It's The Right Thing To Do




From Long Riders, July 2003

The Backfire Column by Mike Seate

It you're reading this column at your place of employment, ask yourself a simple question: ;how did you arrive at work today? If you're like over 220,000,000 _ that's right, two-hundred and twenty million _ other American commuters, you made your way from home to the job site in a four-wheeler of some sort. And it doesn't take long to realize that road traffic, in even the most remote areas, can be a nightmare during the morning and afternoon rush hours. The easy solution to making the daily commute more enjoyable, at least for the six-plus million of us who ride motorcycles, would be to use our bikes for the rite to work. But for some reason that continues to defy traffic planners, environmentalists and Any Goldfine, because few of us ride to work.

Goldfine is the creator of the country's annual Ride To Work Day, a yearly observance of the joys of using our motorcycles for something besides recreation. For each of the last 11 years, Goldfine, a Proctor, Minnesota riding gear manufacturer and designer, has put in hundreds of man hours sending out press releases, alerting journalists and generally making his cause for motorcycle commuting known across the country. Goldfine isn't hoping to put the Big Four automakers out of business with his annual event, he's just hoping that the use of motorcycles on daily, traffic-clogged roads will change our somewhat limited perceptions of how useful the old breeze-catcher can be in a utility role.

"Several million motorcyclists are expected to commute on their bikes (on Wednesday, July 16) to help demonstrate that motorcyclists are from all walks of life, that motorcycles can reduce traffic congestion in large cities; that motorcycles are for transportation as well as recreation, and that motorcycling is a social good," Goldfine writes in his most recent press release. These are all good, valid points and indicative of how motorcycling and motorcycle riders are perceived in many European countries. Returning from biking trips abroad, many of my riding friends are shocked and more than a little bit jealous, to learn about the freedom and political clout that motorcycles enjoy in other parts of the world. Whether it's the right to split lanes (known as "filtering" in the UK and Europe) or access to free parking on sidewalks and in town squares, motorcyclists have achieved some extraordinary rights through the use of bikes to cut down on daily traffic.

It's far from unusual overseas to see highways and city lanes thick with motorcyclists dressed in business suits with their briefcases strapped to their rear fenders, or hard-working day laborers carting home their dry walling tools in plastic milk creates bungee-corded to their passenger seats. As a result, motorcycles are far more respected in Europe and Japan than they are in the US, because so many lawmakers and everyday American citizens tent to view motorcycles as little more than novelties _ unnecessary items no different from a wake board or a pair of in-line skates. By using our motorcycles for everything from taking home the groceries to picking up junior from soccer practice, the folks making the rules of the road would have no choice but to take us more seriously.

So far, the numbers haven't exactly been encouraging. Goldfine's research shows that only 135,000 US bikers ride their two-wheelers to and from work on a given day, while Long, England sees some 350,000 biking commuters turning up in the city center each day alone on motorcycles, scooters and mopeds. In Rome, Italy, some half million scooters and small-displacement motorcycles fill the city each day, and for millions, this is their only transportation. There's no end to the positive public relations effect that can be gleaned from kids seeing everyone from the dentist to the local cop riding motorcycles _ no longer will people expect a person is a criminal or miscreant just because their vehicle has two, not four wheels.

Granted, the US is a different kind of motoring culture, one with a high standard of living that makes cars and small trucks easy to purchase. When I ask any of the other riders at my office why any of them prefer to drive rather than ride to work, most will say their cars are safer, drier and much warmer for most of the year. I never fail to remind them that what is often a wet, cold morning ride can turn into a rewarding, sunny afternoon return to the house. And let's not forget the stress-relieving potential of a two-wheeled afternoon commute, which is a vast improvement over any happy hour celebration and much better for us.

Goldfine, for his part, is willing to take his Ride To Work program one step at a time. He knows that it will take years, maybe even decades before a nation raised on cheap, comfortable and affordable cars and trucks will willingly give up the comforts of coffee holders, air-conditioning and dashboard DVD players to strap on the leathers for the drive to work. But if you're a forward-thinking rider, one who wants their voice to be heard from Main Street to inside the Beltway, strap on that helmet and ride to work on July 16. You'll be glad you did.

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