to hold the center position for a few moments, just behind the vehicle(s) I want to pass, to get the attention of the cars with whom I intend to share lanes. When I’m confident they’ve noticed me, I move by them as efficiently and quietly as possible. Driving a car while drinking coffee, carrying on a phone conversation, and trimming nasal hairs is hard enough without having to deal with the kind of precision required to stay in one lane. Don’t press your luck.

7. Except for a wave of thanks when someone yields a bit of space for you to pass through, save the hand gestures (especially finger gestures) for the softball field. Motorcyclists have enough trouble without your making random enemies for the rest of us. If the guy you pissed off can’t catch you and gun you down, he might settle for the next rider he can catch. Besides, most of you who are free with the fickle finger aren’t stable enough to trust with one hand on the bars.

I’m sure that the few squids who stumble on to this magazine will be righteously outraged at my intrusion on their “rights.” Whatever. You guys are going to Darwin yourselves out of the breeding pool soon enough, without my contribution, so enjoy your indignation while you’re still ambulatory and breathing. I don’t have time to worry about your sensitivities; I want to split lanes now. Or at least as soon as the snow leaves the roads.

M.M.M.

 

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