There are plenty of aspects of my life which conflict – being a fan of horsepower (airplanes, motorcycles, classic cars) does not generally mesh well with being environmentally responsible. Thus, I temper my need for speed most of the time. The one indulgence I allow myself in this area is my motorcycle.
Many motorcyclists out there give the community a bad name – You know the type: Popping wheelies on public streets in heavy traffic, going 112 miles per hour on the freeway, cutting in and out of other vehicles, having ridiculously loud pipes.
Every time I see someone doing stuff like that on public roads, I cringe. It’s hard to be a good ambassador for the motorcycling community when my quiet, polite on-road behavior is completely overshadowed by what we in the community call “Squids” (the aforementioned wheelie-poppers and general jerks.)
This is tragic, as motorcycles actually do a lot to reduce road and parking congestion, and they are usually far more fuel-efficient than our four-wheeled cars.
My current motorcycle, a Suzuki Bandit 1200S, can get more than 45 miles to the gallon if I am judicious with the throttle. Bikes with smaller engines see up to 75mpg! Nearly all motorcycles produce fewer greenhouse gasses per mile than non-hybrid cars and trucks, too. My current car averages about 26 miles to the gallon overall (city and highway combined) – not bad, but not great. When the weather and my itinerary allows, I go for a two-wheeled alternative (either the motorcycle or my bicycle.)
In addition to being a greener alternative to four-wheeled transport, motorcycles take up less space on the roads and in parking spaces. Motorcycle-only parking areas can fit up to five motorcycles in the space one car would occupy.
There is, of course, greater risk when riding on two wheels without that protective cage around our bodies. We can mitigate the risks by wearing excellent gear – and wearing it all the time. Protective pants in the closet won’t do us much good when someone pulls out in front of us! Many in the motorcycling community have a mantra of ATGATT – All The Gear, All The Time. Getting all geared up takes a little more time and effort, and it’s a little hotter than riding around in a t-shirt, but I’m very fond of my skin being attached to my body, and I’ll take a little inconvenience and heat over the alternative. It’s dangerous out there.
Part of the trouble with motorcycling safely is simply being seen and noticed by other traffic. I can’t tell you how many times I or my friends have been cut off, run off the road or worse by people who just didn’t pay attention to where they were going. Indeed, friends have lost their lives because a car or truck driver didn’t have his or her eyes open for smaller vehicles. Some of the cruiser motorcyclists cite this as the reason for having obnoxiously loud pipes – “Loud Pipes Save Lives.” While that may be true to an extent, it seems to engender more ill will toward the motorcycling community than it does good.
So… why do I still ride? Because it’s incredible fun. Being on a motorcycle is a liberating, exhilarating experience, and it’s a cheaper, more environmentally-friendly way to get around for errands or sight-seeing.
Many of you in the homesteading and sustainability communities know the feeling of “I’d really love to, but it’s not very eco-friendly.” We deny ourselves things we want for the greater good. Happily, responsible motorcycling is something we can indulge ourselves in without obsessing (too much) about the environmental impact of our hobby.