Electronic Communication Devices: A Higher Level Of Stupid? | MEGAPHONE

Sometimes Having More Information Can Actually Make You Dumber

That little plastic gadget stuck to the side of your helmet can cause big problems if you aren’t mindful with how you use it.©Motorcyclist

I don't always ride like a squid, but when I do, I prefer to be connected to my buddies via Bluetooth-linked helmet communicators. If I were fishing for a theme for our annual weeklong guy tour in the Carolina mountains, I suppose that would be as good as any. I might offer a weak defense involving the unintended consequences of advancing technology, but this would be nothing but equal measures of denial and the infantile logic that sometimes infects riders operating in groups.

Specifically, I’m referring to something I suspect every group riding at a sporting pace has discovered, tried, and—I’m hoping—discarded. It’s the helmet communicator-assisted blind-curve pass. Do I need to explain how this works? The wonder of state-of-the-art intercoms stitched together means that a group of four—which we were—is a virtual communications network that can carry on conversations at speed as though standing in the hotel lobby. It will soon become abundantly obvious that when the lead passes a vehicle, he can instantly act as a rolling sensor package and radio back that it’s clear for others to pass, even though they don’t have anything like enough sight distance.

Early in our weeklong trip, we got into this practice quite naturally. We didn’t even discuss it; we just started doing it. The lead would pass and pick up a steady patter… “All clear, all clear, still good.” And whoever wanted to pass, could, even on a tight sweeper with zero sight distance. In an instant, street momentarily becomes track, and there’s only one word to describe it: thrilling. Well, there’s another word too: lunacy.

Let’s break it down. For a skilled rider accustomed to passing on tight curves, inside or outside, it’s no big deal. Pick a line around the vehicle to be passed, look into the curve, and go. Just try to avoid stuffing the passee. Think of it as mindful aggression. Except, as should have been evident before we even tried it, it isn’t. We soon noticed what we should have surmised in the first place: Drivers and even other riders tend to absolutely freak when passed on blind curves because they can’t possibly know that the passing rider, by dint of the intercom, has virtual knowledge of a clear lane ahead. Understandably, all they see is a wild-eyed, suicidal maniac screaming by and maybe two or three more about to.

This, we soon noticed, causes undesirable reactions among drivers and other riders. And I’m not talking about the middle-finger salute but swerves or hard braking. One hapless cruiser rider we swept by just about lost it on a curve.

But if that’s not the most compelling reason to avoid the communicator-assisted blind pass, this is: It just scares people, and, as riders sharing the road, we shouldn’t be doing that. Period. It reflects poorly on the sport and on us as individuals. We all know better, but in the adrenaline-suffused heat of a group ride, restraint is as rare as snow in July, so we do it anyway—even in our, um, mature group with no one younger than 40.

None of this is to suggest intercoms don’t enhance safety; they do. I can’t think of an example in riding where more information isn’t better than less. But when having more information veers into aggression bordering on criminality, it’s time to recalibrate. So we did. By week’s end, the craziness receded and we reverted to passing the old-fashioned way. That’s thrill enough, thanks.