Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Motorcycle Diaries: Prologue

True Fact #1: Riding a motorcycle does not make you cool. But it might make you a bit of a moron.

Forget what anyone tells you, whether they ride or not. Motorcycle riding is an inherently stupid and dangerous activity. And I love it, passionately.

In the past decade of motorcycle riding, let's figure, roughly, that I rode about 325 days out of each year. This accounts for vacation time and rainy days. Every other day, I'd be on the bike. This means that I've had roughly 3,250 close calls, any one of which could have seriously injured me, or worse. It never stops, and it doesn't matter how good and cautious of a rider I am (or you are). Most people are terrible drivers, or at least distracted ones, and even if you're reading this and think you're one of the good ones, I can probably guarantee you that you've narrowly missed motorcycles--because of reaching for your radio dial, or talking on your phone, or chatting with others in the car, or simply from having one half-second of not seeing a bike in a blind spot--more than you realize.

That's okay, though. Because it's the motorcyclist's job to know this about you, and to be constantly, ever vigilant. It also doesn't matter how great a motorcyclist you think you are, either. Yeah, you may have excellent skills, awesome intuition and reflexes, and a healthy dose of cautionary and defensive techniques, and that may all make you relatively safer than your average Darwin-challenged squid, but every single one of us has tales of that unexpected split second where there was simply nothing that could have been done, no matter what. And if you don't have one yet, don't worry--you will.

Squid(n): Motorcyclist lingo for a rider who wears little to no protective gear, rides outside his/her own abilities, and generally makes all the rest of us look bad by being an obnoxious, irresponsible douche.

I've been relatively lucky, overall. Despite all the near misses, I've actually only been hit once. In 2004, I was riding home from my job at CGW in San Francisco, and was just getting off the Bay Bridge. As always, I was constantly scanning ahead for potential problems/hazards/assholes. And I saw one: A guy in a red sports car, blabbing on his cell phone, one lane to the right of me. Knowing I didn't want to be anywhere near the guy, I accelerated to pass him. But just as I was almost clear of him, he did what I was dreading and trying to prevent: He merged into my lane without looking. Because I was almost clear of him, and because I was almost half-expecting it, I actually didn't fall down. I felt the impact of the car (I still remember the metal hitting my leg) as he conked me sideways, but I remained upright. Adrenaline kicked in, which was a good thing, because the guy immediately tried to get away, but because he had almost completely stopped I was able to swerve the bike in front of him and cut him off so he couldn't get away.

The rest is a long, boring tale of insurance companies, but the end result is that my bike was considered totaled, and Red Sportcar Boy ended up buying me a better, cooler bike. Because even though I was spooked and shaken and actually did quit for a month or two afterward, I simply had to get back on a bike. I missed it too damn much.

All of which is just to establish, before I spend some time over the course of future posts rhapsodizing about motorcycle riding, that I am not necessarily recommending it or claiming that doing it makes me cool. If you think it's an idiotic and dangerous pastime, know that I'm right there with you. It's just the idiotic and dangerous pastime that I've chosen to be mine.

Next time: Why I Ride: The Good Stuff


Anonymous said...

I knew this guy at work a few years ago who hit a cat crossing the road while riding his bike. It was one of those situations where he couldn't easily swerve out of the way. He went head over heals, his head impacted the road first and he died several days later from extensive head injuries. He was a great guy and was missed greatly by his co-workers. I can understand the freedom that comes with riding a motorcycle, but as for me, I'm glad I get around on 4 wheels or two feet.

Ben said...

Yeah, me and a buddy went out riding Sunday to some nice country roads, and in nearly 200 miles round trip, I had no problems until I was less than 10 miles from home and some idiot in an SUV tried to merge into me. Thankfully, I got away from it before anything happened, but it was close.

What do you ride, by the way?

Anonymous said...

Great post and interesting read, Jeff. You might want to resubmit this post to your copy editor though...far too many typos for a Jeff Green post.

Jason Maskell said...

That's why I am a huge proponent of "Loud Pipes Save Lives" - I've seen lots of situations where a friend of mine with a very loud Harley has announced his presence very prominently in traffic.. When you crack the throttle on near-straight pipes, the cars around notice you. :)

I also love riding, but have been without for almost 2 years now. It's making me a bit crazy.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, can you elaborate a bit on the accident?

I don't understand how you didn't get knocked down on the bike, but it still got totaled. Also, do you mean to say that the guy literally tried to get away, as in, he tried to run?

Dan said...

Well put Jeff. This is my first year riding, on some of the most dangerous roads in the US-Detroit with far too many accidents and fatalities. Currently it is my sole means of conveyance. I love it, but not a week goes by that I do not have a heart pounding moment. Everyone rides your ass Any time you are too close to a SUV, not in the right part of the lane, you are at risk.

But it is fun, some of the most fun I have ever had on the road. I love taking long trips as the wind rips past and through my clothes, helmet.

But I disagree, I look cool damnit. And for an area with more riders than most states, people are oddly impressed with it.

mike_ch said...

Jeff, kinda curious how you didn't wind up hanging it up after you became a Dad (which is what my Dad did.)

As far as Jason's suggestion, I've heard from people in the past that what can get people to avoid you more is the big-ass handlebars that stretch out past the sides of the bike, but that's more of the Harley leather jackets crowd, whereas I'm more interested of the Japanese bike and power ranger lookalike outfit crowd.

But I will give them credit for trying because at least big handlebars don't wake up your neighbours and make 'em go, "man, fuck that guy."

Jeff Green said...

Wait, what typos?

Jeff Green said...

About my accident:

That bike (the beloved and tiny Ninja 250) had a lot of fairing. So when the guy hit my bike, he did such damage to the fairing that the insurance considered it totaled, despite the fact that it was largely cosmetic.

The guy didn't literally try to "run"---his car came to a near stop after he hit me. He was dazed, like me, but then I saw him trying to accelerate again and head off to the right. I quickly accelerated myself, much quicker than him, and blocked his path with my bike, so that he couldn't get away. Good times!

Anonymous said...

Jeff Green as Ghost Rider 2099 Confirmed.

Stephen L. said...

I totally respect your passion, but I'm chicken; I will choose to be wrapped in metal before I'm wrapped around metal. Stay safe.

chris said...

There's a small part of me that thinks riding a motorcyle would be an awesome, as well as fuel-efficient, way of getting to work, but then I think about leaving my wife with either a dead or mangled husband and my opinion flops the other way. It's probably best if I never experience the joy of riding for myself, since that would make the choice much harder.

Unknown said...

Last October I was hit by a BMW pulling out of his driveway oblivious of me and my bike. Of course, the police wrote the report down incorrectly and never asked me to clarify anything at all (Sorry, I was in an ambulance).

Because of this, it was decided that I simply panicked and lost control of the bike (I've ridden for five years) and thus, all of the damages to the bike and my ambulance ride were stuck on my insurance.

We get no respect.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read the entire post, because I've got a lot of stuff going on right now. But anyway, I also have a story about a motorbike.

First of all, judging by the title of your blog, you sound like an enthusiast, so I should probably warn you in advance, that I loathe and detest motorbikes, as well as the people who ride them - most of them, anyhow. Obviously not you. But seriously, most bikers, I find, really are kind of arrogant. They're not like other drivers. They're usually young punks, out for a joy ride. Anyhow, this happened a number of years ago - I went into Starbucks and ordered my usual beverage (a tall double-espresso soy latte with vanilla and lemon) which I was drinking in my car, when THE most important call of my life came through on my cell: I'm a movie producer with Paramount, and this was a call about a movie that had just been given the green-light - this movie, by the way, went on to receive five Oscar nominations that year. Anyhow, it was an extremely important call... I mean, obviously... and so of course I wasn't completely focused on the road ahead. When what happens, some frickin' moron on a Ninja 250 creams right into the side of my brand new red sports car - this little incident happened just as I was getting off the Bay Bridge.

It was pretty obvious that the guy was pretty full of himself. Probably a senior management position guy.

Anyhow, short story: I win the lawsuit, and he has to pay to have my new sports car fixed. I get to keep my handsome good looks while he has to spend the rest of his life living with that funny face of his.

Goose, out.

Anonymous said...

to the douchebag above, who doesn't have time to read a short post, but does have time to write a response.

take your sports car, starbucks jagoff drink, and your talking on the cellphone when driving because your call is hollywood important, and cram it all up your ass.

you find bikers arrogant?

wow. is this a joke?

P.S I don't ride.

Anonymous said...

to my own above post.

I get it now.


Jeff Green said...

hahaha :) Oh Goose. You are a droll fellow.

I am an enthusiast, for sure. And I get angry at drivers every day (which will be part of a future post). However, I see other bikers doing STUPID shit all the time too, and that almost pisses me off more. Every jackass biker gives the rest of us a bad name and makes it more likely that certain drivers will maintain a hostile/aggressive attitude towards us.

All you need is love!

Anonymous said...

He tried to run away? What a douche bag! Didn't he know who he was dealing with? The world famous Jeff Green of GFW!!?!? Have some respect sports car man!
Also: http://www.break.com/index/insane-motorcycle-rider-dash-cam-footage.html
I guess that guy would be a squid?

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff, if you or you're readers haven't seen it already, I highly, highly recommend the mini-series Long Way Round with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman.

I'm not a rider myself, but damn, that series made me want to try it. You riders sure are passionate about it!

Anonymous said...

(referring to the above post, which was mine)

you're -> your (duh!)

Anonymous said...

First post is the old I know of this guy who died in a motorcycle accident story. What is with this? I have been motorcycling for 25 years(since I was 4) and it never ceases to amaze how this is socially acceptable. How come no one has the urge to tell me some person that they know of died in a car when they find out I drive four wheels? The volume of deaths in four wheels is orders of magnitude higher but it would be in poor taste to bring that up in mixed company. Usually when these people are pressed they did not even really know the person other than in passing. Yes people die on motorcycles, even a friend I KNEW but this is a life style. I hate using that phrase but it seems to be one people understand. I will always, as long as my body allows, have some form of two wheels to ride. The Darwinist in me does not want to here your squid stupidity stories awkwardly brought up at a party. Having said this I feel as though the world would be a better place if we all drove motorcyles. Transportation would be faster, safer and the gas consumed would be cut to 1/4 of what it was.

Unknown said...

My father crashed his motorcycle when he was in his early 20's I think it was. Someone pulled out right in front of him so he knew what was coming and just got up as high as he could. Went flying over everything. He was wearing a helmet which, despite not being strapped on, remained on his head and saved him from serious injury. Helmet didn't make it though.

Fast forward to earlier this year. My younger brother traded for a motorcycle and was promptly told he would sell it or move out of my parents house. They ended up making a deal where he'd sell the bike and they'd forgive the debts he'd accumulated over the past 10 years. Have to say I was relieved...the kid never kept a single car he's ever owned in one piece. I knew I was going to get one of those calls if he actually went through with riding it.

How would you feel if your kid wanted to ride?

Anonymous said...

Ewan McGregor also made the movie faster which is amazing. Man I want to do that for a living... I suggest any bike enthusiast to watch.

Anonymous said...


Long Way Round - highly, highly recommended to anybody. Doesn't matter if you like bikes or not.

There are two versions though. Watch out for that. The long, unedited version is the best one.

And don't forget Race To Dakar, with Charlie Boorman - an amazing documentary of the Dakar rally.

isthatabear said...

I've always wanted to ride, but like many things, bike riding is easy to get addicted to. I don't have to try it to know that (like cocaine). While I totally envy you guys, for me it's not worth the risk.

In a perfect world, everyone would ride bikes, or at least there'd be a special lane just for bikes.

Stay safe, Jeff.

Jeff Green said...

Yeah, I've seen Long Way Around. It's awesome. Made me love Ewan McGregor that much more. :)

Recommended even if you don't ride motorcycles!

Jeff Green said...

"Jeff, kinda curious how you didn't wind up hanging it up after you became a Dad (which is what my Dad did.)"

"How would you feel if your kid wanted to ride?"

These are great and important questions and really should be the subject of a future post. The short answer is that I think about my kid, and wife, and family, and friends, every time I'm on the bike. I let that also influence the way I ride. I can't imagine my daughter would actually *want* to ride, but, assuming she did, I would dread it and be against it, but ultimately would support her decision and do everything I could, in any way, to ensure that she knew what she was doing. Kinda like her being vegan now!

Regan said...

I won't lie, I still feel like riding my UJM makes me feel sexier than I do otherwise. I do agree though that it's dangerous, but living an otherwise safe and boring life, getting the adrenaline rush of riding a motorcycle makes it worth taking the risk. I've only laid my bike down once, and that was practicing emergency stops. I know it's far from the last time it'll happen, but I figure fucking something up one way or another and coming out alive is just a learning experience, and serves to make you a better rider.

Jeff, I'd definitely dig if you made more motorcycle posts. I'm a huge fan of CGW/GFWradio and it makes me grin whenever you mention biking on your blog!

Logan said...

Oh boy! This motorcycle blog-within-a-blog is EXACTLY what I need.
I'm trying to motivate myself to give motorcycles a go, despite the danger and idiocy that may overcome me, because I just won't have space for a car over the next 6 years or so. Everyone I try to talk to about motorcycles was basically born wearing a leather jacket, and I can't believe that their enthusiasm is objective.
Though your love for motorcycles might be just as strong as the leather jacket fetus guys, I think I can take you a little more seriously when you drop motorcycle knowledge on us all.
So thank you for this...blogette? Blogella? I look forward to the rest of it.

Alex Palilonis said...

I've been riding for a few years. 3 years ago I was in a serious accident where a dump truck merged quickly into my lane and I had to contend with him or the shoulder. I was bruised and bleeding but ultimately walked away... I still ride (rode to work this morning) and will continue to ride until I'm physically incapable.

As far as parents and bikes go. My parents rode for years, my father was in several accidents (woke up in an asparagus field one time), and though they were concerned and worried when I first took up the hobby, now we go riding together whenever we can.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, you wrote on your Twitter feed that you downloaded The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition - the graphics have even surpassed my expectations (bloody charming is what they are)... and after three or four Monkey Island games now it just seems so natural to be hearing Guybrush speaking his lines... that Dominic Armato was a real find for LucasArts. The music is pretty fantastic too.

Well, the whole thing is fantastic. I had no plans whatsoever to replay this game - but this special edition has motivated me to do just that. A bit unexpected, really.

I also think that every developer should play this game, bearing in mind that at the height of its development, Monkey Island had just 5 people working on it.

There's a small lesson in there somewhere.

Well, I'm off to seek my fortune!

The Goose.

Switchbreak said...

I've wanted to get a motorcycle for a long time both for the gas mileage and for the experience of riding one. Unfortunately, I live in a part of the country that gets covered in snow in winter and I think I would not be able to ride in that kind of weather, so the bike could never be my primary mode of transportation.

Scribejay said...

I'll admit I was originally only interested in this post because the titles references the diaries of Ernesto "Che" Guevara which was a great book & movie. I've always wanted to buy a motorcycle, enjoy the road, etc. etc. so thank you Jeff for putting me one step closer to realizes I'm better and safer off with a car.

Stephen said...

"Support your local physiotherapist. Ride a motorcycle."

Thank you!

John Rivett said...

Talk like this always reminds me of one of my favorite audio book narrators, Frank Muller. He was riding home (no helmet) and I believe was either cut off or was hit head on by a car and went flying and landed on his head.

Lucky, I suppose, that he wasn't killed outright, but had severe mental problems and died a few years later.

He had a wife and a few kids, one of which was born during this whole ordeal, he was their only source of income.

Where am I going with this? I guess that remember to ride safely and responsibly, because you could be hurting your loved ones as well..

Anonymous said...

The amount of states that let adults ride motorbikes without wearing helmets is incredible given the obvious costs to society.


brain injury cases said...

Unfortunately I had to quit riding because of an accident. I'm just scared to get back on the bike. The Los Angeles motorcycle accident lawyer that I hired said after his accident he couldn't even stand the sound of a motorcycle. I hope that I can ride again some day though.

Unknown said...


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