Rules of the Road

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Do you wave or nod to every other bike rider you meet on the road? Dave Whiting has undertaken four months of statistical research to see who responds (or not) to his greetings…

My New Year resolution to act less like Victor Meldrew failed on the second day with me shouting at the computer screen ‘It’s not us, it’s them!’ I was actually shouting at Frank Westworth having just read his ‘’ in which he struggled to understand why, when riding a Harley, other bikers failed to acknowledge him. Frank would have never heard my ‘Meldrew-esque’ rant so I started to write a reply straight away. The rant went along the lines of: we don’t acknowledge Harley riders because they never acknowledge us. I nod to almost every motorcyclist that I pass.

One overwhelming memory of my first venture out onto the roads, in the early 1970s, was that sense of camaraderie generated by the headlight flashes, nods and waves that I got from the other riders; it’s fantastic to see that it still goes on, even in these strange times. On the second January of this year, I’d have estimated that, these days, about 65% of riders either nod to me or respond to my gestures. In all my motorcycling career, that’s in excess of 42 years (legal ones), I can only recall ever having an acknowledgment of my presence from two Harleys and I’m fairly certain that it was the same rider but on different occasions. So just like you Frank, on your fateful ride, I’ve also given up on them. I can’t say where or when this happened but it was many years ago.

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I halted my ranting missive suddenly after re-reading the title, ‘Hardly Defined’. I locked onto the word ‘defined’ and remembered the mantra of David Kirkaldy, the venerated 19th century test engineer who rated ‘facts not opinions’. I decided to record the next 100 ‘greetings’ with all other bike (OB) and compare the numbers to Harley (HD) riders. Empirical evidence cannot be argued with, my interpretations might be but the following figures are beyond question. Perhaps, over the years, things had changed and HD riders do now know that other types of bikes exist.

I’m an all year / all-weather rider, apart from falling snow and black ice; I’m not a complete idiot, just well on the way. I always ride with dipped beams switched on; I’m aware that a flashed headlight, at an incorrect moment, might spur some impatient motorist to move out into my path. I therefore either nod, generally and/or wave occasionally. Generally I nod to most passing motorcyclists other than L-plates, mopeds and other smaller machines unless they wave / nod to me first when I will respond. I suspended my ‘No nodding’ stance to HD riders for the period of this research.

My daily work hack is a 32 year old BMW R80RT, it is cosmetically challenged and this is not assisted by me failing to wash it; I just wipe the lights clean and drizzle some more old oil on the road dirt to prevent further rust. From the outset I accept that I do not present as the sort of rider that you might wish to acknowledge. I ride a more presentable BMW K1100LT on weekends and touring holidays.

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BMW R80s on …

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I started my tally on my first ride to work on 6th January. There are not many two wheelers on the back roads in January / February but there are some others that I pass on my daily route. I’ve included my regulars just once therefore numbers were slow to start. I did not pass my first HD until 23rd March; no response. By the end of March the figures were other bikes (OB) 16 nods to 12 responses (75%), number 15 being a young lad on a sporty 125 with L-plates nodding to me first so I dutifully responded. HD 1 to 0 (0%)

Saturday 4th April was my first weekend ride out and the figures jumped to OB 29 to 23 (79%). HD 2 to 0 (0%).

Thursday 9th April, on a straight section of road were three oncoming HDs, all in line, all nicely spaced, in a 40 limit, all of us doing about that, all could clearly see me. A good nod to the first; no response. The second, a female rider, that or a slightly build man with a passion for pink accessories, another of my best nods, again no response. I guess that her mum had told her, earlier in life, not to talk to strange men; this would be the motorcycling equivalent of talking to a dirty old man so I should not have expected too much there. I couldn’t dwell on it because coming up quickly was the third one, again one of my most deferential nods, surely he must see me nodding to the others, but he doesn’t, or chooses not to. HD now 5 to 0 (0%)

Saturday 11 April, out on a shopping trip for bike parts (what else does one shop for?) One HD passed in traffic, at a walking pace and so close that we could have high fived each other, I nod; no response. The second HD of the day passes in front of me whilst I’m waiting to ride off the forecourt of a motorcycle shop, he faces in my direction and I give another of my clearest nods and guess what he does? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.. apart from look back to where he’s going. Even at this early stage I’m beginning to wonder why I’m bothering. ‘Facts not opinions’ chimes in the back of my mind so I soldier on. Numbers now OB 42 to 35 (83%). HD 7 to 0 (0%).

Wednesday 15th April, I’m educated by the following sequence of events. The rider of a Vespa scooter smiling away and nodding to me in a 50mph limit, I duly respond; even with our combined closing speed of about 100mph we can still, momentarily, be two-wheeled comrades. About 200 metres behind the Vespa are two HDs. I nod to both. Guess what? Yes, you’re absolutely right. The three of us cannot be two-wheel comrades. I’m claiming the Vespa rider as an honorary OB. Numbers now OB 49 to 41 (83%). HD 9 to 0 (0%).

Saturday 18th April, a ride up to north Hampshire for a potential motorcycle purchase. Part of my route is a road that is a favourite with the riders of sports bikes, you know the type, those in multi-coloured leathers with lumps between the shoulder blades. There is a notable lack of responses from this type of rider but I’m still encouraged by many including a distinct and unprompted left hand wave from one with a closing speed by both of us ‘a bit’ in excess of 120mph. On this trip alone the numbers were OB 39 to 23 (58%) so a significant drop with the weekend/sports bike riders. The HDs maintain their standards at 3 to 0 (0%). Directly due to the lack of response, my nods to the HD riders have got a bit more exaggerated, even developing into half bows. as I do it I’m reminded of a line from a Jethro sketch, ‘I bows bloody good’. Total numbers now OB 94 to 67 (71%), HD now 12 to 0 (0%).

On 20th April the final 6 OBs all responded to give a final figure of 77%. HDs remained at 12 to 0 (0%) despite me continuing for a few days more just to report at least one had responded but none were found.

Whilst I’m the first to admit that 12 HD riders is a small sample, statistically at least 9 should have responded to me, if they acted like OBs; the fact that not even one did, speaks volumes. What I noticed more was the completely fixed stare to the front or straight beyond me in every instance. They were sort of, dead… not there, and certainly didn’t look like they were enjoying their riding. They were the complete opposite to the Vespa rider and the waving sports bike rider. You could see that they were living every moment of their rides.

If I say hello to someone and they ignore me and pass without comment that, to me, could be an act of arrogance. Now it might be that they didn’t hear me or they were too preoccupied with something else and thereby ignorant of certain facts; in this instance, the rider had his brain in neutral, we all do that from time to time. I would doubt any rider’s claim that they missed seeing an opposing motorcycle on a single carriageway road. For me there is a second form of ignorance whereby a person is fully aware of the facts but chooses to act in a particular manner that suits only them; this is arrogance, contempt, conceit and known to me as pig ignorance. Whenever I see an act of pig ignorance I’m always reminded of a comment from a life weary old Police Sergeant. ‘You cannot educate pork.’

A bit of internet research of the Harley Owners’ Group suggests that ‘The men and women of HOG all have one thing in common – we all love to ride. If you love it too, we want you to join us.’ Now that comes across as very friendly but my research causes me to focus on the acronym HOG; in view that they ‘all have one thing in common’, it’s probably one of the most appropriate group names.

So there you are Frank, a bit of the education that you asked for. Hopefully I’ve defined one aspect of the HD rider and you are a bit less mystified. Perhaps now you are aware of what most of us OBs have known for years. In the minds of HD riders, us OBs just don’t exist. So we just ride on by. It’s sad of me to say it but, I’m pleased to be back to normal.

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