The Perks of Commuting on a Motorcycle

The Daily Grind

daily commute aboard a motorcycle
Going through your daily commute aboard your cruiser isn't as bad as some may think.Cruiser

I recently attended Crafts­man’s annual preview of its new automotive tools, which is always a treat for someone who enjoys working on his own bikes. At lunch, I sat at a table with a handful of car-magazine types and folks from the companies around the country that actually manufacture the tools for Craftsman. The out-of-towners quickly brought up the subject of L.A.’s hopeless traffic. The locals took turns regaling them with tales of three-hour commutes, missed meetings, and how you get “in the zone” at two mph on an L.A. “freeway.” Eventually, one of the visitors noticed that I was being silent and asked about my trip to work.

“Actually,” I said, “I don’t have any real problems or delays. I work for a motorcycle magazine, and I ride to work every day.”

“Really? Every single day?”

“Well, I did have to bring a car in once in ’99. And I broke my foot riding off-road, oh, about 1991, and had to commute on four wheels for about a month. That was ugly.”

“What about when it rains?”

"I have waterproof gear, and riding really pays off then because traffic is more constipated than ever."

“Don’t you worry about getting squashed by someone who doesn’t see you?”

“Actually, it’s something you learn to predict quite accurately. I now enjoy knowing what drivers are going to do before they do.”

“But if you didn’t work for the magazine, would you go by motorcycle anyway? Isn’t all the gear and everything a lot of trouble?”

“It probably takes me slightly longer from when I start preparing to leave to the time I actually roll onto the street. But you have heard the stories from all these people. I can actually cut the total get-to-work time by half, or even more. I’d do it no matter where I worked.”

"So you ride between the lines of cars, I guess. Pretty risky, isn't it?"

“No. The limited research says it’s slightly safer than staying in the lane. You can’t do it at 60 mph, but when traffic is stopped or very slow, it’s quite safe. L.A. drivers even tend to move over to let you pass these days.”

The biggest asset is probably the ability to see better and predict what is going to happen ahead.

“We can’t do that back home, so there isn’t any advantage.”

“You’d be surprised. A few years ago, we did a comparison of people coming from the same places to the office. We had three pairs of people. They came on surface streets, each pair by the same route, one in a car, one on a bike. Each pair started at the same time. The motorcyclists had to put on their gear, the car drivers just got in their cars. We did not allow lane splitting or significant speeding. The motorcyclists got to the office in an average of 22 percent less time. That’s over 12 minutes per hour less time spent commuting. That is time you avoid losing forever, to nothing productive. And it’s my time. You don’t get paid for commuting. I once added up the time I saved by riding to work. Even when I had a short commute with lighter traffic, it was over an hour a week, and sometimes it was close to two hours a week. That means a workday a month. In 30 years of commuting in L.A., I’ve gotten myself months of time that I kept from just going to waste making smog.”

"How can you make up that much time in traffic if you don't sneak through the lanes?"

“The biggest asset is probably the ability to see better and predict what is going to happen ahead. But a motorcycle also gives you the ability to exploit the holes and free spots because you can accelerate harder, especially from a stop. Even without splitting lanes you can squeeze through smaller holes—where a bus is stopped or someone is half out of the lane waiting to make a turn. There are lots of those. And simply getting away from a stop quickly makes a big difference. I can pull ahead of the pack without speeding. Sometimes that means I make a light that balks cars that can’t accelerate as hard. Parking is quicker when I arrive too. It’s 20 seconds here, a minute there, but it adds up quickly.”

“Okay, but how are you going to carry away the press kit and samples we give you today?”

"The Kawasaki Nomad I'm on today has nice big saddlebags. It will take anything you'd like me to relieve you of, unless you want to give me one of those compressors or a roll-away. There are other systems too, like backpacks, luggage racks—that sort of thing."

“Can you squeeze between cars on the freeway with saddlebags?”

“Oh, yeah. No problem. There is a lot more space between cars than you realize until you are out there using it.”

“I guess I can see why you’d want to ride to work if you save that much time.”

“Well, I’d do it even if I didn’t save a second. Riding a motorcycle means that instead of being frustrated and bored, I am enjoying myself. Even riding in traffic brings all the kinetic and sensual pleasures of riding a motorcycle. You arrive at the office or at home in a much more positive frame of mind. Saving time is just icing on the cake, though very tasty icing indeed.”

One of the car-magazine editors grumbled. “Well, now you’ve made me feel really bad. I can’t even ride a motorcycle. The daily grind will be even worse when I think about you out there, riding along, having a great time.”

“What I don’t understand,” I told her, “is why people who own motorcycles and ride for pleasure on weekends don’t ride to work. They are missing five days of fun and wasting their lives to boot. But if it’s any consolation, I think of it as the daily grind myself. In fact, this morning I managed to grind my floorboards getting on and off the freeway.”