Cars VS. Motorcycles - Exhaust Notes

I recently had a minor traffic shunt. I pranged the back of a car that stopped suddenly for no apparent reason and with no apparent brake lights while I was merging and looking left. I did a respectable job with the brakes after recognizing too late what was happening. But I still connected with the rear bumper hard enough that the shock of impact broke a bone in my right wrist.

It is one of those fractures that does not show up in X-rays right away, and I was still riding around for a while until modern medicine figured out that something really was broken and finally put me under the knife for a bone graft. Now, however, I am confined to a car

I don't really mind the temporary inconvenience of an awkward, limited-use right hand (even though typing this column takes more time and involves a lot more typing errors), and I accept the minor pain as a small price to pay every so often for doing something that's dangerous but so pleasurable and rewarding.

What really peeves me is that I have to drive a car everywhere unless I can walk. The experience has been an annoying reminder that four-wheelers are hugely ineffective in traffic. It takes 20 to 50 percent longer to make most trips, and it takes at least twice as much gas to do it. There are situations (at least here in Los Angeles) where driving a car takes four times as long. Of course, the fact that motorcyclists can lane-split here in California helps. We once did a comparison of three pairs of people making the same commute, leaving at the same time and taking the same routes. The timing started when the car drivers headed for the door and the riders began to put on their riding gear. But even with a head start, the car drivers always arrived at the common destination after the bikes traveling the same route. On average, the motorcyclists got there 20 percent sooner-and lane-splitting wasn't allowed. Better performance and more options offered by acceleration and a small footprint greatly reduced travel time. And we won't even mention parking.

Then there is gas. A gallon of gas takes you two or three times as far if you put it in a motorcycle instead of a car. This spring we received queries from readers asking about fuel mileage and other ownership costs. Some sources estimate fuel will hit $4 in 2007, and even at current prices, relatively inexpensive 40-mpg-plus vehicles are attracting more lapsed riders or those looking for excuses to start. But history suggests there won't be any mass adoption of motorcycles because of it. If you do the math, you have to travel tens of thousands of miles per year to even hope to come out on top of the fuel price increase.

Cars have their uses, such as toting lumber, mattresses, dogs, more than two people, or one gimpy one, and they might make sense when it's snowing. But as everyday personal transportation, cars suck. They isolate you from the world around you and from information about what's happening in traffic. It's harder to see past vehicles, and some close stuff (like motorcycles and pedestrians) can be obscured. Besides sucking up more petro-swill, cars are generally harder on the environment. If everyone who owns a motorcycle and could use it to commute actually did so, it would make a dent in traffic problems.

Worst of all, cars are dull. Riding to work makes the trip fun. When I arrive at work (or wherever) on a motorcycle, I'm pumped up and energized. When I arrive in a car, I'm just there.

Back in April, a poll on our site (www.MotorcycleCruiser.com) asked visitors if they normally commuted by motorcycle. The results weren't final as of this writing, but only about a third of respondents said they regularly made the daily jaunt on a bike.

Which makes you wonder why. Two thirds of the people who own motorcycles and could use them to make the daily grind more fun and cheap are not doing so. Maybe you can explain it to us. We'll have a poll on our site about the time this issue arrives asking that question.

Meanwhile, international Ride to Work Day is coming up July 20 (see www.RidetoWork.org). If you haven't been commuting by bike, use it as an opportunity to rediscover the pleasures of making the trip on two wheels.-Art Friedman

Art Friedman doesn't take e-mails or phone calls while driving (or riding), but at other times you can reach him at Art.Friedman@primedia.com or ArtoftheMotorcycle@hotmail.com.