Motorcyclists get a bad rap from the car-driving public a lot of the time. Especially here in Canada where we only ride four months a year and cars are just not used to having us in their midst.
Motorcycling is baffling to most people already, what with the exposed body and high speeds and the danger and the injury rate and all.
That makes some of the things we do seem even more bizarre to drivers, who don’t always understand that there is a lot of method to our madness.
So I often hear questions like, “Yeah, but why do bikers do this?!” from my friends and family. Well, here’s why:
Why do motorcyclists move around in their lane?
This one regularly perplexes my non-rider friends. Why is that guy on the bike shifting wheel tracks and moving around in his lane? There are multiple reasons, but two main ones.
The first? Vision.
That rider is making sure he or she fills as much of your vision as they possibly can. They’re actively looking for your face in the mirror, so they can tell you can see them.
The other reason is lane protection, especially in merging situations. If I’m riding in the right-hand lane but know traffic is diving into this lane so they can exit, I will sit in the left side of the lane. This means I’m visible to all the cars who are slashing across last-minute to get to their ramp. If I’m in the right-side wheel track, I’m obstructed by the car behind me; Reckless Kelly comes flying up, assumes there’s a car-size gap between those cars and – BOOM – drives into the side of me and I die.
On some transfers I need to move from the left to the right to make sure I’m making myself visible to both sides as people might be trying to get on to the highway from my right or off it from my left. I’m not just mucking about weaving for fun – I’m riding defensively.
Why don’t motorcycle riders ride in the centre of their lane?
The centre of most lanes on most roads is a no-man’s land for bikers. It’s where the oil, fuel and coolant from all the cars, trucks and buses drops and congeals. It’s slippery, and dangerous. The wheel tracks offer much more grip.
Why don’t motorcycle riders stop directly behind me?
You’ve probably noticed that bikers often stop just to the outside of your rear quarter panel at traffic lights. It might look like they’re about to filter (we’ll get to filtering later) but they don’t move. Why? The motorcyclist has set up an escape path for themselves. Bikers are rear-ended far more often than car drivers: this allows us to watch our mirrors and get out of the way.
Why do motorcycle riders rev their engine at stop lights?
Boredom. Mostly. Or because they like the noise it makes. Or to get attention. But mostly boredom. Or as I found out during my test of the 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster – to stop my teeth rattling with the engine vibration at idle.
Why do motorcycle riders lane-filter/lane-split?
Well, first of all, lane filtering is illegal in Canada and riders shouldn’t do it. Personally, I believe lane splitting or filtering should be legalized but for now it is not legal and I don’t recommend it. Some people think this law is wrong and so enact civil disobedience – they filter anyway.
The reasons for this are many. It is proven safer (which is why it is now legal in California and some states in Australia), it is more convenient and it is faster. It also helps traffic. Counter-intuitively, a motorcyclist is less likely to be sideswiped while filtering than not filtering – mostly because drivers are more attentive of their lane position when next to other cars. They’re also less likely to be hit because they get out of the flow of traffic and ahead at each stop light.
So riders do this for safety reasons, and personal reasons, but it is illegal.
Why do motorcycle riders accelerate so fast from traffic lights?
Because we can. Seriously, it’s fun; and if you back off before the speed limit it’s still legal.
Also, to get away from you. The faster we clear ourselves away from cars, the safer we are. Accelerating gets us out of the way.
Why do groups of bikers ride staggered?
You’ve probably seen groups of bikes riding around in a zig-zag formation in their lane, one bike in the left wheel track, one in the right and so on down the line. This gives riders lane protection, good visibility, an escape path, and more room to stop/avoid each other in the event of a crash all while taking up less space on the road.
You might also see less experienced riders riding in groups side-by-side and not staggered. There is no reason for this. It’s stupid.
Why do motorbikes make wide right turns?
If you’ve ever seen a rider turning right – especially off a major road onto a side road you might notice they do it from the left wheel track. This is for a few reasons. It opens up the corner visually, making the rider more visible to people on the side road and making possible obstructions on the side road more visible to the rider.
It opens up the corner physically too, a wider arc is smoother and therefore faster. It also avoids the build-up of muck and rubbish frequently found near the curb.
Lastly, it protects the rider’s lane and stops cars grazing by as we’re slowing for a turn. Many a rider has been clipped from behind by an impatient driver while trying to turn onto a side road.
Why do riders close and open the gap to the car in front?
Like moving around in the lane, this behaviour can seem odd to many drivers – but it’s about visibility. Only this time we’re trying to make sure we can be seen clearly by drivers alongside us. By moving back and forth in relationship to them we make sure we’re not sitting in a blind spot.
Why do motorcyclists wave to each other?
This one is about camaraderie. Once you’re a motorcyclist, you rightly feel like you’re in on a big secret. Your fellow riders are your brethren, you guys understand each other. For that moment, you’re pals. In other countries the wave is replaced by a more subtle, and in my opinion much better, nod of the head.
Why do motorbikes always have a headlight out?
This one is not about riding, but more a quirk of motorcycles that many people don’t understand. Many a driver has told me one of my lights is out – it’s not. It used to be that motorbikes with dual headlights had both lit all the time. But at night, two headlights close together resemble a car that’s far away. Drivers would assume they had lots of room, pull out and boom: big crash. After a spate of crashes, manufacturers shifted to one headlight on low beam, to better differentiate closing distances at night.
So motorcyclists actually think about what they’re doing?!
Yes! Shocking, isn’t it. It’s probably because our phones are impossible to get out of our pockets with our gloves on…
Really, there are three main reasons bikers ride the way they do: visibility, lane protection and escape planning. What might seem like irresponsible or bizarre behaviour is just part of a motorcyclist’s toolkit of safe riding techniques.
The more you know….
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