by Gary Charpentier
I ride a lot in the city. Most of my yearly accumulation of miles is racked-up on the well-worn asphalt of the urban jungle. My commute takes me through downtown, and most of my recreational riding takes place in and around the metro area, with only the occasional foray into the vastness of “out there”. I have been devoted to sportbikes for several years now, but I increasingly find that the key to traveling in the choked confines of our metropolitan paradise is a light weight, upright, narrow machine that can exploit the sudden gaps in traffic and hop curbs at random. Any of the current dual-sport machines are adequate for this kind of duty, but my favorites are the big 4-stroke thumpers like my own NX-650, the XT from Yamaha, DR from Suzuki, KLR from Kawasaki, and any number of Rotax-powered exotica from Europe. These bikes are the perfect Urban Guerrillas; mobile, agile, and hostile!
As population and traffic volume increases, Café Racing as a lifestyle must evolve in order to survive. In the past, the repli-racer with ton-up top speed and infinite lean angle was the tool of choice. Today however, these bikes will find themselves too often tied up in the snarled city traffic right along with the touring bikes and cruisers. The Urban Guerrilla, however, is not afraid to duck down an alley or squeeze down the right side between cars and curbing past the long line at an eternal red light. In some cases this is even legal, but in all cases it is frowned upon by non-riders. Screw ’em, I’ve got places to go!
This new crop of Luxury SUV’s really infuriates me. The Cadillac Escalade, for example, whose commercial says it can order you tickets to any concert, reserve a seat in any exclusive restaurant, and other such “I’m better than you” stunts. The claim that really had me rolling on the floor was when they said “It makes obstacles obsolete”. Oh yeah? Tell that to Mr. Bigshot CEO as he smolders in the rush-hour morass. The monthly lease on one of these is more than my mortgage payment, yet I can get anywhere in the metro area much quicker on a motorcycle bought for less than the sales tax on one of these behemoths. Lexus and Mercedes have come out with similarly elitist boxes, and their vulgar displays of excess income really offend me! I cannot resist the urge to retaliate when the opportunity presents itself. Not only do they guzzle precious petrol at an obscene rate, but they block my view in traffic and their drivers are, more often than not, talking to their broker on the cell phone instead of watching where they are going. This makes them fair game as far as I’m concerned, a valid target for whatever kind of vehicular harassment I can dream up. How I would love to leave knobby tracks all over their fancy flanks! All right, so maybe I am a closet communist, I don’t know. Or maybe I am just tired of seeing huge, expensive vehicles transporting one solitary, self-important striver to and from their perq-filled day at the corporate castle. Whatever the motivation, the dual-sport, Urban Guerrilla motorcycle fits all of my proletarian mission requirements perfectly.
Let’s talk about curbage for a moment. When you ride Urban Guerrilla style, curbs are your friend. There is one particular, very long traffic signal that comes to mind, where the traffic backs up for more than a block, usually for several minutes. I have found that, by hopping a curb into an adjacent parking lot, I can motor past all the cars to the exit on the cross street, squirt across the road through a gap in the traffic, and make a right turn back onto my original heading, sometimes hacking as much as 5 minutes off my travel time! Then there is the question of metered onramps. Most of these do not have HOV/Motorcycle bypasses yet, but as an Urban Guerrilla you can make your own! Simply take the off-road option, passing the line of crazed commuters safely on the grass. I have done this several times, and the cars waiting in line always blow their horns in celebration and make hand gestures I can only interpret as telling me that I’m Number One! I simply smile and wave as I jump back on the ramp and continue my journey.
Parking has always been a hassle in the city. The Urban Guerrilla has an answer for that as well. Though not strictly legal, you can usually hop a curb and park on an unused section of sidewalk or concrete up close to your objective. I do this all the time and have yet to be ticketed for illegal parking. Another prime piece of parking real estate for the creative U.G. is that funky concrete, grass or gravel-filled island at the near end of the parking rows in shopping center parking lots. By simply hopping the curb again, you can park even closer to your destination than the handicapped spaces. There is never a “No Parking” sign posted on these terrain features, as the architects always employ car-think when they lay out the parking lots. So even if you do get a ticket, you can probably fight it successfully in court. The key is to never establish a pattern by using the same space over and over. Someone is certain to complain if you rub their noses in it.
Now, I am not advocating anything here. I am merely exercising my first amendment right to the free exchange of ideas. I tried the soapbox routine a couple of issues ago and was severely blasted for my efforts. You are all grown-ups out there, at least in theory… But just as I have been chastised by readers in the past for criticizing their choice of riding gear, I am sure I will hear from many of you about this concept of creative commuting. Good! We could use some lively discussion in these pages. Some of you may say that I am inconsistent, extolling the virtues of safety gear one day and promoting anarchy in the streets the next. Well, I didn’t say you should practice Urban Guerrilla Warfare without wearing a helmet and body armor. In some neighborhoods, riding this way could very possibly draw gunfire! But that’s just one of many obstacles the committed U.G. has to deal with.
Police pursuit is always a possibility, and as a rule of thumb I would say that you have no more than two minutes to break contact with that first patrol unit before the net begins to close on you. Don’t EVEN let them get close enough to read your license number! A bit of mud or grease smeared on the plate usually helps decrease your maximum detection distance, but don’t overdo it. An unreadable license plate is probably illegal too. Dense traffic can be good or bad in these situations. Good because you can squeeze through gaps that they cannot, and they are more likely to terminate the pursuit to avoid endangering civilians. Bad because there will always be that wanna-be superhero out there who will try to take you down single-handedly with visions of glory and an appearance on “COP’s” dancing in his head. Cutting through unfamiliar yards is always a crapshoot. You never know who has a dog tied up in back, and despite what you see in the movies, even the best equipped U.G. will probably lose any contest with a cyclone fence. All in all, I would say that running from the police is just a bad idea. Smile and take the ticket from the nice officer, and live to ride another day.
So, are you committed enough to be an Urban Guerrilla? Well I know that I am–committed, that is. In fact, I have to go now. Nurse Ratchet says that it’s time for my medication.