When I left the world of writing about cars and bikes and tech in the back of a garage in my boxers, one thing was clear: commuting was happening. And if I was going to endure that soul-sucking drudgery again, I would do it on two wheels. So after 9,000 miles rain-or-shine, here’s what I think I have figured out.
First, some quick context: I started the new gig on the same day I moved into a new place. This wasn’t exactly optimal. To amplify matters, the job was in San Francisco and living in San Francisco was out because, well, fuck living in San Francisco. I found a dark, isolated place in the woods and holed up there instead.
Making the commute more palatable is 10 minutes of winding backroads and the 35 minutes on 280, described as the “World’s Most Beautiful Freeway” back in the ‘60s. Unfortunately, it’s still a freeway in America, just with better views, sweeping turns, and more Teslas.
Two weeks of driving in and out of SF re-confirmed what I already knew: Riding would substantially improve my day. Unfortunately, the current bike wasn’t exactly up for commuter duty. A plan was hatched* and full-time moto-commuting began.
The hour-plus blast north shrank to a predictable and enjoyable 45 minutes, and continues to be a highlight of every day. Eight months and 9,000 miles in –with a split of about 60-percent work commute and 40-percent “other”– what have I figured out?
Let me count the ways. With ~30 liters I can fit: a complete, neck-to-heel Aerostich Roadcrafter; or a helmet, gloves, and assorted detritus; or go shopping without doing irreparable harm to my back.
It’s also (mentally) narrower than two side cases, and while it looks dorky and buffeting gets weird at the right speed with the right crosswind, it’s been the best upgrade I’ve made.
I know it’s sacrilege around these parts, but I have found a personal – not technical – issue with the one-piece Roadcrafter. Getting in and out of it can be a drag when you just want to run across town and carrying it is an awkward, awful pain in the ass.
Imagine going out on a date and checking a monkey suit with the Maître D’. That was life before a topcase. But it’s still not optimal for me. I’m thinking of getting a pair of Roadcrafter pants and wearing the leather jacket I prefer (at least during the dry months).
It gets chilly. I won’t say “cold” since I don’t want to hear the “you don’t know cold...” comments. That said, a neck gaiter or balaclava does wonders, mainly to plug up anywhere you’re body is exposed to wind under the chin bar. That breeze is the last thing between a nice ride and dripping snot into your mouth for half an hour.
Yes, everyone says this. But what they don’t mention very often is flat-topped tires after miles of highway abuse. I like to think of it as a reminder to take more entertaining roads, but it’s also a good reminder to look for multi-compound tires that can handle the commute and rain, but also don’t suck in the turns.
Granted, this varies from bike to bike and from owner to owner. I’m a stickler for keeping mechanical things in good shape and I was dumb enough to buy a Ducati. Still, the perishables go by quicker, are generally more expensive, and things you would do every 100,000 miles on a car you do every 10,000 miles on a bike.
If you get something from Japan, it’s less, but the perishables are still a factor—assuming you’re riding like you should.
I’ve lost count of the number of times my bike key fell out of the pocket of my riding pants. Thankfully, it’s primarily been at home or in familiar places, except for that one time where it was lying in the road for an hour while I was having a drink with friends. There’s a reason these are a cliché.
Unless you’re seeing crazy shit every day or motovlogging or something, I just don’t see the value in spending a few hundred bucks on an action cam. There’s obviously merit in the idea of keeping a record – ask the Russians – but if you need (or just want) one, buy used. Otherwise use the cash for something fun.
I realize this sounds obvious, but crouching down more than normal—say, tucked behind your windscreen in the rain—causes the legs on a riding suit to rise up ever-so-slight, allowing just enough water into the top of your boots to necessitate a sock change and a hair dryer*. No matter how amazingly waterproof or Goretexerized your boots are, make sure you’ve got a solid seal.
I could write a lengthy list of the things I carry in my backpack because I wasn’t a Boy Scout and my parents didn’t let me explore. These are not those things. What I did start carrying when I began riding every day: an extra pair of socks (see above), a canister pump flat kit (already saved my ass), and a rag (because you always need another one).
Confirmed. End of discussion.
I spent eight years teaching people to drive. If there’s anything that trains you to anticipate behavior and boost situational awareness more, I hadn’t found it. Until I started riding. You know what the guy 8 car-lengths up is going to do before he does it.
It’s beyond defensive. It’s what happens when you’ve got just enough adrenaline pumping through your system that your fight or flight response is on the cusp of kicking in.
The rain sucks and it’s best to avoid it for a myriad of reasons. But if you’re up for a challenge, it’s at worst educational and at best entertaining. Granted, it’s not for everyone and it certainly pegs my Risk/Reward Motorcycle Matrix™ askew, but every time I’ve done it I’ve learned something, and that’s more than most people do on their way to work.
Damon Lavrinc is a veteran of Jalopnik, Autoblog, Wired and other places. These days he moto-commutes to his fancy tech job at Automatic.