nyc road rage incident

This is part 2 of part of 10 Things They Don’t Tell You About Motorcycle Riding, where we continue our commentary on motorcycle riding and everything involved with that which you may not realize if you don’t yet ride a motorcycle.

  1. Automobile Drivers: Many of us are familiar with unfortunate sensational incidents like that pictured above (where a group of bikers in New York City harassed a family in an SUV until the driver panicked, and sped off hitting and injuring one of the bikers, only to later get pulled from his vehicle and beaten by some of those now angered bikers).

As a motorcyclist you will become incredibly aware of the inattentive stupidity of most drivers as you are riding literally a few feet away from something that can kill you within seconds…

You will find yourself constantly looking in car driver’s mirrors and through windows to see what the drivers around you are doing. You will hopefully be positioning yourself in your lane to both improve your visibility as well as avoid becoming sandwiched by inattentive drivers like the one seen in the video above.

You will find that some drivers are aggressive towards you, whether you’ve actually done anything to provoke their road rage or not. Some drivers simply hate motorcyclists, others will be jealous of what you have and what you can do. Regardless, you don’t want to waste your time with these other drivers, it’s not worth getting into a pissing contest with an idiot in a 2-ton vehicle. Luckily you are on an extremely maneuverable machine, and can often very easily get yourself out of most all traffic situations.

Even when other drivers aren’t intentionally trying to get you, or get you by not paying attention…there is a real truth in people simply not “seeing” motorcycles. There are numerous factors that come into play here, and much of it is caused by drivers simply being complacent and not taking the time to drive actively. Whether it’s because of the small size of the motorcycle, the color of the bike blending into the background, the single headlight looking like a car way off in the distance when the 2 headlights appear as 1… or whatever the reason: What you soon learn as a motorcycle rider is that you have to “ride like you’re invisible”.

Once you accept and understand, and truly incorporate the mantra of “riding like you’re invisible”, you won’t be worried about foolishness such as “loud pipes save lives”, or trying to be noticed by wearing high visibility gear, or plastering your bike with reflective tape, or even trusting headlight modulators and flashing brake lights. While you can still do those things if you want, you won’t rely on them to protect you, because ultimately when you ride like you’re invisible you don’t allow yourself to put any trust in the hands of those other drivers.


paint truck spill

  1. Road Hazards:  There’s all kinds of strange stuff on our road surfaces, much of which you don’t bother to notice when driving in your car. However, on a motorcycle where losing traction on either of the 2 tires could be really bad news…you quickly become a road surface detective:  Constantly scanning the road surface ahead of you for anything that might impact your traction and need avoiding.

It’s pretty obvious that you have less traction when the road surface is wet, so keeping an eye out for puddles, or wet pavement is common for a motorcyclist. Worse than simply a wet road, are other liquids such as oil or anti-freeze which can take you to 0% traction in an instant! This is why motorcyclists are often seen riding in either the left or right side of their lane, because they are avoiding the center of the lane where cars/trucks/(’93 civics with gum for an oil drain plug), are dripping their automotive equivalents of the banana peel from Mario Kart.

mario kart banana

Harder to identify than wet road hazards are dry road hazards, from gravel, to sand, to kitty litter… nothing is as pucker inducing as coming through a tight corner at a brisk pace only to have a swath of sand or gravel across your entire lane! Gravel is generally not actually as bad as it feels or seems, as it is often only a trail in the center of the lane (where the car tires haven’t kicked it off the road),  you will only slip for a second or so if you do hit this gravel and then the tires will promptly regain traction again once they’re through it in that split second. Sand or kitty litter (often used to clean up liquid spills on road surfaces), can be nearly impossible to see if it is a thin layer, and can be as slick as an oiled surface. Your best bet is to maintain smooth throttle control, and stand the bike as upright as possible, without slowing significantly or blowing your line through the debris…

 What can make it quite difficult to identify these road surface hazards when it is a beautiful sunny day are both sun glare coming in through your helmet visor, and shadows cast onto the road from the trees. It’s a good idea to use a fully tinted visor (often called “smoked”), or mirror visor with tint so that you combat the sun glare. There’s not much you can do about shadows, other than changing your pace and line to accommodate, in case there might be something on that surface that you can’t identify.

There’s also sometimes issues with the road itself. Steel grating on bridges is an odd annoyance in a car, but can be quite dangerous on a motorcycle. If you can avoid that route when it’s wet, that is the best plan. However if you need to cross a steel grating bridge, simply maintain a mellow constant speed, and let the bike wiggle around beneath you and don’t fight it. If you do have to slow, focus your braking on the rear brake like you would in gravel or it is likely that you will experience sliding/skidding on this low traction surface. Sometimes on normal roads there are odd grooves which you wouldn’t notice in a car, but can catch your motorcycle tire and be unnerving. Depending on the profile of your tire (usually the thinner front tire), road grooves that run in the direction of travel can actually catch your tire and be problematic. Sometimes you can find a better path within the lane where the grooves are not as pronounced, but often you just have to deal with it and try to be loose on the bars and let the bike do its thing.

Most of the time these road hazards are just part of the challenge of motorcycle riding, and there’s nothing you can do about it. However, if you come across something that you feel is a significant safety issue, you should report it. For example here around Portland, Oregon we can call 503-823-BUMP to report potholes or road surface issues. Similarly, if there is debris in the road, dead animal, street lights broken, or traffic lights that won’t change for your motorcycle…check with your county’s Land Use and Transportation department. As an example in Washington County, Oregon we can use this online form to report various hazards to our county LUT department:

While I have gone back out in my car with a broom to sweep up a couple of particularly dangerous corners I’ve found while riding a known motorcycle road near my home… be aware that this is often considered illegal. Besides being potentially dangerous to be sweeping debris on your own on a blind corner, you could also be reported and issued a fine if someone wanted to call you in. While I have used both our local phone-in and online reporting options, they are often quite slow in getting a response, and it’s a personal judgment call if you think it is worth risking a potential legal issue to save fellow motorcyclists from a likely accident.

helmet hair

  1. Little Inconveniences: There’s a myriad of little inconveniences when riding a motorcycle, some of which I’ve already mentioned like fogging up the helmet visor, or sweating in your gear on a hot day. But the list goes on and on, here are just a few more including the obvious of “helmet hair” which you’ll have to find your own creative solution for.

You have to turn off your turn signals. With only a couple of exceptions, most motorcycles require you to turn off your turn signals manually. You’ve likely seen a motorcycle rider riding down the road with their turn signal blinking away, obviously forgotten about many miles ago. Coming from a car, where the turn signals auto-cancel themselves when the steering wheels comes back around to center, this can take quite a while to get used to. (My best suggestion is to just make it part of your periodic “sweep”, of checking around you, checking your mirrors, checking your speed, checking that your turn signals are off).

You have to fill up your own gas. Here in Oregon, the law states that the attendant has to fill the gas (though they make exceptions for motorcyclists). Different gas stations handle it differently too…some expect you to insert your card and do it all yourself..while others don’t want you doing the payment piece at all, they’ll only allow you to pump the fuel. Some attendant’s give you a paper towel to wipe up spills, while others don’t. The biggest issue I’ve had with pumping gas is learning to manually hold that little locking tab with a finger, so that the handle can’t get locked on. In our motorcycle tanks, the pump handle’s auto-shutoff won’t always work, so it’s best to do it manually. Twice I’ve had a pump handle with a broken spring for that lock tab, and it got stuck in the “on” position… (trust me when I tell you “this is bad news”). Do yourself a favor and hold that little lock tab up with one finger when fueling so that the handle can’t get stuck in that locked position.

You will spend a lot more money on gear and parts and modifications than you ever intended to. Anytime I hear or read about someone buying a motorcycle because they’ll save money I have to laugh. Not only will you be spending money on riding gear, and modifications to better the performance or ride-ability or looks of your motorcycle, but there’s also maintenance. Cars are generally quite maintenance free other than regular oil changes. Belts and tires and other items are either break/fix or happen at high mileage intervals. However on motorcycles, you should be changing the oil and filter much more often than in a car (because these motors run at 6-10K RPM vs. a car which will be more like 3-6K RPM). Also your motorcycle tires will only last about 8K miles at the most, and cost as much as performance tires for cars which last 40K miles. On a motorcycle you also have chain maintenance, and bearings and valve adjustments and brake pads which is all maintenance which needs to happen more frequently than in a car. Once you have 3-4 helmets, 3-4 different motorcycle jackets, and several pairs of boots and gloves, you’ll start to wonder how you’re saving money over a car after all.

You’ll need to become a mechanic. If you’re not mechanically inclined you’ll end up relying on dealers and shops to do simple work, which will cost you a lot of money, and sadly is often poorly performed as well. It’s best to purchase and download a service manual for your motorcycle, and join a couple of internet forums specific to your motorcycle model, so that you can learn how to perform routine maintenance items. You’ll find over time that you’ve had to purchase some special tools, from odd large sized hex wrenches to special motorcycle stands, to a heat gun… or if you’ve gone deeper down the rabbit hole you may be purchasing chain breakers and throttle-body sync gauges. As noted above, a motorcycle is likely not the best choice for a practical money saving option for transportation. Though learning basic maintenance and knowing the mechanical workings of your bike will be of great benefit when you find yourself broken down on the side of the road, and are able to determine the problem is simply a spark plug that backed itself out of the cylinder…

sparkplug backed out

You will likely fritter away hundreds of hours on the internet and in motorcycle forums. Reading up on the latest gear, bikes, and news. Learning new techniques, finding new technology, and sharing your opinions and expertise. If you thought Facebook and Reddit were time sinks, you might be surprised by just how many hours can be equally spent on motorcycle forums and reading online motorcycle articles and watching motorcycle related v-logs on YouTube.

The biggest inconvenience though is most certainly the utter lack of cup holders on these motorcycles! What is a manly sportbike rider supposed to do with their tall-halfcalf-lightice-soymilk-mocha-with-nowhip?!?

Oh, well look at that…

starbucks motorcycle cup holder


Continue to Part 3 here…