A View From the Other Lane


This column was originally printed in the Davis Enterprise, Davis, California.


We are surrounded by divisiveness of all kinds: pro or con on the biolab; yea-nay to access Russell; the governor’s recall; who serves up the best burger; and where, if anywhere, is West Sacto. Mulling over a cornucopia of topics to write about it became startlingly clear that I could possibly help remove one irritant in our collective lives, become a healer, bring us all closer together. Yes, I’m speaking of the age old battle of motorcycles and automobiles.

You would think it as simple as two wheels versus four. A means (mobility) to an end (destination). But as with most affairs today we have elevated this simple premise to something akin to the survival conflict of hyenas and lions fighting over impala jerky.

My mission now in hand, I thought I would offer you, the average car driver, a glimpse into the other lane — the face underneath that helmet.

We’ll need to pick our motorcycle first. There is a grand variety of categories to choose from: cruisers; touring bikes; sportbikes; dualsport; and standards. Like any good boy-toy list it goes on forever with a myriad of subsets under each category.

We’ve picked out a mount let’s go for a ride. First, a quick run through the controls — left-foot: gear shift; right-foot: rear-brake; left-hand: clutch, turn-signals, choke and horn; right-hand: throttle and front-brake. Quite a handful (and footful) to remember. Driving a car doesn’t seem quite so daunting now does it?

Now that we’ve mastered all the controls let’s get something straight about steering a motorcycle. Yes it’s true, you steer opposite to where you are going. Actually, you simply push left on the left handle bar to go left, right-push to go right. Sounds weird but it becomes intuitive. Try not to think about it.

Okay, jump on the bike and start it up. First time out, unless you’re a squid (squids are recognized, but soon to be unrecognizable, wearing t-shirt, sandals, shorts) I’d recommend no burnouts, wheelies or stoppies. Nothing garners more well deserved attention from local constables then a two wheel vehicle on one wheel.

Hey! We’re on the road, and moving! Here comes that first turn, you made it! Years past, someone once mentioned that motorcycling was a religious experience because you saw God at every curve. If you think driving a car to be challenging, try sitting up on your hood going into an unexpected decreasing radius curve with a semi next to you. That’s a taste of challenging.

With practice this riding thing is getting easier. Let’s throw in some real fun. That, dear reader, is you. In motorcycle circles cars are referred to as cages and            sometimes other names best left unmentioned.

As a new rider here’s an unofficial short list of dangers and cagers to watch out for on the road. Most dangerous? Cellphone users and drunks. Doesn’t matter which one, both drive the same. The rest of the list, in no particular order:  teenage girl drivers (no conception of a solid); teenage boys in monster trucks (just to be fair); make-up artists; deer crossing signs at dusk (blambi, ouch!); trucks with crap in the back; lane darters, aka videogame drivers; Volvos (God knows why but it’s true); oil, wet leaves, gravel and cow poop on the road. There, remember them, could save your life.

You may ask, with our vista cluttered with these dark little clouds why would anyone ever think of climbing on a bike?

In short, because in a world of increasing colorless control you find a palette full of adventure even on a short ride to the grocery store. The transport becomes a means of delivering you to something far better than point B.

On a bike you’re not only looking at the scenery you’re part of it. The temperature change from mile to mile. The humidity closing in as you cross the rice fields. The full-nose aroma of tomato and alfalfa. Buffeting in the back wake of a double-trailer semi as it punches a hole in the air. Sharing in the camaraderie of a hand wave as you pass a fellow rider; because they know too.

And best of all? Lane-splitting from here to Rocklin when everyone else is at a dead stop. Legal? Yep. Fair? From here it is.

So there’s the quick view from two wheels. Next time you find yourself shadowing a motorcycle try out a different finger this time. I promise to return the thumbs-up.


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