Butt Burn

August 1 2009

It’s been a long-standing tradition among many riders, one still evidenced if you happen to be among those who participate in it–the early morning weekend ride. It affords the only time of day when the ratio of bikes to four wheel vehicles closes measurably. I never make a habit of doing this myself unless I happen to be leaving on a weekend jaunt somewhere, though I have always appreciated the quiet, almost post-apocalyptic calm of the early dawn hours. Certainly appealing is that slanted early morning sunlight, the cool damp aromas, and thin winding fingers of fog, so delicate that they seem to evaporate when broken with a swift moving front fender.

Of course, the reason that our senses can appreciate these things more fully at this time of day is the glorious absence of other vehicles, or more specifically, the unfortunate circumstance of being stuck behind them. I think that anyone who rides is familiar with that deflated feeling one gets when that open road ahead is suddenly impeded, without a ready opportunity to pass. These of course vary depending the variables of weather, road conditions, and the amount of other traffic; I have however found that the nature of the actual obstacle directly affects the nature of the expression inside the helmet at the time. Anyone who’s ever been stuck behind a sanitation or septic tank pumper truck in mid-July will understand this. Years ago I would sometimes tuck into the draft of large trucks on the highway for short periods, though this was before wheels suddenly began falling off them with regularity. Nowadays I also seem to notice those large shards of blown tire carcass much more than I did 20 years ago, but then I don’t carry 12-packs home in my lap anymore either.

On a group ride a number of years ago, a good friend was held up behind a pickup towing a 24 ft. pleasure boat. While cresting a bridge said boat and trailer became unhitched from the truck directly in the path of my buddy’s shovelhead FLH, much to his dismay. I will forego the details of the subsequent events, other than to say that the boat ended up in the water (via the top of the bridge) and my friend remained upright, though not without deep psychological scars. To this day whenever someone asks him to recount the tale, his hands tremble as they reach for an additional two cans of Canadian, the colour drains from his face, and his voice echoes hauntingly with the reverence of one who has come face to face with his maker. To this day, my heart races whenever I get stuck behind a boat trailer.

Though these examples can be arguably considered accidental hazards on the part of the driver (though logical examination will reveal that true accidents do in fact not exist), what I have noticed increasing in recent years is a seemingly more blatant disregard for other drivers generally, and motorcyclists specifically. Perhaps it’s just the increase in traffic overall, perhaps it’s the time and place

I’m riding, or perhaps I’m simply getting grouchy as I age—otherwise so gracefully I might add. So my point, after this long-winded preamble, is the number of cigarette butts I’m dodging these days. Despite the ever-lowering numbers of smokers today, I find myself constantly taking note of the arm movements in the driver’s seat in front of me, just waiting for the inevitable flick of the burning butt.

We’ve all been there. In the right conditions one can even catch the acrid scent of burning Virginia broadleaf before the movements tell the story. The quick, absent reach to the open window, or sometimes a sunroof. You begin thinking, if they’re not using the ashtray for ashes, where is the butt going, though we already know. It’s almost expected then, when the tumbling little clinker inevitably hurls back toward you, the driver apparently is blissfully unaware of those in his/her debris path and pre-occupied with getting back to their text messaging. Now, I will admit that I can’t ever recall actually being struck with a burning butt despite the number that have been tossed at me, though I have had someone empty their ashtray in front of me; not sure if I should be thankful they were using it or not. But that is beside the point.

First, those little round fibrous filters can take 12-years to decompose, and they are routinely found in the stomachs of birds and marine life, still full of all those nasty chemicals. So then, whether driving or not, this kind of littering is among the worst that can so easily be prevented by the individual. Secondly, it’s just plain rude and pisses me off to no end, that someone can be so unaware of their surroundings and self-absorbed. Why not just walk past me on the street and throw it at me? IT IS THE SAME THING. This attitude is not limited to the careless smoker of course, as all manner of crap gets tossed carelessly from cars with a regularity that motorcyclists are well aware of. This little rant was in fact inspired by a friend who recently had a woman reach out of her car window and empty an apparently full—though perhaps cold?—cup of Tim Horton’s coffee directly into his path at handlebar level. I will spare the details here, as it’s best told in the first person, but from what I understand this driver has a new found appreciation for her rear view mirror.

As one who uses their bike for routine commuting for at least seven months a year in addition to occasional weekend excursions, I imagine I may put myself in the path of this sort of thing just riding to work more than say, those who are primarily adventure touring the barren roads of the north. I also know that I’m preaching to the choir here to large extent; nonetheless it needs to be said. Bad enough that they’re trying to kill us with errant left turns and unannounced lane changes, this is truly adding insult to injury. I’m keeping a couple of cigarette butts close at hand for the next time this happens, and if the opportunity presents itself I will simply smile and toss one into the open car window. Juvenile? You bet. Satisfying? No question.

As I’ve mentioned in the past here, I always enjoy all the responses I get from the Mojo readership. If any of you three have any ideas to contribute in this effort to teach ill mannered motorists a little etiquette I welcome your suggestions. Along with curbing my truck drafting and lane-splitting habits of 20 years ago, I should say that my days of door kicking and mirror *ahem* adjusting are long over as well, so let’s try to be creative here. In the meantime I may start to get up much earlier on the weekend, if just to enjoy the smoke-free roads.

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