Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oakland to Burlingame

Entering the vein of traffic from the right hand car pool lane, I passed the toll booths and signaled I was coming all the way over to the left with a wave of my hand. There's a moment of discombulation from most drivers after they pass the Bay Bridge toll booths that gives you ample time to get to the appropriate lane-splitting position between lanes 1 and 2. The cars begin to accelerate, but they have to deal with the choking congestion of other drivers. Not me. I know that to get around the Bay during rush hour, a motorcycle is the only way. You aren't limited to how fast the driver is going in front of you; you make your own way. The last true freedom left to man in this country. Well, at least this state.

The bridge begins to incline and you can see the city slowly coming closer and closer. It's a balancing act between being fast and not being an asshole. I probably edge closer to asshole more than I like to admit, but I keep it within reason. A lot of riders are too scared to lane-split and they are stuck in traffic with the rest of the herd. I feel sorry for these poor saps. Why ride a bike if you can't enjoy the perks? Some riders are very slow when it comes to splitting. They seem spooked, apprehensive, nervous, and unsure of their abilities and the other cars. Then there's people like me who just do it and don't think about it. It's natural. And, unfortunately, there's the young punks who haven't accepted their mortality yet and have a tendency to ride way faster than should be acceptable and way more dangerously. They quickly creep up behind you and demand you get out of their way. Which I do. That's the unwritten rule: Get out of the way. Obey it. Check your 6, get your ass over.

I tend to enter a different mindset when I lane-split. I don't think about anything other than "the now." In my life I can't possibly think about a situation where I'm more conscious of the present. I spend a lot of my life planning for the future or feeling nostalgic. But not with lane-splitting. I become one with the world, the bike, the road. Vehicles have their own body language and you can learn to read and understand what a driver is thinking of doing. Are there close calls? All the time. But the more you do it, the better you get.

I also know when to hold back. A new bridge is being built, so they've added a horrible S-curve right before Treasure Island that slows down the whole flow. Drivers tend to have difficulty staying in their own lane in these curves, and I know to not split during this section. Experience tells me where the bad spots are, where there are holes in the pavement, and what areas drivers have a hard time seeing thanks to blind spots or the sun.

Zooming through the Treasure Island tunnel it's now a straight shot for San Francisco. Traffic magically thins out around here and I can ride in the left lane at full speed for most of it. Soon enough, it's time to merge back with traffic and careen around the gentle curves until just south of the city where 80 South merges with 280 South. Which is a clusterfuck to put it bluntly. It dumps you out near the right side of the freeway and I try to make my way all the way to left side again as quickly and carefully as possible.

After a mile or so of splitting, traffic opens up once again and you head down south past Brisbane, past South San Francisco, past the airport, past San Bruno and Millbrae and finally to Burlingame. The smell of burning chocolate pierces your nostrils and I jump off the freeway at the Broadway exit. Time to relax and let my adrenaline be reabsorbed into my blood stream. Just city streets the rest of the way. 33 minutes door to work. Not too shabby.

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