There are way more than ten things to look out for when you’re riding your motorcycle – probably closer to 10,000 – but these are our top ten. Look out for them, because they’re not looking out for you. And even if they were, they wouldn’t see you because you’re invisible. Remember it.
10. Crumbling infrastructure
Famed motojournalist Brian Catterson recounts how he had part of a bridge fall in front of him on the 405 freeway one day. “I called Caltrans and they said, “uh-huh.”’
Some municipalities do a better job than others of staying on top of giant potholes, sinkholes, and exposed chunks of rebar – but nearly all of them have a hard time responding in a really timely manner. Which leaves it to you to reconnoiter the way forward. If there are cars ahead of you, it’s easy enough to see them swerving and heaving up and down over bumps. If you’re on your own, be careful after dark, in bad weather, on mountain roads prone to rock slides… Heck, be careful all the time. It’s not just the other road users out to get you, it’s also the road
9. Burning Rubber
The smell of hot rubber on an interstate means somewhere, not too far ahead of you, a big truck is about to blow a tire. Even worse, a regular vehicle that only has four tires instead of 18 is about to blow one. Either way, be prepared for either a giant tire tread or a spinning minivan to fill your faceshield at any moment (brought to you by our friend James Hesketh).
Brought to you by me, from lived experience: That smell could also be coming from your own motorcycle. Check your tires frequently, especially if they run tubes like this Indian Chief Classic, which expectorated its rear tube right out from underneath me a few years ago. Actually I never smelt it, but I certainly felt it.
Displaying your beliefs is your right; accosting everyone around you with profanity indicates a driver who’s easily upset, not too concerned about the rights or feelings of his fellow road users (the subtitle is “AND F YOUR F’NG FEELINGS”). This person is possibly substance compromised, prone to unpredictable outbursts, and probably armed. If you’re offended by such a person while in a car, I recommend exercising your own right to dissent via the appropriate hand gesture unless there are also three or more NRA or gun stickers. On a motorcycle, I recommend staying as far away as possible from the hot-headed driver of this vehicle.
From John Lowry: Cars with previous damage and repaired paintwork, low tire pressure/bald tires, zip-tied and duct-taped parts; these people habitually make poor driving choices.
I agree and disagree. Many in these vehicles are fine, responsible people temporarily financially disadvantaged, the dents, dried blood and hair may be no fault of their own, and historically one of the people driving this kind of car has been yours truly. Then again, they could be escaped criminal serial murderer psychopathic dirtbags. Even though in America the vehicle is innocent until proven hooptie, it pays to be wary around them. When approaching from behind, if the waft of weed and/or Grateful Dead stickers are present, proceed with caution.
6. Fast and Furious Bros/ Cars with Wings
It’s hard for me to criticize, as some of my early hot-rod automobile displays are not only embarrassing to look back upon, but also frightening and cringe-worthy. Only by the grace of God did I not kill myself and/or others. But my internal combustion-enthusiastic heart was in the right place, and so is the one in the testosterone-charged kid in the Accord with the coffee can exhaust and the two-story wing out back. Having your heart in the right place, though, doesn’t mean that your inexperienced reptile brain isn’t going to pull some ridiculous Vin Diesel moves in traffic now and then. Don’t trust kids to do the adult thing. And don’t think the same youth in the brand new $100k BMW M5 is any more trustworthy. When possible, encourage them to get a motorcycle: Look, my tachometer goes to 11!
5. The Prius
Sort of the opposite of the F&F Bros, the Prius driver is often diametrically opposed to enthusiastic motoring. He’s not fond of your irresponsible decision to drag down society by putting yourself at risk riding a nasty, polluting motorcycle in his HOV lane, and whatever happens to you is your own fault if it interrupts his hypermiling. The Prius driver is certainly no fan of the way his partner looks at you in your snug leather onesie. For years it was Volvos, but even Volvo saw the light and began building some fun cars. White Priuses, for some reason, are the worst, maybe because they’re the most appliance-like. Where’s the ice dispenser? My, but you’ve got tiny wheels… Eyes up, people.
4. Gardener and Work Trucks
See also #7 above, Hoopties. Gardeners are mostly great, hard-working people who make the world a more beautiful place. But the fact that we stiff them means they’re always in a hurry, their vehicles aren’t always in the best repair, and they carry lots of stuff that gets loaded and unloaded multiple times a day – meaning look out for errant rakes and ladders that are dying to jump off three cars ahead of you and wind up in your face.
Your Plumbing, Heating-and-AC, and roofing vehicles tend to be more buttoned-down, but also more prone to sudden direction changes as the driver responds to constant phone calls from dispatcher, spouse, significant others, disgruntled customers, etc. Following an ill-kempt roofing truck for more than a few hundred yards virtually guarantees a flat tire.
Your Amazon and UPS drivers make almost zero unpredictable moves since they’re locked onto a computerized route 99% of the time, but they’re never not in a hurry so do not get in their way.
3. Monster trucks
Why do you think Dodge calls its new 702-horsepower pickup truck the Ram? Maybe because Crusher was already taken. Flat-billers in Dodge Challengers are dangerous enough, but elevating them six feet in the air into a luxuriously appointed soundproof cabin (the Ram TRX1500 starts at $72k) only pours gas on their over-compensation complex bonfire. Pickup trucks and motorcycles have enjoyed a peaceful, symbiotic relationship since eternal combustion began, but these latest beasts would rather race your motorcycle than haul it. Resentment? Jealousy? Whatever it is, keep an eye on these vehicles, and give them a wide berth when you see them getting bigger in your mirrors.
2. Inability to maintain speed = TEXTING
Now that we’ve nearly wiped out drunk driving (sarcasm), the main reason for a vehicle moving at a much slower speed and having a hard time holding course is texting. Hey, what do you want these drivers to do? It’s illegal to talk on the phone while driving. These vehicles are less prone to swerve since the driver is usually texting with the same hands they’re steering with; steering with the knees is an advanced technique. When passing them, be sure to honk your horn to let them know you’re there and onto them. And once past, make it a point not to slow down or stop in front of them in case they’re sexting, which requires even more undivided attention.
1. Every Other Vehicle, human being, and Thing
Eternal vigilance isn’t a bad thing, as long as you only have to practice it when you’re riding. Research has shown that there’s a lot of truth in that old saying that you don’t quit riding because you get old, but that you get old because you quit riding. Activating your survival skills the way you have to do on a motorcycle to stay alive keeps your synapses firing in a way that most American consumers seldom have to do except during mass shooting events.
Remembering you’re invisible is the best explanation for the behavior of every other vehicle on the road, including deer and all other chariots of fur such as moose, suicide chipmunks, and inanimate objects, too, like refrigerators and rocks. And don’t think for a minute the guy on the other motorcycle sees you either.
There’s no point in getting all in a huff about it, either: It is what it is. Better to get all Zen – the better to open all your receptors – and to be able to respond like David Carradine in “Kung Fu.” Google it up. OMG, there’s a 2021 remake. Good luck out there.
Become a Motorcycle.com insider. Get the latest motorcycle news first by subscribing to our newsletter here.