Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Hazards of Daily Riding

I’ve been riding the motorcycle to work a lot lately because the weather has been perfect for it. My commute is not very long, only 5 miles each way. I don’t take the freeway, but usually ride various routes on back roads.

Everyone else takes the back roads also, to avoid sitting still on the freeway. We have a terrible gridlock problem around here during commute times. I usually have a pretty fluid ride going to work in the morning. Coming home in the afternoon is a different story.

Western Washington is in a state of growth and there are a lot of jobs here. This means there is a lot of road construction going on in every direction, and lots of housing subdivisions are being built. A lot of the beautiful trees here in the Northwest are being bulldozed away for houses…’s sad to me.

So riding a motorcycle in this area can be hazardous because of all the ‘steel plates in the road’ and ‘motorcycles use extreme caution’ signs. Flaggers stop traffic and funnel it down to one lane everywhere you go. Sometimes the road is corrugated, which is tough if you’re going faster than 10 mph.

I usually try to mentally plan my route to work when I’m on the cycle. Which hazards do I want to challenge today? Depending on which direction I think will be backed up with cars, I choose to go the route I’m in the mood for.

My favorite route goes on windy back roads for a while, then up a straight steep hill past a gun range and a mountain of landfill. Then it’s down the other side of the steep hill into a major commercial area with a giant intersection. Once I am past there it is a straight, slow road (I wish people would get out of my way!) until I turn on a side road which is a fun rollercoaster of gentle ups and downs. This road is my favorite because it is rural and cool in the morning, and there are a flock of Canadian geese (hundreds) that settle in one particular field. It is a sight to see. As I come to the end of this road it opens up into a business park with lots of companies. I go down a little ways and pull into my company.

The ride to work this way is pleasant, and only frustrating if I get stuck behind a school bus on the country roads now that school has begun again. They stop at every driveway. I will avoid those routes unless I leave early enough to miss them.

Coming home the traffic is always backed up leaving the business park, and pretty much all the way home it is gridlocked. Since my bike is air cooled, I need to keep moving. It gets pretty hot sometimes sitting in traffic that isn’t moving. No lane-splitting here.

One day I followed this van home for a few miles. The driver was an old guy talking on a cell phone, and smoking a cigarette. I watched him in his rear view mirror for a while. I thought he saw me also. All of a sudden he tosses his lit cigarette out the window right into my face. I wasn’t real close, but just enough that the air caught the butt and it shot right at me. Luckily I had a full face shield on, but I was cursing him into my enclosed orb. He was oblivious.

You always have to watch out for people on cell phones and driving badly these days. If someone pulls out in front of your motorcycle, 9 times out of 10 they are on the phone. Or if they go slow, and take their time turning a corner, it’s because of a cell phone. We have a law going into effect in January restricting cell phones while driving. We’ll see if it makes it any less hazardous for us motorcyclists who are NOT on cell phones and paying attention to our driving.

It’s always fun to get out of town, and see what challenges present themselves in other places we ride. Keep your eyes open and ride safe.


Linda R. Moore said...

Ohhhh, I really hate it when that happens. I usually ride with my visor open so that means a faceful of ash. It really sucks.

I've just started commuting on a motorcycle too--it really helps to be able to blast off the rest of the energy when I leave for the day. :)

Becky said...

I find riding to work gives me a reason to get up and get going. I'm fully charged by the time I get there.


Phelan said...

I work from home, no comute. The only time I have ever seen those motorcyclists beware signs was when we were riding in OK. Never seen them in Kansas.