By June 19, 2008

Freeway motorcyclists: California vs. Virginia

This is day one on my trip out to California. I spent some time on the highway and had the chance to watch Californian motorcyclists in action on “the Slab.” I noticed two major and fundamental differences in motorcycle culture between here and Virginia.

The first big difference is that because one is able to ride in California almost year round, people are more aware of motorcyclists out here. People expect to see a cyclopean headlight burning behind them, or a two-wheeled daredevil to their left or right. I’m not saying accidents don’t happen, but there seemed to be more a more “formal” agreement between cyclists and cagers out here.

Evidence of this armistice is lane splitting, which is legal in California. A motorcyclist may ride between cars in congested traffic. Cyclists are supposed to keep their speed within 10MPH of automobile traffic, but no one pays attention to that at all if my stint in gridlock was any indication.

In Virginia, motorists whip into different lanes at the slightest chance to improve their position. As a commuting motorcyclist, I am the most afraid when traffic begins to slow — as I fear someone will dart out in front of me. It would not be possible for so many Californian motorcyclists to split lanes if people drove as they do in Virginia. Every, and I mean every motorcyclist split lanes today. And they did so at a high rate of speed, so the average perception/experience is one of relative safety.

Perhaps because of the weather and the ability to traverse traffic in a potentially dangerous fashion, almost all of the cyclists I saw were wearing protective gear of some kind. Contrast this to Virginia, where people in cars often wear better protection than those on motorcycles. I saw at least a dozen motorcycles today, and only one rider was without a jacket. Many had protective jackets and pants. I only saw one open-faced helmet, another big difference. Almost everyone in VA wears an open helmet.

I wonder what motorcycling life would be like in Virginia if the weather was the same. Virginia is also more of a “keep dem durn hands off mah freedoms” kind of state and I think wearing safety gear while motorcycling is seen as counter to the rebel spirit. I am sure there are a shit ton of squids in Cali, but it appears that the people who commute on their cycles every day take their skills and safety more seriously than their east-coast counterparts.

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Posted in: motorcycling

4 Comments on "Freeway motorcyclists: California vs. Virginia"

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  1. fishsprout says:

    Lane splitting isn’t legal here… we lane “share” 🙂 That makes us legal.

    And, If you head down to so-cal or the valley you can throw the moto-gear idea out the window, nobody wears gear in those parts. Maybe because our traffic moves up here, and our weather is cooler so we’re gear heads. Check out the BARF forum ( sometime and you’ll see the Bay Area is an anomaly from the rest of Cali.

  2. Richard Glitter says:

    I agree with you on the driving habits. I also lived in Chicago, and live in SoCal now, and Chicago drivers are like how you described Virginia drivers – very agressive, and ALWAYS changing lanes instantly if they perceive a .00004 second time savings. Here, people get in the lane they need to be in based on when they’re going to exit, and just go with the flow (for the most part).

    What fishsprout says about gear is mostly true about the central valley and inland empire, but most of the riders in Socal who commute and/or rail the canyons on weekends are pretty good about gear. It’s the squids on PCH and in Riverside county who don’t wear gear.

    In the Bay area everyone HAS to wear gear because it’s always cold and raining 😛

  3. Ive even noticed a big difference between the drivers in socal and nocal. I live in Sactown nowadays, I grew up in O.C and I remember drivers in LA dont slow down on the freeway to look at a fender bender, the traffic flows. Here if a cop is giving a motor rider a ticket the freeway comes to a stop, which is much more dangerous.

  4. Omar says:

    Yeah, try driving in Chicago! If you look around you’ll notice everyones car is banged up and destroyed because of the erratic driving out there. Cool observation of the two though, California and Virginia.