In my previous installment of what riders need drivers to understand, I talked about the practical points of motorcycling. Those things, involving safety and etiquette, keep riders and drivers alike healthy, happy, and in one piece on the road. If you missed that one or need a refresher read, click here.
As Motorcyclist Awareness Month comes to a close though, I’ve been wanting to address the elephant in the room. Namely, the perceptions and judgements riders face that set the stage for misunderstanding, and sometimes, hostility.
Let’s face it, stereotyping is a bad practice. We’ve all done it and been subject to it no matter what group we are lumped into. Pick a group… there’s a stereotype. Motorcyclists are no different. This tendency toward oversimplification and lack of understanding is a far-reaching issue of humanity. Since that can’t possibly be adequately addressed, much less solved, on my little blog today, I’m just going to focus on motorcyclists.
There are a couple of stereotypical images that may come to mind when a non-rider thinks of motorcyclists or “bikers.” Guess what?
- That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the kind of people who ride.
- No matter what you think of their appearance, they are still people with the right to ride. And in my experience, they’re usually very nice.
- There are many styles of riding that the stereotypes overlook.
- Riders come from all walks of life. And women are a quickly growing segment of the riding population. For some perspective, check out what women riders look like around the world.
- The vast majority of us are nice people and responsible riders.
Which brings me to Squids. These are the riders that give the rest of us a bad name. They’re the reckless ones careening down the road, quite often in t-shirts and sandles. And they are a very small minority of riders. In that vein, here are a couple of thoughts from respondents to my question of what we riders want drivers to know:
There is a whole other side to motorcycling and motorcyclists come from all walks of life – mechanics, dentists, lawyers, teachers, etc., and the really neat thing in the motorcycling community is that no one cares what you do for a living.
The likes of Sons of Anarchy do not represent the motorcycling community. They are the exception, not the rule.
We all don’t wear Tupperware helmets wearing flip flops doing wheelies acting the fool.
As a former rider, I’d like to say it’s important for drivers to not take out their frustration with the jackasses who ride on the rest of us that are just enjoying the road.
In a very disturbing story, one person relayed a question posed on a dating website. “Guys who ride motorcycles are…” The possible responses were only “Just cool” or “Irresponsible children.” Flat out, that sucks. That question is not only absurdly shallow, it perpetuates the notion that riding is irresponsible and childish. And that, friends, is what is truly irresponsible.
There are advantages for drivers when riders are on bikes instead of in cars. One friend mentioned the benefits of motorcycling for all of us:
Significantly less stress on the environment (fuel, pavement wear, parking, traffic) than cars or trucks.
At Horizons Unlimited, I got to chat with a good many riders about this subject. One well-traveled rider who has ridden extensively around the world mentioned the strange phenomenon of American drivers… that we’re extremely territorial. In the U.S., anything that resembles line-cutting or is (wrongly) interpreted at getting “unfairly” ahead of traffic meets with vigilante justice from drivers.
Whereas in Europe, motorcyclists are expected to move to the front of slow or stopped traffic and drivers actively make way for them. Once traffic starts moving again, motorcycles have the ability to move out more quickly than autos. And guess what? It reduces traffic congestion and gets everyone where they want to be much more quickly. When all road users work together, the climate on the road is better for everyone.
So I hope you’ll take a step back the next time you’re disgruntled with a rider. Is that person really being a jerk? Or are you just in a bad mood? Or could you have misinterpreted their actions? Often times, a rider needs to take evasive action from another driver. To you that might appear as aggressive when there is a very good chance the rider is putting space between them and an inattentive driver. And no matter what your conclusion, remember it isn’t your place as a civilian driver to enforce laws or your perception of them.
As riders, we are subject to a constant barrage of horror stories. Please stop. We’ve heard it. We know. Hearing about your brother’s friend’s cousin who got creamed by a car running a stop sign isn’t going to keep us off the bike. Your intentions might be altruistic or sympathetic but they are misguided and short-sighted.
Instead of insisting motorcycling is too dangerous, how about you just help us stay safe on the road? Remember 70% of motorcycle crashes are caused by drivers.
The big picture…
Preformed judgements and skeptical attitudes towards us, or anyone for that matter, do no good and often do a great deal of harm. For motorcyclists, that mindset means we are in danger from drivers who don’t value us as people. It’s one more way we’re invisible. That doesn’t end well for us.
Yes, there are bad eggs in our basket. Just like any other group. Including drivers. But that minority should not set the tone for how the rest of us are treated.
Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll take all of the messages from Motorcyclist Awareness Month to heart year-round. We are riders but we’re also moms, dads, sons, daughters, friends… you get the idea. We’re human. And vulnerable. Look Twice.