Quick Tips for Commuting on a Motorcycle
When commuting on a motorcycle, you've got to be alert, ride more defensively, and be prepared for a lot more situations. But it can also save you time and money, and is a lot more fun than sitting in a car! Here's our guide on what to expect when commuting from riders who have done it for years.
Full-face helmet, all-weather riding gear, windshield, saddlebags, and a backpack. This guy's got it figured out.
Bugs, road grime, sweat, unpredictable weather, wrinkled clothes, and inattentive drivers can all make riding to work on a motorcycle a real challenge - and thats before you factor in trying to look presentable. But if commuting on your motorcycle is an option for you, you'll also discover a bunch of benefits; things like saving money on gas, saving time splitting lanes or using HOV lanes, and most importantly, having a heck of a lot more fun than all the drones trapped in their vehicles!
But becoming a motorcycle commuter can be a big commitment, and depending on where you live and how seriously you take it, even a kind of lifestyle. Because you will be riding daily, in varying weather and traffic conditions, there are many challenges you'll face and needs that will arise as you get into it. A fun and safe motorcycle commute is all about being prepared for every possible situation – and that's what we're here to help you with!
What to Be Prepared For When Commuting
The biggest concern when commuting is traffic. Motorcycle commuters have to not only share the road with an endless sea of vehicles, but with drivers distracted by their phones, their kids, their coffee, or whatever, all while battling each other in traffic to get somewhere in a hurry. Being a lowly motorcycle in the middle of this grind can be intimidating and dangerous, so a rider's best defense is to drive defensively, and be seen.
Conventional riding wisdom says to "ride like you're invisible," because to most drivers, you are. The reason for this is inattentional blindness, a phenomenon of human psychology where people completely fail to see things directly in their field of vision due to an overload of other stimuli. This phenomenon (the basis of virtually all sleight-of-hand 'magic' tricks) is why drivers can look right at a motorcycle and still pull out in front of it. Expecting a car and not seeing one, they literally didn't "see" anything.
Tip: In addition to the obvious good advice of wearing protective riding gear, go for Hi-Viz gear or a Hi-Viz vest or jacket to wear over your existing gear. Neon orange, yellow, or green are best; they’re not only bright, but by seeing these colors on safety cones and transportation workers, driver are accustomed to noticing them on the road, helping to overcome the "inattentional blindness" phenomenon.
Weekend cruising gives you a lot of freedom to choose when, where, and for how long you'll ride, but commuting denies you those choices. You're going to be on the road a certain time every day, and the weather is just going to do its thing. An essential part of commuting is being prepared for these changes, making gear for both rain and cold temperatures essential. Remember even a small drizzle can seem like a torrential downpour when you're riding through it at 70mph, or when you're forced to sit in it for an hour because someone else got into a wreck.
This applies not only to your person, but to your bike as well; even if your commute is short and you don't mind a little rain, your bike will be sitting out in the weather for your entire shift. It may be a good idea to carry a rain cover with you, or at the very least some microfiber towels to wipe the bike down before your ride home.
Tip: Made for all weather conditions and with armor built in, a good quality touring suit will be your best bet here. But if you like your existing gear, you can opt for a simple rain suit to go over what you’re wearing if the weather turns; these are inexpensive and easy to fit into a saddlebag for when you need them.
Being a commuter involves WAY more carrying of "stuff" than riding recreationally; in addition to whatever it is you bring to work daily, like a laptop, planner, and lunch, you'll need to carry along rain gear, emergency supplies, and anti-theft devices that you probably never thought about before. In other words, you're not going to get far as a commuter without some sort of luggage.
A simple tail bag is a great option for the rider that travels light. This small tail bag is being modeled by none other than Brad Pitt (no really, that's him under there.)
The simplest solution would be some sort of backpack, but these are very limited in their capacity, and carrying the weight on your back can be strenuous and throws off your balance. A better option is luggage mounted to your bike, and there are a ton of options available.
There are basically two directions you can go with motorcycle luggage; hard cases, or soft bags, and each have their merits. Soft luggage is less expensive, lighter, conforms to the size of what you're carrying, and is less likely to catch on something like a truck mirror if you're in close quarters. Hard cases are far more secure, often more weatherproof, and are easier to pack with cargo.
A more elaborate setup is hard luggage like this. Big, weatherproof, and lockable; the ultimate commuter solution.
Tip: If you're starting out commuting, a soft tail bag is a good way to start out. Tail bags rest on your passenger seat (which is rated for a couple hundred pounds), keep the weight centered, and don't add any girth to the bike, especially helpful if you split lanes. With a few bungee cords, you can add capacity as necessary until you get a feel for what you luggage you need, and invest accordingly later.
So, all of this basically boils down to two things - the gear you'll need to commute regularly, and riding habits to get into when riding in weekday traffic. Here's a list of quick tips we've compiled to help you with both.
Motorcycle Commuting Gear
Each of these items is covered in detail in my article "12 Must-Have Pieces of Gear for Commuting by Motorcycle," but here's a quick rundown of what we recommend for every motorcycle commuter to have handy.
- Rain suit (or a touring suit for an all-in-one solution)
- Commute-friendly boots
- Tail-bag, tank-bag, or tackpack
- Spare clear shield (or photochromic shield)
- Balaclava/face mask
- Functional side mirrors
- Bungee cords/lashing straps
- Microfiber towels
- Disc locks
Motorcycle Commuting Tips
- Be strategic about your lane position. As a motorcycle, you can constantly adjust where you ride in the lane to maximize your visibility and safety.
- Practice being conscious of ALL your surroundings; like a radar, have an idea whats out in front, on either side, and coming up behind you at all times, and adjust accordingly.
- Never ride next to another vehicle, or in their blind spot.
- Do head checks in addition to checking mirrors; its a safety precaution and it helps to show your intent to change lanes to drivers around you.
- Look for other motorcycles, especially where you can split lanes; you may not be the only bike in that narrow corridor!
- Ride faster than traffic; it reduces the chances you'll get hit from the rear, and minimizes the time you spend in the danger zone near vehicles.
- Plan alternate routes that might be more motorcycle-friendly; traffic is a lot more uncomfortable on a bike than in a car, so plan ways to get around it.
- Be more observant of other drivers and their habits; look for tell-tale signs of driver's intentions, like checking mirrors or changing speed.
- Riding like you're "invisible" is a good rule of thumb, but continue to use your signals too.
- Use high beams during the day for visibility; use them at night too depending on the situation, but don't blind other drivers.
- Use a disc lock or other security device. Your bike will be unattended for a long time, and your habits will probably be predictable.
- Use your bikes power and maneuverability to get out of sticky situations. Your go-to emergency maneuver on your bike should NOT be the same as it would be in a car.
- Expect the unexpected; drivers can be rude, aggressive, or inattentive and run you off the road, but its your job to look out for these situations and avoid them before they happen.
- Don't get road rage on a bike. You'll lose.
- Most importantly, safety is paramount while riding; if you have to speed, swerve, ride in the shoulder, etc. to avoid an accident, do so. Getting in an accident has much graver consequences than breaking a traffic rule to avoid one does.
Got a commuting tip that you think will help other riders be safer and better commuters? Let the Community know by leaving a comment below!