As anyone who rides a motorcycle or scooter already knows, if you want to travel from A to B in the most isolated way possible, then riding a powered-two-wheeler is one of the best ways of doing so. But do you commute on your vehicle or only use it for pleasure?
Back in the 1950s sales of motorcycles – and in particular scooters – rose dramatically as the public desire for a cheap form of personal transport grew. Scooters became the popular solution for commuters travelling to work in an economic way, using a vehicle they could also ride for pleasure at the weekends.
In recent times the roles have reversed with many people riding for pleasure only. However, with the latest official advice as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic that people avoid public transport if at all possible (and if you use it you must wear a face mask), then maybe now is the time to consider commuting on your scooter rather than just use it for Sunday rideouts.
Whether you are a first time commuter or even a first time rider, here are a few things to consider to truly appreciate how convenient using a scooter or motorcycle for work can really be – especially when compared to cars that cause traffic jams, or over-crowded public transport.
1. Your steed
Using your scooter or bike daily will of course take its toll on the machine far quicker than an occasional summer rideout. So if you have a pristine, museum piece that you only take out on a sunny day, you may want to consider buying an additional machine solely for commuting. From personal experience of commuting in and around London during the 80s and 90s, I fitted a pair of old, battered side panels to my Vespa PX so that if other riders parked their bikes too close in the cramped parking bays around town then any damage would be to the tatty panels and I’d keep the originals looking good.
Of course the scooter needs to be roadworthy, but remember that extra mileage will accelerate wear on tyres and other consumables, and also consider if you depart or arrive back home when it’s dark then carrying spare light bulbs would be a good idea.
You might also want to consider fitting a windscreen for extra weather protection and a luggage rack to carry your bags, and for those reading this who don’t already ride at all – the legshields of a scooter do offer the rider far more protection against the elements than a motorcycle.
2. Kit for all weathers
It may sound obvious, but if your usual riding is maybe an hour or two at the weekend, then remember that your rides on a daily commute are likely to be eight or nine hours apart. And as we Brits love to talk about the weather, I’d like to remind you that a lot can happen in that time. So even if you depart from home in bright sunshine, it always pays to carry a set of waterproofs you can wear over your kit for the ride home, just in case!
As for what to wear, the choices today are vast. If you have facilities to change your outfit at work, then in the summer for example a pair of riding jeans with para-aramid lining and armour will be both light and comfortable. Alternatively you may prefer heavier riding trousers you can pull over your work-wear. There are plenty of riding shoes and boots on the market now that are comfortable (and stylish) enough to wear throughout the day if required, while the jacket options range from ‘smart city’ to ‘superbike racer’ depending on how you’re feeling!
Finally, don’t forget your gloves. Even in the summer when it might feel like it’s too hot to wear them, riding without gloves is not a good idea. Just think about what happens when you trip over your shoelace or a paving slab while walking along – the first thing you do is put your hand out to break your fall. Now imagine that at 30mph+ without gloves. Ouch!! Treat yourself to both summer and winter gloves: both have protection with the former aiding airflow to keep you cool and that the latter keeping you warm and dry.
3. Enjoy the ride
Once you’ve built up your confidence and if road conditions allow, then it’s likely to be both quicker and more efficient that most other forms of commuting. There are plenty of opportunities to bypass the four-wheelers that are creating traffic congestion. In some towns and cities bikes and scooters are allowed to use bus lanes. Check out the local council website for details. Also note road signs as they may have time restrictions, while some bus lanes in London can be used, others cannot, so keep your eyes open.
The benefits of a two-wheeler also allow you to filter past stationary traffic, when it is safe and legal to do so of course. Don’t cross solid white lines or overtake on pedestrian crossings for example, and speaking of people be aware of them crossing the road anywhere they feel like taking a gamble. They’re likely to be concentrating more on their mobile phones too, so keep your eyes open. Likewise, car drivers themselves are often more interested in their phones, car radio, shaving, eating, or talking to boisterous children on the rear seats, so if filtering through the traffic take it easy, be aware and use the car’s mirrors to see where the driver may be looking.
My experience of commuting in London is that filtering is usually done on the outside of vehicles, to the right of the driver. Many are aware of bikes and usually move over to give you space where possible, but never rely on any car driver to be predictable.
Never forget that your scooter is just as valuable whether you park it at home or at work, so while it’s a sad state of the world we live in, you do have to make sure it is just as secure too. Whether you are parking your bike on the street or off road during the day, try to find something secure that you can lock your bike too. Some specific motorcycle parking bays have steel bars or railings for this. Otherwise, lampposts and the like will do, as long as it is legal so you don’t get a parking ticket! If it’s not possible, find yourself a ‘lock mate’ and secure each of your security chains together so that while two bikes are parked next to each other, they are also locked to each other. Remember to pass the lock through your wheel too if possible, so that if your ‘lock mate’ goes home first, your scooter is still immobilised. If you have an older scooter with solid wheels, maybe pass a lock through the underside of the brake pedal and forks to immobilise it that way. Remember, the more difficult a thief finds it to steal a bike, the more likely they are to move on to a less risky target.
Likewise, an audible alarm can help warn of an attempted theft, while a motorcycle cover will obscure your bike completely, thus placing another obstacle between a potential thief and your ride home. A vehicle tracking device can warn you of anyone tampering with your bike or scooter – as well as aid recovery if it is stolen – so that is something else to consider. Finally, Lexham may offer some discount on your premium for using certain, approved security devices both at home and while out and about, so it’s worth checking that out too. If you'd like to know more on security here's a handy motorcycle security guide on methods to secure your scooter or motorbike.
Don’t let this put you off though. Remember, not only is time in the saddle more enjoyable than time spent on a crowded bus or train, but a quicker commute mean you have mote time to yourself too.
Enjoy the ride and stay safe.