Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Lessons from those other two-wheelers

Posted by on August 17th, 2006 at 8:25 am

[Photo from Flickr: bublynski]

There was interesting story in Sunday’s Oregonian about a rise in motorcycle fatalities in Oregon. The headline read, “Beware the thrill of the open road” and as I read it I couldn’t help but think how motorcyclists and bicyclists share common concerns and experiences.

Like cycling, motorcycling is on the rise and there are many newbies out there without tons of experience riding in traffic. The result is that fatal motorcycle crashes are up 29% from 2004-2005.

Portland is definitely seeing it’s share of these fatalities. While at the station prior to my ride-along last week, I heard the officers talk about at least one recent fatal crash that likely involved a newbie rider.

ODOT and law enforcement personnel are baffled by the increase. They are encouraging all new motocycle riders to take safety classes. Good advice for sure but I have no doubt that much of the problem is from those other, four-wheeled vehicles.

It’s interesting to see how ODOT and police officials talk about this problem; that is, whether they seem to put the responsibility on motorcyclists to be safer, or on other motorists to be more aware of their presence.

Here’s the quote from ODOT:

“It’s not always the motorcyclists fault either. You have to be a better driver because car drivers often don’t even see motorcyclists. They’re thinking pretty much that they’re sharing the road with other cars.”

This quote really struck me because I have been saying this exact thing in response to the Mike Wilberding tragedy.

The driver in that case obviously didn’t purposely kill Mike, but he was careless because he could only see well enough into the intersection to know that there were no approaching cars…he never considered there might be an oncoming bicycle.

And again back to the Oregonian story, here’s a quote from an Oregon State Police officer:

“We’re seeing more people out there with less experience. And with that comes the jump in crashes. Whether it’s increased speed or motorcycles not being visible to other motorists. Things have shot up.”

How do we make visibility more visible? Maybe we should change “share the road,” to “see the road.”

I wonder if there’s an opportunity for cyclists and motorcyclists to join forces? There’s no doubt both groups would benefit from more outreach and education not only amongst themselves but to others motorists as well.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Cate August 17, 2006 at 9:39 am

    I almost caused a motorcyclist to hit me on my bike and it was totally my fault. I know this is the most lame excuse, but I didn’t see him. When I looked, he was hidden from my view by a car. If he hadn’t quickly swerved around me, he would’ve hit me. It’s really scary how easy it is not to see them.

    I overheard an EMT in an ambulance talking to a few young guys on motorcycles in the next lane (all stopped at a red light) that motorcyclists are job security to EMT’s.

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  • Reader August 17, 2006 at 9:53 am

    I read that article too but didn’t think of the similarities between what they’re doing and what we cyclists are doing. Thanks, Jonathan, for always having your ear to the ground, drawing connections and thinking broadly about cyclists’ issues.

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  • Anne August 17, 2006 at 10:40 am

    Like the long-famous bumper-sticker that says “start seeing motorcycles,” perhaps there should be a bicycle version. I’ve at times had close calls with drivers on my bike where they said simply “I didn’t expect to see you there.” Well, call me crazy, but I thought one of the principles of good driving was to look for the unexpected.

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  • Kronda August 17, 2006 at 11:18 am


    Start Seeing Bicycles stickers have been around for years. I bet the BTA or one of the local shops could tell you where to find them.

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  • Tankagnolo Bob August 17, 2006 at 12:09 pm

    I and one of several 0f my friends ride both. I have done the West Coast on a bicycle first, then on a moto. Same with Portland to Glacier National Park/Hiway to the Sun, bicycle first, then moto. We DO have lots in common, not being seen on the road.

    One thing I recomend is BRIGHT COLORS. Bicyclists do this better than moto riders who consider black the number one color, especially if you ride a Harley.

    So be bright (in view and thought), be seen, and at the same time assume you are not seen. Ride safe and save the fancy stuff for the track, free ride area, or those lonely roads where you can see forever that there are no cars, other bikes, landing aircraft etc.

    The motos are fun as all hills are “downhills”, the bicycle fun as you work and go slower and thus see more.

    -Tankagnolo Bob (In the moto world “TinWing Bob”, as I had a 250 Honda set up with hard luggage like the big touring bikes. Folks would ask “How do you cross states on that little thing.” I would say, “Do it on a bicycle first and the 250cc then becomes a rocket.”)

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  • David Rowe August 17, 2006 at 12:13 pm

    One of my least favorite experiences while riding in the Oregon and Washington back-country is an encounter with a motorcycle, or group of motorcycles. Many of the riders I come in contact with on these roads are traveling race-course-speed around turns, and when they travel in groups, they are loud and their bikes stink of gasoline. You don’t have to get very far out of town to encounter this situation; Washinton County outside of Sherwood, Clackamas County outside of Estacada, it’s bad and getting worse as more and more people get onto motorcycles that are overpowered. So yes – I think building a bridge to this group, perhaps through their clubs, would be a great idea. It could save a life.

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  • Patrick August 17, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    I’m not being critical here. I like your idea.

    However the image of a scrawny spandex clad cyclist with his arm around the shoulder of a leather clad, ZZ Top beard Harley rider just came to mind!!

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  • organic brian August 17, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    “Start Seeing Bicycles” bumper sticker, for which we can credit the motorcyclists for the idea:

    I would definitely like to see a bike / ped / motorcyclist campaign for auto drivers to drive more cautiously. Catchy phrase or coalition name, anyone?

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  • dayaram August 17, 2006 at 1:40 pm

    But what about the shot you have of the moto guy riding without a helmet? It’s even illegal in Oregon!


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  • SKiDmark August 17, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    The reason motorcycle fatalities are up:

    Riders with little or no experience riding, or who have not ridden in many years are buying large displacement bikes that they can’t control. See, in America you can take a multiple choice written quiz and then you are legal to ride a Suzuki Hayabusa 1300 or a Harley Davidson Road King 90 cu. in. (about 1300 cc’s as well). In Europe you have to learn on a 125cc bike and ride it for (at least) a year before you are allowed to own a bigger bike. Here you go out, buy the biggest bike you can, and then proceed to crash it because it is either way to fast and powerful for your novice abilities, or it is heavy and you do not understand how to control its mass.

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  • Scout August 18, 2006 at 5:00 am

    The problem on bikes and motorcycles alike isn’t simply with cars not seeing us. I used to ride a scooter, and several times I had someone look directly at me and then proceed to pull in front of me. It’s in no way malicious, I’m sure, but the same thing happens on my bike, too.

    I don’t know whether it’s a disconnect in the brain, or if drivers simply chose to believe we will get out of their way, but it’s a very serious threat when you think that making eye contact with a driver is enough.

    Motorcycle classes and safety books talk about this phenomenon, as did an article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell. Simply put: drivers do see cyclists and motorcycles, but chose their path anyway.

    Be safe out there, everyone. Wear your helmet, and ride defensively.

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  • Tempo August 18, 2006 at 7:24 am

    SKiDmark is right. I ride both bicycles and motorcycles (a 650) and the issues that motorcyclists face are similar, save for the fact that there’s a lot more speed and mass involved on the motorcycle side.

    Inexperience, carelessness, inattentiveness, letting your guard down momentarily, age, external conditions, bike size, there are so many things that factor in.

    Team Oregon’s motorcycle training is excellent, both the basic and advanced classes.


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  • Jerome August 18, 2006 at 9:29 am

    Last year I want to buy a bicycle. Most friends of mine told me to do not this step because it is a very unsafe on the streets and I quit the idea.

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  • Grateful Dave August 20, 2006 at 6:42 pm

    Out doing my Sunday ride Northwest of Hillsboro this moring, coming back toward town on West Union just east of Jackson School when a jackass on a motorcyle cames out from a car headed in the oposite dirctionand passes me head-on in my lane, I had time to give him the finger. I looked back after the pass and there was nobody headed my direction he could have waited another 15 secs to make the pass. Always thought there was a little more of a conection between us and our motorcycle botheren, guess not. I’ve had cars do this before, I use to empty my water bottle on them as they did, I’m older and wiser now and when it happens I count my lucky stars I’m still alive.

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  • Tree August 21, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    A lot of amateurs are taking up motorcycling because of fuel efficiency. The New York Times recently had a pretty good article about why fatalities are up. Not only are people riding too much muscle for their abilities, but they don’t have the experience of growing up riding or riding in their youth and young adulthood.

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  • High Plains Drifter August 26, 2006 at 11:18 pm

    As long as the bikers getting killed are riding unmuffled Harley’s, it’s a positive for society.

    Sounds kind of mean, but life can be like that at times. Too bad if you don’t like it – I don’t like your asshole unmuffled Harley noise.

    Our society is being ruined by people who have no respect for the right to peace and quiet of other people. Ride MAX and listen to the loud swearing. Sit in your home and listen to the assholes with loud cars, trucks and motorcyles cruising the streets disturbing the peace of everyone else. Listen to your asshole neighbors with their thumping bass stereo (home or car). Listen to your asshole neighbors who “beep beep” their car horn with their car auto locks every time they go somewhere. The list of unnecessary noise insults is long. If a few unmuffled Harley riders are killed, the rest of us will benefit from a little peace and quiet.

    I’ve ridden a motorcycle. They don’t have to be loud and obnoxious. I would not want to ride one on the highways today.

    There are WAY too many vehicles on the road to be safe on a motorcycle. There are WAY too many monster rigs (SUV’s, monster pickup trucks, 18 wheelers, etc) to be safe in ANY vehicle.

    What we need is birth control China style. And a little bull whip justice as displayed by Clint Eastwood in “High Plains Drifter.”

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