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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

It's so hard to say hello

Waving like a boss.
I'm taking the Direct Access route to getting my full license, which means that thus far I have not ridden on UK roads without an instructor following close behind, issuing directions and commenting on each and every misstep via earpiece. Under such conditions one gets the sense that taking part in the time-honoured tradition of acknowledging other riders might earn me reproach. In other words, I've not had a chance to wave at other motorcyclists. But then, this morning, I found myself thinking: how would I? What's the standard procedure for such an act in her majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? How on earth does one show respect?

I know what you're thinking: "It's a wave, Chris. You should have learned how to wave 'hello' when you were 9 months old."

My confusion comes from the fact we drive on the left side of the road in the United Kingdom, and how that affects the act of waving.

In the United States and the majority of the world, of course, people drive on the right. Which means that when an oncoming rider passes you, he or she will do so on your left side. The natural response, then, is to wave with the hand closest to the passing rider: the left. This is simple and safe enough because it only means taking your hand away from the clutch and indicator switch, which aren't immediately necessary when moving steadily along.

But if you ride on the left side of the road, that means oncoming riders pass on the right. If one follows the aforementioned logic of waving with the hand closest to the oncoming rider, he or she would wave with their right hand. But doing so means taking your hand off the throttle and moving it away from the all-important front brake, which many people think should be covered at all times. So what to do?

How do UK riders acknowledge each other? Do they just risk it and wave with the right hand? Or do they wave with their left? If they wave with their left, do they do so across their bodies or just hope the oncoming rider sees a hand in the far distance? Or do they do something else? Nod, perhaps? I've heard that in many continental European countries they raise a foot to say hello (but this, again, would be the left foot, which does not cover a brake).

One of the things a newbie motorcyclist looks forward to most is feeling that sense of somehow belonging to a community. Yes, it's fair to say the idea of that community may be a load of nonsense, but it's still nice to say hello to people, to show respect for those taking on the same risks and challenges as yourself. Waving at each other is one of the little fun aspects of riding, I'd think, and when I finally take to the road on my own I want to do it right.

So, UK riders: what's the correct procedure? How do you show respect?

Comments

  1. 1. I am now also curious about how wrong-sided riders wave...

    2. That photo is pure awesomesauce. Every time I look at it, I spot something that makes it just a little cooler.

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  2. 'Hi' (UK) to approaching biker who's not displaying an 'L' plate: Slight twist of head to left and down OR (much less commonly) raise 4 fingers of gloved hand nearest biker without removing palm from handlebar

    'Hi' (Europe) to approaching biker who's not displaying an 'L' plate: Relaxed, curved and open palm to their side lazily reached out like a hand signal but lower and slightly forward

    'Thank You' (UK & Europe) to car/lorry driver in slow moving traffic who moves over in their lane to let you lane split and go past them: Foot lowered on their side after passing them by

    'Go ahead, mate' (UK & Europe) to another biker about to overtake you from behind: Foot lowered to their side

    'Cheers, ride safe!' (UK & Europe) to a biker who let you overtake them: Foot lowered to their side as you pass them by

    Sub-250cc motorcycles, scooter, moped and bicycle riders never wave to bikers and will get confused if you wave to them!

    Don't wave to a biker in traffic as it's hard enough just trying to avoid pranging the cagers shifting lanes to a supposedly faster one!

    The US single-finger (Harley owner), two-finger wave (V-twin owner) or two-finger down (keep the rubber side down), etc., is rarely seen in the UK.

    Around the Paris Périphérique in the 80's, it was common for some French bikers to noisily hit the wing mirrors backwards of both the cars who left too small a gap for them to get through safely but with the lane filter ban in France nowadays this is seldom done anymore and they have to all sit in their lane like good, safe riders inhaling the fumes in rush hour for 2 or 3 hours like everyone else!

    Don't expect Busa Turbo owners to see you in their field of vision for more than 1/20 second, let alone wave to you!

    Finally, don't wave your hand high in the air or from side to side to another biker as it's taken as a sign of someone who has just passed their test and very happy!

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  3. Here in Poland there is no problem. Even from a distance with his left hand outstretched to the side greetings from afar. However with us meet at (especially in those who run fast) elevated only 4 fingers. Foot Sign of I've never seen.

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  4. As a Brit who has been riding for nearly two years on L plates, and about to do my Direct Access, I nod to any other rider I see, apart from mopeds and Harley riders. Not sure what Black Inazuma has against L plates, if they ride, they must have had them at some point.

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  5. @Anonymous: As someone who's been a biker since 1973, I can only say what my general observations since then have been. I was a learner too once so I understand your concerns about being accepted! But I think the understanding is that bikers are exchanging a sort of respect for each other and for their biking lives in general and I don't think that learners will have fully had that experience.

    For example, I have to say that learners are not taught or encouraged to practice having accidents or falls these days. They are taught to ride only to a certain standard, to do a 2-dimensional hazard perception test video, road signs of the highway code, etc, etc. I'm not aware that learners today are taught any off-road practice on gravel, sand, diesel, pot-holes, grease - in other words, all the stuff they're likely to encounter sooner or later on today's A and B roads in the UK. I am aware that they are taught to ride around plastic cones and keep the bike upright at low speeds and manage U-turns without falling off - not really life-threatening stuff nor something like the dangers that they will really be encountering when riding on today's roads with cars just wandering into them without warning.

    If they had serious off-road practice going up hills, across lakes, down track circuits, along deep muddy ruts, through sand dunes, gravelly stones and boulders, artificial black ice patches, snow, etc., their subconscious reflex systems would begin to learn what the bike might be trying to do and what to do and what not to do in that situation. After a time, their bodies would react more spontaneously without the usual mental processing delay. They would learn how not to high-side their bikes immediately after taking late corrective action on a unexpectedly tightening corner. Prevention is the answer always but having some automatic reaction is also important.

    It's a pity I think that ABS is to become compulsory for machines of 125cc+ as it means that new bikers will be less likely to learn how to brake correctly (on continuous gravel, ABS doesn't work well). So, when someone says to me that the bike they want is great because it has ABS, I tend to answer them by saying: "But you're not always going to be a learner. You need to learn to ride like a biker - not like Kiera Knightley in Italian cream leathers on a cafe racer for a fashion shoot in Milan with an ABS-equipped bike." Maybe get the ABS-equipped bike after a few years of being an experienced biker for the extra safety margin in MAY give you in a certain situation.

    As for CE-approved armour in clothing - it can instill in some riders a sense of safety. Any biker who has taken a fall at a speed greater than 30mph into something hard will tell you that CE-approved armour MAY give you some reduction in laceration, abrasion, contusions, fractures, muscle stripping, contamination of open wounds when hitting the road surface, IF the protectors cover the part of the body that impacted.

    Worth spending money on armour?
    Definitely.

    Think that it will help you to simply stand up and pick your bike up after losing it on a corner on a country road?
    Think again.

    The falls you see bikers have in leathers at high speed on tarmac during the MotoGP, BSB, WSB, etc., is unrepresentive of the kind of accident most bikers will have on country roads and cities. You're quite likely to have your head crushed by a bus wheel after being pushed off by a car driver on a mobile phone, for example, and you will likely not be moving when the ambulance takes you away on a stretcher.

    So, returning to the wave... Sure, it's a good thing and we should all do it but I think personally it has come to mean more than just 'Hi, biker!'

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  6. "Kiera Knightley in Italian cream leathers on a cafe racer"

    Link to photos please? Thanks. I could use a day-brightener.

    I wave at freakin' everybody. Scooters, mopeds, those stupid can-am things, Boss Hogs, whatever. I even wave to MC guys. I don't wave at bicyclists unless I happen to make eye contact, and I have made conversation with more than one bicyclist at stops.

    Scooterists will wave back if they see you're waving. They're used to getting snubbed, so they don't look for it and only initiate if their other bike is, you know, a bike.

    We're all out on death machines facing the same dangers whether we've gone through years of secluded Kung Fu training or not. When in doubt, whip it out.

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    Replies
    1. I realized I could just google the photos of Kiera Knightley. You know what kind of bike she was on? A Duc. Day brightened.


      Delete
  7. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRV-2_Un-kk

    OK, Lucky, I admit it. Kiera was on a 1973 Ducati Supersport 750 (front twin-disc, rear drum, no ABS) on a perfume shoot in Paris (not Milan) for a Coco Chanel ad but I'm sure you get the sentiment - a girl who can ride her bike effortlessly down diagonally steep staircases without the slightest disturbance of an eyelash under a $1800 designer helmet and a flash leather catsuit with a wonder machine that can take her anywhere in her dreams!

    The Chanel ad sends out all the wrong messages to girls who might be thinking about getting a bike - like any girl can just get on and ride a bike - it's easy - all they have to do is twist the throttle and the bike will automatically whizz down streets and round bends like in a dream!

    As if Marianne Faithful lying flat on the tank and pouting her lips in 'Girl On A Motorbike' (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEOwybriej4) wasn't embarrassing enough nor to mention the 'hard men' in 'Wild Hogs' having to slip off the bikes between scenes for the stunt doubles to take over...

    Now, for my money, I could watch Michael Parks ride all day long in the 69/70's US TV series 'Then Came Bronson' on a H-D Sportster - at least he rides a bit more realistically - ripping in and out of the deep ruts of a sandy beach trying to keep the bike upright until he finally drops it! He doesn't wave too often...

    Have a look at my last post on my blog for an example of 'skilful riders' for the 'yoof of today' to imitate. One of the 'SuperMotards' is waving his hand about but I'm not sure what he's saying!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I dunno, I'm pretty sure Ducati motorcycles are that easy to ride. That's the impression I get, anyway.

    But that's really got nothing to do with my comment above about Keira being on a Duc. My comment was solely about the overwhelming number of sex objects in the photos, not a correction of your statement.

    There's a LaCoste ad featuring a girl in high heels and a skirt riding a cafe racer that oughta get you really riled up. The funniest part, to me, was the ease she had kick-starting it. Apparently she's got a bad compression problem...

    (Link to vid: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JkIDrVe_0w)

    As for Marianne Faithful... Well, I'm pretty sure Jane Fonda couldn't really pilot a spaceship, but she sure was fun to watch in "Barbarella."

    I don't think they like to let actors/models actually ride, on account of how they're incredibly likely to end up like Pee Wee Herman in this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0h_cvVGMcQ

    I'd better get back on topic. Chris - wave, like, with your hand. Or nod. Whatever. It's OK to look like an enthusiastic beginner when you are, in fact, an enthusiastic beginner. You'll get the feel for what other people do after a day and a half.

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  9. I wave. Left hand down early or high late. Neither if it's not particularly safe in which case a nod will do. I have also known extending the right foot but it's unusual round these parts. I wouldn't hesitate nodding to scooters or L plates (I often ride my wife's bike without removing the plates, naughty I know). I won't deny that the really young kids don't nod back but that's only as often as some other classes of rider who you get the impression, consider themselves above you.

    Fortunately, there is no fixed way of acknowledging other motorcyclist. Do whatever works for you.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post. I'll be following.

    ReplyDelete

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