To Pass Or Not To Pass: That Was My (Neurotic) Question

I turn the corner and accelerate onto the interstate. This is one of my favorite parts of riding. I like the feeling of getting up to speed. I like the way the engine growls as I push the RPMs. I like the rush of acceleration.

I glance over my shoulder and check that my lane is clear to merge. My lane is, but the lane next to mineĀ isn’t.

There are two riders occupying that lane, riding in a side-by-side formation. Both are on big, black cruisers. I can’t tell the make from here, but they’re loud, even through my helmet and headphones I can hear the roar, and they’re both modded up; ape-hanger handlebars and all. Both riders are bearded and helmetless.

And both are wearing cut-off black leather vests.

I pull into my lane just as they zip past me, which gives me an opportunity to see the backs of those cuts. Classic one-percenters, right down to the patch, the top rocker, and so on. It’s not a club name that I’m familiar with (although later research indicates that my hesitation was justified, as the club in question is classified as an outlaw motorcycle club according to law enforcement).

My initial feeling is to give them a wide berth, until traffic works itself in such a way that I end up riding in their wake. They’re dominating their lane, going an easy 80 mph in the left lane. Speed limit is 75 mph.

Most people do 90+ if they can get away with it.

And now the dilemma. I’m behind them, riding in their wake. They can see me. They can see my bike. I’m riding a sport bike, long the enemy of the cruiser crowd. My blue Kawasaki isn’t going to win me friends here. We’re members of completely different tribes, even though we’re all sharing in the same potentially lethal two-wheeled experience.

I know that a big part of OMC culture is the idea of respect, something that’s shared with most gang or gang-like groups. When I worked in a south-side library in a tough part of town, one of my tasks was asking gang members in the library to put away their colors while in the library. It was frequently a terrifying experience; you try to handle the issue respectfully but you never know how the other guy is going to react. Fortunately, I never had a bad reaction.

What counts as disrespect when you’re sharing the highway with a pair of outlaw bikers? Passing them in the right lane seems disrespectful, because it frequently is exactly that, at least when I do it. “Go fucking faster” is what my bike is saying whenever that happens.

I really, really don’t want to communicate that particular message.

But do I follow along? Maybe that seems like I’m trying to edge into their business. Bikers are varied like that. I’ve found some people absolutely love the impromptu riding groups that sometimes pop up. You get into a group of riders, you follow them for a while because you’re all going the same way, it’s pretty fun.

But a sport rider trying to group up with a pair of one-percenters? Who knows what that looks like?

Since my only options were follow or pass, I decided ultimately the ambiguity of following in their wake was more respectful than a “fuck-you-right-lane-pass.” So I kept a good distance, focused on my commute, and wondered what, if anything, these guys were thinking about the blue riderĀ on their tail in the full face helmet.

“Keep your distance, Chewie, but don’t look like you’re keeping your distance . . . I don’t know. Fly casual.”