Graduating to Year-around Commuter

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Graduating to Year-around Commuter


Recent data suggests there are fewer and fewer two-wheel commuters in the Puget Sound than in past decades. Sure, in the summer, you'll see a few riders traveling to and from work in street clothes on sport touring and touring bikes, full dresser cruisers, street standards and scooters, but when the gray skies roll in, we scratch our heads and wonder - where did they all go.

Photo: Yamaha's new SMax 300cc scooter makes an excellent commuter machine.

According to the non-profit group, Commute Seattle, 29% of individuals travel to work in the city driving their car solo. And you can be certain a number of them own motorcycles (scooters are classed as motorcycles by the DOL, so they are included in these stats). Crunching the numbers here at Sound RIDER!, we have determined that only .2% of commuters are doing it on motorcycles. And since 2.5% of the population currently own motorcycles, that means for every two-wheel commuter you see, there are 12 more motorcycles sitting at home.

There are numerous benefits to commuting.

The joy of riding would be one, especially on nice days, of which about 182 out of 365 are in Seattle on average.

Access to the HOV, Hot Lanes and commuter on-ramps is another.

If you ride the ferry, the first on/first off rule is always nice, not to mention the lower fare.

Downtown parking rates for cars average about $300 a month. Feed the parking kitty, or invest $3600 a year into a two-wheel option? More on that in a moment.

There are some possible drawbacks that can all be overcome, including staying comfortable, dry and entertained; vehicle unwieldiness; and inclement weather. There's a solution for every one.

But to get to a point where the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, a certain amount of knowledge and mindset is needed. Let's start with…

Bike Selection

Ask any dealer what the best bike for commuting is, and some will tell you, 'the bike you want.' But let's get real, you need a bike that's easy to move around in tight parking spaces, has water tight storage to carry your laptop, briefs or other important work-related items.

Getting real about this, for some, might mean bursting your ego into a thousand pieces, because the most practical two-wheel machine for the job isn't what we call a motorcycle, it's what is known as the super scooter. The Honda Silverwing, Suzuki Burgman, BMW C650, Kymco Downtown and Yamaha XMax are all excellent choices for commuting. Their lighter weight, nimbleness and ability to run at highway speeds make them an optimal choice for commuting, over herking an over-sized sport tourer, touring mammoth or half ton cruiser bike around in stop and go traffic between the freeway exit and your office locale.

Some riders shy away from commuting because they don't want the hassle of operating a manual transmission. Most super scooters have automatic, DCT (dual clutch transmission) systems. No shifting necessary.

In most cases, these bikes also supply the necessary storage you'll need to carry your work incidentals as well as the 10 Moto Essentials you'd need to get out of a bind like a flat tire (tire repair kit, gauge, air compressor are all it typically takes). Outfitting a larger bike with cargo bags that are water tight can get costly. Carrying a backpack, even if it is waterproof, can literally be a pain in the neck.

Smaller scooters in the 50-200 cc class can't do much for you if you need to commute on the open highway. 50 liters of storage under the seat, common on super scooters, is not available on smaller scoots, and the frontal coverage from the elements is nil.

If you already own a larger motorcycle and are shying away from commuting with it because of its size and lack of storage ability, keep in mind that $300 a month parking rate for the car mentioned a moment ago. At 2017 prices, you could invest $3,600 once into buying a used super scooter model, or $7,200 over two years to pay off a new scoot.

But, if a new bike isn't on your list, go ahead and 'ride your own ride.'

Apparel Selection

What you wear makes a huge difference in determining just how often you will commute. Putting on a Carhart jacket and half shell helmet will only result in a wet duck if the sky opens up on the way to, or home, from work. Not a practical solution.

Andy Goldfine founded his Aerostich company on the premise of creating a one piece suit a rider could wear to work and slip out of simply once in the office.

While one-piece suits aren't practical for long range touring (always a pain when it comes to using the toilet, or sitting down at a restaurant on a warm day) they are the best choice for simple commuting. We know plenty of riders who use a one-piece for commuting and a regular textile jacket/pant set for longer rides.

If money isn't an issue, the Aerostich Roadcrafter (shown) is the cat's meow and can be custom fit to your specific dimensions. Other one-piece suits exist as well from dependable name manufacturers like First Gear and Olympia. Still too costly? Used ones appear from time to time on eBay and Craigslist.

If wrinkling your clothes a tad is a problem, consider migrating away from cotton shirts and pants and investing in some synthetic replacements.

The practical helmet for commuting is a full face or modular, rather than a ¾ or half-shell type. Full face and modular options provide 100% coverage from the elements hands down. If you think they're claustrophobic, using one for short commutes will ease you into the reality of their unsurpassed ability to protect from weather and (hopefully you will not encounter such) slow speed falls.

A pair of full gauntlet, Gortex-lined waterproof gloves, along with a lighter set of gloves for warmer days, offer superior protection to riding with no gloves.

If a suit is required at work, you can always store the jacket somewhere at the office. Ditto on dress shoes. You're going to be much happier riding home in a mild rainstorm with full coverage Gortex-lined touring boots, than classic oxfords.

Path of Travel

Just because the four-wheel lemmings are all on the super slab, as long as you're riding on two wheels, you might as well incorporate some fun into the commute, as time allows. Look for alternates away from the main drags, take a side trip now and then through some of the larger nearby parks and shake some of the stress from the day as you make your way home, or set up for a perfect day at work. In Seattle, the backroads through Madison Park, Sand Point, Magnolia and Carkeek Park might just be what you need to put a smile back on your face. Or, imagine this, they may actually be faster alternatives than using the main drags like Aurora, I-5, Eastlake Ave or otherwise.

Weather Considerations

To be sure, we do live in a wet climate. But most of the time the rain we experience here is mild and easy enough to ride around in. However, there are times when it comes in buckets, or snow arrives, or winds get high. Okay, those are the times to suck up the pride you have in commuting so much, and take the bus, call an Uber, or pony up for an expensive day of parking downtown. That's ok.

Start off light

If you want to get your feet wet commuting, start off slow. Plan to only do it when the forecast is reasonable to you, maybe only do it once a week for a while. There's no pressure. Take it as you're comfortable.

If you're unsure of your skills in traffic, consider signing up for an intermediate motorcycle safety class to brush up on slow speed maneuvers like tight cornering, making quick stops and obstacle avoidance. And always ride assuming no one can see you. Predict what others around you may do and you'll be a better rider for it.

Have a great ride to work.

PT/October 17

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