Riding Partners

assault n 2: a threatened or attempted physical attack by someone who appears to be able to cause bodily harm if not stopped.

Several years ago, a friend and I were out riding. As I recall it was a pleasant day; we ran the parkway and maybe Cades Cove. The guy I was riding with was one of my close friends, someone I had put in many miles with and many hours riding side by side. I have just a few friends that I would ride beside at speed.

Most of the time, with anyone I don't know and most that I do, I will switch to single or staggered file if the road narrows or gets really curvy. But there are a few friends that I feel comfortable riding beside, except for the most extreme conditions. I know that they would do everything they could to avoid causing me damage and they trust me that way.

We have enough miles and hours together to have a fairly good idea of how each other would react in a given situation. We also know that none of us is particularly interested in showing off. We don't do stuff to impress each other, we just try to enjoy the scenery, the company, the motorcycles.

So, on this particular ride, my friend and I were towards the end of it and heading back into town. We were jamming up Alcoa Highway and crossing Cumberland (this was well before they redid the Buck Karns bridge and interchange). We were in the left lane and were probably mildly exceeding the speed limit. It was a bright, sunny day and we were stone cold sober, so a little over the speed limit was not really a big deal. Right as we approached the on-ramp from Cumberland, a white Honda Accord with Texas plates and U of T window stickers, piloted by what appeared to be a diminutive female of college age, entered the highway and pulled across all the lanes of traffic until she was right in front of us. I'm guessing that no one had ever explained to her the proper way to merge with traffic as when she got in front of us, she was going no faster than half the posted speed limit. I have seen Jazzys that accelerated faster.

Traffic was fairly light, I think it was a Sunday early evening, there was no possible way that she couldn't see us. There was no reason for her to be concerned about her ability to get over in time to take the westbound split coming up nearly a mile down the road. But what she did, either callously or maliciously, was to pull in front of us at a significantly slower speed than we were traveling. Both of us hit the binders, I so aggressively that my front tire was chirping. Both of our front tires came to within 3 to 5 inches of her rear bumper before we were able to slow enough to start increasing the distance. Neither of us hit her or each other. We recovered with no more physical effect than a sharp increase in adrenaline levels and perhaps a couple of hundred miles of tire wear.

So, look at the definition at the top of this column. Think about it. Now tell me why the situation I described does not rise to the level of assault? Why could we not have gotten her tag number and had her charged? Hell, for that matter, why could we not defend ourselves? If we had kicked her car, even though it would have not hurt her at all, I'm pretty sure that if she had been able to identify us, the police would have come after us.

If you have a clear memory of that stretch of road, you would know that we had nowhere to go with the concrete divider on our left and highway-speed traffic behind us and to our right. If either or both of us had lost control, the chance of us being seriously injured or killed was pretty large. But, somehow, what she did was not assault?

This seems an easy thing to do that could possibly save more lives than a helmet law: Simply let drivers know that they will be charged and held responsible for their behavior that endangers motorcycles (and bicycles).

If you are operating a large, high-powered boat on the lake, you have the responsibility to avoid sailcraft and rowboats. Why does it make sense there but not on the roads?

Steve Dupree's resume includes a '76 Triumph Bonneville, '75 Norton Highrider, '76 HD XLCH, and '81 FXSB Sturgis. With a riding history that spans 30+ years, two continents, several states, and more bumps, scratches, dents, and roadside repair than he wishes to remember, Dupree learned about motorcycling and the lifestyle the hard way. Any anger he expresses, he came by honestly.