A few weeks ago I wrote about antidotes to the high cost of gasoline: carpooling and ultra-compact cars. What I didn't mention, though, is my family's experiment with alternate transportation.
It began a year ago last spring when my husband changed jobs. Instead of a 10-minute ride to work, he now had to travel almost an hour away. And that's when he started looking for a motorcycle.
My immediate reaction was alarm. Motorcycles are dangerous; one of my high-school classmates was killed in a motorcycle accident. Plus, I had just learned I was pregnant with our second child. My babies need a daddy.
But, I have learned that with my husband, there is only about a two-week window between the first mention of an item and its purchase. Before summer began, he pulled into the driveway with a 1995 Yamaha Virago. Was that the baby kicking me in the stomach?
Now, after a year as the wife of a biker, I can't say that I'm any more at ease with the idea. But he has learned a lot. So if you're thinking about a motorcycle, consider a few of the lessons Phil has learned through experience.
Riding a motorcycle does save gas. The 750-cc engine on Phil's bike gets about 50 mpg. With only a three-gallon tank, he's filling up more often, but it is nice to fill up for ten bucks.
Riding a motorcycle is dangerous. The biggest issue is visibility. That's why you'll often see bikers riding on one side of a lane. They choose the best position to see and be seen on the road. I always feel better when Phil dons his bright yellow wind suit. He's also good to wear long pants, a leather jacket and a full helmet. As he puts it, he's “dressed to fall.”
A motorcycle can be uncomfortable, and not just for the spouse. Weather makes a big difference. That's why you don't see many motorcycles on the road in January: The wind chill factor makes frostbite a very real threat. Also, as Phil says, “When it rains, you get wet.” My brother, who also has a bike, got caught in a downpour that soaked through all his gear, and he had to replace his cell phone.
When the weather is fine, though, there's no feeling like the freedom of riding a bike. “It's almost like you're floating down the road,” Phil says. He assures me that's a good thing.
Riding also has social benefits. A high-school teacher, Phil says he gets cool points with the kids when they learn he rides a motorcycle. Of course, those cool points are erased when he stalls out at an intersection. He has also made friends with other motorcycle owners, sharing tips on maintenance, routes and gear.
There's gear to be bought, and it doesn't take long for the specialty catalogs to start arriving in the mail. Since Phil has had his bike, we've bought a helmet, a special pair of sunglasses that fit under his helmet, a wind suit, gloves, a tank bag for extra storage, and a traffic light trigger (so he doesn't have to sit at a red light for 20 minutes). Luckily, a friend gave him a nice leather jacket.
Now that I'm no longer pregnant, every so often Phil will ask me if I want to go for a ride. No thanks, I say. My babies need a mama.