*Anonymous? Really? Why won’t I put my name on this column? As I see it, the purpose of my writing is to stimulate thought and conversation about the assumptions we have about safety, and what that means in the context of a civil society that generally follows the rule of law. I know that some folks will be furious at me for the things I say. That’s fine, but because I really don’t want this to become personal, I choose privacy. Moreover, a lot of what I will be describing is blatantly illegal—not that I’m encouraging others to do the same. But still, does it seem wise to invite the scrutiny of law enforcement? I don’t think so. That’s why I’m staying undercover. Sign me: Anonymous—for good reason.
How Was the Ride?
Today—it’s almost the middle of June as I write this— the sky was crystal clear; the sun brilliant; the morning temperature 64 degrees. Perfect leather weather. (I love leather.) We’re now having the spring we never got in April and May, both of which were miserable months: day after day of record-breaking cold and wet. I was wearing my winter gear way past its put-away time. And I practically had to sleep in my rain suit. Occasionally the gloom would be punctuated by a couple of days when it was suddenly too hot. And then there was the pollen! Ugh. It just never got good. But today was glorious. My daily high-speed giant slalom through, around, and in between the cars and trucks on the interstate on my way to work never felt so invigorating!
For me, though, it’s not the weather that decides the ride. It might be twenty-two degrees and blowing snow, or a hundred and two and melting the asphalt. Or torrential rain, dense fog, gale winds, lightning and thunder, sleet, hail—any of those conditions that, in this day and age, would likely cause schools to close, or even halt your mail delivery! Nope, I’d rather be on the bike, thank you. Ice storms or significant snow accumulation will give me pause, of course, but other than that, the Ride Is On, as they say.
Am I telling you all this because I want you to think of me as a real Bad-Ass? No. (And I’m not.) I’m telling you this because I want you to know that I think commuting by car every day — strapped and buckled into a metal box, jostled along on the haphazardly entwined thoroughfares crisscrossing our densely over-crowded urban/suburban sprawl, stopping every 50 yards for another red light or construction zone or stupid crash, all the while knowing that ninety-eight percent of the other drivers out there are either distracted, distressed, drugged, desperate, or downright scared to death — is such a horrible, boring, dehumanizing experience that even in a drenching downpour or any other form of foul weather, I’d STILL rather be on a motorcycle!
What I don’t understand is why MORE people aren’t doing it? Motorcycling is so joyful, life-affirming, a liberating alternative to traffic tyranny. Not to mention it’s cheaper than driving the car. You can use the HOV lanes (legally!) without having to listen to some droning passenger’s monologue about his kid’s test scores. Parking is never a hassle. Yet here in the greater Washington DC metro area, according to my unscientific seat-of-the-pants guesstimate, motorcyclists riding to or from work on any given day number no more than one in four hundred at best. And that’s on a nice day. I know for a fact that the actual percentage of people in the region who own bikes is much higher than that. So why aren’t they riding to work? (Interestingly, I have noticed that in some other metropolitan areas, even ones where the weather is generally worse than here, there seems to be a higher percentage of moto-commuters. And I’m not even talking about California where, of course, the number is much higher. What ‘s up with you, DC?)
Let me speak to you non-riders directly, if I may: Do you think of your motorcycle only as weekend recreation, unsuitable for daily commuting? Is it the riding gear vs. work clothes thing? You don’t want to mess up your hair? Could it be conformity issues? (“No one else rides to work here. I don’t want to be seen as the company nut job!”) Are tires too expensive to waste on commuting? What if it rains! You don’t want to have to detail your bike again, right? Sheesh! These all seem to me like such lame excuses for not riding when the result is that you just end up stuck on the road with all the rest of the near-dead in their four-wheeled life-support pods! (I am truly interested to hear your reasons. Please write in.)
Look, getting through a workday is hard enough already. So why would you willfully add an additional half hour or more of agonizing traffic tedium on either end of it when your magic carpet ride is sitting right there in your garage? Well, I can’t know for sure what makes you tick, but I’m gonna take a wild guess. I think the reason most of you don’t ride your bike to work, despite all its advantages, is because you think it’s too dangerous. T O O D A N G E R O U S ?
Well, if there is a higher purpose for me in writing this column, it is to convince you otherwise. (Notice I say ‘if.’ I’d actually rather avoid such pretentious declarations. I’ll leave talk of “higher purpose” to people such as Jerry Falwell, Jr. or a spokesman for the Taliban.) I do intend, however, to use my tiny platform here to discuss the curious nexus of danger and fear; what is real and what is misperception. But that will be for future columns.
For now, I will leave you with this: I glide quickly through the thick, slow sludge of automobile traffic because I am much smaller, lighter, faster, and more nimble. I have worked on my skills and I have earned the confidence that I have in myself. I am empowered, exercising my free will with spirit and intelligence. I have more options. I’m rarely trapped because escape routes are available to me that cars don’t have. I can accelerate faster or brake harder to avoid bad things. I see more. I hear more. I feel more. I am having fun. My attention is more focused. I’m fully alive in the moment. I have the advantage. I am not in danger. I am SAFER.
And when I arrive at work, perhaps dripping wet or shivering from the cold, and some smirking co-worker asks, “How was the ride?” I say, “Well, I didn’t crash and I didn’t get a ticket; another perfect ride!” And that’s the truth.
NOTE: This column is not set up as a forum where readers’ comments can be instantly posted—and that’s by design. However, you can write to me, and I welcome your thoughts. I may occasionally post pertinent discussion threads in future columns. Got something to say? Write to: email@example.com