Better Riding: Talk time

Shubhabrata Marmar Updated: April 28, 2016, 11:53 AM IST

There is a interesting book called Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt which analyses human behaviour (or the lack of it, if you're cynical) in traffic. One of the big points he makes early on is that people behave differently when they are alone (no social mores apply) and when they in a group. And as a consequence the nicest people can misbehave in traffic because being surrounded by a giant metal box can anonymise as well as dehumanise. This makes you less polite, less cooperative, less tolerant and to choose a really large word, less compassionate to other drivers.

I'd imagined that as a rider out in the open my perceived humanity would be higher and people would be more considerate towards me. My experience suggests that motorcyclists have more tools at hand to humanise themselves in traffic with and communicate, but most of us do not use them.

The simple advantage of communicating is that it changes you from a motorcycle rider to a human being on a motorcycle. It makes drivers less likely to cut you off, more likely to look for you in their mirrors before they change direction and less likely to mess with you overall.

I, for example, project the aura of a confident, super-aggressive rider in traffic. And you don't have to actually ride aggressive or rashly or fast to do this, you just have to look it. That's why I tend to wear bright protective gear and lots of it, tilt my head forward and down just a bit and keep the elbows and shoulders slightly up.

It isn't subtle, it's a banner that trails behind me that says "Not to be messed with." But I don't ride aggressively. It simply isn't prudent or required. Simple non-verbal posturing is enough.

And never forget you're far, far more vulnerable than any other form of motorised transport. Look aggressive but give up space quickly and without resistance if the situation demands it.

More active forms of communication take a far, far more polite, cheerful form. I'll always wave to kids, thank drivers who let me through, apologise if I knock a mirror when filtering. This is also strategic. People remember they met a cheerful motorcyclist, and hopefully think of bikes as more than mere organs of organ donation. As human beings even!