The Codes We Ride By


Which way do we go?


I ride with lots of different people, but I have a core group of 5 - 10 people who are my regular riding buds. These are the people who I reach out to when I want to use my limited time for maximum fun. We have a wide variance in skill level and bike type. But, there is one characteristic of my core group that is fairly rigid and consistent: we subscribe to a clear, similar, yet undiscussed set of rules. In other words, riding etiquette.

“Etiquette” is not a word commonly used by moto-people. However, everyone in my core group has a set of personal rules and guidelines that they follow. They vary a little from person to person, and though we have never written them down or discussed them, we all know they are there.

Please consider the following example: you have a friend who is a new rider. He’s a good friend and has good skills, so you decide to invite him out and show him some of your best stuff…..little known, super fun routes that have not yet become hammered by lots of use. You set a 10:00 AM “kickstands up” time, and invite one more guy along so you have a perfect three. About 8 AM, he calls and lets you know he has invited another person along, whom you do not know. Furthermore, he casually says that person can’t go at 10, so we need to go at 11. You grit your teeth, call your third partner, tell him the new time. Then, when you both show up at the meeting place, new rider-guy is there, but in street clothes, and he mentions by the way that the fourth person is gonna be late….even more. Would this frustrate you? If so, you likely have a template of riding behavior that it does not fit within.

A loose version of this happened to me a while back. Of course this quadfecta of faux pas did not please me at all, and I began planning the chat I needed to have to make sure it did not happen again. I figured this would be best with some tact, so I started running through all the points I planned to explain to him. Immediately, I realized I would be complaining about points not commonly discussed or defined, and an argument without constructive points is pointless.

This made me think about all the unspoken, yet understood rules my core group have. There are quite a few, actually. Some are more important, some are more sacrificial, but one stood up as most important of all. It goes like this: You invite me on a ride, it is your ride. You “own” it. All details, such as when, where, who, are all up to you, not me.

A friend offered the perfect analogy for this: being invited out on a ride, especially an adventure ride, is like being invited over for dinner. It is the host's event, and when, where, who, and what, is all up to them. You sure as hell don’t try to change what they are cooking, or the time, or the location, and you don’t invite extra people along, unless you ask if it is okay. 

That does not mean there is no flexibility or discussion. In fact, most of the time on my rides, there is a lot of discussion going on, and consensus being sought. However, in my philosophy this is more benevolent dictatorship than democracy, with an implied deference to whomever set the gig up.

I have an inverse example of that. Once while stopped mid ride, I was hemming and hawing about where to go next. One of my buddies, Hopper, in his occasional state of impatient pissyfit, started barking about “you called the ride, where the f*** do you want to go?” The funny thing is, I was not the least bit offended, because he was verbalizing an ideology I believe in.

There are several other Codes We Ride By (I need to trademark that….). For example, Wachs, who knows more secret trails than your cramped-up wrists and legs can handle, is extremely limited about who he invites along. If you’re lucky enough to get an invite from him, you’d better not talk about, post about, or show others his routes. This is called the “Fight Club” rule, from the David Fincher movie. It perfectly captures the need for discretion, by saying "the first rule of Fight do NOT talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB". I completely subscribe to this, it is a religion with some of us here in Central Oregon.

A huge trigger for me is preparedness. I can tolerate riders that are still learning, but if you belligerently ignore carrying water, tools, having your bike in good mechanical condition, etc. and you know better, you’re a fool AND risk to others. Riding with you eventually makes me a fool. While researching this, BOMBER Munn relayed a hilarious story about a chronically unprepared participant on one of his long distance Baja tours. This gentleman showed up for a long distance tour on 2 stroke with no headlight, no spare tubes, a small tank, and apparently not enough meds to last the entire trip. The other participants did their best to roll with his lack of fuel - check out the photo of them pranking his bike - but eventually he exhausted everyone's patience, and was kicked off the trip.

There is a terrain, or ride type, aspect to this topic. Many things that are cool on the street are not OK on an off road ride, and vice-versa. Law enforcement, traffic lights, cars, ask different things of a group than dust, navigation, preparedness, etc. For example, wheelies are awesome almost everywhere in the dirt, but need a more discreet approach on the street.

Some behavioral norms are hard to put into a box. For example, I don’t Bake’n’Ride, nor do my riding buddies. However, now that Oregon, and 9 other states, have legalized recreational marijuana, I am certain at some point someone I am out with will light up mid ride. I am not going to partake, but I am not sure how to respond, or if I should respond at all. Frankly I do not feel as strongly about it as I do about loud exhausts, showing up late, or riding like a jackass.

My personal Code of the Ride is as follows:

  • Person that calls the ride, owns the ride.
  • Fight Club Rule (DO NOT talk about your routes, EVER). 
  • Show up on time, ready to go. “Kickstands up” time is a real thing. Respect it.
  • Show up PREPARED. Bike, gear, water, food, and especially you.
  • If you are not the organizer, you're a guest. Period. Don’t invite others without asking, if at all.
  • Excess dust, noise, and attention are needless dickery.
  • If the terrain is over your head, say so. It's not a problem if we all know. Most of the time others want you to have fun and will help you when you need.
  • Make sure the guy behind you does not get lost. The whole time.
  • I try to avoid unpleasant talks with Law Enforcement. I require your support on this.
  • Don’t be a jackass (catch-all for everything in motorcycles and in life)

    I almost felt guilty for having so many, until I recalled how and why each one ended up on the list. Most of them came from experiences, and are related to having more fun, less hassle, and less risk. They are the textbook definition of learning by experience, and I would not change any. Some are rules, some are etiquette, all are real.

    What are yours?

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    • Brian Price