Iron and Irony

September 1 2007

Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff. Most of us are familiar with some form of this phrase, and many may even claim to live by it. Now into my fourth decade in the saddle of this existence, I don’t often get genuinely angry anymore, and I’m rarely in a hurry. As Lao Tzu, that great sage of ancient China, said, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

As someone who recently went from riding a fast Triumph triple to riding the great American V-Twin, I really had no choice but to adopt this viewpoint anyway.

In the course of everyday life however, sometimes things just plain piss you off even when you’re not in a hurry and so begins my rant. I’m regularly forced to run red lights at more than one intersection that I often use when riding. I have no problem doing this, as the legal transgressions of my youth have provided a certain comfort level, and usually this is only necessary late at night or at quieter crossroads (don’t tell me you’ve never done it). Recently, however, I was sitting at a red light in the through-lane of a busy intersection without any cars behind me. The opposing traffic was given an advanced green before turning immediately red again, not allowing me a green light, as if I wasn’t there! Would someone please tell me why I so often sit at red lights waiting for cars to trip a signal before the light will change to green? And yes, I know it has to do with the signature of a vehicle. It’s the larger question that I’m asking here.

I live in a growing city of 125,000 that necessitates a capable and modern traffic infrastructure. This includes a wonderful new system of solar powered school zone warning lights as well as bright and highly efficient LED traffic lights. So why then, will a modern (though I use that term loosely), efficient motorcycle not function in conjunction with this system? I could offer an opinion but it will have to wait; I’m too busy paying my property taxes.

However unintentional, this is most certainly a discrimination against motorcyclists. I won’t get on a soapbox here in defence of bikers rights, in fact I prefer to be marginalized. Just don’t expect conformity within a system when the system in its default setting does not provide the opportunity. I know someone who holds an AZ drivers license and bought a bike a few years ago. Although he is permitted to legally drive anything short of the space shuttle, he was required to follow the same “graduated” process in getting a motorcycle license as a new rider of sixteen. After undergoing all the bureaucracy and associated indignities (“Sorry guys, I can’t be out after dark and I have to take the back roads home, and can one of you give my wife a lift?”) one should at least expect the opportunity to obey traffic lights. My point here is the simple irony. An overcomplicated licensing system (M, M1, M2, M with condition L, M2 with condition L) and outrageous insurance costs on one hand, and traffic lights that won’t recognize you on the other.

Until the 1960s, traffic lights were controlled with timers, after which the inductive loop electromagnet system was introduced. This system relies on the iron content of the vehicle to activate/change the light. Now, one would think that 650 lbs. of “American iron” would activate lights as green as a Wisconsin forest. Not so, apparently “real steel” these days includes a lot more alloys than grandpa’s knucklehead.

Sitting at intersections waiting for lights to change, “invisible to the system”, does provide some unique opportunities. Being a perfect driver myself, observing the driving habits of others is endlessly intriguing to me. Though my data is not scientific, I have observed that large SUVs such as Escalades, BMWs, and Lexus’ (Lexi?) are among the most dangerous on the road. There is a 79% chance that drivers of these vehicles will have a cell phone stuck to their ear and, amazingly, most of these high-end luxury vehicles are not equipped with turn signals. One would think that manufacturers would make this standard equipment. I’ve also noticed that, contrary to popular belief, pedestrians do not have the right of way if a driver deems him/her self more important than the pedestrian. When disputed, the latter is ultimately assumed to be in the wrong 87% of the time. Maybe I’ll apply for a government grant and make a formal study. Or write a book, “Reflections at Intersections”.

Perhaps today’s motorcycle manufacturers could consider including higher iron content, at least in the lower part of their frames. Until then I’ll be glad to continue running late night red lights. As for sitting a few extra minutes at a busy intersection on a hot summer day, there’s no point in sweating the small stuff. Besides, I’ll let you in on a secret; there’s no difference between the small stuff and the big stuff anyway.

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