Saturday, September 10, 2005


I read something a long time ago in a monograph published by the National Bureau of Standards called “Nickel and Its Alloys” (Really. I did. I got it for free from a friend.) that I still find fascinating:

You can’t pipe hydrogen gas through pipes alloyed with a significant percentage of nickel. The crystal lattice of nickel—face-centered cubic, if I recall correctly—is so large, porous and widely-spaced that molecules of hydrogen simply pass through the metal unimpeded.

That’s exactly how traffic looks to a motorcyclist, something car drivers don’t seem to appreciate. For all intents and purposes a motorcycle, as a single-track vehicle, is geometrically (or maybe it’s topologically—math was never my strong suit) a line, two points connected. Cars, like all multi-track vehicles, represent several points and thus a plane. Motorcycles are lines swimming in a sea of planes.

I also don’t believe car drivers have any clue what it’s like to actually be able to see the things in your (traffic) environment. I suspect a lot of motorcyclists are like me, in that when they get into an automobile, they are appalled by the extent to which visibility is restricted by the very structure of the vehicle and the posture of the driver.

From the saddle of a motorcycle, you generally see over, beside, around or through the vehicles around you, and have a much richer stream of information to draw on. This grants a motorcyclist a particular time advantage, since sightlines equate to reaction time in most instances. You also have the advantage of seeing and thinking in three dimensions, since multitrack vehicles are pinned to the surface but a motorcycle has some latitude in the vertical plane.

The motorcyclist can move with grace and ease through openings the car driver can’t even detect, and this is the source of great consternation among drivers. They rage about the wanton disregard and lawlessness that riders flaunt. Yet their frames of references render understanding impossible. The worlds they operate in are completely different, and wholly incompatible—the two dimensional versus the three dimensional.

The problem comes down to this. Car drivers dislike motorcyclists because they are irritating; Motorcyclists dislike car drivers because they kill us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

waited all day to read something like this