I used to lane-split through Los Angeles, and I did it for about a decade. In those years, I had a ton of near-misses, close calls, and two accidents. One of the latter which saw a Toyota Camry sideswipe me when I was just going along in the left lane, minding my own business. 

No one sees us. We’re invisible. And, in my opinion, you can’t just ride defensively, but offensively, because I’d rather put my life in my own hands, versus reacting to someone else’s.

This is something that every motorcyclist knows about, accepts, and deals with whenever they throw a leg over their machine. But ever since the pandemic, I’ve had more near-misses and watched more bad behavior than I ever saw during those intervening years snaking my way through LA’s arteries. 

People no longer stop at stop signs. They bob and weave across lanes, checking their phones, or just not paying attention to pointing the wheel straight. And speeds vary greatly, with some folks going way under the posted limit, causing all sorts of road rage between them and others, and others coming in so hot, they’d qualify on Pole for the Indy 500. 

It seems like everyone’s lost their ability to drive a car correctly.

For me, it’s become so bad that I’ve told numerous friends, co-workers, colleagues, and random passers-by that I, as a motorcyclist who’s been riding on the street for two decades, “I hate riding on the street these days.”

Don’t get me wrong, I do it. And I still enjoy my time on paved mountain roads. Plus, I sorta have to if I want to keep running RideApart. But the amount of time I spend on the street in my own free time has dwindled to almost nothing, as I’d much rather ride dirt. And that’s not me just getting old and having kids and feeling the weight of me potentially dying. At least, I don’t think so. 

Because if you’ve seen any of my recent coverage of new motorcycles or new powersport machines, I haven’t lost my zero fucks attitude toward personal safety. I’ll still jump big bikes, wheelie snowmobiles, slide electric scooters, and do all sorts of dumb things. Yet, every time I hit the street with some machine, it feels like I’m in Frogger on some impossible setting that not even a robot could win. It even feels that way when I’m in the car. 

My wife and I have even coined a phrase for it: It’s too peopley outside. 

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My hypothesis, one that states everyone’s become worse drivers in recent years, is supported by the data, too.

Accidents and road fatalities have surged since the pandemic. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), “Empty streets, highways, and transit systems were a visible effect of the pandemic on our daily lives. Despite how quiet our roads got at the onset of the pandemic, they also became more dangerous.” And, with the help of the National High Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatalities grew by 18% during the first few years of the pandemic and grew steadily until last year, where the latest data points to a slight 2% decrease. 

In 2022, there were 6,218 motorcycle fatalities according to the NHTSA, and represented 15% of all traffic fatalities. That’s also a 19% increase compared to the data in 2019—2023’s stats have yet to be released. All of which is part of an over-arching trend toward misbehavior and recklessness as detailed by The New York Times

So it’s not just me. There’s data to support why riding on the street sucks these days. 

For now, at least until people calm the hell down, I’ll pin my riding enjoyment to dirt. And, honestly, I think it’s more fun than pavement ever could be. There’s more room for silliness, space to have fun, and the bar to entry is vastly lower than the street. And if you screw up on dirt, it’s more forgiving. Nor are you worried about a Tesla Cybertruck wandering into your lane or a pothole big enough to swallow your motorcycle. 

And there are miles upon miles of open country you can explore on two wheels. All without the worry of some idiot on their cell phone, scrolling a giant infotainment screen, blowing a red light or stop sign, or speeding along as if they’re trying to race Lewis Hamilton. 

It’s also way prettier than your average highway.

So yeah, I think I’ll stick to dirt until everyone relearns how to drive. Or use it sparingly, because the thrill of carving canyons or just riding to ride long stretches of street is gone. I’ll still pretend I’m Travis Pastrana, but the enjoyment I once had winding through a backroad has all but left the building. 

And to the drivers in the audience. Please, for the love of all that’s good, start paying attention. 

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