There are very few positive aspects to $4 per gallon gas, but one of them is the fact that it puts more motorcycles on the road. This is good in a few ways. First, it helps drivers of cars to get used to seeing and hearing and watching for motorcycles. As someone who likes both two wheels and four, it is somewhat puzzling to me how you can fail to see/hear today’s larger more powerful motorcycles, but then again, these same motorists fail to see/hear other cars. I have to admit to being a fair weather 2-wheeled commuter. The weather forecast is the primary determinant of whether (pun intended) I am on two wheels or four. Other determinants include factors like how much I need to move around from site to site during the day, and how many bags of mulch I need from the home center that day. Recently though, things have worked out well and I have been on two wheels about 40% of the time. Everytime I do my 150 mile roundtrip on the motorcycle, I feel like I’m doing my very small part. There is a guy that I see year round on a Honda Shadow going in the opposite direction to me. He is riding when it is raining, when it is snowing, and when it is 100 degrees. I am not sure whether this is out of necessity or preference, but here in the northeast, it is admirable regardless. I hope I somehow get to meet this guy at some point because he is a true two wheeled commuter. So in general, the more motorcycles on the road during the daily commute, the better for everyone.
The second positive is that it is good for the wallet and for the environment. It is simply cheaper to drive/ride a vehicle that gets 50-70 mpg than one that gets 25-35mpg. That is roughly half the cost, and if those of us that ride had a commuter bike in the same way that some have a commuter car, we could be on a 250-500cc bike or scooter getting 80+ mpg. It also makes a lot of environmental sense. Bikes put less bad stuff into the air than cars, and according to the Census bureau, about 77% of americans drive alone to work in their cars. I am one of them. It is why I have tried to convince my spouse that I need an Ariel Atom as my commuter car. She pointed out that it lacks weather protection, but I think she is softening….similar to the way in which granite softens….But I digress. I am not an avid environmentalist, I simply believe in horses for courses. I would be miserable slab commuting in a Porsche GT2 if I had one, and I’d probably be writing this from behind bars as well. To efficiently get from A to B everyday in a place where public transportation is not an option, I just want to pick the best vehicle for the job.
The third and most important positive is that it is good for the soul. I arrive at work feeling like I have already accomplished something (this is a rare sensation in my workplace most weeks), and feeling energized. YMMV, but it is certainly not a mindless commute when you are on two wheels. You have to pay attention and be acutely aware of your surroundings and the actions of others. You should at least be more alert. I also know that no matter what the day is like, I have a pleasurable experience at the end of it. In many instances I take the scenic route home, or jump off the slab and explore a road that has always looked interesting. Somehow I never think about doing that in the car. Maybe if I had that Ariel Atom……
Now commuting on two wheels is not all positive as everyone knows. There are obvious things like unexpected bad weather, pothole strewn roads, and motorcycle-unfriendly construction zones, but the biggest hazard is by far the driving public. This is not true in much of Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa where two wheels are not a novelty used mostly for leisure. So, it is largely an awareness and perception problem rather than a USA-specific fact. But even in the US, very little of this biggest hazard actually has anything to do with motorcycles. NHTSA says that 90% of accidents are caused by driver error. That’s 90%. This obviously means that training and education have to be the biggest part of the solution. Avoidance technology is also important, but it treats the symptoms, not the cause. Like all motorcyclists, I have seen some incredibly stupid activities happening as I followed or quickly zoomed around a car. These actions endanger everyone, it is just that the consequences for those of us on two wheels is greater. In a previous post I suggested a different approach to licensure somewhat tongue in cheek (see Differentiated Licensure). I may be revisiting that subject.
Meanwhile, I return to the positive aspects above. Ride your motorcycle to work. Everybody wins.