A different view of SA traffic: 5 observations of a caged biker

Cape Town - I have been riding motorcycles almost exclusively for the past decade.

Come rain or shine, bitter cold or scorching heat, open highways or bumper-to-bumper traffic - if I had to go anywhere, I’d most likely travel by bike.

The inconvenience of bulky gear and the lack of protection (both from the elements and from injury) paled into significance in comparison with the sheer pleasure of riding a bike. 

Or so I thought, before being temporarily demoted to the rank of "cager" (biker-speak for a car driver) following an accident in 2016. Which is better, a car or a bike? Let me give you a look at the differences between these two modes of transport from a biker’s point of view.

1. A different view of traffic

Driving a car gives you a whole new perspective on traffic - quite literally. On most bikes you can comfortably see over the roofs of all but the tallest vehicles. This allows you to plan much further ahead; if the fifth car ahead of you suddenly brakes you have ample time to access the situation and prepare to take evasive measures if needed.

In a car, you are lucky if you can see the second car through the rear window of the vehicles ahead. Performing  a lane change in a car to avoid slower traffic, especially to the left, is a leap of faith, since you can’t really see what surprises your new lane may hold.

2. Who cares what the weatherman says?

If slow-moving traffic is a non-event for riders, then weather is the same for car drivers. Yes, rain slows down the traffic, and like a rider you have to be extra vigilant on wet roads but a sudden downpour won’t see you head for the nearest underpass to stop and put on your rain suit, or pull over in a safe spot to wait out a lightning storm.

While lightning holds almost no risk for a motorist, bikers are as exposed to lightning as pedestrians are.

On a bike those dark clouds would have been worrisome. #cagedbiker

A post shared by Dries van der Walt (@driesonbikes) on

Wheels24 motorcyclists - Were you forced to switch to a car? What were the circumstances? What's your biggest pet peeve about driving on our roads? Email us.

3. Cars don’t lane-split well

I have to admit that in the first month or two of driving, I would instinctively head for the ‘biker lane’ (the gap between two lanes of slow-moving traffic). This was usually accompanied by some stern words from my wife in the passenger seat. For a rider, slow-moving traffic is usually a non-event.

Lane-splitting is not just possible because a bike is small enough to fit into tiny gaps, but also safer than you may think be-cause we can see and plan so far ahead.

4. Beware the Sandman

There are few things more invigorating than an early-morning commute on a bike. The constant blast of fresh air (in as much as air can be described as such in an urban environment) and the need to be alert all the time combine to ensure that you arrive at work wide awake.

The comfy seats of a car and the quiet of its interior conspires with the low demand on my attention span in slow-moving traffic to make staying awake a real challenge. Add some mellow music for good measure and a hypnotic trance is all but inevitable.

5. Drive safely, darling

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the safety issue in this article. It’s quite simple; cars are much safer than bikes. Period. Statistically a biker is 37 times more likely to be seriously injured or killed than the occupant of a car. And don’t think that just happens to riders who go too fast - international studies have found that the average impact speed in fatal bike accident is only 50km/h.

Because bikes lack any form of impact protection, even the slightest impact can have dire consequences.

That said, I am positive that I will be released from my cage very soon. My injuries have all but healed, and a tentative ride or two has shown me that pain from my broken ribs won’t be a huge problem - I can feel it in my bones, you could say.

Although there are advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the argument, riding is in my blood and it was almost inevitable that I would eventually return to two wheels. But that’s me. The important question is: what do you think?

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