Motorcycle Culture

One of the unfortunate realities is that drivers from the middle class (and above) seem to have this universal resentment of motorcycle riders in general. And as a car driver myself, I have certainly seen and experienced the same “issues” which led to this unfortunate generalization.

I say it’s unfortunate because it’s the riders and not the motorcycles that are the real issue. Of course, this type of argument is all to common for practically any “collective culture” being judged of [legitimate] stereotypical behavior. But that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Still, I’d like to make sure this is clear because this little detail makes all the difference in the psychology of such resentment. And in turn, such poorly qualified resentment inevitably leads to similar poorly thought laws.

That’s a long winded way of saying: because most people who make our traffic laws aren’t riders, they usually base their recommendations out of their resentment of that which they don’t understand, 1 After all, the stereotypes do exist instead of actually trying to understand, and finding meaningful solutions that could benefit everyone.

I’m nowhere near being a “veteran” rider, but in my short time of riding – I’d like to attempt to “enlighten” those who want to understand what it’s like to be someone who rides a motorcycle in Manila traffic – and hopefully would result to a better understanding of, and patience with, motorcycle riders in general.

Why Ride a Motorcycle?

The first step in understanding riders is to know why they choose to ride. There are numerous reasons, but I’ll try to hit on the stuff I’ve personally come to appreciate.

The Experience

Riding a 2 wheeled vehicle (be it a bicycle or a motorcycle) is not just about getting from point A to point B. It’s a more involved experience; the way you flow through the wind, the need to use your whole body – it just requires more than just turning a wheel and stepping on the gas/brakes.

I’d say it’s like riding a bicycle, but a bicycle is less fun simply because it’s very easy for that “fun” to turn into an ordeal. In a bicycle, if you’re exhausted and have to go uphill, good luck with that! With a motorcycle, you get to enjoy all the benefits of riding a bike without the pedaling – and get to feel much more wind because of the speed you can [effortlessly] generate. If ever you get exhausted from riding “too hard,” you can always just relax, and let the motorcycle do all the work – doesn’t matter if it’s uphill or downhill.

So In general, if you’re not in it for exercise, riding a motorcycle will always be more fun IMHO. Much more dangerous, sure – but definitely more fun.

Practical

You get more mileage out of it. Even a big bike which isn’t designed to be “economical” will almost always beat a regular car of the same fuel type. No need to expound on this, it’s just plain science/physics.

A bicycle definitely will be the most practical if you have all the time in the world and don’t want to spend a dime for fuel, but riding that slow in the sweltering heat along with other vehicles and the pollution… exactly how practical is that?

Having said that (and everything before), perhaps the reason why both educated and uneducated riders alike ride their motorcycles is simply because it gets you anywhere faster – there’s just no contest.

The Problem(s)

Like I said, the problem isn’t that a lot of people are riding motorcycles, the problem is that there are a lot of uneducated drivers riding motorcycles.

The issue is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of people buy and ride motorcycles not because they necessarily like (or are qualified) to ride motorcycles, but simply because they can’t afford cars. If cars were made just as affordable as motorcycles, I bet you that a lot of these [uneducated] riders everyone hates would disappear overnight – because those that would be left would be those who truly want to ride a motorcycle.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that the “problem” people have with motorcycles is probably the exact same problem they have with any vehicle, 2 wheeled or otherwise. It just so happens that you tend to notice the two wheeled annoyances more because they have a natural advantage on the road over 4-wheeled vehicles 2 which I’ll henceforth just generalize as “cars” to save on typing because of their size.

In short, most car drivers (myself included) get pissed off not necessarily because what the motorcycle did was wrong 3 as I’m sure most if not all of driver-kind would filter (singitan) through traffic if they could but because we, as car riders, “lost” to it.

A car will almost always lose to a motorcycle when it comes to filtering through traffic – and as a result, car drivers would be inconvenienced by it (for approximately 5 seconds). But notice if the car “beats” the motorcycle (more of which I’ll discuss in a while), you don’t hear the car driver considering themselves as bad drivers. There clearly is a double standard.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m a saint, and say I never would switch lanes or try to filter during traffic, but I will say that I would always do it responsibly. 4 Given how expensive it will be to have a bike like mine fixed, I have no choice! Now you may ask why do I even consider doing it even if it’s not necessarily traffic, an excellent question – and that which has already been answered earlier: to get places faster. If cars are driving faster than I am, then I (and perhaps every other MC rider) certainly won’t feel the need to do it, but if cars are slower, then it’s all fair game.

Motorcyclists should be allowed to filter, because losing that advantage defeats the purpose of commuting on a motorcycle. But again, we [as riders] should be responsible enough to do it safely. Being able to filter and weave through bumper to bumper traffic isn’t an option we as riders should feel entitled to – it ought to be an option that should be open to those who can do it responsibly.

Motorcycles Are Meant to Constantly Move

Here’s another thing car drivers will not want to admit: Apart from an accident (and tricycles – those fuckers are slow), motorcycles ultimately are not the cause of traffic.

Sure, they could be the cause of you slowing down and cursing for a few seconds because some inconsiderate rider gave you a panic attack when he/she cut right into your lane without notice, but you still have to admit that they’re not the cause of traffic. So while I can sympathize with your frustrations (being a car driver myself), I would say that automatically rejecting motorcycles altogether because of it is a bit unreasonable.

How Fast is Too Fast?

I did my research as to what was the best speed a motorcycle should take when on the open road. The common answer I’ve seen was a “bit faster” than what the cars around you are doing.

So certainly, having a fast bike shouldn’t compel one to ride unreasonably fast, but neither does it mean that going fast is irresponsible and reckless. A motorcycle rider has to constantly overtake (hence the speed requirement); this isn’t only because of the whole point of riding the bike (to get places faster), but also because we’re relatively unprotected from the dangers of outside elements compared to cars. Apart from being out there along with huge vehicles that usually fail to notice us, staying behind a vehicle, and its exhaust, constantly is [obviously] dangerous to one’s health – so someone on a motorcycle should always just try to get ahead of others when they could.

Then we have the big bikes like mine; they overheat. In fact, they can overheat just by going too slow for too long. So you can imagine how much of a hassle a traffic situation could be. Even if you were patient (and crazy) enough to sit through traffic 5 And completely disregard your health on a motorcycle – you’d be damaging your bike.

And speaking of heat, we’ve got no air conditioning, so it’s not at all unreasonable to want to be constantly be moving if only for a decent amount of wind to keep us cool.

Having said that, let me ask you – when was the last time you saw a motorcycle act like a bus or a jeepney? Where they just stopped in front of you? Very rarely if ever. The only time we prefer to stop is when we’re at our destination. Any other unscheduled stop would be either because of an accident, or rain. But for the most part, we just keep on chugging along. Which is more than I can say about cars/busses/jeeps/taxis during rush hour.

Safety

Also here’s something an non-rider might not realize. The ability to maneuver around things (instead of stopping abruptly) is a safety thing. If a car panic-stops, not only do you have four wheels with much larger contact patches gripping the road to stop you, but you also aren’t in danger of losing balance.

With a motorcycle, a panic stop can end up as a skid because you don’t have enough tires (and contact area) to apply the traction needed to stop the inertia as quickly. ABS only helps, but in general, it’s actually safer to just avoid the thing in front of you instead of panic-stopping like a car would. If you have seen the movie Premium Rush, the way JGL would “simulate” possible accident scenarios to look for a way out pretty much is the same thing. 6 Of course his character is notoriously reckless so this may have been a bad example, but my point still stands. Shut up.

That’s why technically, the motorcycle lane’s a bad idea. Not necessarily because riders are selfish and would want to ride all over the place, but from a safety standpoint, limiting the movement of a motorcycle during an emergency is less safe than allowing it an option to take multiple “exits” from the situation. Especially like in C5 where the lane designation is on the outermost lane. Not only do jeeps constantly stop, but what if a vehicle suddenly came into that lane and not see the motorcycle? Where else could the motorcycle go but right… right into an accident involving the sidewalk, wall, or innocent bystanders (or all three if you’re unlucky enough). 7 I will admit though that during bumper to bumper traffic, the outermost lane is in fact, the fastest lane for motorcycles to be in.

I could get behind the MC lane rule if congestion has been solved or if it’s made exclusively for motorcycles with no exceptions – otherwise, it tends to be a safety hazard. And for all the whining car drivers do about MC riders being unsafe/dangerous, let’s see how they react to these sorts of conditions that favor MCs – if car drivers are truly going to argue the safety angle, then they should support the exclusivity of the MC lane.

Don’t get me wrong, I do use the MC lane especially when the coast is clear; if all lanes are available, the first lane I put myself in is the MC lane. But in general, I think it should be up to the riders to decide which lane to take during traffic – as long as they ride safely and responsibly… rules which are no different from any other vehicle in the road.

Problems with 4-wheeled vehicles

While there’s no excuse to just cut in front of another car without making sure there’s a safe distance (to avoid them having to panic-brake), but sometimes there are habits car drivers have that compound the issue.

Hatred

Like I said, with the exception of trycicles and accidents, motorcycles don’t cause traffic. If it’s the case of an inconsiderate irresponsible rider cutting you and getting hit because of it, then it’s surely their fault 8 Athough legally, it’ll be yours, which sucks – and it would be understandable to despise them in those cases.

But there are also some car drivers that purposely make it a point to “box out” motorcycle riders. There are those well-if-I-can’t-pass-neither-can-you times where car drivers just want to share their frustration with everyone around them 😉 I don’t blame them, I used to be like that until I started riding a motorcycle and realized that as annoying as these riders are, they, unlike me, actually have a chance of getting through that space impossible for my car to get through – so why be a dick about it?

I feel that that once you let yourself be that kind of a person (a douche), all bets are off; you don’t deserve the “courtesy” you claim you’re not afforded. Simple as that.

Carelessness

Another cause for accidents is when vehicles (especially large ones) switch lanes and not realize there’s a motorcycle right beside them.

People complain about noisy mufflers, when part of the reason some modify their mufflers is precisely so that they can be noticed. Maybe if people paid more attention, we’d have less motorcycles with these obscenely loud mufflers. This is not to say that there aren’t those who do it just for the heck of it; I mean seriously, my bike is loud as it is, but I hear some under-bone bikes that put it to shame on the decibel department. 9 Thankfully my bikes “growl” still sounds better than their louder, but gay sounding exhaust. These are no different from those cars who install a soundsystem that could collapse your lungs, or motorcycles that put on loud radios, etc. But I digress, the point is that there’s still a legitimate reason for MCs being louder than normal.

Also, one must understand that a motorcycle doesn’t want to be anywhere near any vehicle just as much as you don’t want to be near it. If you’re surprised to see it beside you, it’s probably because it’s trying to pass and get away from you as soon as possible.

So just as a motorcycle is wrong to simply switch lanes without looking, so are you if you try to do the same and just assume cars are the only thing you have to look out for. If you see a motorcycle nearby (or approaching), just let it pass (i.e. don’t try to cut it off) since it has a better chance of getting where it’s going more than you are given the same traffic conditions. And if you do plan to overtake, double check! We all have blind spots, don’t just rely on your mirrors, turn your head and check!

But really, this issue is mostly with the public service vehicles (busses/trucks/jeeps) – most private drivers do all this responsibly. 10 Unless they’re the MC haters which do it on purpose The trucks, busses, and jeeps on the other hand, while they don’t do it on purpose, they tend to be idiots who just don’t know how to drive – which is equally dangerous.

Barking up the Wrong Tree

If people are so concerned about the “traffic” motorcycles cause by their weaving in and out, etc., then maybe everyone should just drive fast enough so motorcycles wouldn’t need to. Which then obviously means eliminating congestion… which then begs the question: what exactly causes traffic? And we all know that the real answer is the public service vehicles. And again, it’s not because of the vehicles themselves – but because of the type of people that drive them.

I’m going to be a bit politically incorrect now, but this has to be said. The reason why I’m against laws that attempt to isolate the entire motorcycling community is the simple fact that there are people from the middle and upper class who ride motorcycles [responsiblly]. In short, it’s not a community exclusive to the lower class. Whether or not you want to admit it, the lower class is where you’ll find pretty much all those annoying riders we constantly rant about – because they’re uneducated.

In the same vein, I can support laws that isolate public service vehicles without considering myself as a hypocrite – because it’s almost certain that there are no middle and upper class people who drive those things.

And don’t make the mistake of assuming this is a poor vs rich people argument. It’s not. It’s an uneducated/irresponsible vs educated/responsible argument. And it just so happens that the irresponsible riders and drivers are mostly from the lower class (because they’re uneducated). So generalizations with public service vehicles make much more sense than generalizations about the motorcycles.

So sure, I’m open to vehicle segmentation if properly thought out… but if you really want to solve the issue, segmentation will only go so far. What you need to solve is the driving/riding competence requirement – which is at the license distribution level. That means stricter requirements for riding vehicles both professionally and unprofessionally.

Conclusion

So there, now you’ve gotten a glimpse of what it’s like to be a rider and the things we also have to put up with on a daily basis. Perhaps now you can be more understanding if not more sympathetic of even the “irresponsible/inconsiderate” riders.

If it’s any consolation, whenever you are “hassled” on the road for whatever reason, take solace in the fact that you’re in a car with air conditioning, good music, perhaps some snack you can chow down on while waiting. While those (us?) on motorcycles are just trying to spend the least time possible on the road with all that heat/traffic/pollution/sweat – and just get to their destination as soon as they could.

Notes   [ + ]

1. After all, the stereotypes do exist
2. which I’ll henceforth just generalize as “cars” to save on typing
3. as I’m sure most if not all of driver-kind would filter (singitan) through traffic if they could
4. Given how expensive it will be to have a bike like mine fixed, I have no choice!
5. And completely disregard your health
6. Of course his character is notoriously reckless so this may have been a bad example, but my point still stands. Shut up.
7. I will admit though that during bumper to bumper traffic, the outermost lane is in fact, the fastest lane for motorcycles to be in.
8. Athough legally, it’ll be yours, which sucks
9. Thankfully my bikes “growl” still sounds better than their louder, but gay sounding exhaust.
10. Unless they’re the MC haters which do it on purpose

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