On Monday morning on my usual way to work, I stopped at an accident scene that turned out to be fatal. I don’t know what his name was, or anything else about him. Riding along the emergency lane, his bike and a hatchback made impact, his body lay halfway between the car and the destroyed bike. His helmet had come off and lay on its side. The memory is imprinted on me forever, and I pray to never see another.
I’ve been riding that stretch of highway on the N1 between Beyers Naude and Malibongwe daily for 4 years now, rain and shine, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. It gives me an hour a day extra with my kids, and a smile on my face when I get to work. It’s faster, cheaper and more fun, but most people believe it’s more dangerous too, and clearly, it’s deadly dangerous.
There are a lot more people who are taking a bike to work, everyday I see more and more of them sharing the spaces between the traffic, and I salute them for their bravery, and for overcoming their fear. But overcoming the fear isn’t enough, riding a motorcycle means that you have to constantly think ahead and plan your route, assessing dangers and patterns that could be dangerous. It’s a lot more interactive than a car.
I use the biker lane, “lane splitting” it’s called, and acceptable in most, although not all the world. In South Africa it is legal. It eases congestion during rush hour traffic measurably, and leads to increased traffic flows and decreased engine wear, for everyone, not just the bikers. In the current climate, biking can and will increase, and it will be a good thing for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be deadly.
For the car drivers, or cagers as bikers call them, or traffic, it’s fairly simple: careful where you point that thing, it’s loaded. When you “ didn’t see him” when there clearly was someone there, it is your fault, completely. I do not have an invisibility cloak ok? Just a great big headlight, highly visible I assure you. Not looking properly is a common problem among traffic. Also, you know when you think changing lanes will get you there faster? That’s stupid, and messes up traffic for the rest of the poor cagers. If you want to get there faster than the cars around you, get a bike.
For bikers, or idiots as most people call us, it’s also very simple:
Don’t be stupid. See, even bikers can read that. Don’t be stupid. That starts with getting training, wearing protective gear like helmets and gloves and boots, and putting your headlight on. It continues with slowing down, riding where people expect you, and not bumping into anything. It’s also very important to be polite. You have the rest of your life to get there, don’t rush it.
Lastly, both cars and bikes: STAY OUT OF THE EMERGENCY LANE. It’s against the law, very rude, and stupid too. I know I’m using that word a lot, but there isn’t another one for what I see daily. Unfortunately we are all stuck together in this Joburg place, and we really do have to share it. But the emergency lane is like holy ground, it is communal space for when things go wrong, for ambulances and Police and Towing guys and things … not a place to drive or ride on.
It would be awesome to see more bikes on the roads, but there has to be much greater emphasis on learning and sharing information that makes us all safer. Use your Indicators, look properly where you are going, clearly it’s an issue for some of you. And if you want to ride with us, just ask. The more bikes on the roads the safer and more convenient it will become for all of us. For the new bikers, ask a biker, he’ll know stuff you don’t want to find out on your own.