Wary Motorcycling on the Freeway

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To get to work back in July 2013, I rode my Ninja 500 on the freeway for a few miles to get to the Caltrain. Riding a motorcycle for 30 miles each way every day is taxing physically and mentally, but 8 miles to the Caltrain station isn’t bad.

The first time I rode on the freeway to get to the train station, I had no idea what it would be like except to expect heavy traffic. I didn’t know how much some people used their brakes, such as on every curve. (Word of advice to drivers: learn to slow down without using your brakes every time on the freeway. In fact, only use your brakes on the freeway because of slowed or stopped traffic, or someone else’s dangerous driving. This will save on fuel while not giving drivers behind you inaccurate signals.)

After the merge of southbound San Francisco and East Bay traffic, there is a long curve on the 101 that disappears behind trees, which can be difficult for motorcyclists to ride. Motorcycles can not slow down while leaning the bike in a curve. In order to slow down, the rider must first straighten the bike with both wheels straight in-line. Otherwise, the rear tire will slip ahead faster than the front tire and cause the bike to lose traction, maybe wobble, and potentially crash.

On my first day on the freeway on the way to my first full-time job in 11 years, traffic was flowing smoothly after the merge. “Nice,” I thought. But not for long. On that curve — which when the freeway has sparse traffic is a lot of fun to ride — traffic had slowed down from 60 to about 30 mph. But I couldn’t see that behind the trees. And my bike was leaning at 60 miles per hour. As soon as I saw the traffic had slowed, I tried to straighten the bike to brake. But it wasn’t straight enough, and I felt the back of the bike push ahead. Fish-tailing is fun when you’re a stunt rider. But I don’t do stunts. I felt my heart race as I let go of the brakes in order to straighten out while looking for an opening between cars in case I couldn’t slow down fast enough. The bike wobbled a little, and then steadied. “Holy sh**,” and then “Thank you, God!” was the only thing I could think. Since then, every day before I get on the freeway, I pray, “Please keep me upright.”

Fortunately, traffic didn’t stop and it continued to move, albeit slowly. I managed to stay in my lane without rear-ending the car ahead of me.

Some drivers will cut off a motorcycle not knowing that on a curve, motorcycles need that extra space in front to slow down. And motorcycles need space behind, because often drivers can’t see the brakes lights go on. Most motorcycles don’t have that third brake light. Plus many motorcyclists use engine braking and don’t need to use brakes on the freeway. But really, every vehicle should have space in front and before it. Besides, tailgating wastes fuel.

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