Take That by Bill Wood

From American Motorcyclist August 2007


From Viewpoint Column by Bill Wood

Gas stop turns into Ride to Work rant

I’m most of the way to work when the amber light starts winking at me from the instrument cluster, saying, “time to get gas… time to get gas” every second or so.

I pull into the station just down the block from AMA offices and marvel that the complex forces of global politics, the international spot crude market, refinery capacity, pipeline infrastructure, price elasticity and, I don’t know, maybe butterflies in the Amazon Basin, have once again managed to precisely align themselves in such a way that the price of a gallon of gas is identical, practically to the penny, nearly everywhere in town.

Oh well, at least it’s down to $3.18. Plus, of course, that nine-tenths of a penny added on—sort of like a tip.

The tripmeter on the bike reads 172 miles since my last fill-up, and as I shove the nozzle into the tank, I start doing my standard mental arithmetic. Let’s see, if it stops at four gallons, that’ll be 172 divided by four, which is forty, us, three miles per gallon. And if it stops at three gallons, that’ll be a little over 57 mpg. The difference between the two is about 14, so every tenth of a gallon less at this fillup will mean I’ve gotten about 1.4 more miles per gallon (OK, it’s a little less at one end and a little more at the other, but it’s close).

While I’m busy carrying the one, I watch a guy in a white shirt and tie maneuver his seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive behemoth to a safe berth at the pump across the way and step out.

Ha! I think, as he begins sucking the underground tanks dry, I’ll bet I could ride to work for a month-and-a-half on the gas you’re going to pump into that thing right now.

I ease off the pump handle as the fuel level approaches the collar inside the bike’s tank opening. It stops at $10.30—3.23 gallons. So I got somewhere around 53 or 54 mpg. I glance over at Mr. All-wheel-drive as I return the handle to the pump with a flourish. Take that!

I walk inside, where it appears I’m the only one paying without a credit card. Perhaps no one else wants to risk carrying that much cash.

As I emerge, the numbers on the pump feeding the SUV are still spinning toward infinity. Fortunately, I’ve got a full-face helmet on, because I can’t help but smirk.

As I flip down by faceshield and tug on my gloves, my increasingly rantlike thoughts take on a life of their own.

See that? My bike gets fuel mileage like a hybrid, but costs about a quarter as much—probably less than the down payment on that Mastodon and its 27-gallon fuel tank.

What’s more, I add, it’ll leave that lumbering beast in its dust when the stoplight turns green. And it’s just getting into the fun zone in a corner when that top-heavy box on wheels would be threatening to roll over and play dead. And even without ABS and traction control, by bike can be reeled in to a stop much, much quicker.

Besides all that, it’s fun—unlike the work it requires to keep 6,000 pounds of rolling metal vaguely between the dashed lines.

I fire up the bike and pull onto the street, continuing the monologue to the inside of my helmet, which has always been my best audience.

What’s more, let’s talk greenhouse gases. Do you realize how much climate-changing carbon dioxide a 15 mpg gas-guzzler spews out being driven 12,000 miles a year? More than 16,000 pounds. That’s eight tons!

As I lean my bike into the office parking lot, I build toward a masterful summation.

It’s clear, I conclude, that motorcycles are superior commuter vehicles in every respect, especially when you consider that 77 percent of Americans travel to work alone every day.

In fact, I add, just the estimated 150,000 of us across the country who travel to work on a motorcycle, rather than in a car, truck or SUV, save the country about 15 million gallons of gasoline per year, and reduce our national carbon dioxide emissions by 300 million pounds.

As I shut down the bike in the AMA lot, I realize I’ve begun to sound exactly like a commercial for Ride to Work Day, which happens to be Wednesday, July 18, this year.

If this column hasn’t equipped you with enough facts to make some commuting converts, then check out the official website: www.ridetowork.org.

Bill Wood is AMA director of communications.

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