Thoughts from a daily motorcycle commuter...

Discussion in 'The Perfect Line and Other Riding Myths' started by DMack_762, Apr 17, 2019.

  1. DMack_762

    DMack_762 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2018
    Oddometer:
    145
    Location:
    Dunedin, FL
    Thoughts from a daily motorcycle commuter:

    Hopefully, this is the proper forum for this. I just jotted down some thoughts to spur some conversation and maybe give folks some things to consider.

    For most people, motorcycles are not a part of their lives at all, much less, a daily part of their lives. For some folks though, motorcycles are more than a status symbol, or something that allows them to become part of a club. Riding on the weekends, track days, or occasional road trips are normal for most motorcycle owners. But, for people like me, commuting daily on a motorcycle is a choice. I mean, who wouldn’t want to dress in layers of protective clothing, cover yourself from head to toe in abrasion-resistant padded gear and ride to and from work every single day, rain or shine? I’m not speaking from the occasional rider’s view point, I’m someone who commutes to work 80+ miles round trip, Monday to Friday, and then trips on the weekends. My vehicle of choice is a 2019 BMW R1250GS Adventure, “Exclusive model”, to be exact. This bike is a very large, heavy, yet surprisingly athletic and nimble collection of parts that come together to make a truly beautiful riding machine. They say, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” right? Well to me, my GSA is a thing of profound beauty. I chose this bike because it fits my lifestyle, and my riding style better than anything else out there. No matter what you ride, if you commute on a regular basis in urban traffic, some of these points will stand out to you. I may bring something to your attention that you have not thought about, or may say something you don’t agree with. I just wanted to put my thoughts down, to encourage discussion and open up a venue to share techniques and experiences.

    I was getting off my motorcycle the other day at work, unbuckling my helmet, when a guy walked up to me and said “Ah, another successful ride in this morning, aye?” I just sort of looked at him, not really sure how to answer him. However, his question resonated with me. “Another successful ride” meant, I kept the rubber side down and didn’t get into a crash. This caused me to reflect internally, to see if I really did everything I could do to mitigate the risks of riding a motorcycle in today’s vehicle traffic.

    Every morning, after I wake, I start my routine. Almost the same as a Pilot would conduct a pre-flight checklist, I do the same thing mentally as I prepare myself for the ride to work. My ride in the morning wakes me up more than the strongest cup of coffee ever could. Having a routine, for me, is comforting and gets me mentally prepared to do battle in traffic. I say “battle” because every single ride I take, has the potential of being my last. Let’s face it, commuting on a motorcycle is not considered “safe” by anyone’s standards. However, it is a calculated risk that those of us who choose to ride daily accept with open arms. Mitigating the risks, can’t be defined in a single list. The way one can mitigate the risk of riding, is individual, but there are things that every rider can and should do to keep the risks to a minimum. I will cover these things fairly well as we move on.

    Commuting daily on a motorcycle takes dedication. Space is limited and cargo must be chosen carefully, because there is no back seat or trunk to carry extra items. Fortunately, I work in an environment where I can bring gym clothes and shoes, as well as an extra change of clothes and keep them at my office. I live in Florida, so the weather changes at the drop of a hat. Our summers are hot. Not just any hot, I’m talking scorching hot. Humid air and direct sunshine makes the temperature rise. Choosing to dress in full riding gear, even on the hottest of days, is an outward expression of the inner dedication that I speak of. I for one, am that guy. I wear complete gear, every time I swing a leg over my bike. We’ve all heard that a successful motorcyclist will “dress for the slide, not for the ride”. That is very true for me. I always say, when it comes to wearing full riding gear, “I’d rather sweat a lot, than bleed a little.”

    Riding a motorcycle on a daily basis, can lend itself to a mindset of “us vs them”. We have all used the term “Cagers” referring to people who drive cars (cars, trucks, vans, any vehicle besides a motorcycle). Well, very few motorcyclists only have a motorcycle. Most of us have cars that we drive as well. Driving is a divided attention task, as we all know. When we first start driving a car, we all got overwhelmed in the beginning. Once you have driven for a while, it’s nothing to be listening to the radio, drinking a cup of coffee, and some drivers feel the need to send and receive text messages on their phones, or read email, or even put on make-up as they drive. This takes that “divided attention” activity and turns it quickly into a “task-saturated” activity. Since I began commuting on a motorcycle, the term “Distracted driving” has become glaringly obvious to me.

    I will discuss a few points now.

    Lane position: This is a very important topic. As a motorcyclist, we can move freely within our lane of traffic because we are narrower than a car. We can position to either side of the lane, or take position in the center of the lane. Taking a strategic position allows us to see better, to accurately predict what a car driver will do in a given situation. In traffic, it is always too easy to follow too closely to a vehicle in front of you. A motorcycle can out-accelerate most cars and trucks, it can easily out brake them as well. But, think of road debris. A vehicle has four wheels, can straddle most road debris without issue, but a motorcycle can’t do that. So, we must leave some reactionary gap between the car in front of us and our front tire. That way, if the car ahead of us straddles a blown tire, or a large piece of wood, we have time to react to it. Riding in the center of the lane is also not a very good idea. The road grime, oil, contaminates, etc. all collect in the center of the lane, because of the vehicle traffic. By riding to the left or right of the lane this puts our tires in the same area that the car’s tires are traveling. Also, always try to avoid riding directly beside a vehicle, and stay out of their blind spot. I make it a habit to keep my head on a swivel, like a radar dish. I’m constantly scanning mirrors, doing head checks, watching vehicle’s front tires, heads of the driver, where they look, anything to help me read what the cars around me are doing.

    Danger Zones: Two areas where most crashes occur are intersections and merging traffic. If you are at an intersection, keep your bike in gear, covering your brakes with your hand and foot, and watch your rear view mirror until the car that is behind you comes to a complete stop. I always angle my bars out to the side of the lane, in case I have to squirt away as an escape. Never assume that a vehicle approaching a stoplight at an intersection sees you, most times they are distracted and stop at the last minute. Merging traffic is also very dangerous. Anytime there is an on / off ramp, be ultra-conscious. I have witnessed countless times, where a vehicle driver decides at the last minute to leave a freeway, cross over three lanes of traffic and barely make the off ramp. I always choose to ride in the inside lane, unless circumstances dictate otherwise. Merging traffic is also dangerous as they will enter the flow and cross over lanes of traffic without regards for anything around them. Remember, as a motorcyclist, we have a much smaller footprint and leave a smaller visual reference. Also, the way most motorcycles are lit, it makes it hard for a vehicle driver to accurately depict our speed and distance.

    We’ve all heard the saying “Ride like you are invisible”. That is true, to an extent. Motorcycles are harder to see than cars, trucks, vans. So, we have to make ourselves seen. I won’t get into the Black / White / Hi Viz debate, because there are countless threads on this. But, I will say that it is always a good idea to make yourself more visible to the other drivers out there.

    I’m interested in the input from other commuters out there. What do you do to make your ride safer? Thanks for reading, I look forward to everyone’s input.
    #1
  2. FlyingLo

    FlyingLo FlyingLo

    Joined:
    Aug 14, 2018
    Oddometer:
    18
    Location:
    Midwest
    I agree with your approach to risk mitigation and thank you for posting. I am relatively new to road riding but come to it from a lifetime of enjoying without major incident general aviation and sports such as skydiving and hang gliding. I am puzzled by how few riders take advantage of simple proven safety enhancements like modulated headlights, etc.

    Here is my safety credo (so far after one season):

    Risk can not be eliminated, only mitigated. I have tried to learn to understand and objectively assess what I can do to control factors which impact my safety. In this category I agree with thinking of yourself as “invisible” and try to improve my odds of being seen with hi-vis riding gear and investing in readily available lighting technology (headlight modulator, taillight flasher, and turn signals configured as daytime running lights).

    Establish and practice personal minimums. This is a set of “go no-go” standards covering everything from riding gear, personal fitness including being under the influence of any substances, weather, traffic congestion, time of day (rush hour, night), riding fatigue, road conditions, speeds, traffic separation, etc. ATGATT falls into this category as does “bottle to throttle” for which I adhere to 12 hours.

    Develop and maintain situational awareness at all times while riding. This comes down to anticipating the unexpected and knowing your escape route. In flying it combines systematic scanning of your flight gauges and all quadrants of the sky. On motorcycle it is almost the same minus the flight gauges for the most part. Also the key to scanning is to avoid target fixation and to calmly take in everything within your field of vision. Greater the lead time you have in any adverse situation the greater are your options to avoid problems. This translates directly to lane positioning, approaching blind corners, changing road surfaces, obstacles, etc.
    #2
    brianpayer, harun, Decimus and 13 others like this.
  3. DMack_762

    DMack_762 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2018
    Oddometer:
    145
    Location:
    Dunedin, FL
    @FlyingLo

    Excellent additions. I am also a strict adherer to the ATGATT rule. I don't put a leg over my seat unless I have all my gear on. I also don't drink alcohol, period when I am on my bike. I agree with all of your additions. GREAT input!
    #3
  4. X-wing fighter

    X-wing fighter Do or Do not, There is no try!!!!!! Supporter

    Joined:
    May 11, 2017
    Oddometer:
    440
    Location:
    Ester, Alaska


    Commuting in Alaska has its weather challenges.... Monday afternoon photo op! IMG_1093.JPG

    Wednesday morning "weather change"! IMG_1099.JPG

    Commuting has its challenges!
    #4
    Ginger Beard, harun, Decimus and 13 others like this.
  5. DMack_762

    DMack_762 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2018
    Oddometer:
    145
    Location:
    Dunedin, FL

    That's awesome!!!!

    I test rode a Buell Ulysses in Santa Cruz back in 2006. Loved it.

    I can also imagine the four legged critters that run out onto the road are bigger than our Florida Whitetail Deer (dog sized).
    #5
    SmittyBlackstone likes this.
  6. X-wing fighter

    X-wing fighter Do or Do not, There is no try!!!!!! Supporter

    Joined:
    May 11, 2017
    Oddometer:
    440
    Location:
    Ester, Alaska
    It's my second Uly! Good thing that during the Alaskan riding season there is no night riding, giving you a fighting chance to see that moose trying to cross the road and kill you!
    #6
    SmittyBlackstone and DMack_762 like this.
  7. tastroman

    tastroman Long timer

    Joined:
    May 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    2,565
    Location:
    Collinsville Va
    I'm primarily a commuter, 90% commuting, 10% recreation. 22 years of year round scooter commuting. I like the 250 - 350 range. Large enough to hold the speeds I need on my rural commute, cheap, good weather protection and quiet. People often ask me why I do it and the truth is, I don't like to drive.
    #7
  8. WindBlast

    WindBlast without music life would Bb

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    2,516
    Location:
    Philly is ova dere
    When I fist moved to Los Angeles in 1980 I didn't own a car for two years. It was bike only everywhere for everything. A CB450 that was fully chopped. Ah, to be young again.
    #8
  9. georet

    georet Adventurer

    Joined:
    Feb 22, 2016
    Oddometer:
    53
    Location:
    Oklarado
    Thanks. Good points all. I ran across two additional items for consideration. The first is SMIDSY (Sorry Mate I Didn't See Ya) which you can find quite a bit of info on searching the net. Don't know whether the idea comes from the UK or Australia, but it's worth checking out. Basically it involves some weaving maneuvers and other techniques to make you more visible.

    https://www.meetup.com/Irvine-Beginner-Motorcycle-Riders-Meetup/messages/boards/thread/49076320

    I ran across another article which describes how our vision works...or doesn't...that contributes to auto drivers not seeing bikes. Unlike a video camera which can smoothly transition from one point of view to another and capture everything in between our eyes don't work that way. When we shift our vision from one object to another we can't really see anything clearly between those two objects. Try it. This makes it easy to miss a bike when shifting the view between other visual points.
    #9
    Rapturee2, brianpayer, harun and 2 others like this.
  10. tastroman

    tastroman Long timer

    Joined:
    May 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    2,565
    Location:
    Collinsville Va
    Here's my recipe for riding safer. The most important thing you can do to help yourself is to not tailgate. I don't care how slow the traffic is moving in front of you, you need to give yourself time to be seen. Left turn Larrys, drivers pulling out of T intersections and road debris can all be navigated with less risk if you just give yourself time to see and bee seen. I also practice lane weaving when I'm not sure I've been seen. Also, don't ride in a cagers blind spot, get back or pass.
    Also, know when to say when. If they are calling for snow or ice, drive. Thunder storm, wait for it to pass. It's easy to be a hero but it's just not worth it.
    Here's a picture of my 1st and current commuter. A total of $3700 invested for 22 years of daily commuting (89,000 miles and counting between the 2) in a 4 season climate.
    [​IMG]062107 (8) by tastroman, on Flickr

    [​IMG]090410 (42) by tastroman, on Flickr
    #10
  11. HuntWhenever

    HuntWhenever Motorcicle Commuter

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2017
    Oddometer:
    302
    Location:
    SW Ohio
    I commute via motocycle regularly and travel for work occasionally. Regular commute is about 45 miles one way, a few miles of country road, 35 miles of interstate, then a few miles of some light city traffic. I could take a more "entertaining" back way to work via state routes, but every intersection is a potential accident, so I stick with the interstate for covering miles. If your going to spend a lot of time on the bike, I highly recommend the book Proficient Motorcycling by David Hough. My wife got me this book for Christmas when I first started commuting by motorcycle.
    #11
  12. HuntWhenever

    HuntWhenever Motorcicle Commuter

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2017
    Oddometer:
    302
    Location:
    SW Ohio
    For anyone considering a rig for daily commuting, the Adventure Touring segment is tough to beat. I commuted on a V-Strom 650 and a Super Tenere...both with side cases and a Givi 52L top case. They are definitely the "work trucks"of the motorcycle world, and I often carried tools and spare parts to job sites when traveling for work. I recently switched to a Harley-Davidson Sport Glide due due to Short-Leg Syndrome (although I had considered lowering my Super Tenere). I transfered the Givi topcase to the Sport Glide, and still have plenty of storage. I carry road gear (plug kit, 12V compressor, some tools, fuses), spare hat and safety glasses, and rain gear in the side cases. The top case holds my backpack (heavy pack with laptop, electrical tools, programming cables, and crap load of other stuff).
    #12
  13. Tripped1

    Tripped1 Smoove, Smoove like velvet.

    Joined:
    Aug 6, 2009
    Oddometer:
    28,607
    Location:
    Nippon
    My commuter 20190409_110010.jpg
    #13
    kpinvt, Scoozi, Rex Solgar and 9 others like this.
  14. RedShark

    RedShark Long timer

    Joined:
    May 10, 2005
    Oddometer:
    3,559
    Location:
    Honolulu
    #14
    240ADV, kpinvt, Jabcon2 and 3 others like this.
  15. tastroman

    tastroman Long timer

    Joined:
    May 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    2,565
    Location:
    Collinsville Va
    :D
    #15
  16. Big John Sny

    Big John Sny Long timer

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2009
    Oddometer:
    1,462
    Location:
    Irving, Tx
    I commute most every day. I have learned when to recognize that I am not as focused as I need to be, and choose not to ride. While other people on the roads have bumpers, airbags, and seatbelts to protect them, all I have is a little plastic and leather and my brain. the leather and plastic are a great idea, but when I know I am tired, or distracted, or just not 100% mentally ready to ride, ill grab the car keys. Not that often, but it pays to be honest with yourself sometimes.
    #16
  17. SWsolo

    SWsolo n00b

    Joined:
    Oct 11, 2017
    Oddometer:
    9
    Location:
    Glendale, AZ
    I bought my 16 GS as a weekend toy, or the occasional ride, but I found it so enjoyable to ride it became my commuter. My daily driver.

    Now, I’m not a high mileage rider, about 6000 miles a year. But I’ve loved every mile!!
    #17
  18. CaptCapsize

    CaptCapsize Long timer

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2012
    Oddometer:
    1,265
    Location:
    Corrales, New Mexico
    I failed at retirement and so I went back to work. I commute most days, except when it is wet or snowy. People who live in the desert are plum crazy on wet/slick streets. That said we don't get a lot of rain or snow here. My round trip commute is about 40 miles, but I take the back streets. The work is somewhat different than what I retired from, it is intriguing...so far. I had always planned on a little consulting when I retired.

    I agree with DMack and FlyingLo assessments and advice. I would add I use the Anti-SMIDSY weave, when I see cross traffic approaching. It really helps you be "visible". Riding to and from work really helps make the day. If I'm not feeling it or in the right frame of mind, then I take the truck.
    #18
  19. foxtrapper

    foxtrapper Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2011
    Oddometer:
    3,765
    I think your bias is showing. ;-)
    #19
  20. DMack_762

    DMack_762 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2018
    Oddometer:
    145
    Location:
    Dunedin, FL
    ALL:

    VERY good points and input. Thank you to each one of you for adding. Also, thank you for the link to the SMIDSY... I had not seen that before.

    I have recently added the Helite Turtle Vest to my daily riding kit. Now it's part of my morning / afternoon routine. I lay the tether across my saddle, so I see it when I get ready to mount the bike. It prompts me to "clip in" just like a seat belt. I always get on my bike from the left side... so, there's that. The advice above about not tailgating. VERY solid advice, and I slip here sometimes. I catch myself riding too closely, because of the "Slot" mentality. When a "slot" opens up in traffic, vehicle drivers all try to fill that slot. Subconsciously, on a motorcycle, it's too easy to ride too close, to keep that "slot" from being filled by a car. This morning, I was a good 3-4 seconds behind this big 4x4. I could not see around him, three lane freeway, dark, and moving 75 mph. We were in the inside lane, and I had my position on his passenger side, about 3 feet from the lane line. All of a sudden, I saw it. Two concrete blocks, center lane. The 4x4 straddled them, I had JUST enough time to visually see the blocks, make a mental note of them, and make sure I missed them. Got my heart rate up a tick or two.

    The car following behind me, struck the blocks and caused it to swerve into the center guardrail.

    Had I been tailgating, I would never have seen the road hazard. I would not have fared well hitting those things at speed. So, the following too closely rule that I have, got reinforced even more today.

    I didn't have my camera on, so I did not get that on record... it would have been a very good teaching event. I checked with my buddy (Local area Police) to see if anyone was seriously hurt on that incident, just property damage to the car.

    Be safe out there everyone. Our passion, is definitely rewarding. Dangerous, calculated risk, but worth the rewards if you do it smartly.

    Also, the post about mental awareness. Listen to your inner voice. If you don't feel on the ball, DON'T RIDE. Very, solid advice.

    Here's my daily ride, and my daily gear. The Helite Vest has become just as much a part of me as my shoes, socks, cell phone, etc.

    BMW on the causeway1.jpg 223F4AA0-AA43-4326-94EB-E2AC0CE7E488_jpeg.jpg
    #20
    harun, Decimus, John2453 and 7 others like this.