Fact Check

Motorcyle Drives Between Headlights

Motorcyclist comes to untimely end when he takes oncoming headlights of a truck for two motorcycles.

Published May 30, 1999

Claim:   A motorcyclist comes to an untimely end when he chooses to "thread the needle" by driving between two oncoming bikes.



[Healey and Glanvill, 1996]

A friend of my uncle is a retired carpenter who lives up on the edge of the Pennines.

He drove a lovely old polished Rover of an evening and regularly toured up to his local in the hills where they don't know the meaning of closing time. The bloke didn't overindulge, and usually left just before eleven.

But practically every night as he drove back along an unlit and particularly winding stretch of road, two grebos on monster bikes spitting horsepower would really put the willies up him.

The huge greasers, headlights blazing, would take up the whole road, coming the opposite way. They blazed towards him with no thought for road safety, playing chicken and forcing him to swerve off the road and into hedges to avoid crashing.

This situation went on for some time. Then one night, the bloke was driving back with a little more Dutch courage than usual coursing through his veins.

He spotted the bikers a few bends ahead.

Slamming his foot down, he hammered along the switchback road thinking this time he'd show them who's boss.

He rounded the last corner into the glare of the bikers' two headlights and thundered for the gap between them — too late realising the headlights actually belonged to an articulated lorry.

[Brunvand, 1987]

Three motorcyclists on a long interstate trip. Long, lonely stretch of road, pitch-black moonless night. One rider gets a fair way ahead of his mates and decides to roar back with his light off, ride in between them and give them a fright. He sees the two motorcyclists' lights coming toward him and accelerates hard. Too late, he realizes that it's not his friends; they were passed by a car, which is now heading directly for him.


Origins:   This story was old news even back in 1987, when it

was first written about by folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand. One of our readers remembered encountering it as a scary campfire tale back in the early 1970s; another heard it in the late 1950s or early 1960s from his father, who in turn recalled having heard it sometime during the 1930s. Yet another reader recollected its presentation in the 1960s as a joke:

A motorcyclist is laid up in the hospital and is visited by his friends. They ask him what happened to him, and he replies that he had been motoring along a road at night and had seen two motorcyclists driving toward him, so he decided to ride between them as a stunt. "But it wasn't two motorcycles; it was a damn Pierce-Arrow," the motorcyclist moaned.


the astute reader pointed out, the Pierce-Arrow was a pre-WWII car. More strikingly, it was one of the first to have headlights mounted on fenders rather than on each side of the center radiator housing, a change in design which appreciably widened the space between the lamps. A motorcyclist of that era could conceivably have mistaken an oncoming Pierce-Arrow for two motorcycles coming at him. At the very least, this change in design and the rider's unfamiliarity with it form the basis of a plausible-sounding joke.

Joke, anecdote, or legend, the tale's message is clear: Wrong assumptions can kill you.

Barbara "dead to rites" Mikkelson

Sightings:   In the 1921 silent short Hard Luck, comedian Buster Keaton's character attempts to commit suicide by throwing himself in front of an oncoming automobile (represented by its headlights), only to find that the "car" is actually two motorcycles:

Last updated:   14 April 2011


    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   "Deep-Seated Prejudices Surface in Tall Tales of Traffic."

    The San Diego Union-Tribune.   26 February 1987   (p. D2).

Also told in:

    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths.

    London: Virgin Books, 1996.   ISBN 0-86369-969-3   (p. 49-50).

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.

    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 25).