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Motorcycle Safety Draws Attention

During a Live Online discussion on May 29 and again in my Dr. Gridlock column on Sunday, issues about motorcycle safety arose. Partly influenced by Grid Sister's work over the years with head injury victims, I said in the chat that I did not recommend motorcycling as a way of commuting to and from the District. In the Sunday column, a reader wrote in to warn other cyclists about the dangers of uneven pavement on I-270 and on other roadways under construction.

270 milling.jpg Uneven paving during I-270 resurfacing drew reader concern. (Robert Thomson)

Since then, I've received these two letters from cyclists who wanted to discuss aspects


Dear Dr. Gridlock:

There's a reason (or two) that you see more people interested in bikes here. I guess public transportation is your first love but for some people, myself included, it's not an option and the only viable alternative is motorcycling.

Being a new rider starting this season, I can tell you it's not an easy decision to ditch the car and get on the bike, and some days I wondered if it's the right choice (have 2 young kids). But I think for those who are contemplating such move, The Post could do more to gather the newest information to help them make that final decision.

Michael Mou
Arlington

Another reader has some excellent advice for cyclists or those thinking about buying a cycle.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Last year I took the safety class with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and purchased a motorcycle. After almost a year of riding I can tell you and your readers that it is a great way to save money on both gas and parking while having fun at the same time.

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has set up weekend classes across the country that are recognized by most state DMV bureaus. Check with your local DMV for motorcycle licensing and safety information.

They teach you safe riding and defensive driving techniques. The first thing they tell you is that there are no seat belts, air bags, or crumple zone fenders to protect you. It is entirely up to your own wits and sense of strategy to be safe on the road. Those of you that are constantly on the cell phone, texting or any other personal activities while driving will have to put that aside and pay attention to the road if you travel by motorcycle. I don't see that as a bad thing.

Motorcycles are permitted to use HOV with only one passenger and there are several spots in DC that have free parking set aside for bikes. A fill up at the pump costs me about $8-$9, which will get me 120 miles or better. About 46 mpg on an old Honda with carbureted engine. A newer fuel injected engine will do better on mileage.

Above all the experience teaches you that observation, strategy and a situational awareness can go a long way in getting there in one piece.

Michael Joy
Arlington

I'm not a motorcycling opponent and can well recall how much my college roommate enjoyed his Honda 350. All I'm asking for is proper attention to safety and awareness of the driving environment, as these readers are suggesting.

By Robert Thomson  |  June 6, 2007; 7:29 AM ET
Categories:  Safety  
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Comments

I have several comments to make about your article and the letters. First, while the MSF course is valuable and should be taken by all who are considering getting a motorcycle, the information it provides regarding defensive riding is a bit limited (due largely to the time constraints of the course, I would guess). MSF does a follow-up course for the advanced rider, after you have at least 3,000 miles under your belt (or seat). Also, the book Proficient Motorcycling is highly recommended.

Second, our street workers could do a much better job of making the commute safer than it currently is for riders. For example, those lovely metal plates can be treacherous for a rider, but we know (or should know) how to cross them safely. What is more difficult for us is when the workers leave gaps which can trap tires, or they angle the plates in such a way that an edge trap is created (a sure spill if a rider gets caught by one). In any event, the street department should review its practices to ensure they are not creating more hazards than necessary.

Third, all drivers and riders need to be more aware of others around them, and to take care for others. As noted, distracted drivers are a hazard for all of us, whether on a bike or in a cage. I have learned to look for the signs and to practice safety by avoiding such drivers, or giving them plenty of room (no riding on their rear quarter, for example, so if they swerve into my lane they don't drive right over me).

Finally, we should all leave a little earlier and slow down a bit. I generally get in the right lane of the I-95 HOV and cruise at 70-75 mph. I don't need to swerve in and out, and don't need to bomb down at the road at 80+ mph, since I leave myself enough time to get where I'm going without stressing myself out. Traffic experts will tell you that traffic flows best when the average differential between the fastest and slowest vehicles is minimized. As funny as it may seem, if we were to all slow down to an average of 70 mph we would all get there faster.

Okay, enough of a Utopian vision for this morning. Back to hard, cold reality. Enjoy the ride, get there in one piece, and with all the parts where they originally were.

Posted by: Beemer Rider | June 6, 2007 9:20 AM | Report abuse

I use a motorcycle for my daily commuting. I only ride it to the train station, though. It isn't worth the stress to ride to DC. Based on my experience, I agree with Beemer Rider. All sides of this debate need to improve. Classes like the MSF (best $100 I ever spent) can teach a rider how to avoid common pitfalls. Riders and drivers alike need to be more aware of road conditions and surrounding traffic. I've nearly avoided a collision with a car quite a few times, simply because the driver didn't realize I was there and merged into my lane.

As for our government, they need to keep motorcycles in mind when they repair streets. There are better ways to do street repair than to leave stripped pavement with high sharp edges. Those metal plates and joints are easily managed if they are placed right, as can grooved pavement, but they often aren't.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | June 6, 2007 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Non-riders are too accepting of the careless and reckless drivers who endanger motorcycles on the roads every day. Rather than lecture on the dangers of motorcycles, and recommending safety training to only them, how about recommending that same safety training to everyone on the road. The clowns in SUV's talking on cell phones, the Metro bus drivers who change lanes without signaling or looking, the tailgaters, speeders, etc. They are a danger to everyone. It is predictable that someone will comment on the speeding squids blasting down the highway, like the one who recently caused the high speed pursuit on the beltway that resulted in a horrible accident. There are bad riders, just liek there are bad drivers. But the motorcycle rider only endangers him or herself, while unaware drivers of cars and trucks can cause so much more destruction.

Posted by: Jive | June 6, 2007 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, meant to say "I have avoided collisions with cars quite a few times". No crashes with them yet! Just a bunch of near misses.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | June 6, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

I was the person who asked the question in the last Dr. Gridlock chat. I also raised the same question in the "Roads & Rail" chat this past Monday, simply because I wanted to get as wide a view as I could. The areas that strike me as potentially the most dangerous on my commute are (a) the areas around the 14th Street Bridge because people bomb around like kamikazes going every which way in their desperate attempts to get one or two cars ahead and (b) downtown, for obvious reasons. Watching the way other drivers interact with motorcycles is making me very wary of the whole idea. I think to some degree it reflects the way a lot of drivers treat bicycle riders as though they are annoyances in the way due to the actions of the bike messengers downtown who generally act like arseholes. Certainly some motorcyclists fall in this category as well, especially the ones who weave in and out of traffic or who lane-split (which is illegal in Virginia and DC; if it were legal, I wouldn't raise it as a problem; more on this in a moment). So some drivers seem to go out of their way to try not to cooperate with the motorcyclists, which makes me very wary because in a car, you have twisted metal, whereas on the bike you don't have that protection.

What interested me in the idea is the HOV access, the gas mileage, and the ability to park almost anywhere.

(Regarding lane-splitting: I think that allowing motorcyclists to split between lanes of MOVING traffic is dangerous, but when traffic is at a standstill, I see no reason why motorcyclists should not be allowed to proceed SLOWLY and CAUTIOUSLY between the stopped traffic. Folks who have air-cooled bikes especially face a problem if they can't do this. In the UK, at many traffic lights there's a red area between the stop bar and the traffic light; this area is reserved for motorcyclists, who are allowed to move cautiously between cars into this box when the light is red. Makes sense, given that motorcycles accelerate faster than other vehicles.)

Posted by: Rich | June 6, 2007 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Let me start by saying a "me too" on the previous comments re: MSF class followed by an advanced rider course after the first 3000 miles.

Motorcyclists are 37 times more likely to be injured or killed when involved in an accident when compared to individuals riding in cars (known as cagers to the MC community). The most dangerous period for a new motorcyclist is between months 12-36, this is when the new rider feels confident, but may yet lack the requist skill(s).

With this background, its a simple cost benefit analysis which is pushing more individuals into commuting by motorcycle (as Europeans have for two decades). I'll Use my own bike as an example, compared to a Toyota Prius.

Toyota Prius: $24,000 plus insurance and maintenance.

Yamaha FZ6: New $6700 (mine used, one year old w/ 3000 mile-- $5500)
Yearly insurance: $300-450 a year, full coverage. (depends on rider age, experience, and size/type of bike, driving record).

Basic MSF class MD MVA: $179.
Riding Gear - wear it ALWAYS: $500 - 800 (Snell/DOT approved Helmet, armored jacket, gloves, riding pants, boots).

FZ6 Total entry cost: $7,000 (est.)

$12.00 per tank to fill (4 gallons)

Average MILES PER GALLON: 49.

Maintenance Costs: Oil & Filters @ 4k intervals $35-60.


Individuals interested in learning to ride, PLEASE take a class, and when you purchase your first bike, BUY SMALL.

There is a wealth of information on the web on bikes (both cruisers and standard) that are ideal for the new rider. These bikes typically have engines in the 250cc - 500cc range.


Posted by: FZ6 Baltimore Commuter | June 6, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

The MSF course is a given for any new rider, or a rider who needs to become licensed. As well, I strongly recommend the Lee Parks course for any rider, which addresses cornering, understanding your bike's abilities with and without you riding it, and overcoming fear or psychological barriers to parts of riding.
However, I can no longer enjoy riding and the things I have learned in these courses, as I was hit last month while on my cycle by a driver who was clearly not looking for an oncoming motorcycle. Due to my injuries, worries to my family and friends, and newfound fear of all bad drivers I see, I cannot enjoy commuting with my cycle ever again.
Cyclists can improve by continued education and by viewing all drivers on the road as potential killers. It's unfortunate, but completely true, as no one but a motorcyclist thinks to check their surroundings for motorcycles before moving.
Drivers can improve by first not lumping all cyclists in with the minority of dangerous riders (speeders, stunters, etc) Second, drivers can do motorcyclists a major service by observing fellow drivers and reporting those who present a danger to bikers. People report getting cut off by speeding motorcycles all the time - why can't we do the same to those drivers who are thoughtless enough to do the same to bikers? I'm really going to miss riding my motorcycle because of careless car drivers. The lady who hit me walked away. I had to be in the hospital for a month, endure surgeries, and won't walk right ever again. Why should my fellow riders and I be looked at as the bad guys?

Posted by: zekemunchy | June 6, 2007 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Typically most motorcycles pollute a heck of lot more than any car to include Carbon emissions because they have no emission control systems. There a few exceptions ie some beamers.

Any no bikes shouldnt be allowed ever to thread their way between lanes on the Interstate. Meet Mr Door.

And then we have to deal with drag pipes on Harleys. Or other open pipes. Sorry loud exhaust wont save your life. People in cars dont yield or notice emergency vehicles with sirens and lights they arent going to notice your loud exhaust. And Harleys have the all time worse exhaust note. Ducate with open pipes all for it. Harleys never. If my car has to meet certain DB limits so should bikes.

And then come on wear the proper safety clear which doesnt not include most synthetic fabrics since when you hit the pavement they will melt into your skin. And lets outlaw the helmets that would look more appropraite at Orthodx Jweish services. Full face helmets noe exceptions unless you want to waive any medical or emergency care becuase you choose to wear a helmet that has same protection as a ball cap. Flip flops, tube tops and bare shoulders lead to painful road rash and worse when not if the bike is laid down.

Ride responsibly and wear the proper gear. We all pay for your failure to do so via taxes to pay for your medical care and through our medical insurance etc. Grow
up! Sorry your freedoms end when it effects my bank balance.

Posted by: Vaherder | June 6, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Yes, in a vacuum, riding a motorcycle to work has many benefits.

But here's the issue with commuting with them in the DC (or any other metro area): All the idiots in the cars.

I have a car that apparently has an invisibility feature that kicks on every once in a while (it's never mentioned in the owner's manual, but I swear the car must be invisible at times), but folks don't see my car which is about 500% the size of a typical motorcycle. The idiots will get you.

Good luck to those that do this.

Posted by: Kim | June 6, 2007 10:58 AM | Report abuse

I'm not really a supporter or detractor of motorcycles, but I do wonder about this: if it's illegal to ride in a car without being buckled in, why is it legal to ride a motorcycle at all? Doesn't that seem like a wildly inconsistent approach to road safety? Wouldn't it feel strange to be ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt by a cop on a motorcycle? I'm just interested in what people think about that...

Posted by: glenn | June 6, 2007 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Gee, I thought all it took was loud pipes to save your lives, yet I didn't see it mentioned once in the above posts. I guess all the folks who ride with their tailpipes spewing forth noise pollution really don't care about their safety, only in what they sound like.

For those that espouse this theory as accurate, please explain to me why non-U.S. bike-makers muffle the sound of their bikes? It would seem to me if it works for the goose, it'd work for the gander as well.

Posted by: Sam F. | June 6, 2007 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Ok, Ok, I've always used a helmet even when it wasn't required. And I dare raise the point- and I expect great objection from the cagers -that wearing of helmets in cars would save far more lives than they do on motorcycles. Emergency room folks, head trauma specialist lets hear from you- how effective would this be even with air bags and seat belts, would it save more lives?

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Ok, Ok, I've always used a helmet even when it wasn't required. And I dare raise the point- and I expect great objection from the cagers -that wearing of helmets in cars would save far more lives than they do on motorcycles. Emergency room folks, head trauma specialist lets hear from you- how effective would this be even with air bags and seat belts, would it save more lives?

Posted by: robster | June 6, 2007 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I have always enjoyed riding my motorcycle, but it since I arrived in NoVA, riding has become more aggravation than enjoyment.

Cellphones, oversized vehicles, inattentive drivers, the list goes on.........

What really ticks me off is when drivers actually cut into my lane, and flip me off when I hit the horn.

Posted by: Dave | June 6, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Sam:

To respond to your request for an explanation -

Because in Europe people are used to driving with motorcycles around them, and here in the U.S., idiots driving in cages are not; and all to often are driving distracted by talking on the phone, putting on makeup, reading the new paper, eating, etc etc.

I ride the best selling (in Europe) motorcycle for commuting. Its polite exhaust note is very very quiet at low rpm. In the last 2 weeks, I have had SIX drivers in cages encroach on my lane as they attemped to change lanes without paying attention on my daily commute on I95.
I already wear brightly colored protective clothing.
My remedy is to 1.) purchase a louder aftermarket exhaust, or 2.) install a 139 decibel air compressed horn.

I'm opting for the horn, for now.

Conversely, LOUD exhausts apparently do help get peoples attention, otherwise I doubt you'd be complaining about it.

Posted by: FZ6 Commuter | June 6, 2007 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Having lost two friends as a teenager and hearing the same excuse - "I didn't see them" - I made it a person habit to ALWAYS look for a motorcycle before I merge, change lanes, etc.

If I can see the bike, I never miss the car/truck/etc.

Try it people. Unless, that is, you are one of those folks who own the road and everything is all about you.

In that case, never mind. Just pull out in front of the next 18-wheeler and everything will be fine for the rest of us, especially the folks on bikes.

Posted by: SoMD | June 6, 2007 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Idiots in cars texting each other or babbling away on cell phones are far more dangerous to driving conditions than a few motorcycles.

If you want to outlaw something, outlaw that kind of stuff and leave my motorcycle alone.

Posted by: Pete | June 6, 2007 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: zekemunchy | June 6, 2007 10:46 AM

"Any no bikes shouldnt be allowed ever to thread their way between lanes on the Interstate. Meet Mr Door."

Brilliant observation. Smacks of jealousy to me. Perhaps when you use a vehicle that takes up a tenth of the road and uses half as much gas you'll have more credibility. Wanting to injure someone over something this minor leads me to believe that you should be locked up away from society before you get the chance.

Posted by: TriumphSpeedFour | June 6, 2007 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Vaherder, as soon as you get off the cellphone in one hand and shoving a Big Mac in your piehole with the other, I might listen to you spew about my rights vs. your wallet. Assuming a heart attack or a wreck don't get you first.

And loud pipes might not be heeded by everybody but it is a limited measure that motorcyclists can take, hopefully heard by somebody. You heard them didn't you? I personally have seen it work. Also remember there are furry critters out there for which this works. Cars are not our only danger.

Lane splitting. Personally I have been passed in my lane leaving the German GP by lane splitting motorcycles doing about a ton and a quarter. Nobody cared. It works in Europe; it doesn't work here because everyone is so concerned that somebody else has an advantage they themselves don't have that they want to punish them for it. There is no inherent reason other than people here can be such jerks.

Posted by: Stick | June 6, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Living and working in Culpeper County I have stopped riding my motorcycle to Northern Virginia/DC entirely. It's dangerous enough trying to drive a sports car in those areas without being hit or nearly run off the road on a daily basis.

I attribute the terrible driving habits of Northern Virginia Residents to several things:

1. Having to commute 30 min - 2 hours each way to work in heavy traffic daily which leads to frustration and stress and drivers "stop caring" about safety.

2. Starting the work day on the cell phone and or lap top while driving in said traffic!

3. Owning a $75,000 car or SUV and a $900,000+ home and feeling that the rest of the commuters on the road are below you, that you own the road and that you owe them nothing, including regard for their safety.

- J

Posted by: Jay | June 6, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Zekemunchy: Sorry to hear about the accident, and the lingering effects. Glad to hear you're still here to tell us about it.

Glenn: Re your seatbelt question - riders have a similar requirement regarding the helmet. However, my take on this whole issue would be very different: If the safety issue simply involves your own personal safety, then it should be a personal decision (seat belts, helmets, etc.). If the safety issue involves the safety of others, then government can use reasonable means to enforce (DUI laws, child safety seats, banning use of cell phones while driving, etc.). However, if a person chooses not to use a helmet or a seatbelt, then the rest of us should not have to bear the cost of their choice (there I go again, talking about Utopia).

In general, I would rather that my tombstone NOT state: He had the right of way, fat lot of good it did him.

Posted by: Beemer Rider | June 6, 2007 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Vaherder, that isn't quite true. Some motorcycles pollute a lot more, like any Harley-Davidson. Others pollute about the same as a regular car. It really depends on the age, make, and model.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | June 6, 2007 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I'd LOVE to see some REAL/Documented stats in regards to motorcycle vs 'car' pollution output. My 600cc yamaha comes equipped with muffler & catalytic converter and get's 46-50mpg.

Compared to a 15-34mpg 'cage'that may (or may not) have a properly functioning exhaust/emissions system.

"Any no bikes shouldnt be allowed ever to thread their way between lanes on the Interstate. Meet Mr Door."
Traffic at a dead standstill is different than 40+mph moving traffic. MOST 'white lining', or 'lane' splitting is done in slow/stopped traffic with good reason... heat issues (air cooled bike), safer than getting rear-ended by someone not paying attention to traffic states ahead of them.


"I'm not really a supporter or detractor of motorcycles, but I do wonder about this: if it's illegal to ride in a car without being buckled in, why is it legal to ride a motorcycle at all? Doesn't that seem like a wildly inconsistent approach to road safety? "

Ask yourself.. if you were sitting on TOP of your care and involved in an accident which involves the vehicle potentialy flipping over... do you want to be strapped to the top or 'fly' free?
Your car/truck etc, works as a cage to protect you...the seatbelt keeps your from bouncing around in it. Tie yourself to a bike, greater chance of injury once it goes down.

Posted by: Houston-FZ | June 6, 2007 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Regarding seatbelt use, I think there are a few reasons motorcycles don't have them (these are my own opinions, not any sort of fact). First, motorcycles lean and so you're more secure in your seat than when turning in a car without a seatbelt. Second, and more importantly, a seatbelt on a motorcycle would do absolutely no good. Seatbelts on a car hold you against the seat; the only option on many motorcycles would be to strap your legs down, which is no good because you need to use your legs at stops. In a crash it would probably be more dangerous to stay attached to the bike as well. If it happens to flip, or you get high-sided, the last thing you want is your head to smack against the concrete with that kind of force.

Posted by: Daniel | June 6, 2007 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Sam, my bike does not have loud pipes. I don't want to pay to redo the exhaust and the Honda Shadow doesn't have a loud note with stock exhaust. However, my husband's Honda does have new pipes that produce a louder sound. It isn't window-shattering, but louder than normal exhaust. When I ride my bike alone, I frequently have a problem with cars noticing me. When I ride with him, we don't have this issue nearly as much. When he rides my bike, he always comes home complaining about the cars.

The only difference is size and sound of the bike. Mine's even brighter in color, but still no one notices me. Loud pipes are safer, at least up to a point.

Rich, there are many reasons why I only ride to the train station and take the train into DC. One is the stress and the danger. But, I'd feel that way in a car too. A few other bikers at work do ride all the way in to DC. I'll note that in the three years I've worked here, I've had an accident but they haven't! I've ridden in rush hour traffic before. It's difficult. But it actually isn't as bad as you probably think it is, especially if you can take advantage of an HOV lane. If you are a new rider, don't do it. Get used to riding a motorcycle in less stressful traffic. If you feel ready, try it once or twice. In many ways, riding on a highway is safer than riding on side streets with many intersections. Riding a motorcycle, even if you don't commute all the way to DC with it on a regular basis, is a money-saver with gas and makes it easier to find parking (sometimes even free, like at many Metro stations). Mostly, it is just good fun. But, if you are looking to save money, the purchase price of the bike + insurance + gear + class will take a lot of gas tank refills to overcome. This is only a money-saver in the long term or if you buy a bike INSTEAD of a car.

Lane splitting: I would never do this in moving traffic. Illegal and too dangerous. I think they are out to kill me already. However, I have done this at a light when I'm making a right turn.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | June 6, 2007 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Vaherder, where to start! Many motorcycles now have emission control systems. You might see more of the ones that don't on the road because most motorcycles last longer than cars do. If you compare the same model year car to the same model year motorcycle, the motorcycle will be much better for the environment, should you really be concerned about that.

Why should a motorcycle never be allowed to weave? What right do you have to punish someone for doing something you don't like? It's this kind of attitude that makes the world a scary place to live. Lane splitting is a win for everyone, even if it's only legal in California. It is safer for motorcyclists and it speeds up traffic for everyone else. Do some research before you present your opinion as fact.

Other motorcyclists have to deal with the loud pipes of other bikers too, and we don't have the protection of a car to help mute it out. There are laws regarding the limit of sound, and they are often enforced by cops with sound meters where riders congregate. I'm not a fan of them as much as I'm not a fan of the ricer with a subwoofer rattling it apart or a coffee can exhaust. That shouldn't mean that you can't own *your* car though because of the actions of other car owners.

Most textile riding gear is made of synthetics that will not melt in an accident. If you have research that proves otherwise where textiles have melted and injured a rider and not something secondhand, I'd love to see it and be proved wrong.

You have good points in your post, it just comes off too strong as you owning the road and that you just allow the rest of us to share it with you. We should all ride and drive responsible. Motorcyclists, put your gear on, save the stunts and the speed for the track. Car drivers, put down the cell phone, turn down the music, save the food until you get home. We're all out there together, let's make it as safe as we can.

Posted by: Mark - FZ6 rider | June 6, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm not advocating seat belts on bikes. I'm just wondering if the government enforces seat belt laws for cars (a personal safety decision that doesn't affect others' safety), then it would only be consistent to outlaw motorcycles altogether, out of the same big brother-ish concern for our personal safety (or maybe out of purely health care-related financial concerns). So I'm just curious: do bikers support seat belt laws for cars? if so, do you see that as a contradiction?

Posted by: glenn | June 6, 2007 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Glenn -

Your comparison is not apt. Seatbelt (cars) = helmet (motorcycle) is a more apt comparison. Your suggestion that outlawing a motorcycle is akin to requiring seatbelt use in cars is simply silly.

Posted by: Beemer Rider | June 6, 2007 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I am a bicyclist and a motorcyclist. On a daily basis I deal with drivers who don't seem to think I am entitled to use the road. Or that my journey isn't as important as theirs. Or that my safety just isn't important--simply because of the way I transport myself.

Air bags, seat belts, crumple zones and helmets have undoubtedly save lives. What they have not done is address the problem of the idiot behind the wheel.

Want to make a different? Slow down, hang up, calm down, use your turn signal, report aggressive drivers, and think for a minute of what it is like to be the guy on foot, or bike, or motorcycle.

Posted by: cyclingdc | June 6, 2007 1:38 PM | Report abuse

FZ6 Commuter wrote: Conversely, LOUD exhausts apparently do help get peoples attention, otherwise I doubt you'd be complaining about it.

I mostly notice this phenomenon when stopped at a stop light and my window is rolled down. Not only is it annoying, but also painful enough to cause me to roll my windows up on the side the cyclist is on. This isn't (very often) the case with other vehicles on the road.

I'm glad you're opting for the horn. With that you can use it when needed (and probably do better in snapping someone back to reality) vs. having it on all the time and becoming a background annoyance.

Posted by: Sam F. | June 6, 2007 1:41 PM | Report abuse

My 1982 Porsche 911 is air cooled - can I lane split too or just drive on the shoulders to keep air going over the engine?

Oh, wait, I leave that car at home for commuting in the summertime (and the rest of the year). Sorry, folks, the air cooled argument doesn't work with THE LAW.

Posted by: Air cooled | June 6, 2007 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Opening up a car door on a lane splitter is considered assault. You open yourself to criminal and civil prosecution with such an action. The police are there to take care of illegal activities like this. Let them do their jobs.

Posted by: jpm | June 6, 2007 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Instead of legislating to us what to wear or how to ride, why not JUST TRY NOT TO HIT US!!! Emission systems are redundant on motorcycles because we get get 4 3-4 times the mileage than your SUV/cruise bomb. Meaning about 25% of the carbon emissions of your vehicle. Carbon emissions are the same per gallon consumed both for fuel and catalyst. But my bike goes 3-4 times further than you do for same specified quantity. Taxing roads, traffic, and parking downtown a hell of alot less than you do. Why not just try to be courteous or at the very least RESPECTFUL to other people on the road. I was cruising home at 70mph last night after 11pm and passed in my own lane by some ass NASCAR style on an open highway. Tailgated me through traffic for 2 miles or more before. And so fast that my very big bike couldn't accelerate or run fast enough to catch and get a plate #.

Posted by: RE-Vaheder | June 6, 2007 1:51 PM | Report abuse

Beemer Rider:

Why is the comparison *silly*? The gov't is trying to reduce fatalities/injuries on the road. If they can mandate seatbelts as being incrementally safer, why is it inconsistent to outlaw bikes? Cars are incrementally safer than bikes. I know...logically then, they would make everyone drive tanks. But that's not practical obviously, whereas there is a very practical alternative to bikes.

I'm not advocating it; I hate cars, and ride my bicycle everywhere. But I just see a huge inconsistency, and wonder how other people perceive it.

Posted by: Glenn | June 6, 2007 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Glenn -

I already pointed out the correct comparison: requiring seatbelts is like requiring helmets. Your suggestion that requiring seatbelts can be equated to outlawing motorcycles is silly because you refuse, apparently, to consider the intermediate steps that could be imposed on riders to enhance safety without completely eliminating the activity. If we were to use your logic, we would not advocate that all drive tanks, we would advocate that all forms of transport other than our own two feet be outlawed. Thanks for playing, but you lose, again.

Posted by: Beemer Rider | June 6, 2007 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Glenn, the same reason they don't require seatbelts on buses I guess. I don't see it as a contradiction anymore than I one with prescription medicine coming in childproof containers and yet hard liquor does not.

More bikers would be hurt wearing seatbelts in an accident than would be hurt without wearing one. That's not to say that someone won't come out with a way to make seatbelts that work on a bike. Heck, there are now motorcycles out there with airbags.

As a bicycle rider, do you find it odd that you're wondering why seatbelts should be on motorcycles but not bicycles?

I think you're the only one seeing an inconsistancy.

Posted by: Mark - FZ6 rider | June 6, 2007 2:04 PM | Report abuse

When I completed the basic MSF rider safety course in 2004, the instructor congratulated us on our newfound qualification: to ride in a parking lot. Now, with about 15,000 miles on the bike I bought that spring, I am grateful for what the MSF course taught. We learned some useful techniques for handling and braking, but how we were taught to think about risks -- search, evaluate and execute to avoid them -- has prevented disaster hundreds of times for me. Still, I am astounded at the casually murderous habits of drivers. Almost every day on my mid-day commute downtown, I have to deal with a cellphone-gabbing idiot drifting over on me. If it were rush hour, I'd probably be on Metro instead.

Posted by: Vince | June 6, 2007 2:07 PM | Report abuse

When I completed the basic MSF rider safety course in 2004, the instructor congratulated us on our newfound qualification: to ride in a parking lot. Now, with about 15,000 miles on the bike I bought that spring, I am grateful for what the MSF course taught. We learned some useful techniques for handling and braking, but how we were taught to think about risks -- search, evaluate and execute to avoid them -- has prevented disaster hundreds of times for me. Still, I am astounded at the casually murderous habits of drivers. Almost every day on my mid-day commute downtown, I have to deal with a cellphone-gabbing idiot drifting over on me. If it were rush hour, I'd probably be on Metro instead.

Posted by: Vince | June 6, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I drive a lot and ride a little. Just to revisit "which drivers REALLY need to be more careful"-- in almost 30 years and more than half a million miles of driving, I have been cut off thousands of times, had people try to merge through me thousands of times, been aggressively tailgated too often to count, been nearly hit a few dozen times, not to mention rear-ended twice and hit head-on once (not being at fault is no consolation when your car is totaled)-- and for the record let me state that not ONCE was the other driver on a motorcycle.

'nuff said.

Posted by: Cat | June 6, 2007 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Lane splitting in a Porsche??? Are you really comparing a car you bought almost specifically for it's IMPRACTICALITY to a vehicle which ideally is fun to ride, convenient to park, easy to maintain, inexpensive and efficient to run, and can be used for recreation as well as daily grind? Actually Hitler deigned the VW be air cooled for reliability in Germany, to his flunky Porsche. Reliability in a country with a cool/cold climate. So you drive a car designed and built by a known fascist and financial supporter of baby killers that is impractical in this area due to traffic and temperature. The Harley air-cooled engine runs decently when hot, but doesn't have a fan in traffic like you probably do and needs air FLOWING over it to cool. It is also alot like having a fire between your legs at a standstill or can burn even w/jeans. If an accident on the road or traffic jam stops traffic, who cares if the bike threads traffic. Are you the megalomaniac scared someone gets in front of you. I assure you you're not getting there any faster because we passed you in a jam. While you are sitting there with your a/c/heat/mega-watt sound system/cell phone in your rain-proof cage.

Posted by: Porsche loser | June 6, 2007 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Mark FZ6 Rider

You hit the nail dead on the head when you wrote;

"We should all ride and drive responsible. Motorcyclists, put your gear on, save the stunts and the speed for the track. Car drivers, put down the cell phone, turn down the music, save the food until you get home. We're all out there together, let's make it as safe as we can."

Everyone should "drive" by these words.

Posted by: dmk | June 6, 2007 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Lane splitting in a Porsche??? Are you really comparing a car you bought almost specifically for it's IMPRACTICALITY to a vehicle which ideally is fun to ride, convenient to park, easy to maintain, inexpensive and efficient to run, and can be used for recreation as well as daily grind? Actually Hitler deigned the VW be air cooled for reliability in Germany, to his flunky Porsche. Reliability in a country with a cool/cold climate. So you drive a car designed and built by a known fascist and financial supporter of baby killers that is impractical in this area due to traffic and temperature. The Harley air-cooled engine runs decently when hot, but doesn't have a fan in traffic like you probably do and needs air FLOWING over it to cool. It is also alot like having a fire between your legs at a standstill or can burn even w/jeans. If an accident on the road or traffic jam stops traffic, who cares if the bike threads traffic. Are you the megalomaniac scared someone gets in front of you. I assure you you're not getting there any faster or slower because we passed you in a jam. While you are sitting there with your a/c/heat/mega-watt sound system/cell phone in your rain-proof cage.

Posted by: Porsche loser | June 6, 2007 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Beemer Rider: "...we would advocate that all forms of transport other than our own two feet be outlawed" That's not practical, obviously, any more than tanks. I was trying to hold up a practical idea (bikers drive cars instead) just to foster debate on the government's role in road safety.

Mark - FZ6 Rider: As i stated before, I'm not advocating belts for bikes. Re: your statement, "I think you're the only one seeing an inconsistancy". Apparently that's true. So I'll sign off. Stay safe.

Posted by: Glenn | June 6, 2007 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Here's one facet of safety that is too often overlooked: the right gear. The one time I dropped my bike was late one night a couple of years ago, coming onto the Beltway toward 270 from the spur that connects with the Clara Barton Parkway. The entrance ramp had been taken away for roadwork with no warning signs on the parkway. The leather jacket with armor inserts, my leather boots with armor around the ankles, and the gloves and full-face helmet made the difference between very bad bruises and a trip to the ER. And lest anyone stereotype cage drivers, I'll always remember the SUV driver behind me who stopped quickly, rushed to see if I needed aid and helped me get the bike to the side of the road. He offered to call for help and to stay with me if I thought I needed it. Such a Samaritan.

Posted by: Vince | June 6, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Regarding air cooled engines....

There really aren't a lot of air-cooled motorcycles. With the exception of antiques, you really only have Harleys and a few budget bikes. Most of the Japanese and German bikes are liquid-cooled. I'm not sure of the percentages of the market though, since Harley is a big name.

My first bike was an air-cooled Suzuki single cylinder. Never had a problem with it overheating, even in our hot summers in traffic without lane splitting. I had a problem with ME overheating, though!

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | June 6, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

FZ6: Airhorns! Yes! I'd love to get one for my "cage". They'd be awesome on the cages and cycles of people who know when to use them and do it effectively and courteously.

Motorcycles aren't the only ones who have to deal with freakishly inattentive drivers. Because I'm deaf, my eyes go into overdrive, noticing all the little details on the road and what's going on (or will happen in the next second) amongst the cars around me (yes, Mr. SUV, even that tiny swerve when you reached down to pick up the donut you dropped on your SUV's floor was noticed). With reflexes of a cat and eyes that more than make up for my ears, I've never had an accident in my 10 years of driving (knock on wood) and have avoided many almost caused by Mr. SUV and his ilk. I see the motorcycles long before they see me because my mirror is my best friend. My only worry is when I see the ambulance lights before everyone else hears them and pull to the side of the road that I am going to get rear ended by another clueless, but hearing, motorist. I'd ride a motorcycle, but only if it came with an airhorn (even I can hear that!) Ok random rant over...

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | June 6, 2007 3:02 PM | Report abuse

I think my point is maybe y'all should insert some earplugs while driving. It should (should being the key word) force you to put down everything extraneous and focus on the road.

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | June 6, 2007 3:17 PM | Report abuse

No one here gets out alive anyway, so you might as well ride.

Posted by: Stick | June 6, 2007 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Haha! :-D

Posted by: CyanSquirrel | June 6, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Stick,

One I have never used a cell phone will driving hands free or not okay punk. I dont eat and drive at the same time little girl!

6pt harnesses, racing seats and roll cages would save more lives htan wearing helmets in a car. Obvious most of you haven't driven a car with a full face helmet on. Your visibility is compromised by the helmet. Okay on a race track would be deadly on the street.

I am always on the look out for bikes and as long as we respect each other I dont have a problem.

Loud pipes there is nothing worse than the sound of a Harley with drag pipes.

Some of you really bright bikers publish the CO and NO and other pollutants rate for your bikes and compare them to cars?

And dont come down between the two lanes on your bike. I watch my mirrors and meeting Mr Gale Banks odded Hummer H1 door or my M6 door would be lots of fun.

And I wasnt talking riding gear but everyday day wear. Pants, shirts etc with synthetic fibers in them that melt into your skin. How many riders do see properely attired? I see less than 10%.

I have been driving for over 30 years. I have raced Porsches, Bimmers etc. 4 wheels and tires beats two of each into a corner especially with an experienced driver. Last Fall Mr Crotch Rocket lost it following me onto the exit ramp from I66 to 7100 southbound at about 300am. We were doing somewhere above a 170mph when I braked for the turn. He just wasnt that good and lost it. Lucky the medevac is less than a mile away. I just took my line and he entered the corner way to fast. Not first time and it wont be last time biker loses it because he/she doesnt have the riding skills. I hear he is leaving the rehab hospital this month.

Posted by: vaherder | June 6, 2007 5:56 PM | Report abuse

You just hit the nail on the head. You were doing 170 mph into a turn? Does it make you feel tough to beat a bike? I'll be the 1st one to admit the bike was wrong and if he survived to walk another day then God bless him. But I ride a big "Old White Guy Cruiser" designed to cruise the highway and also built to handle somewhat. I'll freely admit I've dragged my pipes cornering harder than I should have. A lesson to my 2 week old new chrome exhaust. Which like most pipes are relatively mild while cruising and only bark when applying the torque. Most of the time you hear a cruiser/HD making noise it is in acceleration, and most likely it is an experienced rider moving forward out of a blind spot if he/she is smart. The crotch rocket/sport bike crowd may play their games. Those of us on Harley's/Harley wannbe cruiser type bikes aren't a menace. And as posted before it is rare if ever you will see us rear-end someone and have to take fault. MOST of us actualy try to leave space between us and the vehicle ahead so we have the extra safety cushion that comes w/being able to see the road in front of us and being able to avoid obstacles such as potholes, metal plates, broken down vehicles, and road debris. And if one of us threads through in traffic while standing still then PLEASE don't resent the rider. My car is almost through the 2nd tank of gas since Jan. 1/2 of the 1st tank spent on 3 trips downtown. I'm tired of trying to find affordable parking or paying $10 + fuel to ride the metro and park when I can ride in to DC and home for $3-3.50 round trip. AND I go against traffic in the afternoon and have 66 almost to myself afterwords. And honestly I still feel like a target even late at night because some people think the highway is a competition and don't understand that the rest of us just want to get to work and then home to our families. Quit trying to be the "All Powerful" or "Omnipotent" and work w/the rest of us. There is no 1st or last, just a "there" that we are all working towards. And if I pass you so what and who cares? I have a maneuverabity advantage over you. You have climate control, sound system, and seats that probably recline too much, As well as seatbelts, 2-3 tons of metal, 4 tires and anti-lock brakes to make your drive safer. I have my a helmet, a slightly better power-weight ratio, and a need for less room. It isn't a contest and I'm not here for your sport/hunting needs. Get over the irresposibility and the 170mph BS (which I seriously doubt BTW, only a few modified sport bikes and high end sport cars can achieve. And I'm pretty sure you don't have the money for a Ferrrari/Lamborghini/Aston-Martin)

Posted by: RE:Veherder | June 7, 2007 5:23 AM | Report abuse

I-270 Paving Continues

The Sunday column and yesterday's blog both caught my attention as well as the news of the two bikers who died in crashes. I commute by motorcycle every day around I-495 up I-270 to Exit 6 and often see 6 to 10 bikes along the way.
The repaving continues on I-270 but the warning signs seem adequate. Dropping down to the milled surface or bumping up to the repaved surface is not too difficult head-on with a warning. But a 2 1/2" grade diffence between lanes is too much for a bike. Switiching lanes with a 2 1/2" grade difference will grab the tire and cause a crash. Once a biker encounters the milled surface there is little that can be done except to slow down until the smooth pavement resumes. The milled surface extends beyond Exit 6 with the shoulder fully paved (2 1/2" grade difference). This morining I noticed that Exit 6 had a temporary "ramp" of asphalt to allow for lane changing at the exit. This works well for cars at most speeds and speeds less than 25 mph for bikes - perhaps even slower. I opted to pass the exit and took the next one, feeling that even with the temporary "ramp" it was too risky a maneuver to change grades in parallel at highway speed. Until the paving is complete I plan to take an alternate route. The consequences of an error from the surprise of a parallel grade differential are too great.

JonnyB

Posted by: Anonymous | June 7, 2007 9:48 AM | Report abuse

BMW M6 with speed limiter removed! And we were doing 170+mph before the curve. Nice and stable not like a 935 through the Indianapolis curves at LEmans or Mulsanne back before chicanes in the rain at 200mph +

Posted by: vaherder | June 7, 2007 10:01 AM | Report abuse

Anybody who even mentions seatbelts for motorcycles is an idiot.

Wearing a belt on a bike will provide zero safety to the rider in a collision with another vehicle. And if the rider lays the bike down the last place he wants to be is strapped to the side of the bike. Scratch at least one leg in that scenario.

FYI: Lane splitting is legal under certain conditions. You can't be riding like a maniac going 75 MPH faster than the vehicles you are passing. Opening your door on a travel lane of the freeway is illegal though, so I wouldn't recommend it. Besides, the guy on the bike just might object to being dumped and adjust your attitude. Mr. Door, meet Mr. Boot. I wouldn't convict him if he did.

Most people who complain about bikes lane-splitting are just jealous that somebody is moving faster on "their road". I have actually seen people get so upset they were yelling into their cell phones and dropping French fries all over themselves.

Posted by: SoMD | June 7, 2007 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Actually, lane-splitting is not legal in Virginia or DC (I don't know about Maryland). It's legal in California and the UK; I don't know about other states. Drivers in California apparently cooperate with the motorcyclists by giving them room. But in the DC area, you can get a ticket, even in stopped traffic, if you drive up the line between the cars.

Posted by: Rich | June 7, 2007 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Lane splitting is illegal in MD also.
See Transportation Art. sec 21-1303(c)&(d).

(c) Overtaking and passing. -- The operator of a motorcycle may not overtake and pass in the same lane occupied by the vehicle being overtaken.

(d) Driving between lanes of traffic prohibited. -- A person may not operate a motorcycle between lanes of traffic or between adjacent lines or rows of vehicles.

Posted by: MD Lane splitting | June 7, 2007 2:57 PM | Report abuse

vaherder,
There was no way you can claim being nice and safe driving that speed, even if it was possible. Your speed ensured you over ran the length of your headlights, meaning you where driving blind. And rounding that corner, what about the car that was in the corner doing the posted speed of 45?

The idea that you even think this was safe is mindboggling.

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