Recently I was able to add a new motorcycle to my garage, a Honda CTX700 DCT ABS, which I will use to commute to work year-round. For the layman, I will quickly point out the trailing acronyms that make this bike exceptional: DCT means Dual-Clutch Transmission, a Honda-designed automatic transmission (no clutch or manual shifting means no bursitis caused by stop-and-stop traffic); and most of you are familiar with ABS, Anti-Lock Brake System. The engine uses the same modern components as the Honda Fit, and it has all the clean-running and low-emission tech as any Honda auto. It’s got a great low cruiser stance, making it very stable in commuter traffic, and it’s not loud or rough. As opposed to Honda’s CTX1300, which looks like Toothless the (How to Train Your) Dragon, the full-fairing 700 looks more like Beetle from Kubo and the Two Strings… but I’ve already dubbed it Serenity. No highway in the ‘Verse…
I’ve ridden motorcycles to work before, when public transportation hasn’t been very convenient for me, three bikes before this one; as well, riding the motorcycle has advantages over driving a car to work that are very attractive to me—it has better visibility than my car (both notice-ability by other drivers and my ability to see my surroundings), it is more maneuverable in traffic due to its smaller size, greater acceleration and smaller turning radius, I can park it anywhere generally for free, and it is allowed on both HOV and HOT lanes, both of which figure into my commute. Oh, and it gets better mileage than my hybrid Prius. Mic drop.
Despite these advantages, and my wife’s advance approval to buy the bike, she regularly refers to it as a “toy.” This, frankly, amazes me, as I’m not exactly renowned for blowing thousands of dollars for toys. Further, I’ve explained the various advantages of riding listed above, and she doesn’t exactly argue the points. But she—like most people in the US—see motorcycles as leisure devices, not true transportation.
Motorcycles aren’t the only vehicles so considered: in this car-centric country, bicycles are also looked at as “not real transportation,” and both vehicles are usually overlooked when it comes to traffic planning (bikes more than motorcycles, but still). Non-riders assume only the worst about 2-wheeled vehicles: Not as stable or protective as cars, not weather-agnostic like cars, not as utilitarian as cars. They also generally see either leather-clad bikers on big, loud cruisers or shirt-sleeved maniacs on crotch-rockets, either vibrating your car as they pass in loud pipes, or setting your teeth on edge as they swerve by you between the lanes.
This is where I usually point out that: I ride to work, following the traffic laws as much as any car and making less of a racket than many, in everything except icy roads; I never lane-split, I use the lanes as marked; I carry my briefcase in a case attached to the back of my bike; that same case carries protective (rain) gear and tools that can help me out of a jam; and as far as stability, cars and trucks are not impervious to skidding or rolling, but sufficient attention behind the wheel (or the handlebars) is usually enough to prevent getting into those situations… and something about being on a bike tends to heighten your attention to the road around you.
Regarding safety: Yeah, things can happen. So you need to be ultra-aware of your surroundings, not just the road itself but the other vehicles on it, what they are doing and how they might endanger you. When I ride, I LOOK for the people who are paying more attention to their cellphones than their driving, and I make every effort to steer as clear from them as possible. I added reflective elements and a second set of brake lights to my bike to make sure I’m visible to other drivers, and that nothing I do will take them by surprise (you do that, by the way, by following traffic laws). So I minimize the likelihood that I will be hit by any car, or that any driver has the excuse to say “I didn’t see him.”
Then I point out that, in many other countries, bikes and motorcycles are much more common and accepted forms of transportation; and in fact, with their in-between cousins the scooters, often outnumber autos and trucks in cities. America doesn’t have the last word on transportation, and many international cities have discovered that the simpler vehicles are often the best. I’m not solo-driving a vehicle made for 4 passengers, burning as much gas, or taking up as much space on the roads or in the parking lots, and my vehicle cost roughly half the cost of the cheapest new car you’ll find in the states.
For the record, I am still connected on a bike, and I have access to GPS and maps to direct me. I often listen to music from my phone while I ride, which sounds great through my bluetooth-enabled earbuds (bluetooth is a wonderful thing), and I can even take phone calls and hear texts. Oh, and I enjoy just riding, even if I’m not doing 20-30 miles above the speed limit or weaving through traffic like a deranged lunatic on Red Bull.
Sure, you can have plenty of (safe) fun on a motorcycle… just like you can have fun in a car. That doesn’t change the fact that motorcycles are serious motorized vehicles, intended to get you from point A to point B, but with less cost and overhead than is required by a car, and are much more efficient. They are great alternatives to automobiles and up, for those who maybe can’t afford the cost of car ownership and overhead. They are the offspring of the car and the bicycle, an in-between vehicle with the best qualities of both.
So, I see lots of practical advantages to motorcycle riding, few practical disadvantages, few areas where the bike doesn’t measure up to driving a car, few times when I can’t ride the bike, significant savings over driving a car… and riding enjoyment as well. Face it: If you still see motorcycles as toys, then you only have yourself to blame for not enjoying one yourself.