You know what I’m taking about. You knew it from the moment you read the title of this post and are just reading this far to confirm your suspicions. This is about the “club” we all joined—whether we wanted to or not—when we started riding a motorcycle.
I’ve now put almost 3,000 miles on MyConnie riding around Northern California, plus to and from work. I’ve noticed that the San Francisco Bay Area has a healthy population of motorcyclists. All kinds, in fact. We got your head-to-toe leather-clad road racers, and your leather-vested Hells Angels, and your Belstaff-jacketed Euro-tourers (the ones with the watertight aluminum saddlebags on their dual-sport machines. Then there’s your garden-variety cruisers (who think—incorrectly—they look like Hells Angels, but that’s a different blog post) and your everyday bikers on their naked machines wearing jeans and a hoodie under their leather jacket that’s the same brand as their ride. And then there are the ones that I hear about on newsradio—almost everyday—usually described as a “motorcycle-involved accident.” But that’s a topic I prefer to avoid and pretend is limited to aggressive white-liners (i.e. lane splitters) and not applicable to my style of riding— [ fingers in ears ] “la la la la la.”
I had forgotten what it was like when I used to ride every day long ago. Or, maybe, it’s because in my callow youth, I was less empathetic to the ministrations of my two-wheeled brethren. Whatever I was thinking back then, I get it now: I have joined a big club of those who ride motorcycles. Here is my evidence.
When is the last time you stopped to assist someone who was stopped by the side of the road and asked if they needed help? When is the last time someone stopped to see if you needed help when you were stopped? Never on both counts, right? Only a week into my new two-wheeled daily commute, I was trying out some different hearing protection and decided to take an off-ramp and stop for a moment to make an adjustment. Another rider pulled over behind me, opened his visor and asked if I was okay. I said yes, and with The Wave, he was off. I was floored. Would he have done the same for a car that was stopped there? I think not, lest he frighten the motorist into calling 911 to report a scary biker. Then why is it motorcyclists look out for others of their own kind? I think it’s because they know that no one else is going to offer help other than one of our own. And in the big game of pay-it-forward karma, we bikers need to bank as much as we can in the “plus” column.
Much has been written about the secret hand signals that are shared between bikers when passing on the road, a.k.a. The Wave (see links below). The long and the short of it is this: wave, or prepare for negative karma. It’s like a rule that I have long held as a scuba diver. When dining at a seafood restaurant, I never order shark. I’m betting that the rules of karma apply there as well: I don’t eat them; they don’t eat me…quid pro quo [but I digress]. There are many versions of The Wave. Personally, I prefer the low two-fingered peace sign (or the “vee-twin” if you want to go all Harley on me) as just the right amount of “cool” and the least amount of “dork.” Truth be told, I like belonging to a club of people whom I’ve never met. It’s the best balance of feeling like your part of something without most of the baggage.
I have now heard from multiple bikers that when they get into a conversation with a person who doesn’t ride, the dialogue invariable goes something like this: “I get so scared when a motorcyclist comes up between my car and the one next to me, they must not realize that I can’t see them until they’ve passed my car! What if I changed lanes at that moment?!” What I don’t tell those who say this to me is, “That’s the plan, baby. Once you realize I am there, I’m already gone!” I mean, really, “not realize they can’t see me?!!” I COUNT on it, and ride as if MyConnie was like the Fantastic Four’s invisible car. The way I stay alive is that I PLAN for no one being able to see me, and then I’m never caught unawares—at least so far. And as far as splitting lanes goes, I try not to do it. I believe it adds to bad karma and raises your odds of an accident just for being impatient. There will come a day when I will be that biker moving crisply past your front bumper, but it won’t be soon, and it won’t be often.
Not unlike the look a Prius owner gives someone who drives up to their eco-house in a Ford Excursion, all motorcyclists—especially those who are parents—know what I’m talking about when I describe “The Look.” It’s the slightly raised eyebrows and gently back-tipped head delivered by a parent from your kid’s school finding out for the first time that you ride. You never feel more like you are a member of The Fellowship of the Motorcycle than when someone with The Look burns a red-hot, yet invisible “He doesn’t care about his children being orphaned” brand on your forehead. No amount of explaining or accident statistics will ameliorate The Look. It is something that you tacitly agree to bear when you join The Fellowship, and it bonds you tighter to your fellow two-wheelers.
I could go on, but you get the idea. And best of all, being in The Fellowship is pretty cool. There, I said it. Being a member of a group where I’ve never met the members is pretty cool. It’s like having a Triple-A card in your wallet that you don’t have to pay for. Better yet, being in The Fellowship grants you access into the subset of people who are considered “dangerous” and therefore eminently date-able. So, go forth fellow bikers and ride—knowing that The Fellowship has your back.