Uneasy Rider: Moments

Uneasy Rider May 2017. Photo: Angelica Rubalcaba.

Photo: Angelica Rubalcaba

A couple weeks back, I was on my way into SF, crossing the Bay Bridge mid-morning as I always do. I’d split up behind a guy on a… GS500? Some middleweight standard thing, with one of those simple, classical, sorta-café-esque round-headlight fairings added to it.

We’d just emerged from the tunnel, and the rider was taking it easy. I didn’t push him, but began to think he was unaware of the rider behind him—me. This was confirmed once we exited the bridge, where he just sorta wandered back and forth, in and out of occupying his lane and splitting, in a way that made me loath to share past him. I noticed he didn’t seem to have mirrors, so I just waited.

Eventually, I wound up next to him at a light, and realized his mirrors were folded in. Now, he didn’t have folding CRGs or similar mirrors that’re supposed to do this, just the big OEM mirrors on his bike, rotated inward. Seriously, guy?

As an aside, despite what a lot of riders seem to think, I don’t believe there’s some inherent camaraderie or fraternity or whatever between riders. Sure, we share an affinity for a thing, but the data I’ve collected over the last several decades of riding clearly disproves any relationship between riding a motorcycle and being a good person, or even just a person I want to associate with.

It’s just like having a lot of tattoos: if you’re a dislikeable dipshit, that fact that we dig on the some of the same stuff doesn’t make you any less of a dipshit, doesn’t make me want to be friends with you.

To be fair, said dipshits would almost certainly say the same thing about me, maybe throw in something along the lines of “maladjusted, antisocial asshole.”

Anyway… this is so you can understand why this knucklehead’s choice of transportation didn’t earn him a pass from me. But it did keep me from flipping him off or talking any real trash. I simply pointed at his uselessly-placed mirrors and waved my left hand in obvious exasperation.

He made a face indicative of confusion, or maybe of recent head injury, so I pointed at his mirrors and said “Dude, I’ve been behind you for a while, and you’ve just been weaving. Use your mirrors!”

He still looked a little confused, so I added, “If I can split on this bigass GS, you can certainly split on that bitchass little bike.”

I didn’t actually say bitchass, although looking back I kinda wish I had—even though GS500s are pretty cool, for being bitchass little bikes.

I went on my way, slightly pleased that I hadn’t been verbally abusive with the other rider, in spite of his clear need for a punch in the face. Maybe that relatively pleasant and informative exchange increased the number of splitters using their goddamn mirrors by one, or maybe he’s made his own rant somewhere about the ‘Stich-wearing greybeard that talked down to him on his commute, and someone else will have to punch him in the face someday. I don’t know, probably never will.

That evening, on the way home, also on the Bay Bridge, I passed a sedan with an aging Golden Retriever protruding from its passenger side window. I say aging because he (just guessing) had as much grey in his chin whiskers as I do.

This fella was almost halfway out the window, not in that crazy, hyperactive pit bull kind of way, but in a relaxed, “Man, I’m just enjoying the breeze,” kind of way. He was smiling like Retrievers almost always are, and I grinned inside my helmet too, glad that I’d come across him and whoever was chauffeuring him out of the City.

I wanted to slow down, match pace to pet him, scratch him between the ears and talk a bit, “Hey buddy…” or whatever. But that’s tricky at speed, and you know… we’d just met. So I went on my way.

But I felt like I’d missed an opportunity, and wish even now that I’d slowed my roll to share some quality time with the dog, like I sometimes pretend to high-five people who have their hand out the window. The reasons behind this are the same ones that drive me to lightly drag my hand along the side of a bus when I split by. I’ve heard this likened to “swimming with whales,” and I think that’s about perfect—there’s a brief harmony in that transient touch, a feeling that everything is ok.

These moments matter. They add up, ultimately defining our riding experience. I ride every day, in the shit, as they say, and my ratio of good and bad moments, and those on the spectrum in between, is still extremely positive. For some, that ratio gets too into the red and stays there—check out TJ’s piece on quitting the street on page 12 and Maynard’s column on page 20, for other sides of this story. Bonus: first person to send me a note about the source of the title of Maynard’s piece gets a CityBike t-shirt.

In just the last couple of days, I’ve read in the “real media” about a rider taking a bullet in San Francisco (lived) and young rider in San Bernardino that was tragically decapitated by a downed wire (definitely didn’t live). Both of these events, on top of the seemingly endless stream of #RiderDown notifications, put a very fine point on almost any statement about the dangers of riding on the street—even if you’re a skilled, mindful, highly-aware, highly-visible daily rider like I aspire to be.

But I can’t imagine not riding on the street, from commuting to twisties to hittin’ the road for a few days. Unfathomable.

Forget trite, “this could be your last ride,” sentiments. My moments keep calculating well into the black, on the serious awesomeness side of the equation: sharing a smile with a gregarious Golden, swimming with the whales, lifting the front a bit on my way out of a corner, slowing down to inhale deeply instead of just dashing across a fall valley… these are the things that keep my light burning bright.

This column originally appeared in our May 2017 issue, which you can read in all its high-res glory here.

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