Riding to Work
by Thomas Day
This year, Ride to Work Day (RTWD, for those of you who live and die with acronyms) happens on July 20. In October of 2003, the AMA adopted and endorsed Ride to Work Day and, maybe, that will light a fire under mainstream motorcyclists to make this an event. I’m not holding my breath, but it could happen.
Other than to try and encourage other motorcyclists to ride that day, I don’t usually do anything special on Ride to Work Day. I ride to work almost every day, rain or shine, regardless of dress code, social standards, or common sense. As soon as the ice is off of the roads, I’m riding to work. And I’ll keep riding until the roads are coated with frozen water; usually late October or early November. Just to be able to say I’ve done it, for the last four years I’ve ridden to work at least once every month of the year. However, the last two years I chickened out. In both years, I didn’t ride once in January and my February “ride” was a symbolic event without much practical value. A friend told me that my lack of dedication was due to “old man’s syndrome.” I wanted to argue the point, but couldn’t find a logical position from which to defend myself, so I settled for “no, it’s not.” I can be a pretty damn sophisticated debater when I’m cornered.
I’ve ridden in Texas monsoon gully washers, hail and ice storms, blizzards, tornados, and roasting and dehydrating weather. I do my grocery shopping on the bike, since I can carry several frozen pizza boxes in my saddlebags. I do business trips (ones that don’t require carrying test equipment), local and distant errands, and vacations on the bike.
The older I get, the harder it is to restart the motorcycling habit in the spring (which began in early March this year), but once I’m back on the bike I tend to stay there until the snow flies. I’m not doing this as a self-sacrificing motorcycle evangelist. I ride because I’d rather be on the bike than in a cage, almost always.
Riding to work is a big part of what gets me through the day. Not that I hate my job or have an unusually discouraging life, but riding to work is a big part of my lifestyle, and has been for 40-some years. Even if the only riding I do is the morning and evening commute to St. Paul, that little bit of motorcycling goes a long way towards making my day enjoyable.
If I were one of those bikers who only rides when he can join a Shriner parade, I’d be really out of my element in the commuter rush, though. Part of why I ride is for the solitude and I get all that I need on the freeway most mornings. On the average weekday, motorcyclists are not a measurable part of the Twin Cities’ traffic flow. I’ve often gone for a week without seeing a handful of other bikers on 35E or downtown St. Paul. If we want to be included in Minnesota’s traffic management plans, we have to be part of the traffic. Otherwise we’re going to be designated as “recreational vehicles” and be left out of consideration in parking, traffic flow, and road condition planning. Maybe it’s due to soaring gas prices, but this year I’ve seen a slight increase in motorcycle commuter traffic. I think that’s a good thing.
Motorcycles can be more than just recreational vehicles. In many countries, two wheeled motor vehicles provide the majority of privately owned transportation. Many European cities are motorcycle-friendly, providing protected parking, traffic law exemptions (filtering and splitting), and active local government participation in motorcycle events. As opposed to much of the Twin Cities which appears to be downright hostile to motorcycles (St. Paul, especially). A typical US transportation planner’s attitude toward motorcycles was expressed by Vukan Vuchic in Transportation for Livable Cities “ . . . one would reach the absurd conclusion that motorcycles are superior to all other modes of urban passenger transportation. They are cheaper and faster than cars, while their great inferiority in safety and comfort are not considered . . .” Planners are right to discount motorcycles as long as motorcyclists barely exist in the flow of traffic. On the other hand, planners are government contractors so their opinions are not often useful in complex problem solving.
Ride to Work Day is all about making our presence felt. Being seen in the traffic flow and illustrating that there are more than a microscopically small number of motorcyclists in the state. Minnesota DPS’s Pat Hahn tells me that there are almost 200,000 registered motorcyclists in Minnesota. I have no idea where they are all hiding, but RTWD would be a good time for a significant number of those invisible bikers to show their wheels. The more of us seen on the road, the more clout we’ll have in the legislature, the better it will be for us to be on the road.
Yeah, I know, I’ve turned motorcycling into politics. Somebody wrote something like, “Everything is politics.” It’s true, though. In a democracy, every decision, every direction we take, is because of politics. It’s also true that “all politics are based on the indifference of the majority,” because only a minority participates in making decisions. The rest of us are trying to make sense of Reality Television. Motorcyclists are a tiny blip in the transportation picture, especially in Minnesota. But if we make the effort to be seen on Ride to Work Day, we can use the “indifference of the majority” to start making changes in our transportation system. If I see one more “Start Seeing Motorcycles” sticker on an SUV, I’m gonna puke. I want to see some actual motorcycles!