Thought the Hells Angels were gonna kick the shit outta me today...

Driving with my wife from LA to the SF Bay Area on I-5 this afternoon, in the central valley near Harris Ranch, I was passing a group of about 15-20 motorcyclists riding their Harleys in tight formation. There were 2 lanes in our northbound direction. About halfway past this group, I came upon a slower car in my lane in front of me. The motorcycle group next to me was spread out at this point - turns out the tight formation was at the back of the pack - and there was plenty of room for me to safely move over in the middle of the group.

You probably can guess what’s coming.

There was some light traffic, it was not an empty road, and the flow was going about 80mph.

I signal, and change lanes. Safely.

Well, the group clearly didn’t like it and the riders at the back moved up and surrounded me, passing me on the left and right. They were mere inches from the sides of my car, on both sides. None of them reached over to touch or punch my car, but they easily could have - while we’re all doing 80mph. One rider planted himself directly in front of me and slowed down to about 60, while the other riders worked past me.

For a moment I wondered if they were going to try and force me to slow down and try to move me to the side of the road.

The riders wore Hells Angels on their jackets. No visible club name, although I saw some with MC (for motorcycle club) on the backs of jackets, but no club names. Big, burly guys, almost all riding solo (maybe 3 were 2-up). Was I a little nervous? Sure.

I’ve been riding continuously since 1985 and have a few riding miles (about 200K) under my belt. I also am a certified MSF RiderCoach (or, safety instructor). I know what bikes can and can’t do. These riders clearly tried to intimidate me, but I wasn’t going to be intimidated, mostly because of my riding experience. My wife, in the front passenger seat, wasn’t intimidated either. She often rides with me, 2-up.

It was a little dicey, but I kept calm but was also ready to act depending on what they did. If the riders tried to force me to the side of the road, I’d thought it out and decided I was not going to pull over or stop. I was going to hold my ground and maintain speed. If the rider in front of me continued to slow down, I was going to move left or right and force those bikes beside me away. If that meant I initiated contact, so be it, but I was not going to stop. While still moving, I still held some advantages. If we all stopped, then they held many more (if not all) of the advantages.

Fortunately they were just pissed off, call it road rage - they got their panties all kotted up. They formed up in front of me, regrouped, and kept riding on. They continued at 80mph in one lane, but whenever there was space to pass them the tail rider moved over and blocked that only other lane.

Other cars started collecting behind me, because that group was not allowing anyone to pass (posted limit is 70mph, but traffic often goes faster).

I just stayed behind the group, didn’t force the issue even though I wanted to pass. I was not being aggressive, and at one point the tail rider dug into his jacket pocket and flung something back at me. I saw what he was doing and had already started moving over. Whatever he threw never hit me, but may have hit one of the cars bunched up behind us. (I’ve heard stories of riders keeping lead fishing weights in their pockets to throw…)

We were flowing at 80, so it was moving fast enough and I just stayed at the end of the group, watching carefully. We kept this way for 10-15 minutes, and then I reached my exit and left.

Done. Incident over. But, I’m glad they didn’t force the issue by doing anything more stupid.

That sounds pretty scary. What you wrote about not stopping makes sense, but I don’t know what I would have done. Glad everything turned out all right.

Using a cell phone to call the police is a pretty reasonable choice under those sorts of circumstances.

Seriously dude - you don’t have a cell phone to call police?!

I know you are not supposed to call while driving, but I think this would have been a very valid exception to the rule.

Trust me, I would have been giving the 911 operator every single licence plate number I could see…

His wife was in the car. Even if it’s illegal in his state to call while driving (and calling 911 is normally an exception) she could make the call.

It’s a side issue, since the MC means they were one of the organized clubs and thus no one to screw with, but I can’t parse your description. If you’ve been riding long, even as a 99-percenter, you should know kutte protocols. Are you saying they had top rockers and MC patches, but no lower (charter) rockers?

To report what? That the cyclists passed too close to the OP’s vehicle? Even if they did so illegally the cop would have had to see if to do anything. That they were blocking traffic (at 10 mph over the posted limit)? I don’t think I’d call on that. It sounds like they wanted to be intimidating without doing anything outright illegal or, at the very least, maintaining plausible deniabililty. Even if the OP had his windshield cracked by a hard object tossed by the tail rider, it would be nigh impossible to prove it. “Why, officer, I was just scratching my belly through my jacket. A rock must have come off the road at the same time. What a coincidence!”

Well, having a cop on the scene to dial back the level of ‘barely legal but intimidating’ and/or discourage anything from escalating would be a good thing, too.
I suspect, for instance, that had a state trooper come up behind the one guy blocking the other lane and given him a quick flash of headlights, the guy would have moved over and let everyone by.

You do realize that men [and women] on bikes are soft targets and all you need to do is drive over them, making little crunchy squishy sounds, right?

Not politically correct, but the first crunch squish, and the rest of the crunchy squishys tend to go away really fast to avoid the same fate?

Same with what is taught in anti kidnapping school, some group surround you you stomp on the brakes and take out the motor and front end of the person behind you to create elbow room.

Though I admit last time I had some guy with his arm inside my window trying to unlock the door [73 mustang, bad area of Rochester NY at 3 am late 70s] I just started through the red light, and the cop sitting to my left in the intersection didn’t do a thing, the guy with his arm in the window removed his arm and fell off the side of the car. If need be he would have gotten dragged to the next police station I found.

My grandmother has been driving for 70 years. Doesn’t make her any better. I wouldn’t get in a car with her.

Would you tell you MSF students to do what you did? Doesn’t sound “safe” to me.

I know this sounds silly, but neither of us thought of calling the cops. Once they got passed me they pretty much left me alone, except for not letting me or any other car pass them, and except for the one guy throwing that object. Seriously - didn’t think of that. I guess now, that sounds kinda dumb but that’s he honest truth.

But, what’s one cop going to do against that gang?

And, I was focusing on what to do if they tried something. But yeah, I could’ve told my wife to call. She never mentioned that.

I don’t know about kutte. Had to look it up just now. I did watch a 20-20 kind of show on it once.

I didn’t see any lower rockers, one or two MC patches, and one or two jackets saying Hells Angels at the top.

Besides not thinking of calling the cops, I didn’t even think of taking pictures or video, or having my wife do that.

True, there really wan’t anything to report to the cops.

I understand from online chats that riders in CA do it a little differently than here in MN. Splitting lanes and all that crazy stuff. But I used to ride with a club here and we considered it rude(and possibly dangerous) for an automobile to pull into the rider formation.

Obviously there are times, when the traffic is only two lanes, for the safety of the auto driver he may have to do that as he is passing. But that wasn’t so in this case so I’m surprised that you, as a fellow rider, made that choice. Or is road courtesy different there?

It goes without saying, as well, that a group should keep their formation as tight as they are safely comfortable. And to let a driver in distress in if he needs to do so.

I can understand them feeling ticked although how they handled it was standard tough king baby stuff. And I’m glad you didn’t experience anything worse.

Maybe I’m the jerk here, but I’m surprised, as an MSF teacher and a rider yourself that you merged into the middle of a group of bikers that were riding together. Hells Angels or a bunch of 70 year olds on Goldwings. Even if it was totally safe to do so, they were riding as a group, why not leave them be? Unless there was several hundred feet in this spot you moved into, it seems your best bet was just to let them pass you, get behind them, pass the car in front of you and then attempt to pass them again, if that’s what you really wanted to do.

What Joey P said.

Yes we split lanes here. There is no explicit law allowing it, and there’s also no explicit law forbidding it - although riders can get ticketed for doing it, and the ticket can be for the Basic Speed Law, or failure to maintain your vehicle centered in your lane, or wreckless driving. Those are the main ones. I lane split often, have done so for my almost 30 yrs of riding, and never got a ticket for it.

As for moving into their formation, I generally do not but in this instance the 15-20 bikes were spread out, we were coming upon a slow-moving vehicle in my lane, and there was definitely a large and safe enough gap in the riding formation.

Of course I would not tell them to do this. I have a lot of riding experience, and in the MSF classes I’m generally training new riders. There are many things I do that isn’t touched on in class. Further, and most important, is that the MSF has a set curriculum and RiderCoaches are to stick to that. An MSF class here in California should not differ dramatically from the same MSF class in another state although, of course, each RiderCoach brings his or her own experience to the classroom and range.

Safe and effective - that’s the guiding principle with MSF training.

You may not be being a jerk. You didn’t see the situation, didn’t see how long they were stretched out, and also didn’t see how large the break was in their group.

Why not leave them be? Driving on I-5 in the central valley has an interesting “dance” to it. I call it “the I-5 dance,” anyway. Two lanes in each direction for hundreds of miles, heavy truck traffic so the right lane is often bumpy and torn up while the left lane is smooth, and cars often stay in the smooth left lane. To pass slower traffic, people mostly pass on the right. When passing a slower truck in the right lane, there’s a line of cars in the left lane waiting to pass. Crazy-fast idiot drivers will zoom up in the right lane, passing the waiting left-lane line, come close to the truck and then cut into the left lane. Once past the truck they immediately jump back to the right lane and pass the slower cars - those “slower cars” often doing 80 when the limit is 70. That’s “the I-5 dance.” To pass slower traffic, you often pass on the right. Much more often than on other roads. This is quite unique to I-5, and I’ve driven and ridden long 2-lane interstates (10, 40, 70 and 80 across the US).

Why not leave them be? Well now, in hindsight and knowing what happened, yes definitely, I’d leave them be.

It seems like, at least in retrospect, you were the “crazy-fast idiot” and the bikers were the truck. You just didn’t want to have to slow down and get back behind the bikes to pass the car in front of you.