Monday, July 10, 2006

Riding in Washington DC

OK, so this has been percolating in the back of my head for a while. I've been riding in the National Capitol Region steadily for the past year (save for a mandatory break while my foot healed up from surgery), and I've had a few close calls and interesting incidents to report:
  • Things Said At A Traffic Light: While waiting on a light out on MD 210 (Indian Head Highway), a woman in a car in the next lane rolled down her window and asked me, "Did you put them on there?" (more of a "dem on dere" -- lady had a very thick accent). After a few more moments of general handwaving and garbled remarks, I figured out that she wanted to know if I'd put the BMW Rondel on the side of my bike to bling it up a bit. She acted surprised when I told her that no, the FACTORY put it on the bike. Sheesh. Next I'm gonna put an "R-Type" sticker on the back fender, right next to the one that says "TURBO". They make it go faster, you know...
  • More Things Said At A Traffic Light: Again, the Indian Head Highway seems to be my personal zone to catch up with odd questions. Guy in a BMW Z3 pulls up next to me at the light, does a double-take and asks The Usual Question. "Yes sir, BMW does make motorcycles. They've been doing it since 1923. Actually, they started making airplanes first, then motorcycles, then picked up automobiles after that." There's a wonderful shirt for sale up at Bob's BMW that pretty much sums the whole situation up for me.
  • Even More Things Said At A Traffic Light: So Rolling Thunder came and went this year and things were pretty cool all around. The only minor bit of weirdness with any of the horde of migrating HD operators was a fellow (again at a stoplight) who wondered if my bike was on. I cracked the throttle and answered his question. :-)
  • Still More Things Said At A Traffic Light: Sitting at a light in Falls Church this time (I know, where's MD210 when you need it) and a HD Rider pulls up alongside. Not sure of the vintage, but he's got snazzy new leathers, a wee-tiny helmet with the "official-like DOT sticker", a shiny new bike, and the usual leather saddlebags draped across the rear seat. I'm guessing he's a recent convert, as most of the old-timers remember to take the price tag off the jacket before riding (nope, not making it up here -- there really was a paper tag hanging from the sleeve of his jacket, just purchased I'm guessing). He cocks a thumb at the rear and asks me "why you want to mess around with that Fisher-Price Luggage, man?" (I have a set of BMW System Cases mounted) I told him, "Hey, mine don't leak when it rains, buddy." When I pulled off, I could still see the gears grinding away in his head, desperately trying to come up with a suitable comeback.

Some of the less humorous incidents are the near-misses and close calls:

  • I've nearly been clipped a couple of times in traffic on the Southeast/Southwest Freeway -- traffic's backed up, and there's always some tool that sees a gap between cars in his/her peripheral vision and makes a quick snap of the steering wheel to take advantage. Usually the reason why that nearly-car-sized gap is there in the first place is because my motorcycle is in the middle of it. Look before merging. No, really. Look. Look twice. It's OK -- no one's gonna get that much further ahead if you take the time.
  • On the 14th Street Bridge, inbound to DC from VA, late afternoon traffic. We're all inching into the District ten feet at a time, and I'm starting to feel like I'm sitting on the world's largest mobile space-heater. Sometimes an air-cooled engine can be a disadvantage. Large woman in large black Escalade busily yammering away on her cell-phone starts cutting into my lane. Mind you, I'm boxed fore and aft by other folks who just want to get the hell off the bridge and on to wherever they need to go. Car in front is stopped, the car in back is Too Damned Close to my rear wheel. I literally have no place to go and I'm being forced into the railing. As I run out of room, I lean on the horn to try and raise my profile a bit. Gosh, now she's noticed me. She takes time out to roll down her window and without a break hollers at me, "HEY! I'M IN A HURRY!" Christ, we're ALL in a hurry here, lady. Not one of us wants to be stuck on the bridge in this heat, air conditioned comfort or no.
  • Speaking of Cell Phones: In every situation to date where someone's done something particularly mindless in traffic (irregardless of whether I'm on the bike or the family car), there has ALWAYS been a cell phone involved. If memory serves me right, the use of cellular phones by the operator in a motor vehicle is prohibited. Of course, the law provides an out for handsfree, placing a call, and the usual "Emergency Call" clause. Frankly, given the number of hands-to-head drivers I see, the crisis level here in the District has to be at an unbelievable level.

Despite the occasional moments of heart-stoopping excitement, I wouldn't trade the ride for anything. I honestly think that riding a motorcycle daily makes you a better driver when you're behind the wheel of a car. The paranoid "check all mirrors, keep scanning the local area, glance at gauges, check all mirrors.." routine have helped to improve my situational awareness while I'm in the car as well. Being aware of the fact that the cell phone/radio/CD Player takes your attention away from what's going on outside.

Not that I'd recommend it for everyone, but there are some advantages to riding a motorcycle that aren't readily apparent. As always, and until next time,

Ostensibly Yours.