Commuting via motorcycle. For me, it beats slogging to work in a car any day. I think only a ’72 El Camino SS with a 454 could have any chance of changing my tune. As of 2019, I’ve been a full-time moto-commuter for seven years. Only a couple wrecks and some occasional ice and freezing rain have kept me away from my motorcycle.

If you’re going to commute regularly, you’ll need to be cognizant of the nuances and challenges it presents. Whether you’re new to commuting via motorcycle, a veteran commuter, or are only considering getting a bike to ride to work and want to know what you’re getting yourself into, saddle up for seven tips that can help you become a pro moto-commuter.

Know thy motorcycle


You can choose any bike you want for commuting, but it does make a difference. Don't just blindly swing a leg over a bike without understanding the nuances and characteristics of that motorcycle as it applies to commuting. A cruiser our touring bike is going to provide increased comfort. An adventure or dual sport is going to have height, and give added visibility (both in seeing over traffic and being seen by drivers). A supersport delivers unmatched performance and handling. A naked or standard (dare I say UJM) will offer a versatile blend of comfort, ride height, and performance. The key is to know your bike. Understand its strengths and weaknesses. Doing so will help you negotiate your commute effectively, and identify routes based on your bike’s capabilities.


Say you’re on a lightweight motorcycle with a sub-500cc engine. Unless you’re up for a challenge that may involve Hobbits and a magic ring by the time you get to work, you’re going to be better off avoiding highways and interstates, and instead leveraging your superior maneuverability to weave through traffic on surface streets.


If your ride of choice is a heavy cruiser, hitting the highways and open back roads while avoiding gridlocked stop-and-go traffic may be a better tactic.


Know thyself

Take a sojourn to Bali and hike through the mountains of Nepal. Join a Buddhist monastery for a few years.


Wait. No. Not that kind of knowing yourself. Nothing against your spiritual awakening and all that (side note: that could be a good idea for a book. Something about Zen and motorcycles…nah, it would never sell).


I mean know yourself as a rider. It’s probably more important than knowing your bike. Chances are, your bike can do more than you’re capable of, or comfortable with, making it do. Self-awareness is a wonderful thing. Being cognizant of your skill level, comfort zones, strengths and weaknesses will take you far. Identify those areas of weakness, and improve upon them.
 Even the best riders never stop learning. 


Master yourself to master the road.

Practice proper maintenance


This goes for any motorcyclist, but as a commuter, proper maintenance and care is critical. You’re dealing with road hazards, traffic, and needing to get to work on time and back home again on a daily basis. You’re also probably putting more miles on your bike than most. The stakes are higher here than the casual weekend jaunt.


Stay on top of tire pressure and wear, and replace when necessary. Maintain your power and drivetrains meticulously (lube your chain, check your chain/belt deflection, change your shaft drive differential oil, adjust and maintain your clutch, etc.). Keep your brake pads and brake fluid fresh. Clean or change your air filter from time to time. Replace those spark plugs when you’re supposed to. Change your oil. Heck, you might even want to wash your bike from time to time.


Commuting can put a lot of strain and wear and tear on your machine. Take care of your bike, and it’ll take care of you. If you need a helping hand, our How To and Moto 101 sections are excellent resources to keep it running like Forrest Gump.


Keep an eye on the sky


You don’t have to let the weather keep you away from taking your motorcycle to work. Pay attention to the forecast, and watch the radar if rain is on the horizon (smartphones are wonderful). If possible, plan your commute around the weather. Sometimes you can find a window of calm just before, after, or in the middle of a storm, and make your entrance or exit accordingly.


Have the appropriate gear in your closet to handle what the situation that day calls for. Something waterproof for the rain, warm for cold days, and ventilated and/or with cooling properties for hot days. You’re not riding thousands of miles across the country over several days where the weather may be entirely unpredictable, so you don’t have to carry it all with you at once. You just have to be prepped for that day. Take an extra set of clothes for those wet days. You never know when waterproof gear may cease to be so.


Get schooled


Take an MSF course if you haven’t, or retake one if it’s been a few years. If you can, take one of the higher level courses. The things you’ll learn about situational awareness and hazard/collision avoidance will galvanize your skillset.


Gear up


In addition to the obvious benefit of keeping you protected in the event of a crash, a full set of gear has the added side effect of mitigating distractions. A helmet, gloves, jacket, boots, and reinforced riding pants or jeans keep dust, debris, bugs, wind and weather at bay, allowing you to have laser focus on the ride. The result is a more rousing, visceral, engaging ride. I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of why I do this whole motorcycling thing.


All the gear. All the time.

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro


Expect the unexpected, and be prepared for anything. Keep your phone charged. Carry some tools. Depending on the level of Boy Scout’ness you want to commit to (and how sketchy your bike is), being equipped with tire repair kits or other spare parts can pay off if you need to perform a roadside repair.


Next, be alert. Alertness and situational awareness are the natural predators of road hazards and distracted drivers who are paying more attention to their phones than the road.


Watch every driveway, intersection, and side street you come across. Be mindful of the car behind cars that are turning; the one in back may impatiently change lanes and come into your path of travel. I may or may not have personal experience (and a few days in the hospital and a totaled bike to prove it) with this one.


Be analytical of the movements of drivers while you’re riding among them (don’t worry, unlike the African gazelle, drivers won’t actually notice you). Patterns of behavior will emerge, both among the collective, and with individual drivers. You’ll start to develop a sixth sense for the boneheaded moves drivers make that will imperil your continued forward movement.


Learn to predict how situations will play out, and develop the judgment as to when you should swerve, brake, or accelerate (or a combination thereof) to avoid danger. In my experience, rarely is there enough space for stopping the bike to actually be effective. I recommend overcoming the instinct to hit the brakes, and to focus on avoidance. A vehicle or hazard can't collide with you if you're not there.

Of course, you'll need to be able to apply that judgment and become adept at swerving, stopping suddenly, and quickly accelerating in order to avoid clueless drivers and hazards. Only hours of seat time and practice can get you there. Occasionally take a journey to a vacant parking lot. Practice maintaining control while swerving, stopping suddenly, and accelerating quickly. It will bring these tips full circle. You'll better understand your motorcycle and yourself as a rider.


Bonus tip

Chances are, if you put enough miles down on the road, you’re not going to be able to exercise flawless situational awareness, avoid every hazard, patch of gravel, nail, screw, or car out there. You may slip up and miss a crucial bit of maintenance, or the metaphorical waste might hit the metaphorical fan in a situation you couldn’t have predicted. Sometimes, you’re  going to run across a problem you can’t fix. So, here’s an 8th bonus tip if things get sideways: I've pulled my feet out of the fire a few times by investing in roadside and towing service. Whether through my AMA membership or added to my insurance policy, whatever form it takes, the cost of having it and not needing it far outweighs the cost of needing it, but not having it.