October 14, 2011

574 words 3 mins read

Ride Friday: Why motorcyclists don't honk

By jjron (Own work) GFDL 1.2 (www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html), via Wikimedia Commons
If you drive a normal 4 wheeled vehicle (what we motorcyclists like to refer to as a "

cager") then you might not have noticed, but the motorcyclists on the road rarely honk at you — especially when you’re trying to kill us. I only mention this after a conversation I had with a coworker. I noted that the more grievous the attempt at bodily harm was by a cager, the less likely it was for a honk to be returned. This is completely contrary from cage on cage action where horns are activity #1 in any incident.

Let’s take a quick look at cars, specifically when you make evasive maneuvers. If you are swerving out of the way, you generally use two hands, but it isn’t required. That leaves one hand free to smash the horn on the steering wheel. In the cases of hard breaks, it’s almost a natural relation to hit and hold the horn — in the “brace yourself for impact” mentality. You’re also, in most cases jamming a foot onto the brake pedal, again in the same “brace” mentality.

By Curzio Campodimaggio (°SuperSport°Monza°2007°) CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Now, we can look at the flip side. What happens with a motorcyclist in one of those split second, swerve-or-die, maneuvers. In order to escape what could be certain death, you need to execute a number of different things at once. First, you’re wrenching the handle bars and throwing your body weight around. Depending on the speed you’re traveling and the weight of the bike, moving your person around can make a big difference. At the same time you are using your right hand and right foot to jam on the brakes. Your left hand is clutching in so you don’t stall the bike during your rapid deceleration. The left foot is madly smashing down through the gears so you will be able to accelerate from your braking without stalling.

The key strength of a bike is speed and agility. So once the first few milliseconds have elapsed and you’ve escaped the initial portion of the death threat, you’re switching over to accelerating. The right hand is releasing the brake and grabbing the throttle. Your left hand is clutching out. Both of your feet are freed up though. Also, if you swerved heavily, you probably need to wrench the handle bars and throw your weight back the other direction to get yourself back onto a safe path.

All of those actions took place in what is generally less than one or two seconds. In case it hasn’t become obvious yet, the motorcyclist in this picture is very busy. This is also why bikes are more dangerous, because you need to have your shit together and make all of these actions work together, at the same time, in just a split second. So back to the question at hand, why don’t motorcyclists honk?

We’re too damn busy. If I’m riding and someone tries to kill me, by the time I’m not busy enough to warrant finding the horn button, I’m long gone. The only time I actually do honk at cagers is when they aren’t that much of a threat to me, or they are simply being obnoxious (like failing to check your mirrors before making a lane change). Half the time when I do honk, the cagers don’t get it anyways, so why bother?