Motorcycle Commuting

With gas prices increasing, I’m seeing more
motorcycles commuting.

I watched a motorcyclist weave from the inside lane to the outside lane of a four-lane highway in rush hour traffic pulsating between 70 mph and near dead stop. I said a small prayer and remembered the aphorism, “There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots. But there are no old, bold pilots.”

With gas prices increasing, I’ve noticed more motorcyclists commuting. It’s a misconception that motorcycles are more nimble than cars. In fact, all the safety articles I’ve read dispute this idea. But new riders who haven’t gone through safety training may be operating under this misconception.

For 13 years I commuted from a suburb of New Jersey into the upper west side of Manhattan; Fairlawn Ave. to route 4, across the George Washington Bridge, down the Westside Highway to Riverside Drive. Every day was a new experience.

And, yes, it was risky. But I’m not cut out to be a carpool commuter, and I was careful. I used several tactics. I always rehearse what to do if someone moved into my lane, or pulled out in front of me, or did something else unexpected. Continuously anticipating and planning a safe escape is essential.

I also scanned the roadway continuously, making mental note of cars on either side, available shoulder space, cars behind, the pace of traffic ahead and, of course, debris. I learned to watch what tasks drivers were doing besides driving–shaving, putting on make-up, reading, and yes, snorting white powder (really). I had to anticipate who might start a chain reaction of rear-end collisions that would be much more damaging to me than a car with a bumper and several feet of metal between the driver and the back-end of the vehicle ahead.

I developed a sensitivity about what conditions might be risky–riding beside a truck whose driver couldn’t see me, staying in the rearview mirror of both cars and trucks, staying out of middle lanes when lane shifting was going on.

A rider also has to anticipate road surface and the traction of the bike’s tires. A roadway is most slippery just after a rainfall has started when oil mixed with water hasn’t been diluted or washed away, and the center is more oily than the wheel track. Metal gratings and asphalt give less traction than composition surfaces. Wear depressions hold water and are more likely to contribute to hydroplaning, which, on a motorcycle is deadly. Spilled diesel and other liquids are about the same as skating on ice. I had to turn at an intersection where transit busses entered service and they spilled diesel that made the surface slippery to walk on, much less to cross on two wheels.

On a good day the trip would take 45 minutes. I wore a helmet and appropriate protective clothing. I’d change and start the workday. Actually, it was then that the real danger started!

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