Ride to Work: A Deeper Look.
I start off by asking Andy Goldfine to forgive me for using his trademarked phrase in the title of this post. It's for a good cause and I did provide attribution. This isn't a polished post and the photos aren't anything to brag to Art Wolfe about. I'm just letting this one rip and writing what's on my mind.
To all who rode a motorcycle on Ride to Work Day this year I offer sincere thanks. Rather, maybe I should say that Andy thanks you. Actually, we should all thank each other because we're comrades working for a common cause. I, along with a lot of you, have been observing this day for years. That is a totally awesome thing. As Paul Harvey, a radio broadcaster of much note in the USA ( and God rest his soul; he passed away a couple of years ago ) used to say,
"And now you're going to hear the rest of the story!"
Riding a motorcycle to work on Ride to Work Day is a great thing. After all, it's the riding to work that makes the day possible, right? I mean, if we all walked to work, for example, then it would be called "Hoof it to Work Day". Which could be confusing because we'd not know if the day were about, cows, sheep, pigs, or whatever. Can't you just see a Ride Your Hog to Work Day? Would that be HOG, Hog, or Hawg? Even though you could conceivably ride a real pig to work, there could be complications. Like getting home after lunch time, if you get my drift. I'm not sure how we got here, exactly. I think my visor is sealed too well and I'm suffering from lack of oxygen or something.
So what was the point? Oh yeah, riding a motorcycle to work. I'm crossing into that dicey no man's land of speaking for Andy ( who started this whole thing in the first place ) so let me offer this disclaimer that I'm giving you my intrepretation of what I think Mr. Aerostich is shooting for. By the way, you might be interested to note that it started as a cheeky variant of the Ride to Live, Live to Ride slogan. Andy's slogan was "Work to Ride, Ride to Work." Geez, take some guy with a weird sense of humor, put a twisted slogan on a t-shirt, and see what happens. You end up with guys like me spending, who knows how much time, supporting your cause. As if I didn't have other things to do. Like go research the cost of buying my own t-shirt silk screening machine. Now if I could just come up with some great sayings.
Like I said, riding to work on the designated day ( and hopefully more often than that ) is awesome but there is more we should be trying to do. We need to change people's perceptions of motorcyclists. More specifically, we need to help non-riders ( and maybe some riders themselves ) see the value of using a motorcycle for practical things like everyday transportation.
Here's a couple of examples of what I find out there. They are also examples of why we need Ride to Work Day in its full expression.
I encountered this woman, her kids, and her mother in a rest stop. She asked me where I was headed. The gal seemed disappointed when I told her I was on my way to a business meeting. I'm sure she had visions of two-wheeled adventure. It could be the fact that she was hungry for adventure herself being the mother of some very active kids. I grabbed one of her little tykes who was running to the restroom by himself while Mom was distracted. The trouble was that he was dashing in front of a car in the process.
It could also be that there's this stereotype associated with how I looked. A sleek sport touring bike with luggage. My Aerostich riding suit added to the look. People don't see "commuter", they see "traveler". Or, in my case, "Dashing Adventurer!"
I get this reaction a lot. Rest stops like this one in Wilsonville are a regular part of my routine. This stop is particularly valuable because a few minutes down the road lies the southern part of Portland. Some mornings will see us sitting in a traffic jam for a long, long, time. It's very prudent to drain a cup of coffee or two before such an encounter.
If Elvira were a mid-sized UJM with a milk crate strapped to the back seat folks might think "commuter". That's certainly not what comes to most people's minds when they see my sleek and beautiful Elvira, though.
These kind of impressions and stereotypes lead to bigger things. Like this example I encountered recently.
This is a photo I took early in 2010. I may have published it on the blog. Who knows? I'm over 50 and have too much on my mind to try to remember such things. The point is that this is a city street next to a state government building. There are many such buildings in this area. Being in the state capitol there are hundreds and hundreds of people employed in these buildings. A whole section was reserved for motorcycle parking. In a city where it costs to park, this area is free to motorcycles. Notice the nicely indented area, too. The bikes are well out of traffic with some safe room to maneuver. Elvira is by herself. On the other hand, it's a rainy winter day. You probably wouldn't expect many bikes that time of year.
However, when you would expect bikes there really weren't many. So much so that the parking area was changed recently. Now it looks like this.
There is still motorcycle parking here. In fact, there are nine spots. Notice how they're now all crammed into one end, however. The slots are much narrower than they were. Not nearly so friendly a place as it was. On the other end are now four parking spots where four wheelers can park. State government wants to be "Green". It's sad that the perception is what it is. How four cars or SUV's with car-pool permits can be considered more friendly to the environment than many motorcycles is a mystery to me. You know that most car pool arrangements are usually made of two people and seldom more. On the other hand, the four vehicle spots will probably see more regular use than the motorcycle parking area.
In fact, there doesn't actually have to be two or more people in the car for the vehicle to legally park here. I took these photos on a Friday morning when folks were just starting to arrive for work. A guy in a big Toyota SUV parked at the end away from the bikes. There was a sticker on the back bumper that qualified him for the spot. Except he was alone. I couldn't help but ask. You know me. One of these days I'll learn not to be so shy. I challenged him on the matter. The man told me that all you had to do was fill out an application and state that you sometimes had somebody else with you in the car.
I can't blame the guy for using the system that was in place. My concern is with the system itself. People in "official" positions do not see motorcycles as a valuable means of transportation when it comes to being environmentally friendly. They don't often see the benefits to the overall traffic system, either. We're still mostly seen as recreational riders and get treated as such.
So what can we do about it? We have to be hens and not sturgeons.
Ok, now I'm sure you think I've lost it. Let me explain.
I was riding for work and stopped to pay respects to my Grandfather. Like most parents he gave me a lot of advice. Some of it was shouted at me during heated moments. Other times it was disguised as sage expressions of wisdom. There's a mix of helpful advice and pure bulls**t so parents can get their own way. Control issues, you know. Scattered in the mix are things that you're just not sure what to make of. Like a little story Gramp told me once. It was started because of a noisy hen we had.
This creature would lay an egg and then squawk like crazy. Just like she wanted to make sure everyone and everything around was aware of the wonderful thing she'd done. One day I was told to pay attention.
"You see, she lays one egg and makes a bunch of noise. Makes sure everybody notices. Take a sturgeon, now. She lays thousands of eggs under the cold, deep, water. Who the heck ever knows about that? "
We were cowboys. We liked chicken eggs for breakfast. The rest of the day we were disciples of things that started with the letter B. Burgers and Beer. When it came to fishing we went to warm shallow ponds and stalked Bass. Neither of us had ever fished for sturgeon in our lives. Granted, mine had been much shorter than his. Caviar wasn't a word we knew although we used to go up to the hatchery and see Moe, the giant sturgeon once in a while. We knew fish eggs made good bait but our experience was limited to trout and salmon eggs. So I'm pretty sure Gramps was repeating something he'd heard elsewhere. There was still a nugget to be mined in there somewhere, either way.
I guess what Gramps was trying to tell me was that sometimes it paid to advertise.
That's the rest of the story behind Ride to Work Day, I think.
Not everybody can ride to work every day. Although more folks could do so if they put a bit more thought into it. Those of us who are hardcore committed motorcycle commuters have learned about the right gear and riding skills that enable us to do so. Share these with other riders so they can commute more, as well. Sometimes that's the only thing holding some back. Help them get over the hump, as it were. Others may decide to remain as recreational riders. That's totally acceptable. It's a personal choice, after all. There has to be some passion for riding that leads to our dedication to do something different than the majority of folks. My thought is to show everyone the possibilities and provide help to take advantage of them as needed. Then their decision will be based on facts and not stereotypes and such.
In the July issue of American Motorcyclist Magazine an article featured three riders who have made the decision to use a bike as much as possible. Andy Goldfine was one of those featured. In the article Andy is quoted as saying,
"By definition, motorcyclists aren't normal. The clinical term is 'non-normative', which means that riding a motorcycle is not the normal choice, because the default in our culture is cars."
This means that most folks aren't going to see the world as we do. They won't see the great benefit to riding. We all know about the mental benefits and the stress reduction that comes with riding. We know how riding a motorcycle asks so much less of the earth's resources. We know how many motorcycles can park in a space designed for just one car. We know how much better traffic would flow if there were a lot more motorcycles and a lot less cars. We know how riding makes us so much more self reliant and able to handle things that go wonky. The list goes on.
We know, but the general public doesn't. Sometimes as riders we can act like sturgeons in the deep, dark, waters. In other words, we quietly ride to work, park the bike, and attend to business. Then we ride home. Despite the great satisfaction we personally feel, it's not often seen by non-riders. One of the goals of Ride to Work Day is to get noticed. Hopefully we'll get noticed on a smaller scale all along. Make sure we spread the love, so to speak. One of the reasons for a formal Ride to Work Day is to call attention to the matter on a larger and very public scale.
Look at the Ride to Work website. On it you will find a lot of promotional material. These are designed to publicize the event beforehand. I think that's where we might be missing part of the point.
This is a gentle urging to take some time to look the website over. Think of ways to make our riding to work more prominent on Ride to Work Day next year. Could we get the local newspaper to run an article announcing the day? Do we have connections at local radio stations to get a public service announcement broadcast? There are promotional materials on the website designed to be given to city officials. Some riders get their employers to allow an extra long lunch break. At Hewlett Packard for a couple of years there was a part of the parking lot set aside for an informal bike show and bar-b-q. See the potential issue with Hoof it to Work Day or Ride Your Hog to Work?
Bottom line is that we need to provide education and awareness among both our fellow riders and non riders alike. People who vote. Officials who make laws. Employers who set company policy. At the very least we want to be taken seriously as people contributing to the well being of the planet and infrastructure. Having our employer recognize the smaller space motorcycles take up in the parking lot and giving us parking right next to the building wouldn't be bad, either. After all, not all of us are as fortunate right now as Troubadour, who parks right outside his office window.
This year I commuted over five hundred miles to a company meeting. I certainly got the attention of a couple dozen co-workers. That was cool but I need to do more to promote the event locally. So I'm making bigger plans to get the word out next year. You are all cordially invited to join me. Let me know if I can help.
Miles and smiles,