Another lifetime ago, I wrote about cars a lot. I worked for BoldRide before it became Motor1, wrote for Automobile Magazine before Motor Trend folded it, and scribbled pretty words over at The Drive for a good spell. And I got to do a lot of really rad things for all those publications, including driving with a handful of really talented, truly cool race car drivers. 

And all of them asked me a single question after about five minutes of me behind the wheel, “Do you ride bikes?”

The question always took me by surprise, as it was sort of out of the blue and I never thought I was doing anything to elicit it. But these disparate drivers, all professional in their capabilities, could almost instantaneously determine that I rode motorcycles and had been for some time. And that’s not me braggin', I’ll get to that in a second, but merely what happened. One of the first folks who asked me the question was Bugatti’s own test driver, Andy Wallace, the guy responsible for setting not just the Chiron’s 300 mph top speed record, but also the McLaren F1’s top speed record back in the day. 

I still recall asking him how he knew, to which he responded “You’re looking way ahead and you’re turning your head. Only motorcyclists do that.”

BMW M Motorsport Team WRT - #46 - Rossi, Farfus, Martin, 2023 Bathurst 12 Hour 3

The memories, and reason behind this article, were stirred up by a recent Reddit thread asking whether or not it was true that motorcyclists make better drivers. I chimed in with my thoughts and experience, but it really got me thinking about how I firmly believe motorcycling does indeed make you a better driver and it comes down to the simple fact of being far more aware of your surroundings. And my beliefs are apparently backed up by the countless racing drivers I’ve spoken to over the years. 

I’m not trying to knock car drivers, here, but the fact of the matter is you’re pretty well safe within the confines of a car’s cage. There are fewer hazards to life and limb when you’re surrounded by 16 airbags, crumple zones, and a reinforced aluminum exoskeleton. And as such, you worry less about the outside world and those driving alongside of you. That’s just not the case with motorcycles with much smaller footprints and with which you can disappear into someone’s many blind spots. 

Hyper-awareness is a lifesaving adaptation you acquire when riding bikes. 

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You’re looking ahead for the Camry driver making a U-turn in the middle of a busy street or at the Silverado that’s on their phone and weaving back and forth. You’re watching for the person doing their makeup or the driver who hates the idea of someone legally lane-splitting. Those are real experiences I’ve had, by the way, not just fabricated possibilities. I’ve been pinched in traffic by lane-splitting haters and hit by a Toyota who was looking at their phone. And I can’t count how many times I’ve had near-misses thanks to just general inattentiveness. 

I’ve also seen friends hurt in ways that caused them to give up motorcycling. Car drivers just aren’t as aware as motorcyclists of the dangers of the road we all inhabit. They don’t have to be, they’re safe inside their cars. We’re exposed to the elements. 

That’s not to say we aren’t aware of what we do or the dangers it poses. But because of it, motorcyclists are watching up and out, sideways and backward, and trying to guess what everyone is going to do around you just in order to get to your destination safely. That sort of awareness doesn’t leave you when you switch from a bike to a car, or at least it hasn’t in my experience. And I’m not even talking about in a high-performance driving situation like me driving a Bugatti Chiron (there’s the subtle flex), but in everyday life commuting to work, dropping the kids off at school, or running to the grocery store. 

You’re far more aware of what’s going on around you. 

After riding for any amount of time, once you get into a car, you’re still watching ahead, behind, and to the sides. You’re looking up and out, reading the road and conditions, and making sure that other riders are safe out there too. You’re less distracted as you know your actions can hurt or kill those who are riding at that moment. You’re an overall better driver because of your riding. 

Travis Pastrana

In terms of performance driving, however, look at the motorcycle racers who’ve turned to four wheels over the years; Deagan and Pastrana, Rossi, Surtees, Lawson, Nuvolari, and others. All hella awesome riders and equally good drivers. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marquez went to four wheels once he finally retires. 

Honestly, I think everyone should ride a street bike when they’re learning to drive a car or before it. It helps you gain better situational awareness and driving technique than our measly Driver’s Education courses offer, and it gives you a better understanding of road manners than just driving some clapped-out Honda Civic with a failed gym teacher riding shotgun could ever give you. It’s why my kids are going to learn how to ride motorcycles before they ever touch a car. I want them to be safer, better drivers. 

I’m sure I’ll get some thoughts in my inbox, but maybe this story will spur some folks on into getting a motorcycle themselves or push some parents into teaching their kids how to ride before they learn how to drive. Or maybe people will better understand to give motorcyclists more room when out in the world? 

One could hope, right?

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