Monday, January 15, 2007


Tailgating: Stupid and potentially expensive.

Freaking out a tailgater: Priceless!

The last two or three days have been cold and clear. Not so cold by the standards of some of you Eskimos to the East of me, true. For the temperate Willamette Valley, though, it's frigid. Lows have dipped to 16 degrees (f). I've repaired my electric vest thermostat. Time to go ride and freeze my face off. I like to ride with the visor up but not during this weather. Too painful.

Friday and Sunday brought opportunity to go out and just wander for hours. The world looks so beautiful on days like this. The picture above is looking West toward the relatively low foothills of the Coast Range. I had a great time riding and came back both times feeling totally refreshed. Chilled to the bone, but refeshed. I took some pictures, found interesting things to check out, and put a couple of stories in the files for later.

This post is about a particular incident that stands out on its own.

Whenever I wander about I try to avoid any part of main highways. Circumstances just worked out so that I couldn't avoid one stretch of Highway 34. At least not without backtracking a long ways. 34 is mostly a commuter highway between Lebanon and Corvallis. Out West of Corvallis it eventually winds its way to the Pacific Ocean. That particular part is great bike riding when traffic's not too heavy. The 10 or so miles between Lebanon and Corvallis is pretty boring. Not to mention populated by brain dead drivers. Partway along this particular stretch there's a busy interchange with Interstate 5.

Just after turning onto the highway I picked up an unwelcome travelling companion. She was driving a cream colored Town & Country Chrysler mini-van. One thing I really love about Sophie is that her mirrors are so clear at cruising speeds. Combined with the really big windshield of the van, I got a great view of the driver. She looked to be around 60. Black hair stopped just short of her shoulders. She was wearing gold-rimmed glasses. And she was right on my tail. I wasn't going to let that happen too long.

Tailgaters are a hazard to everyone, especially motorcylists. I can hear your comments about telling you something you didn't already know. Besides the chance of being rear-ended, though, there's another factor to consider. Distraction. When we're riding we need to pay attention to operating the bike and managing risk. Which means we need to look mostly ahead of us. With somebody on our tail our attention's drawn more and more rearward. Pretty soon we can be missing important things up front. It's a risk to be aware of and adjust accordingly.

We have a few options for dealing with tailgaters. Things like rocks and ball-bearings come to mind but aren't on my personal list of acceptable actions. Not that I wouldn't like to, sometimes.

It might be tempting to speed up if we have the chance. Don't. Guess who's going to speed up, too? We'll just end up being tailgated at a higher speed. Not cool. Sometimes we can tap the brakes. I'd suggest using the rear brake as it has less effect on the bike. This isn't a road-rage thing. Some people tailgate because they're aggressively stupid and selfish. Others are just stupid. A flashing brake light can serve as a reminder. This option doesn't work too often but it doesn't cost much to try. In my case, this in combination with something else, worked spectacularly. More on that later.

What IS vitally important is to increase the following distance between our bike and the car ahead of us. We're going to need space to react for both ourselves and the tailgater. Should be pretty self-evident but it's often overlooked by riders. Another option is to let the tailgater go by. This has to be done carefully.

Don't ever just sort of slide to the right to let the offender go around. Think about it. There's a reason they haven't gone around us, yet. Limited room. If we scoot to the right we now have a vehicle taking up two thirds of our lane. Which relegates us to a small space between the vehicle and the shoulder. It makes me shudder to think about. Even worse, suppose something unexpected happens. Like a previously unseen semi-truck coming over a rise. Suddenly the passing tailgater has to make a decision.

"Hmm, big semi-truck, or your scrawny butt?"

You know who's going to lose that one, don't you? Don't let someone around until we can get safely out of the way. We might just have to deal with the tailgater for a while. In my case, I wasn't going to stay where I was for long. Until I saw a golden opportunity. Then I decided to stick around and have some fun.

I noticed that the woman had her head turned towards the passenger side of the van. There were some pretty views like the one in the picture above. It sort of ticked me off. She's tailgating me AND sightseeing? Holy crap! A plan crept into my head. Actually, it was more of a triumphant burst, but what the heck. I knew that eventually this stupid woman would turn to look back ahead. I counted on the fact that most people see what's immediately in front of them without seeing the big picture right off. Wait for it, wait for it. Now!

As soon as I caught the movement of her head, I started tapping the rear brake pedal. At the same time I took my left hand off the grip and frantically repeated the downward gesture associated with slowing down. I had already seen that nobody was close behind her. I wanted to scare her, not hurt her or someone else. My plan worked flawlessly.

It's been a long time since I've seen someone with their eyes and mouth open so wide. The front of the van did this impressive dive. Must have been four-wheel ABS. I'm also pretty sure she soiled the upholstery. By now traffic coming off the freeway had cleared. I moved left and fell in beside her. Giving her a cheery wave with my whole hand, I sped off. Whistling all the way home. Priceless!

Miles and smiles,



Allen Madding said...


Sam Perry said...

Not a bad tactic. I've always been a big fan of the left hand, palm towards the rear, get off my butt signal personally, but it never hurts to remind the other drivers that they're not the only ones on the road every once in a while. Well done!

gary said...

That's one that I've used in the past, but some "Minnesota Nice" drivers seem to resent it. They have actually tried to crowd me closer, which is when I did things that were not so nice.

Good thing my KLR's license plate is usually too muddy to read...

Ride well,

Combatscoot said...

You're good, really good.

irondad said...

I agree wholeheartedly!

I've used that signal as a reminder, too. In this case I wanted something large and dramatic.

I have to be careful when I do things like this. If I'm wearing the retroflective vest with the training program's logo I have to me more circumspect. Although self-preservation always takes precedence!

Thanks for the compliment. I just happened to see an opportunity.

Take care,

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

Tailgaters are more dangerous than speeders. Both together? Those people should be relegated to public transport for the rest of their lives.

I'll try to remember your example next time some idiot is scraping my rear wheel w/ his front bumper... or nearly so. I think D cells have a lot of merit in certain situations. (That suggestion from a Milwaukee motor officer, BTW.)

My fiancee has another fun way to discourage them, at least with one of our bikes. When he's on the sidecar rig and someone's too close, he pops the third wheel off the ground for a while (flys the chair). Esp. when combined w/ some overall wobbling, people back WAY off, thinking he's going to crash. (Don't try this at home, kids - he's got 20+ years of experience on 2 & 3 wheels.)

irondad said...

I can just picture that flying sidecar! That would certainly freak drivers out. Cool trick.

D cells? Dead ones from the Maglite, of course. Just be sure to file off the serial numbers. :)