Tuesday, October 8, 2013


In the final week of September, 2013, the nation was shocked to see helmet cam video of a group of sport-bike riders horsing around on New York City streets, jamming traffic, running through lights and generally acting like morons.  When a rider purposely stopped short in front of a Range Rover SUV and was bumped, co-riders swarmed the driver, with wife and child on board.  His only avenue for escape appeared to be gunning his vehicle forward and running over a rider.  The ensuing chase lasted only a few minutes; ending with the father dragged from the vehicle, beaten and slashed, again, all taped on helmet cam.

Opinion alert:  These guys give chain-wielding motorcycle gangs a bad name.

California’s State Route 128 is a gem of a motorcycle road.  It winds west from Winters, California, traversing the Coast Range, dipping into and out of vineyard-laced valleys and ending up tunneling through redwoods before it ends at the Pacific Ocean.  I enjoy it as often as possible either on the BMW or the Guzzi.  Yee haaa!

But sometimes, I find myself driving my Nissan Frontier.  Knowing how exhilarating the sweeping turns are, when a motorcycle approaches from the rear, I find the nearest safe spot to give way.  (A lot of car drivers do this for me when they see me a safe distance behind.)  Such was the case three days ago when, a lime green Kawasaki Ninja ZX suddenly was on my rear bumper.  Behind him was another rider straddling some iron.  Bicyclists on this section of road prompted me to be hesitant about slipping toward the shoulder, but as the impatient Kawi-man began to pass, I found a nook and pulled aside.

A quarter mile ahead, a small Honda SUV was coursing through the curves.  In a flash, the Kawi rider was on his bumper.  The road had become more challenging with tighter turns and less accessible shoulder.  At a left-sweeping curve, minute or so on, the SUV driver found a tiny section of gravel, and, a rate of speed to fast for the maneuver, pulled onto the shoulder allowing the biker to pass.  Dust and gravel spit from all four of the Honda’s wheels as he stopped the thing just short of a forested slope.  A glance in passing told me he was clearly upset – maybe scared.

And why not?

Borrowing a phrase from H. Rap Brown:  Bullying is as American as cherry pie.

Some of our colleagues who ride two-wheelers are our own worst enemies.  Aggressive behavior may be fueled by a love of dipping into that next twisty turn or may simply be a knot-head with too much testosterone in his blood supply.  In either event, to the automobile driver it feels like intimidation – bullying – and it might make the driver less sensitive to – or less concerned about – the motorcyclists with whom he shares the road.  Then we, those who ride bikes, lose.

Up the road that day, I stopped in Calistoga to let the dogs stretch their legs.  As my wife and I were engaged in a little window shopping, I saw the green Ninja ZX parked next to the big iron, engines ticking as they cooled.  Neither pilot was around or I’d have struck up a conversation as folks do when they see a cool bike.  Taking a Church of the Open Road business card from my wallet, I penned the following on the back:  Nice scoot, but please try to display more patience and better road manners when you ride.  Thanks!  And be safe.

My wife asked what I was doing.  “If we don’t call people on their bad behavior, they’ll keep doing it,” I said.  “Seems to me that if I can get this guy to think twice about how others see him, he’ll be safer and we all won’t pay the price for his stupidity.”  She advised: “The guy could get on your website and, I don’t know, mess things up.”  Big deal, I thought, my website’s pretty messed up to begin with, but as discretion is the better part of valor, I instead gently slipped a blank calling card under the passenger strap on his seat. 

Maybe he’ll access the site and read this.

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. I applaud your concern and willingness to make polite suggestions to fellow riders re: better riding manners. We should all do so, as the situations permit. However, I noticed no mention of things such as horn honking, bird flipping, arm waving or insult yelling that the "agressive" biker might have used to "intimidate" the SUV driver. Am I correct in assuming that the method of intimidation employed was solely tailgating? On a scale of on-road intimidation, how high does tailgating rate, in your estimation?

    I ask because I like to enjoy Southern California's twisty two-lane canyon roads, and sometimes I find myself behind a slow-moving vehicle. I like to think I follow from a safe distance, but I also want to be close enough for them to see me and consider pulling over at the next convenient spot. It is not for me to decide, however, the place or time for the car/truck/whatever to pull over. I don't flash lights, or flip birds or wave arms or yell. But I do try to make sure that my presence is noted.

    With regards to your recap of the incident in New York, it pains me to notice that you mischaracterized what was actually shown on the video. If by "swarm" you mean the riders surround the vehicle, then the "swarming" actually began to occur before the vehicle stopped the first time on the video. What we cannot know from the video is whether an altercation occurred prior to that moment, which may have led to the rider trying to "stop" the vehicle. Look closely at the Range Rover's driver side rear view mirror and you'll see that the mirror glass is actually missing. Maybe that's a clue, maybe not. In any case, I don't think the Rover driver's decision to run over a human being was the best decision at that point. The "ensuing chase" also involved the Rover hitting more riders. By the time the SUV was stopped by car traffic, no one should have been surprised to see some of the riders vent their spleens. I am in no way condoning either party's actions, but I don't think this incident is as cut and dried as you, and the mainstream media, have chosen to portray it.

    You are welcome to disagree, of course.

  2. It is true that, in the New York incident, we only saw what was we were permitted to see. Knowing that the media works from an "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality, we likely didn't see near enough to form a just conclusion. Good on ya for pointing that out.

    As far as the intimidation on route 128, tailgating was the extent of the offending action, which may or may not be a trigger for that feeling of being bullied; it might not for me, but it might for somebody else.

    You and I share the riding strategy of "following from a safe distance, but being close enough for them to see me and consider pulling over at the next convenient spot."

    Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  3. The bikerz in NYC were trying to commandeer the hwy, in order to do wheelies in front of the rear riders, who block all other vehicles behind them by forming an unpassable pack, traveling at a slow speed, also filming these idiotic stunts on their GoPros. This is obviously what the squid was trying to do by slowing down rapidly in front of the SUV. The only victim is the SUV driver. The injured squid is collateral damage, caused by his own foolish, reckless riding.
    Your nice note to the rider who upset you was very polite. One time I got into it with a rider who passed me on a tight curve of a mtn road. I confronted him at the rider hangout a few minutes later. I told him to never pass me on a curve again; that if he could've waited a few more seconds, I would have moved to the right on the next straightaway. He knew I was pissed. He said "I ride on this road all the time", and I replied "so do I, and I'd like to come home in one piece".
    There are always a few idiots in every community.