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Just gimme some kind of sign

By Terry Roorda

Yes, it’s true that bikers don’t reflexively pull over to assist fellow bikers on the side of the road like they used to. That’s a lament I hear frequently—the tale of the broke-down bro loitering on the shoulder watching in disgust as scores of bikes cruise past with scarcely a glance. I listen to these laments, commiserate, rue the passing of the good old days, and try not to let on that I myself might have been one of those callous jerks—but not for the reasons generally expressed or implied by the lamenters.

What’s generally expressed or implied in these jeremiads is that this apparent callousness is symptomatic of a widespread retreat from the hallowed tenets of the two-wheeled tribe—especially the tenet that states: Thou shalt stop unconditionally for your broke-down bros—but things are a bit more complex than that these days.

A lot more complex, actually, when you put it all into historical context, remembering how different things were 15 or 20 years ago. Back then, for example, there were dramatically fewer bikers on the road, and the bikes we were riding were a lot less reliable than contemporary machinery. If you spotted a bike on the shoulder there was a good chance that, 1) it was indeed disabled; 2) help would be hard to come by, especially from citizen motorists wary of scooter trash, and, 3) you were personally in a position to offer meaningful assistance. In all likelihood you knew a thing or two about roadside repair from your own experience, and what’s more, you were packing the extensive tool kit required to effect those repairs.

There’s that, and there’s also the fact that nobody was packing a cell phone, so at the very least you could go fetch help or go call someone who could. Put those factors together and you start to get a very different picture of the current situation.

Modern reliability, the ubiquitous cell phone, and the proclivity of contemporary riders to stop on the roadside to sightsee, or snap photos, or put on a layer of clothes, or strip off a layer of clothes, or munch a road snack or take a leak (and bikers eat and pee a lot more than they used to—I know I do) have brought us to a place where the vast majority of bikes and bikers on the roadside don’t need or want a damn thing from you, and it’s now reasonable to assume that they don’t.

None of which is to suggest that there aren’t still bikers in need, and there isn’t still a moral obligation to help them out, and that it’s not still obligatory to stop whenever you spot obvious trouble like a flat tire or somebody bent over a bike with the seat removed, or sitting cross-legged on the ground with the air cleaner or primary cover off, or lying crumpled in the sagebrush in the middle of the Mojave. And I refuse to believe that the contemporary biker is any less disposed to helping out a brother or sister in need than the biker of yesteryear. What I mean to suggest is that, more than ever, it’s up to the distressed biker to communicate unequivocally their plight, and simply standing by the bike looking downcast and bewildered is no longer a sufficient signal that you need a hand. Even hitchhikers have to stick out a thumb.

But at least everyone knows what it means when they do, and that’s the upshot of all of this, which is that we need to agree on some universally recognized signal to tell passing bikers that you’d appreciate an assist; that you’re not simply lollygagging on the roadside, or haven’t already summoned whatever help you need on your cell phone.

I would suggest the obvious: entwining your hands in a prayerful fashion, making eye contact with any biker coming up the road, and pleading. That should get their attention, awaken their sympathies, and make your desires obvious. Another surefire attention getter—if either you or your saddle partner is suitably equipped—is to flash. That’s a proven means of slowing down a biker, thus giving you an opportunity to do the pleading deal we’ve discussed. I’m open to other suggestions, of course, and I grant that what I’ve proposed lacks a certain dignity, but so what? It may not be as dignified as standing stoically by your broken machine and fuming and cursing the demise of the Brotherhood as bikes blow by oblivious, but I guarantee it’ll be a hell of a lot more effective.

It’s all right here in the diaries.

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