I'm the lane-splitting motorcyclist you love to hate. Here's what I see on Bay Area freeways
I am that guy. The guy on the dotted line cruising towards San Francisco while you're stuck in suffocating gridlock on Interstate 80. The guy getting rained on while you sit in a heated leather seat sipping coffee, tapping your brakes, listening to "Morning Edition." The guy getting to work 40 minutes before you do. The guy you love to hate.
While lane splitting has become a focus of anger and derision in the Bay Area, there are two sides to every story. This is mine.
The debate is seemingly intractable. Either motorcyclists are indulgent, reckless pursuers of speed and possessors of arrogance, or car drivers are self-loathing drones set on murdering anything on two wheels. The chasm is evident in the language: We often refer to drivers as cagers as they ride in the safety and comfort of a steel box. Drivers call us hooligans, and, of course, some of us are.
When I'm on the road I'm not trying to rattle your nerves, impede your commute or ruin your morning. And while you may think I am dangerously close, I absolutely don't want to make physical contact with your car; I prefer to keep my distance from both side-view mirrors and emergency rooms. When I leave the house, my goal is to get to work efficiently with only a moderate measure of excitement.
I can no more apologize for bikers riding erratically, too fast for conditions, with no plates, toll evading, and with a general disregard for decency as you can for a guy weaving through traffic in a muscle car like he just robbed a Wells Fargo.
It's the wild west out here. I'm constantly dodging folks on their cell phones, changing lanes abruptly without signaling, smoking weed, watching Netflix or eating In-N-Out while driving. But mostly, the cell phones. Seriously, stop it.
If you ride like a sane, mostly law-abiding citizen in the Bay Area, the majority of drivers will give you some space — if they see you. When they don't, which is a lot of the time, that's when things get dicey. Despite this, I have not been on the receiving end of a great deal of road rage and only one minor accident. But we all have our bad days — like that punk teenager who opened his door on Hwy 37 to block anyone from passing. And when a two-ton SUV comes uncomfortably close to ending your life, a guy can get a little perturbed. Those interactions form stereotypes — on both sides.
Ultimately, few bikers seek arguments with drivers. Getting into a rolling beef, slapping someone's mirror or deafening a driver with angry rips of your throttle doesn't get you to work faster or more safely. It just pisses everyone off.
Lane splitting is a tantalizing opportunity, but one with caveats.
Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield said in an interview with Terry Gross in 2013, "It's counter intuitive, you know, to visualize disaster, but by visualizing disaster, that's what keeps us alive."
It is a paradox that defies rational explanation. What requires a constant, heightened state of situational awareness is also incredibly freeing. Until you've shed the car around you, you have no idea what you are not seeing or feeling. It's hard to go back.
Commuting on a motorcycle can make you a better and more conscientious car driver, but when you get back into four wheels, it can be startling to realize how distracted you really are — even in the absence of a smartphone.
The coffee you just spilled, the controls on your car stereo and your kid in the back seat are all things that could send you into the Jersey barrier.
My commute from Vallejo — the duration of which varies greatly if I drive a car — is 45 minutes door-to-door under any conditions when riding. (Why public transportation is not practical or cost-effective for me is an entirely different story.)
In reality, riding is more complicated than that. Your friends are having a drink after work? You are not partaking. It's 90 degrees out and everyone else is in a T-shirt? You are wearing a full-body suit of leather or Kevlar-infused ballistic nylon. Oh wait, it's raining? I don't care what kind of Gore-Tex gear you have; your crotch is going to be wet like my kid in a pair of Pampers when you walk into work. (If you aren't wearing gear, pray Saint Christopher is watching your back.)
Like anything else, it all comes with a price — sometimes quite literally. Your gear? That suit with boots and a helmet will easily run over $1,000. All those accessories and luggage and LEDs and crash bars and all the other farkles you just had to install add up quickly. Plus, you're probably paying for a car, too, because while you could bungee that Costco-sized pack of toilet paper onto your bike, that's just silly.
But even with all that, the incredible benefits sometime strike you. Like, suddenly, when the CHP has three lanes closed and you shuffle past 11,000 idling cars to the front of the line, taking off like a banshee into the open abyss that awaits.
Chris Preovolos is a San Francisco-based media editor for the Hearst Newspaper group, who, admittedly, doesn't lane split as much as he did now that he has a toddler.