Gain time by motorcycle commuting

Where are Britain's motorcycle commuters? Have we gone soft or are we too sensitive to the ravages of winter on man and machine? Year-round commuting has its upsides. Be inspired to ride every day of the week, with our help

Here's the deal. We're offering you a whole extra year on your life, to do with whatever you please.
In 2011 alone you can cash in on over seven extra days, absolutely free. Add them to your annual leave quota.

So how do you claim the days? It's simple, merely park that dumb old motorised tin box you insist on dragging from here to there, half the time looking for somewhere to leave it. Yep, park it up and grab that motorcycle of yours, you know, that highly polished trinket you bring out on high days and holidays. Jump on it and ride it to work, and back. That's it.

The Motorcycle Industry Association put together some research back in 2003 and found that for every hour spent driving a car in an urban environment you could save 33 of those minutes by riding a bike. Even mixing in some out of town riding you could still claw back 20 minutes out of every hour. Our own research made this month backs that up. Meanwhile, Stateside, the US Department of Transport quotes average motorcycle fuel consumption to be 50.1mpg compared to 22.3mpg for cars. So if their 129 million motorised commuters swapped from car to bike they'd drop their daily fuel usage from 60 million gallons a day to just over 26 million gallons (yes, per day!) Yet in America only 3% of their motorcycles are regularly used for commuting, so 97% of US motorcyclists are using other means of daily transport. Madness! And while we don't have figures for the UK, given our recent correspondence in the letters pages, given our own research into our subscribers' activities, and given our own experience out on the roads each day - well, of Britain's own 1.5 million active bikers it's fair to say only a minority are commuting on two wheels.

And here's the thing, by commuting by bike not only do you win back time (and you know you only see these minutes and hours once in a lifetime) but you get to play biking, your favourite pastime, every day of the year. So you become a better, more practiced rider.

So why are we not moto-commuting?

That's hard to say. For some it's a logistical no-no and clearly there are barriers, both real and perceived.
For a start there's all that time spent getting in and out of the thermals, windproof layers, armoured textiles and the waterproof one-piece over-the-top. For a journey of anything less than 20 minutes (by car) it often doesn't work. But the moment the journey is longer the bike rider is saving time. And that time changing always feels long, yet our survey of readers showed the average winter gear dressing time is still only six minutes.

And of course, as implied, winter biking calls for lots of gear. Lots. That's the perception, and while
certainly you need new kit over and above your summer kit, it's not that bad. Our survey placed a surprising number of happy readers in Hein Gericke two-piece textiles which they combined with waterproof boots, winter gloves and a neck warmer to create a very effective daily outfit. On bad days they'd
throw thermals underneath.

Of course the gear needs to be stored, both at home and at work. For some that's not a problem but if your office looks anything like ours then it certainly can try workmates' patience. But there are ways around. Speak to the building caretaker, chances are there's a store cupboard somewhere you can change in and leave your soggy kit.

And finally there's the matter of presentation. What you look like when you get to work. That's bogus actually. If you can't manage to take a hanger to work for your suit jacket, can't organise to place your brogues under your desk then you're no use to mankind. And most of us these days, as our readers again confirm, dress smart-casual for work.

So really, why commute year-round?

It keeps coming down to the time you save. And sanity. Can you really look yourself in the mirror of a morning and say 'taking the car makes sense'. Not really, except in a few circumstances, such as car sharing, taking sprogs to school and instances of zero traffic.

And while the government fails to get a grip on the train network, which was effectively maimed way back in the 60s by the ill-advising Beecham Report, then trains, a most excellent form of mass transportation, will remain nothing more than a rich man's form of self-flagellation.

How much you save

You can never have enough time. Ask any millionaire what he'd like more of. It won't be money, more than likely it'll be time. And this is what the motorcycle offers you.

We polled our readers to find out what their commuting habits were. This is what we found:

  • The average commuting distance was 15 miles, 30 miles return.
  • The average travel time by bike was 23 minutes
  • The average (winter) suiting up time was 7 minutes
  • The average alternative travel times were 56 minutes by car, 77 minutes by public transport
  • The average time saving for each journey by taking the bike was therefore 23 minutes over the car (a 48% saving) and 44 minutes over public transport (a 65% saving).

So compared to the car the biking commuter saves 46 minutes a day, which accumulates to a substantial 7.6 days over a working year. And compared to the train the biking commuter saves 88 minutes a day, which accumulates to a staggering 14.6 days a year -nearly two years over a working lifetime!

As we've already said, motorcyclists are also saving around half the fuel bills a car's racking up. We compared the fuel economy of our own Corporal Hogan's Suzuki GSR600 with that of an 1800cc family car over his 15-mile urban commute. John was making his commute in half the time, using half the fuel, puffing out half the atmosphere-killing CO2s and gaining a full seven-and-a-half extra days to spend with his two young daughters (oh, and wife).

So what's stopping you?

We've made the case. Of course if you're just a big girl's blouse and think you're gonna get your hands cold, gonna crumple your hair, gonna be ridiculed by your workmates, then take stock and think again. You have the means to making your own life, and those of others, much better. Do it.

Top tips for successful commuting

  • Make commuting an art, not a chore.Clothing selection, route variations, bike maintenance, even getting dressed and undressed all become pleasurable if approached with something   approaching a zen-like state of mind 
  • Heated grips are ace  
  • Heated clothing is even better, as long as your bike's battery is up to it
  • Don't get complacent riding a route you know well. Always be on your guard 
  • Have a look at exactly what sort of surfaces are where on your route. The drain covers and white lines you've been ignoring all summer could catch you out come winter. Look for where leaves are settling - in a few weeks that could be a big pile of slippery mush waiting to catch you out 
  • In winter, don't start the journey with cold hands - they'll never warm up. 
  • If you've got to handle cold metal to unlock your bike or get it out of the garage, do it with gloves on. 
  • Ditto when filling up with fuel
  • Keep a spare set of gloves at work. It sucks riding home in wet gloves. Use your computer monitor to dry moist, not dripping, gloves 
  • Wear a clean neck tube every day or winter salt and road grime gives you spots on your neck. Pus-tastic! 
  • Try not to get sweaty indoors getting kitted up on a cold day, you'll quickly get cold when you go outside 
  • Don't be put off by rain - riding in the wet is good for you. As long as your kit keeps you dry it can be a rewarding challenge
  • Change sticky summer tyres for touring/rain orientated ones. Might cost you a few quid but will definitely be cheaper than repairs caused by inappropriate rubber not working in the rain and cold
  • Don't use a Walkman/iPod/iPhone/etc - it takes the edge off concentration
  • Look for indicators, big gaps, direction of front wheels, side roads. All tell-tale signs a car driver will turn out of or pull into a gap. All of which they will do without looking for the bike 
  • Be courteous. When a car moves in for you during filtering, acknowledge with a wave if you can
  • Keep your visor clean and mist free. Pinlocks or Fog City inserts are essential bits of kit
  • If you're holding up another biker who wants to filter faster than you, when possible move over and let them through. It's hellishly difficult to pass another bike in heavy traffic, and it's hellishly frustrating to get stuck behind one