Motorcyclist, August 1985
Editorial By Art Friedman
This is a new series on the Garage, a look back at articles from motorcycle magazines from twenty-plus years ago. While magazines are quickly becoming a relic from the past, there’s a lot of good information that has been produced that nobody notices anymore. These articles will probably never see reprints, but they’re presented here for you to enjoy and appreciate!
Now this is a subject every street rider has an opinion about. The way street bikes are ridden would be much different if there were no traffic-enforcement police. Left to my own devices, I would cruise most open highways and back roads at probably 75 or 80 mph, run about 70 mph or so on urban freeways and ride about 55mph on some of the streets (posted for 35mph) I currently commute on. However, I suspect that I’d enjoy my rides a lot less than I now do if everyone else were allowed to go as they wanted to. Some of those people in their four-wheelers, and a few on their two-wheelers, are unsafe at any speed. I’d hate to be on the same street when they were late for work without something to inhibit their velocity.
Of course, I usually don’t think of that when a black-and-white Dodge appears in my mirror or cruises down an on-ramp. I think about the potential hassle if the cop decides he doesn’t like the way I’m riding or my registration or something else. What I’m thinking about mostly is my insurance rates, which never seem to settle into the safe-driver category because there are always one or two speeding violations on my record. I like to explain them as part of the job. So when a car with taillights on the roof or a black-and-white Kawasaki or Harley shows up behind me, I silently curse it and will it to go away.
It is an unfair attitude. After all, for as many miles a I have ridden, I have rarely been treated unfairly or even impolitely by cops. I was once stopped in Oklahoma , apparently because the patrolman was bored. He gave no reason for stopping us, didn’t seem to know what he wanted and finally mumbled something about looking for runaways after checking my ID and my passenger’s.
As a kid living in a small town, I once got on the bad side of a local cop after he saw me, or someone who had a bike that looked like mine, blasting through town and was unable to catch him. (It probably was me; there were no other bikes that looked like mine around.) After that, he stopped me at every opportunity for infractions real or imagined. He must have stopped me 10 times in four months, usually accusing me of something i hadn’t done. The funny thing was that even hen he did catch me red-throttle-handed, as in one case where I rolled a stop sign right in front of him, he never wrote me a ticket. But I always knew when he was around.
This mild harassment was balanced by the town’s parking-meter officer, who got to talking to me one day about bikes and was my friend from that day forth. The next time he saw me as I started feeding the meter, he told me it wasn’t necessary. “I know your bike,” he said, “and I’m the only one who gives parking tickets for meter violations. Don’t ever put money in a meter in this town.” I never did, and I never got a ticket, even when cars on both sides of me did.
I have had other long-term relations with cops. In college, there was a town I used to ride through frequently. The traffic cop in that town would follow me every time I came through on a bike, although if I came through in my van, he simply ignored me. A couple of years ago there was a CHP motor cop who sat on a freeway on-ramp on my way home. It was the street where i got on the freeway going south from the westbound lane of the street. He sat on the ramp for the eastbound entrance to the southbound lanes, usually just out of vie from the other side of the street. I had my first run-in with him one evening after I made my usual full-bore blast down the curving ramp. I didn’t give much thought to the lone headlight that came down the other ramp and settled in behind me as I cruised along about 65 mph. Then he pulled up next to me and shouted “Slow that thing down!” before accelerating away.
For the next three or four months, I could count on him bueing on that ramp about a quarter of the nights that I went home that way. I’d draw him out by redlining whatever I was riding going down the ramp and under the overpass. If he was there, I’d see his headlight come on at the top of the ramp. He’d then charge down onto the freeway, where I had settled into a sub-60-mph speed and pace me for most of the way to my exit, about three miles away. It happened about once or twice a week, and made the ride home a bit more interesting.
I don’t know how many times we played out that little game, but I remember the last time. I’d blasted down the ramp and onto the slow lane of the freeway, finding redline twice on my way to 55mph. I glanced in my mirror as I passed the bottom of his ramp and saw his light come on. But something else drew my attention. A car had moved over into the lane I was in and was coming up close behind me. Too close. the stream of traffic to my left was too solid to provide a reasonable hole to move into and the next break was too far away to accelerate to it even if I felt like it. That didn’t bother the driver behind me, who just stuffed past me on the right, even though there was no shoulder to speak of. As she passed less than a foot from me, the driver looked over with a grimace of annoyance that I had slowed her down. The ineffectual squawking of my horn made no impression on her, but the red lights that filled her mirror a few moments later sure did. The cop was off his bike and talking on his radio as i rode past. I tooted and waved. he waved back, and I saw a big smile under the brim of his helmet. I never saw him on that ramp again.
I have no idea how many times cops have stopped to see if I needed help out in the boonies; that kind of official contact was certainly more frequent than the ones where i got citations. On only one occasion when I needed help has a cop car passed without stopping. Other staffers and I have also been pulled over by cops who simply wanted to look at the new bikes we were riding.
There was one roadside encounter I will never forget. It was a decade ago, when I worked for Cycle News West. My roommate, Dave, and myself were on the way from Los Angeles to a roadrace in northern California driving the Cycle News van, an ancient For with an Ohio front plate and a Georgia rear plate, the newer of which was two years out of date. There was no sign of current registration. No one seemed to know exactly how many miles the van had on it, although everyone agreed the speedometer had turned over at least once since it’s last engine rebuild. Total mileage was reckoned to be in the neighborhood of 300,000. In the back we had two my two race bikes and a few empty gas cans, which we were going to fill when we made our first gas stop. We were looking for a gas station at about 3:00 a.m. and were getting concerned because few stations were open. The gas gauge had been dropping for a while, but once the needle got down to a quarter tank, it started back up. When we got to a half tank, we ran out of gas. I was a little concerned because I’d heard it was illegal to run out of gas on a California freeway. But we had two tanks full of gas in the bikes, and the highway was absolutely deserted. I dug out a gas can, found a fuel line on one of the bikes and had just turned the fuel on when a car came along. It was, of course, a Highway Patrol car. “Great,” I thought. “the only other car on the road and it has to be a cop.” I wondered if he would write us for registration, running out of gas or both.
Dave was climbing out of the driver’s seat when we heard the crackle of the cop’s loudspeaker. “Que pasa?” the loudspeaker boomed.
“Uh…what?” Dave said, squinting into the patrol car’s headlights.
The reply came over the loudspeaker again. “Que pasa? That’s southern Californian for ‘What’s happening, baby?’ “
At this point he climbed out of the car, and I backed out the back door of the van with the gas can, which now contained a thimbleful of gas.
“Hey, did you run out of gas?’ the officer asked.
“Uh, no, not really,’ i stuttered. “We just, you know, were getting low, and, uh-thought we’d add some. Got it right here.” I gestured with the empty gas can.
The cop was walking around the van. He seemed to be taking a lot of interest in the plates. “you got a sticker?” he finally asked.
“A registration sticker?” I asked.
“No, man, a Cycle News sticker.”
“Oh, sure, right here.” I put down the gas can and went and got a bundle of about 200 stickers. “Here you go.”
He took the stickers and went back to the car. That was when I noticed there were four more uniformed CHP officers sitting in the car. “Why me?” I wondered. I went back to the gas can and made a big show out of pouring the nine drops of gas into the van.
After spending enough time and gestures to pour 20 gallons of gas into the tank, I capped everything up an put the gas can back in the van. Looking at the cop car, I noticed the guys sitting inside were putting Cycle News stickers all over it, wherever they could reach without getting out of the car. The Patrol car seemed to have a Cycle News rash.
The driver walked back over to the van. “Isn’t someone going to be upset about that?” I asked, somewhat amazed.
“Oh, the car’s okay. It’ll be going in for reconditioning.”
“Well, great.” I said. “Listen, we’re all set now. Thanks for stopping.”
“Hey, no problem. Thanks for the stickers. I’ll just wait ‘til you get going.”
We got into the van and Dave cranked on the starter for a while. Naturally nothing happened; it was still out of gas.
“Okay,” the loudspeaker boomed. “Maybe you just need a push. Put it in neutral.” A moment later the Patrol car’s push bumper thumped against the rear bumper of the van. “Now don’t hit the brakes.” Then came the roar of the big V-8 suddenly fed full throttle and a squealing of tires as the van hurtled forward. At 70 mph, he backed off and instructed: “Drop it in drive.” We did-and nothing happened.
“Try low,” he loudspoke. Fortunately, nothing happened this time either.
“Okay, put it in neutral again,” he instructed. “We’ll push you to a gas station.” We were still coasting along at 30 mph or so when his push bumper softly kissed the van. Then he put his foot in it again, and the van careened down the deserted freeway. The speed limit was 65 in those days, but we were going at least 15 mph over that. It was quite a ride, since that worn-out old van was not exactly a great high-speed handler. After 10 miles or so, we found an open gas station, and the cop pushed us into it. “Fill ‘er up,” his loudspeaker commanded, then he was back in the throttle and burning rubber all the way up the ramp.
We stumbled out of the van. “What the hell was that?” Dave said, blinking up the ramp at the trail of tire smoke.
“I think it was proof that cops are humans too.”