WhyBike Motorcycle Blog

Royal Enfield and why we ride a motorcycle

By James - 3/30/2007

Once I got over the “EWWWW!” factor of this Royal Enfield commercial I thought about the message it is sending. On the surface it is saying that the Royal Enfield is worth the disapproval that your mother will bestow on you for riding a motorcycle. And that I agree with. I had the same issues when I started riding with my mother. But there were underlying concepts that bothered me about this commercial. The boy who became a man was tethered, literally, to his mother his whole life. A mama’s boy. Codependent. A follower. A motorcycle does not break this mentality by itself. Rarely is a motorcycle a source of confidence. In fact, even as my skills have matured, my motorcycle has reminded me more than once how stupid I can be. Learning to ride a motorcycle is not an automatic “bad-ass” curriculum. That is the whole premise for the movie “Wild Hogs". So take a look at the following Royal Enfield ad, from Malaysia I believe, and let me know what it says to you . . .


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Mailbag: Legalizing Lanesharing in Florida

By James -

Roy wrote in

I recently relocated to the Tampa area from SoCal and am wondering if there are any groups around here that are working to have lane sharing legalized? I would even be willing to make helmets mandatory if we could lane share. I would like to become involved with any groups that are trying to make it legal to laneshare. Thanks

I feel you Roy. I was in Arizona last October stuck in traffic in Laughlin. Temperature was in the 90s and no wind. It took us 40 minutes to go 3 miles on that asphalt oven. My wife was sweeping and afraid we were going to get tickets so we just sat in traffic. Luckily it was all downhill to the river so we cut the engines and coasted into town. If we were splitting, it would have taken us 10 minutes. I really miss it when I am out of state.

Here in California we have a powerful proponent of lane sharing in the Highway Patrol. When the lane sharing law was up for debate in the state senate, the Highway Patrol lobbied to leave it alone and that goes a long way when it comes from “Ponch and John” instead of the stereotypical outlaw biker.

Unfortunately this is not one of the AMA’s priorities so their poilitical muscle won’t really help you here. I think your best bet is to contact LaneShare.org and start a grassroots movement within your state. Find out what law enforcement has to say, as well as the opinion of state government and the voting population.

Good luck and if you need some statistics that show it can be an effective traffic solution as well as be safer than sitting in traffic read Is sharing lanes more or less dangerous than sitting in traffic?

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Motorcycles are mainstream

By James - 3/28/2007

My day job is in marketing and I frequently attend events targeting small businesses. Today was an Hewlitt Packard event in the SF MOMA. They were presenting a range of products tailored to solving technology problems faced by small businesses. They had a handful of case studies, mom and pop companies from the US and Canada. One of the businesses in the spotlight was Orange County Choppers. Straight from the Discovery Channel with an HP “The Art of Small Business” bike. The Teutuls were not there but Jason, their designer was on hand to talk about how they use HP computers to design their bikes. I was able to spend a few minutes talking to him about OCC. It definitely drew the most attention by far. Much more than the other case studies.
Orange County Chopper

20 years ago nobody would have cared what technology a motorcycle builder used to run his business. Strapping a motor between two wheels and polishing it did not make you a celebrity. People who rode motorcycles were a minority fringe. But today motorcycles represent a lifestyle, a form of transportation greater than it’s parts. Programs like American Chopper and movies like Wild Hogs show how mainstream motorcycling has become. Some think we are betraying the rebellious roots of true “bikers". Some believe the increase in popularity is good for the sport. I will let you be the judge but I know one thing. They don’t make Pez dispensers for the minority fringe.
Orange County Pez Dispenser

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Bikers as second-class road citizens

By James -

I was reading the news report where an SUV crossed a highway in the path of a motorcycle and killed the rider and put the passenger in a coma. One of the comments on the news story caught my attention.

Why should an auto driver be responsible for the death of a biker when the same accident if it happened between two autos would have caused some bodywork damage? The biker is the one that decided to take the mode of transportation they are less likly(sic) to survive in.
This is not the first time I have heard this idea. Many people want bikers’ compensation for injuries caused in accidents restricted or denied since they were not taking “reasonable” precautions with their safety. Unfortunately, this reasoning is flawed in a few ways. I am not going into helmet laws here but even with a helmet, gloves, jacket pants, armor and boots, motorcyclists are still extremely vulnerable when a 500 lb motorcycle goes up against a 6500 lb SUV.

I am curious what these people concerned with safety think we should do with pedestrians and cyclists who are taken out by automobiles. Should compensation be withheld since they are not surrounded by steel? Should they not be allowed to walk near the street since automobiles may hit them since they are not very easy to see?

I am also curious where we draw the line when deciding what is reasonable protection. Is it just pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists? Are compact cars, like a Civic, or a Mini, reasonably safe when in a head on collision with an SUV? Should we restrict compensation to them?

The truth is that motorcyclists do choose a form of transport that can be dangerous, but we do not ask for people to violate our right of way. Just because you are in a hurry, or need to talk to someone on the phone while driving does not give you the right to endanger other people on the road. Relying on crumple zones to compensate for poor driving skills is a dangerous strategy for all those around you.

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Cost of owning a motorcycle - An evaluation

By James - 3/26/2007

A lot of people coming from automobiles see the purchase prices of motorcycles and think that it is an inexpensive form of transportation. It is especially apparent when I talk to high school aged males who see that a summer’s wages can get a brand new 600cc supersport with aggressive looks. Compare that to a used compact and it seems like a no-brainer when choosing your ride. Motorcycles are inexpensive but you can’t just plop down a summer’s wages and ride off into the sunset. There are a lot of other upfront costs that you need to consider as well as hoops you need to jump through.

First is a license. A motorcycle license is not particularly hard to get, but if you take the MSF class which I recommend because it makes it easier, you will need to throw down a couple hundred for that. The other consideration is gear. You can jump in a car in shorts and flip flops but to ride a bike you need protective gear. I budgeted $1500 for the basics, a helmet, jacket, pants, boots and gloves. I included another $1000 for rain gear.

I wanted to compare how the real cost of owning a motorcycle stacks up against a car or SUV over 5 years. So I tabulated all the costs of owning 4 vehicles, a Suzuki GS500, a Harley Davidson Road King, a Toyota Prius, and a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and put it into the following spreadsheet. I chose an efficient but plausible example commuter in the GS500 and Prius, and then a less efficient but still common example in the Road King and Cherokee.

Costs of owning a motorcycle Excel file

Here are the factors I used to calculate operating costs over 5 years and 50K miles:

  • Purchase Price - MSRP
  • Depreciation - From Kelley Blue Book
  • Fuel Cost - $3.25/gallon, the current price at the station nearest me
  • Safety Gear/Rain Gear
  • Training
  • Insurance
  • Tolls/Parking
  • Tires
  • Maintenance/Service - Average cost from Yahoo Autos
  • Fees, Taxes
  • Repairs - Average cost from Yahoo Autos
  • Opportunity cost is the amount of interest that the purchase price would have garnered if you had left it in the bank.

Looking just at the totals, owning a motorcycle can be half to four times cheaper than owning a car. But there are some differences that new riders will wan to be aware of that are not factors when buying a new car. While the purchase price can be 25% to 75% of the purchase price of a car, you need to buy gear and go through training. This can bring the cost of buying some motorcycles up to the cost of a car.

Here is where the motorcycle is saving you the most money ranked in order of percentage of savings:

  1. Tolls and parking
  2. Depreciation
  3. Purchase price
  4. Opportunity cost
  5. Insurance

Surprising to some, motorcycles are more expensive for some things and other things cost about the same as cars. Here are some of those things:

  • Safety Gear/Rain Gear
  • Motorcycle training
  • Tires
  • Maintenance/Service

Fuel costs turn out not to be that different, depending on vehicle. A Road King compared to a Prius are close but you are actually saving money filling up the Prius. Comparing the fuel costs to an SUV on the other hand can save you a lot. Maintenance and service are also comparable. Where motorcycles cost more is in tires. Even though you only need to replace half the tires, they last a quarter of the miles and cost twice as much. Make sure you have some cash in the bank come 12K miles and you need to replace your tires.

So even though riding a motorcycle can save 25-75% over driving a car, there are some costs that you will incur. Here are the lessons I have learned and you should take into account when you are thinking about commuting by motorcycle.

  1. Maintenance is more frequent, but you can save some money if you do the maintenance yourself, but tools are expensive so short term you won’t be saving money.
  2. Tires are expensive.
  3. The worst traffic is on rainy days, so investing in good rain gear is essential.
  4. Just because insurance is cheap, don’t skimp. A minor crash can cost a lot.

Let me know your experiences with commuting on 2 wheels or 4.

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It’s open season for motorcycles

By James - 3/25/2007

Spring is here and a lot of people are hopping on their bikes after a few months in winter storage. It is important to take it easy while you tune your skills back to street-shape. Unfortunately we have to train the cagers that we are back on the road. As Jesper wrote last week,

A good rule of thumb, the first month or so of riding, is to ride expecting that car drivers haven’t seen you. It might sound stupid, but several years of riding have taught me that there’s something to it.

It seems to be becoming an epidemic. I have been reading about a pregnant teenager that pulled out infront of a motorcycle. He rear ended her and died when he got to the hospital.

INDIANAPOLIS – A 28-year-old man was killed Saturday afternoon in a collision involving a motorcycle and SUV on Indianapolis’ southwest side.

Police said the wreck happened at about 4:30 p.m. at the intersection of Old Mills Drive and Mills Road.

The man on the motorcycle had just received his endorsement permit earlier in the day, according to police.

Police said he was going westbound on Mills Road when an SUV, driven by a pregnant 17-year-old girl, pulled out in front of him.

The motorcyclist was taken to Methodist Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The girl was taken to St. Francis Hospital, where she was reported in good condition and the baby was OK, police said.

The name of the victim was not immediately released.

A crash occurred when a car made a left hand turn in front of oncoming motorcycles.
MIDDLEBORO — A Raynham man was killed in a crash involving three motorcycles and a car on Route 44 Saturday afternoon.

Lt. David M. Mackiewicz said the preliminary investigation indicates the driver of the car was traveling eastbound on Route 44 and making a left hand turn onto the northbound ramp to Interstate 495. The motorcycles were traveling westbound on Route 44 when the crash occurred at 4 p.m. Mackiewicz said it is unclear whether the car hit the motorcycles, or the motorcycles hit the car.

All three men who were on the motorcycles were taken by ambulance to Morton Hospital in Taunton where one, a 43-year-old man from Raynham, was pronounced dead. Mackiewicz said the other two men were being evaluated for possible transport to Boston.

Another instance of a left turn violation of the right of way of a motorcycle.
EUSTIS – A Lady Lake man died and a Eustis woman was critically injured in motorcycle crash late Friday night.

The pair was headed east on County Road 44A at about 11:20 p.m. when a blue 1986 Oldsmobile four-door crossed their path at the intersection of County Road 44, the Florida Highway Patrol said. The driver of the 2006 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide swerved but did not avoid the collision.

The motorcycle driver, a 50-year-old man, died at the site of the crash, the FHP said. Passenger Carla A. Stephens, 46 was taken to the hospital in critical but stable condition after being ejected from the bike. Both wore helmets.

Neither the Oldsmobile driver, 22-year-old James A. Leonard, or his passengers Geneva Heard, 18, and a 10-month old in a carseat, were injured, FHP said.

I have noticed a dramatic up tick in the number of accident reports in the last couple of weeks. So, just like the rest of the year remember, cagers are trying to kill you. The difference now is that your skills are a little rusty, so your stopping distance is a little longer, your reactions are a little slower, your swerves are a little lazier, and your anticipation is a little bit less accurate.

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When Splitting Lanes you gotta know who your friends are

By James - 3/24/2007

I have been splitting lanes now for more than 7 years now. Every day to and from work and on the weekends too. During that time I have learned some good lessons, most of which are written down in Tips for Splitting Lanes. But there are a few tips I left out. Mainly because they are overly broad, differ from person to person, and are frankly mean spirited. Since the article section of the website is meant for educational purposes, I stuck to the facts. The blog has more of an op-ed feel. So here I will spew my hate . . .

I don’t like broad generalizations. Judging a whole group of people based on the actions of a large minority of those people is dumb and closed minded. But after 7 years of splitting lanes I am seeing a pattern and it is letting me be proactive in my lane position, speed, and following distance. I hope you can learn from my observations.

Trucks are your friends
I don’t know why. By all accounts they should be hard to pass when splitting lanes. The are big vehicles with big mirrors right at decapitation level. But they seem to be more aware and more motorcycle friendly than the general cager. A lot of my motorcycle buddies have trucks, maybe this is them driving to work. They seem to move over for you and give you following room much more than I am used to. I would like to give a big two finger “what’s up” to all the trucks that are paying attention.

German cars are your enemies
Not so much with the higher end German cars, I am talking about the entry and mid level BMWs, Mercedes, just about all Audis and if you exclude their vans, Volkswagen. I have seen them signal so I know the cars come with that functionality, but why are they so reluctant to use their turn signals? Without fail, when a stretch of road opens up in front of me and I get up to speed, a Jetta decides they want to be in that faster lane and without looking or signaling, cuts me off. With all that protection they might feel invincible. With my loud pipes and high beam, I might as well be invisible.

Minivans, everybody’s favorite scapegoat
I don’t blame minivan drivers. Most are moms and we all know they have the hardest job in the world. And nowadays they have to drive further to do it. But what really gets me is when they have a “Baby on board” sign but insist in driving dangerously and endangering everybody else on the road.

I love to take the bus
They are big and hard to pass but you know that up front. They don’t lure you to pass then try to kill you. They are nice and predictable. They signal, they maintain their lane positioning and they see you coming. I want to say thanks to the bus drivers.

This might just be a California thing so let me know what patterns you have noticed in your area.

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Dead (motor)cyclists have themselves to blame!

By James -

One of the blogs I read regularly is BoingBoing which reported the other day about a Toronto politician that said that dead cyclists have themselves to blame, even if they died while cycling legally.

I can’t support bike lanes. Roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks. My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.
You notice that he left out motorcycles, another form of transportation with an exposed operator.

This is not a uniquely Canadian mentality, as anyone who has driven in the United States can attest to. The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, expressed a similar position . . .

Even if they’re in the right, they are the lightweights. Every year, too many people are hit by cars - and bikes have to pay attention. Bikers shouldn’t assume car doors won’t open into their path, for example.
He is right in a couple of aspects, bikes and motorcycles are lightweights in both physical size and political force when compared to cars. And as motorcyclists we are taught defensive driving, we shouldn’t assume that cars will not do illegal things and hit us. But we should not just shrug our shoulders and say “Such is life". There are things our government can do beyond telling us to wear helmets to help reduce deaths of all motorists on the road.

  1. Bicycle and pedestrian awareness programs have been shown to help decrease the number of deaths here in the US. Motorcycle awareness programs in European countries have been show to do the same for bikers. We can pressure our government representatives into sponsoring these programs and help to put looking for motorcyclists top of mind for cagers.
  2. Harsher penalties for those who violate the right of way of any vehicle on the road. Those that put convenience over safety need to learn how inconvenient it is for person they kill or injure with their selfish behavior. I am tired of people getting slapped on the wrist when they proclaim that they were late, or they didn’t see the motorcycle. Society should not have to pick up the pieces because you have poor time management or are just to lazy to look both ways before pulling out into traffic.

Just because we are more exposed, or don’t have airbags, or don’t have crumple zones does not mean we are asking for injury or death. We do not have ourselves to blame when bus, car, or truck hits us. So at every chance you have, I plead for you to vote for motorcycle-sympathetic politicians, write to your representatives and encourage strategies for helping to increase motorcycle awareness, and when you have the opportunity to meet face to face let them know how dangerous it is getting for bikers on the raod.

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What traffic school has to say about motorcycles

By James - 3/20/2007

I had to take traffic school last night for a speeding ticket I got on Marting Luther King day. Traffic was light so I decided to pick up the pace and got nabbed. Two months later I passed online traffic school. $150 dollar fine + $30 admin fee for traffic school + $25 for online traffic school puts me at $205 all in. It was an expensive commute.

I was going through the questions and got to the trucks, motorcycles and school bus section. Here are some snippets of what they have to say about our choice of transportation . . .

Motorcycles often have excessive performance capabilities, especially rapid acceleration and high top speeds

I am not sure what they mean by “excessive” but Webster’s defines excessive as “beyond normal limits, unreasonable". Motorcycles do have capabilities beyond the limits of autos but I would not call then unreasonable. My “excessive” capabilities have prevented a handful of major accidents when auto drivers who valued convenience over safety used poor judgment. Most cars have higher top speeds than motorcycles. Even when looking at “race bikes” and compare them to “race cars” you will see that cars have a higher top speed.

They struck close to my heart when I read this:

Although it is not illegal for motorcycles to share lanes, it is unsafe.

Why make a blanket statement like that? Especially with all the FARS data that proves otherwise. There is none of the typical rules of thumb speed limits and speed differences. Just “it is unsafe". I agree that in lots of situations sharing lanes is unsafe, but there are lots of situations where sharing lanes is perfectly safe. Sometimes it is safer than sitting in traffic.

It is frustrating to think that with all the positive things that motorcyclists do, that the associations that will stick in the mind of cagers after this curriculum will be “excessive,” “high top speed,” and “unsafe.” Thanks online traffic school!

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Odd Police Motorcycle - Super Dyna

By James - 3/17/2007

My St. Patty’s day was spent at a water polo game and a rugby game on the Cal campus. While walking up to the rugby game I noticed the UCPD police motorcycle. What made me curious was that it did not have the normal profile of a police Road King. Since I work across the street from the nearest Starbucks to the county courthouse I am very familiar with the San Francisco PD bikes. I have even seen the police Electra models but this was much smaller. I took a closer look and noticed it was a Dyna. It makes sense, a smaller bike is good for maneuvering through an urban campus with narrow paths. Here are some pics if you are curious:

police motorcycle dyna
police motorcycle dyna
police motorcycle dyna

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Mailbag: Uninsured motorist coverage: Do you need it?

By James - 3/7/2007

Aaron wrote in . . .

I have a question about Uninsured/Underinsured motorist coverage. I called my health insurance that I receive through work and they told me I would be covered for emergencies, office visits, etc. if I were to be in an accident of any sort, being motorcycle or other, I would still be covered.

My question is, wouldn’t it be redundant to pay for uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage if my copay for emergency room is only $50?

I have to sign a waiver to refuse it. Is this a scam by the insurance companies or is this really a good idea? If I don’t get the uninsured motorist coverage, I’d be saving about $200 a year.

Is uninsured motorist coverage a scam? Yes and no. Is it worth $200 per year? That depends. I am not helping much am I Aaron. Let me explain this better. This is a timely subject for me as my wife and I just raised our liability coverage so that we could also raise our uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. More on this later. First here are some facts.

Depending on which state you live in 30-50% of the drivers are uninsured. According to Devvy Kidd:

Here in California the numbers are astronomical. Statewide, over one third of drivers lack insurance–about 33 percent, according the California Department of Insurance. The figures skyrocket in low-income and minority city neighborhoods: nearly 50%. In San Jose, California, 55% of all drivers on the road have no insurance. Statewide, the problem is worst in the Los Angeles, Imperial, San Diego and Alameda counties. With the exception of Alameda, the uninsured rates in those counties reaches a whopping 90 percent range. Alameda County’s worst neighborhood, Oakland, is 63 percent uninsured.

If you do happen to have an insured motorist hit you, there is an even better chance that they are only carrying the state minimum amount of insurance. So you can see that if you are in an accident, you will probably have to deal with an uninsured or underinsured driver. An underinsured driver is one that is carrying insurance, but insufficient to pay for all your medical bills or fix your bike. Here in California the minimum is $15,000 bodily injury liability, $30,000 bodily injury liability maximum for all injured, and $5,000 property damage liability.

If you spend any amount of time looking at motorcycle classifieds you know that it is easy to total any motorcycle with just a minor accident and reclassify the title as salvaged. A low speed collision can total a $20,000 Road Glide and easily leave you with $40,000 in medical care. Fairings are expensive, frames are tough to straighten, and doctors are paid the big bucks to sew you up. If the at-fault driver has no insurance you are on the hook for the deductible on your comprehensive and health insurance and your rates will go up. What is more frightening is the time you miss from work, and your ability perform your duties at work and at home could have suffered. Your health insurance or comprehensive coverage will not compensate you for lost wages or diminished capacity to perform your duties. This is where uninsured motorist coverage comes in. If you are absent from work for months or can no longer perform your duties, uninsured motorist coverage will compensate you.

After finding out about this and researching it, we decided to up our coverage to $100K/$300K. Unfortunately, your uninsured motorist coverage cannot exceed your liability insurance, and here is where I see the scam. As a motorcyclist, I am at far more danger from uninsured motorists than the danger I pose to others on the road. But it is more important to cover myself and pay extra for the increased liability insurance than to leave myself open to a devastating injury by a judgment-proof driver.

It is up to each person to decide whether uninsured coverage is worth it to you. If you have a family, a mortgage, an integral part in a company, it may be worth it. It only takes one inattentive moment for you to be hit by a motorist and have your life changed forever.

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Biker awarded $2.4 million because of sex and video game obsession

By James - 3/5/2007

According to VisorDown, a biker in England is now obsessed with video games and sex after being in an accident.

I am one of the biggest proponents of victims rights when it comes to people who take their driving privileges for granted and put their convenience before the safety of others on the road. But I have a hard time believing the severity of this man’s claim.

A BIKER who was involved in a motorcycle crash that left him with side effects causing him to be obsessed with mobile phone games and daily sex has been awarded £1.2 million damages.

Along with motorcycles, sex and video games are my three favorite things. I can be quite obsessive about all three and at one point in my life, done each of them from dusk till dawn. I prefer to do all three over work anyday, but I still go. I understand that if I don’t go to work, I will not get any more sex, I will not be able to ride, and video games require that you pay the electricity bill. I say make this guy “right". Pay for his bike, gear, and medical bills, and put the automobile driver away, but this man has to battle his own demons. There are support groups for compulsion and I suggest this man make use of them. But lets not get ridiculous over impulses we all have learned to control.

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I object to lane splitting because . . .

By James - 3/1/2007

I had the pleasure to hear straight from a cager why some have a problem with lane splitting. Warning: It is quite irrational and does not make much sense when you know the facts.

(I object to lane splitting because) it puts me at risk of an accident or it puts my car at risk of being damaged and the motorcyclist may drive on or blame me. Someone else does not have the right to put me in such danger or circumstance anymore than I have the right to make you stand on the edge of a buildings roof. - GWMobile

In most instances, actually an overwhelming amount, 75%-85% of motorcycle collisions with cars are caused by automobile drivers. (Hurt Report, Tony Merlino) The main cause of motorcycle accidents is inconspicuousness. (Eye catching gear may reduce motorcycle injuries) Cars just do not see motorcyclists.

Is this the motorcyclists’ fault? As a motorcyclist I see inattentive and careless drivers every day. Most drivers don’t look for motorcyclists when they are turning. They also do not look for pedestrians or bicyclists when turning right. It is not on the top of mind of most cagers. They are thinking about work, they are thinking about traffic, they are concentrating on things other than driving. Motorcycles do not put cars at risk. Inattentive driving puts you at risk. There are two easy things you can do to make sure you do not have a motorcycle crash into you while splitting lanes; use your turn signal and look in your mirror. This will prevent 100% of accidents. It is not that hard, I drive a car and am not startled by motorcycles. Motorcycles are not hard to see. They have bright headlights that are always on. Many have bright paint jobs. Many have loud pipes. Many bikers wear bright clothing. There is no excuse for not seeing a motorcycle, it is carelessness on your own part that put you in that situation. You are the one putting others at risk.

(I object to lane splitting because) it is a result of someone who feels they can jump the line. Impatience, rudeness, superiority, uncivilized behavior, flauting(sic) the law, being an $#%hole call it what you will but lane splitting is all about the motorcyclists putting his desires ahead of others. - GWMobile

Here is the real motivation of those who wish to eliminate lane sharing; jealousy. Sure it seems like you are “cutting in line” and acting uncivilly, but in reality, that line is shorter because I am on a motorcycle. I have not bought into the idea that bigger is better which imposes on everyone round you. I am not hogging a ridiculously large space on the highway and using more resources than I need to. It seems like the refusal to use your turn signal and look before you turn is a lot more rude and arrogant than me using a piece of highway you can’t.

For more info on splitting lanes:
Lane Splitting Articles

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