Keep Calm and Ride On

Pity the poor drivers plodding along all around us, stuck in their cages, always in a rush but constricted by their mass and sheer numbers. The added maneuverability of motorcycles gives us a certain amount of extra freedom on the road, even while staying within the bounds of the law. We can stop and accelerate more quickly than most cars, take up less road space and can turn on the proverbial dime. This freedom can lead a rider to become especially impatient when it can’t be flaunted, though, like when riding in crowded cities or on congested highways in our motorcycle travels. With more than 4 million miles of roads to be explored in the United States alone, there’s usually no need to dive in and fight traffic, but sometimes it just can’t be helped. Maybe you commute to the city, or a hotel on your trip is downtown.

It always happens in an instant. You’re riding along the Interstate in the right lane, on the way to work or just on a ride, when some cretin in a car in the lane to your left viciously cuts you off and blasts across the debris-strewn gore point in order to make the exit. Or a distracted driver in front of you is bobbing and weaving in the fast lane, blocking traffic at 10 mph under the speed limit. Perhaps the worst is the driver who disrespects the space in your lane to your bike’s left or right and uses it to change lanes while passing you from behind. Grrrr… (a few motorcyclists are guilty of this maneuver as well).

If you haven’t learned to control it, the adrenalin surge that can immediately follow triggers the body’s “fight or flight” response, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, elevating your glucose levels and redistributing blood from the digestive tract to your muscles. It’s the perfect physiological reaction to a charging bear or a bully’s fist, but to some dummy who dissed you in traffic, not so much. Instead of burning it off vigorously defending yourself or running away, that seething, churning rush causes you to…get…ANGRY.

Uh-oh. Potentially regrettable moment on deck….

What sometimes happens next is the subject of countless local news stories and YouTube videos about “road rage.” Drivers chasing after one another, darting in and out of traffic at dangerous speeds, pounding on hoods, yelling, threatening, even smashing into the other’s vehicle with theirs when no previous contact actually occurred…all because of an inconsiderate or aggressive move in traffic by one that the other considered an unforgiveable affront. Most of us have done it, even if it was just flipping someone the single-digit salute.

There’s really nothing you can say in defense of road rage, either by the provocateur or the provoked, especially when one or both parties is a motorcyclist. We don’t have the advantage of being separated from the scene by tons of metal, plastic and safety glass. If an irate driver threatens you, just keep going, to the nearest police station if necessary. Your helmet and riding apparel are not going to fully protect you from some big guy’s fist or a giant flashlight, and they certainly won’t stop a bullet.

I do recall a few times in the PSM days—Pre-Social Media—when pounding on some moron’s window or yelling at them for being a knob in traffic brought a certain amount of satisfaction, since a motorcycle is the perfect getaway vehicle. Up yours! Bye-bye…. Besides being enormously stupid and dangerous, though, these days outside of our own homes (or quite possibly your bathroom) we are under constant surveillance, not by the NSA or your neighbor’s drone, but by the smartphones that are all around us. The only time you want to make the evening news is for being a hero or winning the lottery, not because a 15-year-old three cars away pointed her pink iPhone at the unhinged motorcyclist screaming at a harried soccer mom. We riders always come off as the bad guys, no matter who was at fault. And I don’t recommend pulling out your smartphone and recording someone else’s road rage unless you’re able to do it covertly—sticking a camera in someone’s red angry face almost always makes it worse.

I hesitate to use this space as a bully pulpit, but here’s what I have learned in 40 years of street riding. First, you’re the only one who can make you angry. It’s harder, tougher and more responsible to do nothing, to just ride on in response to someone’s inconsiderate driving…so be the tough one. Flying off the handle and risking it all—injury, jail, death—to satisfy some primitive urge is childishly easy. Just don’t. If you do, even if nothing seriously bad happens, you will always feel worse later on when the adrenalin has dissipated and you realize how stupid the whole thing was. Have a good yell in the privacy of your helmet if you like, unless it will fog up your face shield.

Keep calm, and ride on.

Road rage is the expression of the amateur sociopath in all of us, cured by running into a professional. –Robert Brault

9 COMMENTS

  1. Discretion is the better part of valor. There are people who let anger overwhelm them, and they act based on that anger. Our prisons are full of such people. If you’re in a rage over something another motorist did, pull over and punch the seat of your bike until you’ve exhausted the anger. It won’t undo what the other motorist did. It won’t change the behavior of other motorists. But it won’t endanger your life. Get the anger out of your system, then live to ride another day.

  2. AMEN ON THAT MR. TUTTLE. ANGER IS NO MANS FRIEND. IT DOESN’T CARE WHO IT KILLS OR HURTS, SOMEONE ELSE, OR YOU.

  3. I’m sorry I don’t agree. Though pounding on someone’s car or breaking their window may not be right and can escalate into something worse, but I bet you the cage will not mess with another biker. That’s a form of education.

    • Yeah, Shell, and when that “biker-educated driver” gets out and fires a few 9mm rounds into you, you can spend your last few seconds contemplating how educated YOU are. Set your tough guy biker fantasies aside.

  4. What an important piece well written!
    I am Motorcycle tour Company Owner riding tens of thousands of km a year all over the world.
    Age has a lot to do with our ability to take another persons mistake or inconsideration and move on even if it did endanger or scare us. i know for me after 30 years riding and driving it is easier to absorb and “drive on”. to our friend Shell I want to say – ‘Adult education’ is a lost art. No one will drive better be more careful or make less driving mistakes because you screamed, hit his window or showed hi a ‘birdy’. your much more likely to get punched chased or even worse. By driving on and defensively your are defusing the situation and making the world a saver place to ride in.

  5. Great article !
    I think that this is more evident to us as we get older : a little forethought can save a lot of headaches down the road.

  6. Seems many drivers today are in their own self important world and don’t especially care about you on a bike, another car, or even a delivery van. Think about all the cut-offs that drivers do to semi’s on the highway. Hey they can stop 40 tons on a dime, right? Think of the red lite runners. You on a bike, another car, even a semi mean nothing if they are standing in the way of the offending drivers mission-be that getting home 1 minute sooner, or escaping a bad day at work, or disagreeing in leaving somewhere a few minutes early and will “make up the time on the road.” The best advice is to ride like you are invisible, because in today’s self important world, you or no one else matters except that cell call, that TV monitor, that coffee sip at 70 MPH. Good reason for self driving cars-leaves the driver, now a passenger, to chat on the phone, watch TV, etc. since driving skills have gone downhill esp. with the invention of the cell phone.

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