Do you ever experience motorcycle road rage? Let’s talk about learning to chill out in a sea of stupidity when riding your motorcycle.
by Mark DT
We all know that as motorcyclists we must ride like we are invisible all the time. We must always assume the other drivers don’t see us and have a plan when some distracted bozo drifts into our lane, turns left in front of us, or cuts us off. Yes, these have all happened to me when riding, and no doubt it has happened to you on your motorcycle. In fact, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if all three of these issues plus others cropped up in a single day. The question I have to ask is; “How did you react to the blatant displays of stupidity on the road?” Did you get angry? Have you ever experienced motorcycle road rage? If so, please read on because your anger on the road may ultimately lead to your own harm.
Most of us come home from a ride feeling great. A long day on the motorcycle clears the mind. It focuses the brain like few other activities. I remember when I took my first MSF course our instructor said something that really stuck in my mind. “You will rarely if ever see a motorcycle in patient parking at a Psychiatrists office.” While must non-riders won’t understand what he said, those of us who have spent extended time behind the bars all immediately get it. Riding is a demanding mental activity. It requires a high level of focus to be done well, and a long ride on your favourite motorcycle is no doubt on par with meditation for clearing the mind of its clutter and renewing its focus.
When we close our eyes and dream of the perfect ride, we are no doubt alone on a perfect twisty highway, with great weather. Maybe you are with friends, maybe your girlfriend, husband, or wife is on the pillion, perhaps you are close to home, or in a distant location. What I can bet is that there are no cars nearby in that fantasy. If a car did creep in I seriously doubt that they would be driven by a texting teenager, a type-A wearing a suit tailgating you in his expensive performance sedan, or a soccer mom who is more interested in what is happening in the back seat of her SUV than the road that she shares with you. However, unless you happen to live in a remote corner of the world with perfectly serviced roads, chances are that your dream ride conditions rarely if ever occur.
[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]If we understand that its impossible to go for a ride and not encounter stupidity, then why not make it a game to spot it as early as possible?[/pullquote]
Just because the fantasy of the perfect ride is often just a dream, doesn’t mean that we can’t adapt, accept, and make the conditions we drive in more enjoyable. It simply comes down to the right mental attitude, learning to anticipate, and even learn to enjoy and laugh at the stupidity of others. If this sounds egotistical so be it. Nobody can ride who doesn’t have a bit of ego. Taking a motorcycle on the roads, means exposing yourself to danger that others fear to do. That takes a bit of ego. Taking the love of riding and actually going out there and doing it, instead of crumpling that desire to accommodate the will of others who worry for your safety takes a bit of ego. A bit of ego is a good thing, and it will help you greatly when things get tough in life. Too much ego is when things go wrong and we start thinking we are invincible. Finding the balance between ego and humility while always maintaining a sense of humour I believe is key to staying safe on the roads.
So what does this all mean with regard to road rage? We’ve determined that when we ride, we should come home feeling great. We know it clears the mind, and that while it is a bit risky, we have the self-confidence to pursue riding. Now ask yourself this… Do you honestly believe a month will go by that you will not encounter a bad motorist? Think hard. If you answered no then you are a realist. The truth is we can have little impact on the behaviour of others, especially when we are sitting on our motorcycle, and they are in their cage. In fact the only people whose actions we truly have any control over is ourselves.
If we understand that it is impossible to go for a ride and not encounter stupidity, then why not make it a game to spot it as early as possible? We always look at least 15+ seconds or further up the road for hazards. If you only think of hazards as potholes, oil slicks, and speed traps, it is time to broaden your horizons.
As terrible as it sounds to “profile” in this politically correct day and age, I admit I quietly do it all the time on the road. Here are a few of the cars that get my personal mental “stupid radar” to sound the alarm.
1) Any expensive German car, especially in black.
Having lived in two of Canada’s largest and wealthiest cities, I have learned to be particularly careful when riding near these vehicles. Their owners are often stressed out, (no doubt workaholics), and their few moments of alone time in life come in that cocoon of superb four-wheeled engineering they enjoy each day. The fact that the roads are crowded, and limits exist do not matter to them. They will pay the fines, those rules are for other people at a lower station in life. They believe that by affording an expensive car, that they must automatically have the skills to match. These stressed out drivers may be kind to their friends and family, yet can become pathological in their pursuit of road supremacy.
Survival strategy: Avoidance. Simply let them pass and find their way into the next speed trap. In my home province, driving 40 km/h over the limit means a $10,000 fine and seeing your car getting seized roadside for a week. I have seen more black German cars sitting on the back of a flat-bed tow truck with the RCMP writing a ticket than any other. Coincidence, I think not.
2) Any large over sized pickup truck that has likely never been used for construction or work.
Extra attention should be given if its driver has a mullet, simulated testicles hanging off a chrome trailer hitch, playboy mud-flaps, or if you can hear its exhaust or stereo several blocks away. Holding the steering wheel at twelve o’clock with a single fist is another sure sign of trouble. These dudes don’t give a flying f*ck about anyone on the road but themselves. Encountering Joe Dirt on the road means expecting stupid with zero notice. On the plus side, these guys attract police attention meaning that by simply following one at a reasonable distance you will no doubt be made aware of every speed trap ahead.
Best strategy is avoidance, coupled with making sure your Go-Pro is recording for making some YouTube gold later on.
3) Anything with a green (N) sticker.
In my home province of British Columbia, Canada, the government makes it a requirement for all new drivers to have a large green N sticker on their back windshield so that all other motorists are aware they are a newbie. An N sticker while always a good warning gets more serious anytime it is on the windshield of either a very high-end vehicle, or a junker sport compact Japanese vehicle with an obnoxious exhaust. The risk here lies with the unpredictability of the drivers actions. Think back to when you were a teenager. If you were a little shit back then, than don’t be surprised with the next generation of little shits. This is part of growing up. Distracted driving in the 80’s meant looking for a cassette tape in the glove box. Now it means tweeting while driving. Expect the unexpected. Pass with care, expect them to turn wide and drift into other lanes, and forget about turning signals. Those will get used later in life.
4) Any vehicle driven by someone with blue hair.
The super senior driver who is weeks from giving up their licence presents a different risk than all the above, but it is still one where you must expect the unexpected. Rarely is speeding an issue. Nor is aggression. However, being invisible to this driver is a reality. When you pass this driver, ( a necessity unless you want to double your commute time), be sure to have an escape route planned out in case they drift towards you. Avoid having one stop behind you at traffic lights without another vehicle buffer between you. Don’t get let yourself get angry. After all it might be your neighbours Grandma or a World War II Veteran.
Now, this is just my list of rage inducing drivers. Yours may be vastly different, shorter or longer. What really matters first and foremost is that you read traffic much like you read road conditions. While each and every driver can cause you harm, some are more likely than others to put you at risk. Identifying a problem before it happens gives you a large lever of control. It also helps keep your emotions in check.
When something really stupid happens in front of you in traffic think which of the following would be the best reaction.
1) A fit of rage. Give the guy the finger when driving past. Dwell on what happened for the next 20-30 minutes. Soothe your anger by speeding, and cutting off the driver that did you wrong, and perhaps a few others for good measure.
2) Shake your head, sigh and spend the next few minutes going over all that you could have done differently to have avoided the situation.
3) Laugh at stupidity of others. You expected bad behaviour, and were rewarded with a show. Go back immediately to the task at hand which is riding on safely.
I will admit that I have done all three of the above. However, only when I learned to laugh, did I find that I didn’t end up reducing my focus on the road. Riding is an involving process that demands the total focus of mind and energy. Diverting that attention to rip a driver a new one, or re-run what just happened in your mind for the next 10 minutes only means that you are not 100% focused on the road. ie) Congrats, you are now a distracted rider! If you are really that angry that you can’t let it go, then pull over off the road as soon as possible and calm yourself down. Scream in your helmet for a few minutes if necessary. Just don’t ride off until you are calm and ready to put all of your focus on the road.
It takes a certain amount of “Zen” to learn to laugh at others that are increasing your risk of harm. The reward is well worth it though. Stay safe, keep your sense of humour, and start developing your own “profile” for risky drivers in your area. Eventually you may get to the stage when you look forward to seeing the craziness around you. It may not be as blissful as that deserted highway in your dreams, but at least you will get to see it every day.