Pro-Tips for Commuters

This post is nudged by the inestimable IronDad, who has a great post up about ride-to-work day and the thrills, challenges, and misconceptions of making a motorcycle your regular commuter.  Ride to Work Day is traditionally the 3rd Monday in June, but this year I wasn’t able to ride in to work at all. I believe it had something to do with running-out-of-time-having-to-get-little-dudes-after-work-business-meeting-blah.

Which is to say, those strung together excuses are some common reasons why people don’t ride to work.

Wear gear. Pick something, and wear it. Wear it every day. Have some flexibility in your outfits. be safe. When my coworkers ask me about those dudes who are going 120 mpg on the Garden State Parkway in shorts and t-shirts I tell them it’s because they’re so physically uncomfortable that they go faster to get home sooner. Don’t be that guy!

Honestly, I lean towards what is commonly called the POWER RANGER edge of the gear spectrum. I wear an armored textile jacket and pants, reinforced boots, a full face helmet and gloves every time I get on the bike. I have a longish commute, too – it’s about an hour by bike. My home locale is generally 10 degrees cooler than my place of work. I leave at or before 7AM, so it can be quite cold in the spring or fall, and it’s really warm on the way home in the summer. I know that there are lots of people with really short commutes – I don’t know what to tell you, it’s too crazy for me. I might be tempted to just ride in jeans if I had a short commute too! But that is so far from my experience. I need to dress for a range of weather, a range of temperatures, and crazy NJ drivers when I hit Rt. 17 on my way to work. And I find that in heat, wind, and sun, wearing full textile gear leaves me more comfortable and protected from dehydration and sunburn than anything else.


(also I like to go up next to people texting and wag my finger at them. It’s surprisingly hilarious to see the reactions you get when someone realizes they’ve just been totally busted by a power ranger.)

As it is, I pack my work clothes every day and when I get to work, I hop off the bike, grab my bag out of the hat box (see next pro-tip!), shove my helmet into the box, and strut into the office like an astronaut. I go straight to my desk and turn on my computer, and then I go to the bathroom and change. It takes me 2 extra minutes every day to swap clothes. During that time my computer gets warmed up and booted and I have a minute to rewrite my daily to-do list. Reverse and repeat at the end of the day.

Get a hat box. Seriously. OK, so many people think it’s totally lame and way too euro-metro to ride around with a top case, but I have been hopelessly spoiled by my waterproof stash box on the back of the bike. It’s more expensive to get a rack and hard case for a sports bike or cruiser than a scrappy DRZ, though, so find one of the  many strap-on soft cases that are available that you can put onto your pillion seat. Seriously: in the summer, backpacks suck. In the rain, backpacks suck.

This is my modestly sized hat box:

These are the things you may want to carry with you to work:

  • Your office shoes.
  • A change of clothes.
  • Your rain gear.
  • Maybe your work laptop.
  • Your lunch.
  • That awesome book you like to read at lunch.
  • Sunglasses/Clear Glasses.
  • Different gloves for those days you ride to work in the 50s and head home in the 80s.
  • Your sealable travel mug full of your favorite hot beverage.
  • Sunblock just in case.

Having all of these in a hard top case that is waterproof is a huge luxury that has spoiled me for ever. Other people have saddlebags, hard side cases, or even canvas tail bags, and these all work for their purposes. As for me, I am filled with love for my hat box.

Pick your best route. I have two fairly direct routes to work – both are about 45 miles, but one is all highway and highway speeds, and the other is two-lane highways and a nice trip over a mountain with some sweet twisties and sweepers. The nicer route takes me a full hour to ride, while the highway is only 45-50 min. Clearly, I choose the hour long ride. It’s way more fun. I can afford that 15 extra minutes.

Can you off-set your work day so you miss the worst of the traffic? Is riding to work important enough to you that you are OK with taking a slightly longer route to get in so you can avoid crowded highways filled with impatient rush hour zombies?

Which leads me to my next point:

Be a little flexible. Whenever I have to not ride to work on a gorgeous day, it’s because I’m strapped for time. For example, on the days I pick up the little dudes after school, I need to be there before 6PM. so if I back-calculate it will take me an hour to get home on the bike, and then 30 min. to swap clothes, hop in the car, and go pick up the boys. Leaving a little buffer for various potential set-backs, this means I really need to leave work at 4PM. Which is really hard for me to do!

Of course, I could go to work an hour earlier and then I’d be able to leave at 4PM to ride around. It’s hard, though, to leave work earlier than everyone else – I totally get that – even with the flexibility my office provides it’s still hard for me. And leaving an hour earlier in the morning cuts into the exercise block I have scheduled for myself.

So if you can be flexible, you will be able to ride to work more. I have just shown you how inflexible I am. However – I’m thinking about it, and I bet one day I’ll just suck it up and do it, and then I’ll be shocked at how easy it was to make it work, and I will probably write a post here or here about how foolish I’ve been this whole time, and how easy it was after all.

So why go to all this trouble?

I love to ride to work because it provides a bracket to my day. Motorcycling is a form of active meditation, after all – you have to concentrate so much on not getting offed that you don’t have time to worry about what you did (or didn’t do) at work or at home that day. I am entirely present on my motorcycle in a way that I didn’t expect when I first learned. It’s amazing.

And I confess! I love that everyone at work thinks I’m a tough guy because I ride to work. I love that I am challenging their expectations of a young woman engineer. I love that I present a challenge to the typical “biker” prototype in my (hopefully) thoughtful and careful commute.

There are three great profiles in the July 2011 AMA (available partially for free on their website – go to page 34 for the feature start!) of full- or near-full time motorcycle commuters. it’s aways fun to see how others manage the continual negotiation between motorcycling, weather, time commitments, and convenience. (via IronDad. thanks!)

And at the root of it, riding my motorcycle to work gets me excited about going to work. It gives me a stellar reason to leave my desk at the end of the work day and head home at a reasonable time, instead of just doing “one more thing” on my list. It allows me to stretch out my cars lifespan by minimizing the mileage I’m putting on it.

Best of all, though, I love riding my motorcycle to work because it means I’ve evaluated the status quo of driving a car and determined a new way to get around it. Anything that challenges the normalized lifestyle we so often unconsciously lead is good for me. I think it is so importantly to critically evaluate the choices you make in your daily life and to actively participate in the type of life you are leading. Choosing to motorcycle is a way for me to show that I have fully evaluated the type of lifestyle that I am leading, and I’ve done my part to take control of my life in some small way.

Do you ride to work, and if so, why do you do it?