Wednesday, July 06, 2011

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,



redlegsrides said...

A bit rambling but good post to educating the others (riders and cagers) as to the benefits of riding, I think that's an uphill battle and I fear I've lost my "tilting at windmills" mojo. You either have it in you to ride as much as you can or you don't.

I ride to work every day, it helps that I sold the cage and have a spare motorcycle, but even with a'd be a motorcycle as first choice. I look upon the bored faces of cagers during my commute and pity them.

I will say to your point though, overcoming the mindset of the unseeing and uncaring cager will be the hardest. Then again, I've found some owners bought their motorcycles with unrealistic expectations of the "fun" and big under estimations of the care one must take and the risks involved at times.

Some, I don't see their poor motorcycle ever leave the garage.

Kind of makes me wonder why they bought the darn thing in the first place, but as you say, it's their choice and their ride.

Then, in the hot days, I see riders with no protective gear on, daring the motorcycling gods to let them become the next statistic which adds to non-rider's fears and perceptions.

As to the guy "working the system" in order to get a parking spot as a "carpooler"....the word scumbag comes to mind.

Sorry, I've apparently become a crochety old man....


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

irondad said...

Charlie6 ( Dom )

What's wrong with being a crochety old man, aks one to another?

You don't have to knock the windmills down or slay them. It's a matter of exposure rather than conquest. Does that help your mojo? You are certainly the living embodiment of our cause. Just lead by example.

As to rambling, well, you were warned in the beginning of the post!

Take care,


karinajean said...

great post - I ride to work as much as I can. it's not the epic highway journeys that you are able to take with Elvira, but it's a solid 100 mile round trip commute through some country, some fringe development, over a mountain, and then a last minute scream down busy NJ Rt 17.

a colleague of mine was speaking to a former colleague who is also a rider (or maybe a biker, more aptly) who said that I am really "hard core" for riding to work as much as I do.


I love that I am more fully present on the motorcycle than when I'm in my car. I love that I have to pay attention to the trip instead of going through my to-do list (or more often the not-done-yet list). I love the smells and the way the ride brackets my day with a bit of peace - regardless of the cars that may try to merge into me when I'm on NJ Rt 17. And it boggles me that adding all this enjoyment to my life is a "hard core" decision.

but then, that's maybe why I ride as much as I do. I want everyone to see how easy it is once you get started - I want them to make that decision as well, or SOME kind of decision - even if it's to just evaluate the status quo and stay put - just critically consider what you are doing, and why. take the time to evaluate the car, and it's necessity to your lifestyle.

you have inspired me to go to the ride to work website and order a few stickers! I am going to leave them with a friendly note on the motorcycles I see around my office park complex. I was out of town for ride to work day this year, but next year I'll do a little more advocating in June to prepare.

(you know my environmental blog - I do write more about the motorcycling - sporadically! - on my personal site too at

RichardM said...

The "scumbag" label seems appropriate.

One question I've have is why motorcycles get such poor gas mileage. I used to have this old VW rabbit that could carry four people and got better gas mileage than my bike. Motorcycles seem to be a good solution only if they are replacing single occupancy vehicles.

I generally ride to work from May through October unless there is ice on the road or having to haul something large. On "Ride to Work" day, we only had a handful of bikes in the parking lot due to light rain and we did have signs from the website posted on the doors. Didn't seem to have much effect. Kind of like what Dom mentioned, either you want to ride every day or you don't.

Good, thoughtful post.

SheRidesABeemer said...

Nice post, good humor, good points. I stayed home sick for ride to work day...but am commuting more and more. And you are right, it is a matter of making a choice. I have chosen helmet hair. Work has a locker room and I can change my clothes and store my gear, this makes a huge difference for me. But I am a side show. In a 4 building complex, I sometimes see one other bike. So while I admire your courage to teach, I don't feel it. I commute for me. I can not hope to change what others do.

Keith - Circle Blue said...

I ride to work nearly everyday. Snow, ice, and an occasional tornado warning are the only things that stop me. I began riding because my knees wouldn't let me ride a bicycle and I was tired of using so much gasoline to commute ten miles back and forth to work. I couldn't understand why I couldn't ride a 50cc scooter to work on the days I saw cyclists riding to work. I figured it would cut my gas usage, but I didn't expect to like it. I didn't expect all the things that karinajean mentioned. I didn't expect the world to open up to me the way it has. I've since graduated to a massive 101cc bike. I have a sticker on my topcase that says, "100mpg". When gas is expensive I have trouble filling up my one gallon tank without having multiple conversations about how many miles to the gallon I get.

I do think there is a price to pay in commuting by two wheeled motorized vehicles that many aren't prepared to pay. I recently met a gardener, a true gardener. I admire gardens but I've never been able to find the energy to maintain a garden once I plant it. I know of a number of people who have bought scooters that ended up being sold on Craigslist the following summer.

Oh well, now I'm rambling. I have a "Ride to Work" stickers on my bike and on my cold weather jacket. I will continue to promote riding to work. I will continue to point to my co-workers who ride the elevator with me soaked to the bone from walking from the parking lot that when I take off my gear I'm dry. And, that the motorcycle parking area is right behind the building not a block away.

I loved the article in the AMA magazine. I really appreciated Paul's comment about having 14 pairs of gloves and they each worked for a particular situation. Made me feel less silly for have close to ten.

Good post. Thanks for sharing,

SonjaM said...

I scoot to work whenever I can, and like Keith only very adverse weather conditions will keep me from riding my Vespa. Fuel economy is getting better and better (last fillup told me 75 mpg), and I can get a distance of 250km out of my tank, there are motorcycles which do less...
I even sold my car recently because I couldn't see a reason to keep it. We are now a one-car (and two scooter) household.
However, I am the only rider among the 7 staff members, and this will probably stay that way, although I continue to brag about record-breaking gas mileage every time I fuel up.
On the pluss side, my colleages have all switched to fuel economy cars, no more SUVs and pick-up's in the parking lot... so the case is not yet lost.
Riding to and from work keeps me sane in a crazy job.
I see a lot of summer riders sans proper gear these days calling for road rash. But I resisted the temptation and ride in my summer ATGATT. Take care, ride safe.

Roger said...

ANother great blog Dan, I do enjoy your take on life. THe weather is not helping in my attempt to ride to work more often, roll on summer!

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Dan:

Motorcycles are never going to get a fair rap in the US for a number of reasons.

1) Like Richard M. pointed out, the gas mileage is skewed unless the bike is replacing a single-rider car.

2) There really is no savings to the environment... Bikes go through tires a lot faster than cars do, not only using more resources for the manufacture of the tires, but also for the disposal of the old ones.

3) The price of gasoline in the US will have to hit about $5.50 a gallon before the shock waves will slam driver behavior... And then it will likely be in the scooter direction (which are still two wheels).

4) If you want to make a dent in the way Corporate America perceives two-wheeled transportation, then petition Hollywood. "Corporate America" is a two-word phrase for greed, short-sightedness, and a poor excuse for substituting profit mongering on a whore-ish, national scale as a poor substitute for integrity. (Do I sound bitter? I am.) The only time companies do the right thing is when someone is looking (PR purposes, or to defeat a new rulemaking through voluntary action.)

5) Want to change perception of motorcycles in the US? Make a law requiring every driver own one for a year before getting a car.

My commute to work is down a flight of stairs to my desk. It has been this way for 15 years. But I ride to the Post Office, when I have something to mail. I think the nation needs more than annual remonder that motorcycles and their riders have rights too.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Allen Madding said...

I ride to work as much as I deem reasonable. This past winter I opted not to for about 6 weeks. I try to encourage others to ride to work all year round. Every day I ride, I make a mention on twitter which replicates to Facebook. So anyone following me gets a little nudge numerous times a year. Here's hoping it makes a difference.

TV, radio, and newspaper mentions could sure help.


Stacy said...

"Ride to Work" is trademarked?

That's rich. I seem to recall a certain organization that tried to claim copyright on phrases like "roll on the throttle"...

Dean W said...

If riding a few miles to work is "non-normative", I hate to think what they call me- last week I rode to Missouri to watch the stepson graduate from basic training.

Dean W said...


First off, did that Rabbit go from 0-60 in 3.9 seconds?

Second, I know most small cars can carry four people, but how often do they? Most of the time, cars driven to work are single occupancy vehicles.

What's more interesting is to look below the surface. A small car weighs (let's be nice) 2000 pounds. That's three times the steel and plastic- creation and shaping of which takes energy- than Dan's motorcyle. If you look at a scooter instead, the difference is probably eight times more steel and plastic.

POLLUTION! They cry. Sure, older bikes out there pollute more than a new car, but there are two things to remember. New bikes have to meet tighter standards- and the standards are "particulate matter in parts per million". A smaller motor will put out less based on the fact that, well, it's smaller. A 1300cc motor at 4000RPM will suck in and expel half the atmospheric quantity as that 5200cc V-8 powered single-occupant SUV.

Yes, the high performance sport touring bike eats tires. My last pair lasted over 13,000 miles. My Miata (arguably a small car) goes through four tires in 25,000 miles. Um... about the same.

And if you go for a scooter, you can give up that 0-60 time, but expect to gain fuel economy, up to 100mpg or so... and since scooter tires don't have to deal with the stresses imposed by faster, heavier bikes, tires (smaller, maybe half the material?) will probably last longer, too.

All of which ignores the up and coming electric motorcycles and scooters- they have no pollution at all, right? (that's a trick question, kids...)

Motorcycles and scooters may not be for everyone, or the answer for everyone every day. But it's more in the direction I think we need to be heading, where possible. For the rest of the people, or when a moto isn't viable, there are fully faired, enclosed cabin, 3-wheel "motorcycles" that can get 120+mpg and carry two people plus cargo in climate controlled comfort.

(shoot- should have written this as a guest blog post, huh?)

Joe said...

I miss Ride to Work Day every year because school gets out about a week before it. I do, though, simply by being a teacher on two wheels, get the word out there about the fun and practicality of riding. Kids are wonderfully inquisitive and I love answering their questions about the scooter and the experiences of riding it.


irondad said...


Maybe we choose the word "hardcore" because of the way we sound. If we were honest we'd have to use the word "addicted". The first sounds like it's a choice, the second, not so much!

I don't often comment but I cruise Tiny Choices regularly. I made my own hummus and pop tarts after your posts. I don't have a garden in my front yard, though. :)

Will have to check out your personal blog. Didn't know you had one.

Thank you for gracing my blog!

Take care,


irondad said...


I almost the mileage thing is a difference in mindset between Americans and the rest of the world. We seem to need big, bad, and powerful. From what I've seen in other parts of the world, practical utility takes first place. Most of the bikes are smaller for good reason.

One of these days circumstances may dictate a different approach for us here.

Take care,


irondad said...


As I pointed out to Dom, it's really more a matter of influencing than outright conquering.

You have certainly led by example. How many folks do you think you influenced from being in American Motorcyclist Magazine, for example?

There are many ways to teach.

Take care,


irondad said...

Circle Blue ( Keith )

I read your post about the gardener. I was actually tempted to comment about the photos of his vegetables you were taking. I say take some veggies. One cucumber is worth a thousand pictures, don't you think? :)

Anyway, you seem to have a knack for reaching out and making connections with people. Success is the result of small efforts made every day.

A nudge here, a bit of helpful advice there, and the great PR image you project add up more than you may know.

Take care,


irondad said...


First and foremost we ride for ourselves. You and Bobskoot are very social. Like I mentioned to Keith above, you are doing a very visible job of showing the positive side of riding to work.

You're an awesome ambassador for us! Keep it up and who knows the effect you'll eventually have while not even being aware of it.

Take care,


irondad said...

Raftnn (Roger)

Thank you for the compliment. I often forget that summer here is winter there.

Sounds like you're stepping up to educate other riders. The influence you thus gain will go a long ways towards promoting our two wheeled lifestyle. I sincerely applaud your eforts!

Take care,


irondad said...


The bones connected to your ass might not work as well they used to but your heart is certainly in the right place!

Take care,


irondad said...


Little nudges repeated often add up to a lot of progress.

I think the real value of newspaper, and so on during a high profile day is to get the attention of those who set policy, and so on. These are the folks we don't usually touch on a day to day basis.

Take care,


irondad said...


I sent you a private reply. Yes, I remember all too well the other situation. I was one of the ten "John Does" listed in the lawsuit.

Take care,


irondad said...


The word for you is badly addicted bordering on crazy. Ok, that's more than one word.

Then again, that's why I like you.

Take care,


irondad said...


I know the timing of Ride to Work Day is wrong for you. However, you can certainly go out and be visible.

Next year go be a film star on the traffic cameras or find another giant coffe cup!

Good luck in your new school, by the way. I know being moved like that can be tough.

Take care,


Anonymous said...

Riding to Work eh?
My motorcycle or travelling device of late has been first a wheelchair and now a four wheeled walker, wandering not very far, nor very fast around a rehab area of the local hospital. I am just home now, still with the walker plus a portable infusion pump. Both shall be constant companions for some time yet.
Cellulitis in the lower left leg plus complications. At this rate I'll never see the seat of a motorcycle. Still better noe than staring up at the roots of grass from six or more feet below. And I was close too, a number of times over the last month or so. Bit of a laugh, they collected me from home in an ambulance, yep the interior is tight, my long body length meant it was a very tight fit. And the paramedics kept asking about my heart. Seems 80 percent of ambulance rides to hospital here are heart related, I didn't qualify.
So am home can hear motorcycles,
can see them if I look outthe window then I sink back in the bed and trust the daily home specialty nurse will allow mw to at least walk to the loo to relieve myself. Bedpans and male urinals are not my friends.
One of these days Dan I'll be back on two or maybe three wheels with sidecar.
Until them keep up with your writings and food eassays.

Conchscooter said...

Of 100 plus people at my work I am the only two wheeler. When it looks like rain they ask what do I do. Wear waterproofs is an answer that flumoxes them.
Riding to work would make more sense if motorcycles were encouraged in car pool lanes free on turnpikes and allowed to lane split. Traffic would flow andn people would get to work faster and easier and more people would be encouragedt to ride. But that may not be what our masters want. Enjoy your commute? Are you crazy?

irondad said...


A lot of the "system" is designed to enslave rather than liberate. I like being the proverbial "square peg".

I've missed you.

Take care,


spada motorcycle clothing said...

Great article. I have long wanted to try riding a bike to work but due to some circumstances, I still can't get my own bike although I can pretty much do it anytime.

Thanks for sharing this.