Motorcycle as a year-round transport in Vancouver

The winter of 2017-2018 will be the fourth consecutive year that I use my motorcycle as a main mean of transportation. I rode through rain, hail, fog, and snow (and sometimes, all in one day).

The main reason why I choose to ride a motorcycle, is because it is a lot cheaper than having a car (and even comparable to using public transportation in my case, but more on that later); the commute is a little shorter because of the priority lanes, etc; and, on its own, the feeling of riding a motorcycle is just a lot more fun than sitting inside a car.

Motorcycle as a year-round transportation

in Vancouver, BC.

Before we go any further, I’d like to note that riding a motorcycle, especially all year round, is not for everyone. There are certain risks that you have to accept, and compromises that you have make, but more about them later.

Riding a motorcycle is a practice in being completely present in the moment.

There is no A/C and no radio to fiddle with, no phone to reach, and usually no passengers to chat with; so you focus on the things that actually matter: the road ahead, the other road users around you, the sound of the engine and the wind around the helmet. And then there is the community. When riding, you get acknowledgement from other riders (except for certain Harley dudes, most of them pretend to only see each other), with either a node or a wave. The  camaraderie intensifies during the colder months, when most people put their bikes away, and only the most dedicated (read: the stupidest) ones stay.

Commuting on a motorcycle vs. commuting by car.

Searching for Brandywine Hot Springs

Searching for Brandywine Hot Springs

I received my license in September 2013, and have been riding daily (well, almost) since then. I still am a fairly new rider, with the distance of about 5,000 km traveled on my first bike, 1,000 on the second, and 20,000 on my current one.

It is important to understand, that unlike cars, motorcycles do not provide a steel cage around the rider; so your reaction and your gear is the only thing somewhat protecting you against the asphalt and other shit. Bikes are less stable, less visible, and they often have high performance capabilities.

How much money does it cost to ride a motorcycle,

and is it really cheaper than having a car?

Fair question. Let’s see.

Here is a rough breakdown of my expenses:

  • Insurance ~$45/ month (I have a sub-400cc bike; for bigger bikes you pay $70+);
  • Fuel ~$50/ month (close to $10/week for commuting to and from work – 15 km one way + occasional recreational riding on the weekends);
  • Maintenance ~$300-500/year on fluids (oil, carb cleaner, WD-40, coolant, brake fluid, etc.) and spare parts – I try to do all the work myself, or with the help of friends (much love to /u/mattfromtelevision) to minimize the cost, and because it’s pretty simple.

Defensive riding tips.

“Pretend that you are invisible to everyone but cops”

There is a system that I have worked out for myself, either through making the mistake, or reading / listening to tips by the more experienced (and sometimes, less so) riders.

  1. Stay is sight – wear high-visibility gear and mind your lane position.
  2. Stay away from the blind spots of other drivers.
  3. Best to avoid manhole covers, road markings and oil spots – they are slippery (especially during or after rain), and can send you out of control.
  4. Be extremely careful on the old leaves, rail roads and tar snakes.
  5. Don’t ride too fast in the areas where you can’t see too far ahead. Close to 50% of all motorcycle accidents do not involve another vehicle.
  6. Mind the distance. As a motorcycle rider, you don’t have a luxury of a steel cage around you: the space margins around you are your steel cage.
  7. Never ride during “black ice“; and shaded areas are to be treated with extreme caution if the temperature drops below 0°C at night – especially during the cold snaps. Riding on ice can be fun when you have studded tires,
  8. If there was no rain for a few days, it is best to avoid riding during the first 15 minutes of rain, so all the dirt and oil is washed off.

These are definitely not all, but probably are the most important ones. I’m still learning (aren’t we always?), so I’m making new notes for myself every day.

Coping with the weather.

Riding during the cold weather is not a huge problem with the right gear. I am mostly comfortable with riding up to -3°C. The coldest I have ridden was -8°C, and even when the double gloves and heated grips I could not feel my fingers for half hour after I got indoors.

Riding a motorcycle year-round in Vancouver means having to deal with the rain.

It really doesn’t bother me too much anymore, but I wasn’t too much into riding in the wet weather at first: the road is slippery, the helmet visor fogs, and you get splashed by the oncoming traffic. But it is less of a problem with the right gear.

My quest of finding decent waterproof pants has been endless. For now, I have settled for nylon + PU overpants and jacket that keep me dry during the time it takes for me to get to work. Others may want to invest in a $500+ KLIM suit. For now, the overpants do the deed for me, as I don’t ride for more than 1 hour at a time in the rain.

Gear needed.

Honda CBR125 snow

You can’t plan for everything, but being prepared helps

There are a lot of people that ride with no or in minimum gear. I think it is very stupid, because you never know when you will fall (and every motorcycle will fall at some point).

A helmet and gloves are an absolute must; but I try to go ATGATTAll The Gear All The Time. That means always having my full gear on when I ride (helmet, jacket, gloves, pants, boots); even if it is summer, and I am just going to the store down the road. Asphalt is rough all year round.

I slipped and went down twice very close to my home; and once I got rear-ended 5 minutes away from where I live. According to this source, 23% of accidents happen >1 mile away from home, and a total of 52% within >5 miles. Just because the store is only a couple blocks away does not mean that the cab driver will pay more attention to you pulling out of the side street.

Realistically, you only need one pants + jacket combo: that’s all I owned for the first year. The gear should have CE certified armor (the non-CE armor is usually useless) – preferably, at least a 5-piece set (elbows, shoulders, spine) in the jacket, and a 2-piece (knees) in the pants. A chest plate could save your life too, but I never used one, or seen a jacket that has one.

It is better to go for the ones that come with a removable layer, because this way you won’t have to sweat too much in a heavy jacket during the warmer months. I have have gone through a few jackets / pants, until I found the ones that I like. Right now I have 2 outfits, one for warm weather, and one for cold, and I sometimes mix them up depending on the weather.