My favorite day of the year is not Christmas, not my birthday, not Halloween, but Ride To Work Day, a day when all motorcyclists should leave their cars in the garage and ride their motorcycles to work. This has become an annual event promoted not by the US Congress, not by Governor Schwarzenegger, but by the Aerostich Company in Duluth, Minnesota, which makes riding gear for motorcyclists. Every year I hope that there will be millions fewer cars on the roads that day. I can list the advantages of participating, from changing your dreary commute to a pleasure trip, being able to park close to the door, bonding with your bike, dazzling your co-workers with the beauty of your machine, and best of all, leaving your colleagues behind in the traffic jam when you head for home.
I think the Ride To Work Day concept is brilliant, sort of the motorcycling commuters’ counterpoint to July Fourth. This year, the 17th annual Ride To Work Day takes place on Wednesday, July 16. On the 4th we get the day off and go ride the back roads, but on the 16th we go to work but look forward to the commute on the front roads ... if you get my drift. Why more motorcyclists don’t ride to work every day that the weather allows beats the stuffing out of me. We have more than five million registered motorcycles in this country, and they are great commuter vehicles ... especially as gasoline nears $5 per gallon. The entire population should support the movement, because it benefits the nation as a whole. Let me explain.
I was driving my wife’s pickup up the Cuesta Grade on U.S. 101 at about 2 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, with my Suzuki DR650 strapped down in the back. Nothing wrong with the picture; I had dropped the bike off for service and had just picked it up—along with a couple of cases of Merlot from the local discount wine shop. Trucks are useful.
This was a workday and the grade was moderately busy, with a good many cars and trucks using the six lanes, most of them with just one person inside. And half a dozen motorcycles. I put less than a thousand miles a year on Sue’s truck, more than 30,000 on various motorcycles, since my profession is to write about them. The 3.9-liter V-6 Dodge Dakota averages about 18 mpg in the real world, whereas my overall average mileage for all the bikes I ride is way better than 40 mpg. Big-engined motorcycles get about 40 mpg, smaller ones can go as high as 60 mpg.
I knew where I was going, back to my office in my Atascadero home to work. I had no idea what everybody else was doing on the road. Why weren’t they in factories or air-conditioned cubicles or building houses somewhere? I turned on the radio and some talk-show host was carrying on about cutting back on driving so we could cut back on oil imports. Then a caller came in with a notion about increasing taxes on gas-guzzlers by having the DMV base its annual registration fee on the rated gasoline consumption of a vehicle, which might make a lot of buyers think twice.
The next caller had an interesting angle: Gas prices should become progressive. A driver would start the year with a ration booklet having stamps for 1,000 gallons, say at two bucks a gallon, and if he went beyond that he would have pay a higher amount for the next booklet, say four bucks. I wondered how Detroit and the oil industry would like that; I could see a storm cloud of lobbying on the horizon.
I came over the top of the grade and headed up the Salinas River Valley, the traffic moving at a steady 80 mph, everyone going somewhere. But that rationing idea, it got me thinking. It would have to be called by another name, since the word “rationing” has a somewhat negative connotation, something that happens only in wartime. Maybe road credits? As a corollary to fuel consumption, I do believe we should tax vehicles according to their weight. Gasoline isn’t the only petroleum byproduct we deal with. How about asphalt, and the cost of road repair? I promise you, a thousand motorcycles with an average laden weight of 800 pounds, for a total of 800,000 pounds, do a heckuva lot less damage to the roadways then ten 80,000-pound trucks. Bikes can run day and night along U.S. 101 and never dent the tarmac, while the thousands of big rigs moving through the Salinas Valley every 24 hours mean that the authorities are going to have to plan for fixing, even rebuilding, the roads and bridges at regular intervals.
We motorcyclists consume far less gas than the average sedan or pickup, and our light weight means we have virtually no effect on the roadways or bridges. And we can put four bikes in a parking slot intended for one car.
Maybe the DMV should think about having zero registration fees for motorcycles and actually promote their use. What a daring thought! Motorcycles are, unless grotesquely modified with excessively loud exhausts, environmentally friendly, as they use less petroleum byproduct, and less space, then a car. Ride yours to work and tell your riding buddies to do the same.
Would it not be nice to see Ride To Work Day sponsored by our Congress? Write to your reps in Washington, and pay a visit to www.ridetowork.org. Remember: RTW is July 16th.
Clement Salvadori writes professionally for motorcycle publications and rides like the wind. Send comments to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org