Now that I have my nice shiny new trunk – large enough to hold my laptop bag, which I need for work – this week I’ve started doing some motorcycle commuting. Though I intend to keep this blog mainly about my touring adventures and trips and so on, I feel like making some comments about bike commuting.
On trips, I stick to the back roads. They’re more fun, and there’s less traffic. Commuting, I use the boring but fast and efficient interstate regularly. I do this particularly on my way in to work in the morning, because I’m not a morning person and prefer to wake up a bit later than I’d need to to enjoy the back roads. On the way home, it’s a different story – sometimes, if I have nothing pressing me to get home a bit sooner. But even then, there’s more traffic, and the riding isn’t necessarily as fun.
I’m also a lot more vulnerable. Yes, this is normal on a motorcycle as compared to a car. But this is what I drive when I’m not on my bike – a Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. Yes, it was a police car in its past life (according to the full service history that came with it, it was a sergeant’s car with the Ashland, NH police department). When I get on the interstate, everyone gives me lots of space, and when I hop in the left lane everybody moves right. People generally act a whole lot smarter than usual around my car. Of course, it’s quite the opposite on a bike. Nobody tailgates me in this car, but I can be doing 75-80 in traffic on the interstate and still have someone crawling up my back tire (since I don’t have a bumper). I do have an acceleration advantage over many cars, which I use, but since it’s a 500cc bike it doesn’t have all that much get-up-and-go for merging into interstate traffic when the jerk in front of me comes to a full stop at the end of the on-ramp. Plus the car also accelerates rather well, so in comparing the two I don’t consider acceleration to be much of an advantage on the bike.
Another area in which I’m vulnerable is wind gusts, both naturally occurring and, more importantly, gusts created by semis. The area behind a truck is quite turbulent for quite some distance behind it, tossing me around a bit. Alongside I have to counteract the effect of suction pulling me toward the truck, and at the front I have to counteract the “bow wave” pushing me away from it. I go through all of these zones every time I pass a truck. During Tuesday’s commute home on the interstate, there were so many trucks on the road that I was getting blown all over the place until I decided to hop off and take back roads the rest of the way home.
These factors are no big deal on my usual rides. I specifically avoid rush hour, interstates, and highly populated areas on my road trips, because my road trips are supposed to be fun, and sitting in traffic isn’t. But I can’t control where and when I have to work, so I end up traveling in some conditions that I’d prefer to avoid. So why bother? Partly because riding can still be fun, especially the ride home, and during a busy week of work it can be the only way I can squeeze a ride in outside of a weekend. Lately my weekends have been filled with activities other than riding, so it’s the only way to fit in a ride at all. Another major factor is gas mileage. Since its tune-up, I get around 60mpg out of the Silverwing. My Crown Vic gives me about 20mpg. Three times as good gas mileage counts for a lot, and is much of the reason why I sized my new trunk specifically around the size of my laptop bag.
Still, commuting by bike is certainly less fun than my road trips. I know exactly where I have to go, and when I have to be there. There isn’t the time or flexibility to go explore some other fun road, or some attraction I find on the way. It’s still worth doing some of the time, I think, for the chance to ride and the gas savings. But I’ll still look forward to heading out on the open road on my days off, sometimes with a plan in mind, and sometimes with no more of an idea where to go than “that way.”