Rules of the Road
Like any subculture, different biker groups and clubs have different ways of communicating respect.
But biker culture at large has a pretty consistent set of rules that everyone should follow to make sure that everyone is safe, respectful, and having a good time.
Here’s a refresher on the most important ones:
1. Obey Local Traffic Laws
When you are riding, you represent all bikers in the eyes of the cagers around you. Don’t make us look bad.
No lane splitting (unless you’re in California), no cutting people off, no passing traffic on the shoulder and no cutting the line at toll booths.
Just don’t be a jerk.
This sign knows you were thinking about passing in a solid yellow line zone. Don’t do it.
2. Ride Like Everyone on the Road Is Trying to Kill You
And no, that doesn’t mean “Ride Like You’re In A Mad Max Movie”. It means ride to avoid accidents.
The best way to do this is to stay sharp and aware at all times and make predictable moves. Don’t assume that cagers will always respect your right of way. DO assume they don’t see you at all.
Follow the rule of ATGATT when suiting up for a ride, no matter how short the trip.
The more careful and predictable your movements on the road are, the better the good drivers around you will be able to anticipate your actions, and the less likely the bad drivers are to suddenly crash into you.
Always signal lane changes and turns, try not to accelerate or brake suddenly, and stay visible.
Remember: if you can’t see a cager’s eyes or mirrors, they can’t see you.
3. Don’t Endanger Other Bikers
Sharing the road with other bikers is, of course, a different experience than sharing the road with 4+ wheeled vehicles because they take up less space in a lane and are less protected in the event of an accident.
If you find yourself sharing a lane with another biker, share courteously and safely – signal before every movement and don’t ride directly next to them. If you’re stopped in the same lane at a traffic light, one of you should pull a half bike-length ahead so that it’s clear who’s riding into the intersection first.
Don’t pass a fellow biker in the same lane (unless there is heavy traffic and they have clearly waved you through).
Don’t assume a fellow biker can see you if you’re coming up from behind them, and don’t assume you’re welcome to join them on their ride (this goes for groups, too).
If you’re in a group, stay in your place in the formation. This allows your group-mates to plan their maneuvers in the case of an accident or road hazard.
4. Help Each Other Out
If you see another rider stopped on the side of the road it’s polite to offer help, even if you’re not sure they need it or you can provide it.
Heck, they may just want some company while they figure their issue out. There’s safety in numbers, and the road can be a cruel mistress.
A quick way to check if someone wants your help is to flash them a “thumbs-up” as you approach. If they respond with a “thumbs-up,” they’re ok; you don’t need to stop.
If they respond with a “thumbs-down,” that means they could use some help. Find a safe way to join them on the side of the road and do what you can to help them out. You never know when you could end up in the same situation.
You can also help other riders by letting them know when there are police around:
Tap the top of your helmet to signal to other riders that you see a cop ahead or you know police tend to hang out in the area.
5. Don’t Forget to Wave
The “motorcycle wave” is an important acknowledgement of the brotherhood of riders. It transcends the social boundaries of age, race, gender, and preferred brand.
Now, some people will tell you that there’s a special way you have to wave in order to look cool, and that anybody who catches you waving freestyle will judge you and laugh with their friends about “that one guy who waves like a dork” for the rest of their lives.
Honestly, those people are wrong. It’s just a wave. Don’t take technique too seriously.
Don’t worry about waving if you’re in a situation where it’s unsafe to take your hand off the bars (turning, riding in heavy rain or on difficult terrain, etc.). Fellow riders will understand. And if someone doesn’t wave back to you, don’t get upset: they probably just didn’t see you.
6. Respect Other Peoples’ Stuff
You can look, but you can’t touch. Don’t touch their bike, don’t touch their patches, and don’t touch them.
Think about it: people pay a lot of money for their bikes. They put a lot of time and effort into maintaining them, and they love riding them more than anything in the world.
That’s a precious object right there. How bad would you feel if you were somehow responsible for damaging it? A simple touch could scratch it or even knock it over if you’re not careful; so it’s better not to touch at all.
In the same vein, make sure that if you park in a line of bikes, you leave enough room for yourself and others to mount up later without disturbing each other’s rides.
And don’t try to share a parking space with a someone you didn’t ride there with. That’s just weird.
As for patches, those are also precious. Whether they represent membership in a club or a veterans’ organization, a person has to go through hell to earn them. As a sign of respect, don’t put your hands on them – you haven’t earned that right.
If you ever touch something by accident, offer them a sincere apology. Respect is important, and you never know who might be the quick-to-anger type.
Oh, and never say anything rude about a person’s bike or their gear, either. Regardless of what they ride, they’re riding for the same reasons you are, and you should respect that.
7. Don’t Ask to Ride Someone Else’s Bike
This is one of the biggest undisputed rules. Never ask to ride (or even sit on) someone else’s motorcycle – asking guarantees that the answer will forever and always be “no.”
It’s like the Murphy’s Law of motorcycles. If you don’t ask to ride someone’s motorcycle, there’s a chance that maybe at some point in the future they will trust you enough to offer you a ride. If you ever do ask, though, you’ve instantly proven your unworthiness, and outed yourself as someone who doesn’t know or respect the rules.
It’s a bit like asking to sleep in someone’s bed or take their significant other out for a drink. Just tacky and impolite.
So don’t ask.
8. Don’t Start Fights
This rule especially applies if you’re
a. Wearing your club’s patch,
b. In a spot that isn’t normally considered a biker hangout, and/or
c. In a tourist area for a rally.
Remember, you’re representing both your club (if you’re in one) and bikers in general when you’re out among other people. It’s not just embarrassing for you and your crew if you get kicked out of a bar for fighting, it’s embarrassing for everyone you represent.
Certain cities have considered banning or severely limiting rallies and other biker events because of violence and dangerous situations. Don’t be the guy (or gal) responsible for the untimely end of your favorite rally.
Stay respectful of others (even if they aren’t respectful to you), don’t argue with the owners or managers of a bar or venue, and always apologize when you’re in the wrong, no matter how minor the offense.
Your ego is not the most important thing in the room.
Fights tend to escalate quickly from small disagreements, so always try to stop things BEFORE they go too far.
9. Keep Things Quiet in Residential Areas
As much as you might want to warm up your bike in your driveway or show off at an intersection, resist the urge. Disturbing the peace is a great way to get the local police to consider you a nuisance and get the government involved in restricting biker activity.
Feel free to open up the throttle on rural roads where there’s nobody around to be bothered. But for the sake of yourself and your fellow bikers, have some respect for the people who are just trying to live their lives with their eardrums intact.
If you ride a particularly loud hog, just manage your gear and throttle in a way that keeps the noise to a minimum. Reasonable people will realize that you’re doing your best, and they’ll appreciate the effort.
Oh, and stop saying that loud pipes save lives. It’s just not true on several levels. If you do most of your riding in areas where loud exhaust isn’t favorable, consider making a permanent change to quiet things up. The only difference in safety will be that the drivers around you will be less annoyed at you.
10. Enjoy the Ride
Most of the rules of the road boil down to 3 principles:
- Respect for others,
- Road safety, and
- Positive representation of the biker community
As long as you keep those things in mind, you shouldn’t have to stress much about whether you’re doing the right thing at any given time.
Just relax, be yourself, and have a good time. Don’t set out to impress anybody else, just do your own thing. Explore new roads and hangouts with the confidence of knowing the rules.