After 8 years and over 100,000 miles on a motorcycle I thought I had figured out most of the basics of riding, including commuting, I was wrong. Getting to and from work… it’s a necessary evil for most people and chances are your commute sucks. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area that chance is near certainty. I never thought that my commute down 280 to work was that great, and I certainly dealt with the occasional gridlock, but it took the last six months of riding to Palo Alto from Fremont to teach me what commuting is really all about.
I have no idea how many people come from the East Bay to Silicon Valley every day and while I’m sure the exact numbers are out there(on the internet somewhere) the easy answer is “a crap ton”. Traffic is heavy between Fremont and Palo Alto anytime after 7 a.m., impossible after 8 a.m. though it does get lighter after 10 a.m. again. The evening commute is always bad. Before 3 p.m. the traffic is heavy but not that great for me since the carpool lane isn’t open. After 3 p.m. traffic over all is worse but the carpool lanes are open so somewhat better for me. After 4:30 and it’s nuts again. I have no idea when it starts to get easier, my guess would be 7 p.m.
I don’t know how people deal with this everyday in a car, even on a motorcycle my commute is rough. In the morning it’s not that bad, it takes me about 25 minutes to get to work once I’m on my bike and moving. Getting home is a bit more problematic, it takes at least 10 to 15 minutes longer. Doing this every weekday for several months is where I learned the most about what your average person has to deal with everyday to earn a living.
It’s not pretty and I’m really surprised that more people don’t ride motorcycles, it would take me another 15-20 minutes (at least) to get home if I drove a car. That’s over 2 and a half days lost sitting in a car a year. However, I digress, this isn’t about how stupid people are for driving its about what I learned about riding a motorcycle daily with clogged roads.
I only have one real “rule” about commuting and it is we don’t talk about commuting… wait, that’s been done to death. The rule is Get Home Alive!
This often translates into my mantra of “slow the fuck down” but in the heat of the moment and the frustration of dealing with the idiots who are apparently trying to kill you it’s easy to sometimes forget that it’s better to get home safely than it is quickly.
It’s a very important rule, and it should be at the forefront of any one commuting on a motorcycle.
What I’ve learned:
Your route is really important. It’s also good to have a back up. This is where you need to try different things if you are new to the area. Google maps has no way to know if you’re on a motorcycle or not so what might be the fastest way driving is not necessarily the fastest way to ride. I have a couple of things I’m looking for when I pick a route now. First, are there HOV (or Carpool) lanes, and second is that the roads that I’ll be on all multi-lane so I can lane share if traffic is heavy. I’ve always been against riding on the shoulder if I can avoid it.
I’ve also been surprised about how often cars will go out of there way to make way for a rider. Often at speeds I’m not comfortable passing at, though the thought is apreciated. This is nice and I’m not entirely sure what the ediquitte is on taking advantage of these drivers. It does occasionally make me feel guilty for not passing, but the primary rule does keep me from doing anything too crazy.
I have learned to be a bit more calm about when I’m riding. Getting frustrated with the idoicy that comes with heavy traffic doesn’t help and decisions made when angry are rarely good, and are definitely not well thought out.
It is also very important it is to keep the bike in working order. This is a universal rule for riding in general and I’ll probably talk about it again soon, but it is really important that your brakes, tires, and lights are in good working order since you want to be able to stop and be seen. It’s also really bad if I have to drive, so having the bike out of service for any reason makes me a very sad person.
The weather has been very dry here in California, which was great for me getting to work, but I did end up riding more in the rain because of the commute. It is so bad to drive that I rather risk the rain than drive if at all possible.
I don’t think the last six or so months have made me an expert on commuting. However they opened my eyes to a side of traffic that I will gladly be leaving behind in another month or so.
Remember, get home alive!