I Bought a Motorcycle to Defeat the Subway

When I moved to Williamsburg in August, I knew that sooner or later, I would have to map out a plan on how to commute once the area’s main subway lifeline shutters service between Brooklyn and Manhattan. My Honda S2000 wouldn’t save me. Neither would my Subaru WRX STI. So here’s how I’m fighting New York’s worst traffic nightmare: A Moto Guzzi.

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Basically, I convinced myself that I needed to get into riding because the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s L train subway line service between Manhattan and Brooklyn will be shutting down temporarily for 15 months, starting in April 2019. The line serves as the primary underground transit artery to and from Williamsburg and has around 275,000 riders relying on it daily.

While I realize most of you don’t give two shits, or even one, about New York’s transit woes, take a moment to realize what a nearly unprecedented disaster this is for any city.

The motorcycle option was attractive to me for a few reasons. Because I live in Williamsburg, I’m pretty much forced to take the Williamsburg Bridge to get into the city by car or bike. Once the L train shuts down in April, the city will be turning the bridge into HOV3+, buses, and trucks only for the majority of the day, every day. That means no personal cars will be allowed to cross the bridge at any useful hour. But motorcycles are included in HOV3+ lanes, so I can do that instead.

To kick the process off, I took a two-day Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse out in Queens. The class consisted of both in-class instruction and a day and a half of riding practice on a closed course, and it was a joy. Well, aside from failing the final riding exam the first go around, and having to come back to retake it. Mistakes happen, especially when you’re a relatively new rider like I am.

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Anyway, sooner or later I left the course with a voucher that would convince the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles to add a motorcycle endorsement to my license. And that led to me buying this.

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As I teased in Jalopnik’s Facebook group, The Way Back, it’s a 2013 Moto Guzzi V7 Stone—a bike which I’m still very much learning about and learning how to ride on. I sold my old Subaru RX Turbo rally car to buy it. It’s been dropped at least once (not by me, yet!), has had at least two other owners, and has a number of miles more than what its odometer actually reads. But it’s mine! And I think I got a reasonable deal on it.

So far, I’ve had the bike for about a month. Yes, buying and learning how to ride a bike during the winter might not be the smartest thing, but whatever. It’s here, I’m here, and I did it. And actually, it’s quite fun.

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What I’ve Learned About the Bike

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It’s quick! The 2013 V7 Stone has a 750-cc V-Twin motor that puts out 51 horsepower. Now, to some of you, that might seem like a lot of power for a beginner. Maybe it is! But from what I’ve experienced so far, it feels about perfect.

With the V7, I don’t feel like I’m riding outside my comfort zone. The bike’s power comes on relatively smooth and if I find myself in sketchy city traffic situations, I can jet out of there without issue.

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Maneuvering around obstacles also comes without too much challenge, but I am still getting comfortable with cornering at highway speed. Again, most of the riding I’ve been doing has been below 40 mph or in a straight line when beaming across a bridge.

While all of that is great, I’ve noticed a handful of relatively minor issues. First off, the clutch lever is heavy as hell. Now, the V7 is known for having a heavier clutch, but something just isn’t right with mine.

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On top of that, the clutch perch itself is super wobbly and doesn’t seem to give me full travel, which leads me to believe the clutch might not be engaging and disengaging properly. Because of that, the bike’s currently at the dealer getting the perch and cable replaced, along with a standard service and fluid flush.

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Some smaller things: the bike apparently needs a front brake light switch, as the brake light currently is stuck on. The front fork gaiters are ripped and the front-end feels a bit soft, though the dealer told me it wasn’t much worse than normal. Oh, and apparently one side of the handlebars is higher than the other. Go figure!

Pictured: David Tracy and my friend Emmet attempting to diagnose my brake light issue.
Photo: Aaron Brown
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What I’ve Learned About Riding in the City

Honestly, it’s not bad. If you ride reasonably and safely, giving those around you appropriate space, staying aware of what’s going on at all times, oh and not being an asshole, commuting on a bike isn’t terrible. And by the way, those are things you should be doing no matter what you’re driving or where you’re riding.

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Unfortunately, as many of you probably know, there’s only so much we can account for and prevent from happening. To further prevent someone from not seeing me, I chose a high-vis helmet, jacket, and glove gear setup. So far, it seems to be working. I truly haven’t yet experienced anything ultra sketchy while riding between the boroughs.

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But man, I am here for The Bike Life. As someone who’s been a car lover for his whole life and mildly afraid of motorcycle riding, I’m all for this thing.

Average Manhattan-bound Williamsburg Bridge traffic.
Photo: Aaron Brown
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I’ve been trying out the motorcycle commute pre-shutdown and I haven’t really had any issues. It does take a bit longer than my normal train commute, but once I make it over the bridge, it’s pretty much smooth sailing. There’s also legal street parking about a block and a half from our Manhattan Jalopnik headquarters, so that’s simple enough.

Once I arrive, I just march into the office wearing all my gear, ready to do my job. I think this is gonna work out great.

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About the author

Aaron Brown

ex Jalopnik car boy, former social media editor.