Life outside the cage

For most of my driving life, I�ve preferred two-wheeled transportation to automobiles. Living in the Northeast, having a car in the wintertime can certainly be more convenient and practical than a motorcycle. However, using clothing that plugs into my motorcycle�s electrical system to keep me warm, I can ride through just about any type of weather as long as there isn�t snow or ice on the roads. Though, I will get the occasional look from motorists on a 29-degree day that clearly indicates their suspicion that I may have escaped from the loony bin.
Why would I put myself through sub-zero wind chills on a motorcycle when I could be in a car? Well, I think like most things in life, it goes back to my childhood. Riding my first real bicycle � a metallic blue Schwinn Stingray � was a feeling like no other. There�s the feeling of freedom in being able to cover distances, the thrill of going fast, and the visceral wonder and joy that is felt by your body as it somehow understands the very complex laws of physics which keep you upright, though you haven�t studied them yet in school. (Or, more likely, never will. The mechanics behind counter-steering � how a bicycle or motorcycle turns at speed - are astoundingly complicated.) I still feel that joy when I ride my bicycle or my motorcycle.
There is a feeling of exposure on a motorcycle. You experience all the elements around you. You are more sensitive to everything you pass. The wind coming off of the side of the road jostles you around, and you can quickly tell if it just passed over fertilized farmland or salt marshes. The jagged stripes of tar used to seal up cracks in the pavement are not just mesmerizing as they pass below your feet, but can be treacherously slick if the roadway is wet. That car waiting in the driveway � will it try to pull into the road in front of you? The car in the oncoming intersection � is it going to make a left? And unless you are in the invincible late teen years, this fragility is palpable, and makes you think differently about your journey than if you were in a car.
If you�re an English motorcyclist, you may call cars and their occupants "cages" and "cagers." While that term humorously tries to illustrate the trapped and imprisoned state of automobile drivers, to me, it also describes the protection afforded to motorists surrounded by a ton of steel. You can afford to simultaneously check your Blackberry, drink a latte, and fiddle with your iPod when you have airbags, crumple zones, and comprehensive insurance with a very reasonable deductible.
I certainly feel that riding a motorcycle has made me a better driver � one who is more attentive to what others are doing. As a result, I also feel like I notice a lot more bad driving. So much so, in fact, that I need to temper my reaction to idiot driving maneuvers on a daily basis.
Are motorcyclists really more responsible drivers? The numbers seem to confirm the bike-car dynamic I describe: In two-thirds of multiple vehicle accidents involving motorcycles, it is the other driver who violated the motorcyclist�s right-of-way and caused the accident. Mostly this is due to motorists "not seeing" the motorcycle.
Is it really that motorists have a harder time seeing motorcycles than cars? Of course not. The truth is that most accidents are caused by motorists "not seeing" the other vehicle, no matter the number of wheels. And let's be clear: "not seeing" simply means not even looking.
I think that if more of the driving populace were to experience commuting behind the handlebars of a bicycle or motorbike, the roads would be a bit safer.

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