How To: Be an Expert at Commuting on a Motorcycle

How To -



Commuting by bike saves you time and money and is also more effective than a cup of coffee to wake you up in the morning. Use these tips to get the most of your trip to and from work, this is how to commute on a motorcycle.

Gear Up
Commuting to work requires you to ride in a myriad of different weather conditions. Even in a climate as mellow as Southern California, my commute ranges from dark, low 40-degree mornings to sunny, 95-degree afternoon rides depending on the time of year. Varied conditions mean you’ll need appropriate gear for all types of weather. We recommend the Aerostich Roadcrafter riding suit, as it can be made to fit all weather conditions and can be worn over anything. As a bonus, it’s been specifically designed to avoid wrinkling a business suit worn underneath. But, if you aren’t able to spring for that, a good winter jacket and gloves could do the trick. You can also add the following as needed:

- Heated grips
- Heated gloves/vest
- Neck warmer
- Warm base layers (my Schampa top is incredible)

Plan Ahead and Purchase Accordingly
If you’re going to be riding the same routes on a daily basis, plan ahead to make your commute as easy as possible. Find or buy something to attach an I.D. card or toll road transponder to if that is a part of your commute. Get an all weather bag or panniers for any items you’re going to need to transport to work and from home (one friend attached ammo boxes to his Bonneville and built them out to perfectly hold his laptop and paperwork). You no longer have the luxury of tossing everything you need on the passenger seat next to you, so customize your bike to meet your needs.

Stay Alert
You know how they say you’re most likely to going to crash within a 5-mile radius of your house? What they really mean is that you’re most likely to crash on roads that you are so comfortable with, you tend to stop paying attention. So be vigilant at staying alert and don’t let yourself get complacent.

Ride the Right Bike
Riding regularly through heavy traffic in a variety of weather conditions? It’s probably a good idea to leave the Panigale in the garage and ride something comfortable, practical and economical. Upright ergonomics will save your back and facilitate both vision and control while room for luggage, good weather protection and a comfortable seat should take priority over tribal fairy dragon graphics and a loud pipe. Safety features like ABS and Traction Control are a good idea, too. With regular commuting, service and running costs become a factor, so think about things like fuel economy, tire life (and cost), shaft drive and service intervals (and costs).

Additional Tips
If you commute in something Roadcrafter-esque, keep a spare motorcycle jacket at the office if you plan on going lunch out. Much easier than putting everything back on.

Check your tire wear and pressure regularly. You’re using your bike a lot more now that you are commuting.

Keep spare gloves at work. Riding home in wet gloves is a drag.

Keep your work shoes at work and change into them when you arrive. Better than getting road grime on your nice shoes and a whole lot safer. (Unless you’ve go co-workers with sticky fingers…)

Make sure your hands are warm before you leave. Wear gloves to unlock any padlocks or to open your gas cap. Once your hands get cold, there’s no getting warm until you’re off the bike.

Invest in a helmet with a photochromatic lens, it’s worth the money to not have to swap lenses all winter.

Know where the gas stations are along you’re route. Especially if you’re on a DR-Z400S or anything that notifies you it’s running low by making you switch to reserve.

Motorcycle commuting

Consider a top case (milk crate for you KLR folks). It’s worth it instead of carrying that weight on your back every day.

Plan your route for any fun sections of road you might be able to squeeze in. I go one exit too far to hit a nice off-ramp and two roundabouts when I’m on a bike.

If you’re work doesn’t have specific place for motorcycles, inquire with building management or your boss about the best place to leave your bike. Often you’ll get a better spot, but at the very least you can refer them to your boss when someone complains about your bike.

Remember that you are much more recognizable than your bosses/co-workers cars, so ride accordingly. As an ex-Motorcycle Safety Foundation employee learned the hard way, it’s never a good thing to pass your boss at 90+ mph.

Figure out a secure parking situation. Keep a lock and chain at work and secure your bike to something immovable. If your office isn’t bike-friendly, lobby for policy changes. After all, you’re saving your colleagues time and money spent in traffic; motorcycles don’t cause congestion.

Know when to call it quits. Don’t feel the need to risk riding in adverse weather conditions. If there’s snow on the ground or in the forecast, hop on a bus or ask a colleague for a lift. Opting out of riding a couple times a year won’t impact your budget’s bottom line and could save your life.

Related Links:
In The Dark: How To Ride A Motorcycle At Night

In The Rain: How To Ride A Motorcycle In The Rain

Be Seen: Eight Ways To Make Your Motorcycle More Visible

  • brendan thurber

    are photochromatic lenses that common? I recently started riding, got an HJC brand full face and when shopping for new lenses, do not recall seeing that as an option.

    Any photochromatic helmet suggestions ?

    • Wes Siler

      Right now, the only OEM option is Bell. Look for news of another major brand adopting the technology later this month.

      • sean macdonald

        Don’t forget LAZER

        • Mr.Paynter


      • Khali

        Will it be ICON? Im interested.

        Currently riding in the night when going there, and with the sun in front when going back. Difficult to fix, as I wear prescription glasses…prescription sun glasses will be more expensive than a new helmet with retractable sun visor…and the helmet would be more expensive than just a new screen.

      • msay

        What about an integrated sun visor?

        Also, my guess is Shoei…

        • UrbanMoto

          Yeah, I have one on my cheapo GMAX modular. It’s great because in addition to integrated sun protection, if it’s warm out I can flip up the facemask and have eye protection from the deployed sun visor.

        • Mr.Paynter

          Shark Helmets have built in sun-visors, at the lower end the S900 is rad, the Vision-R is a very nice helmet and a personal favourite!

        • VTR1

          Yeah Shoei GT-Air has it.

    • Jay

      Akuma helmets have photochromatic face shields.

      • therubbersidedown

        I was told by an Akuma dealer here to stay away from their helmets as the quality has been diving the last couple years. Just fyi

    • appliance5000

      You could get a 2″ roll of window tinting at the auto parts store and apply it to the top of the visor. I think it’s electrostaticly held in place.

    • Piglet2010

      If you get a Bell street lid, you have the choices of clear, dark, photo-chromatic, double layer, and even heated.

    • enzomedici

      Bell. I have a Bell RS-1 with the photo chromatic shield and it is fantastic. It goes from completely clear to dark in seconds and works really well in bright sun, even here in Las Vegas.

  • Lee Scuppers

    Every few weeks I get a panicky call from building management at work because the parking garage gate thinks a motorcycle is too light to take notice of on the way in, but not on the way out. The last time, the poor woman has it backwards and thought I was stockpiling vehicles in their garage. They must have a high turnover, because several commuters park bikes there every day. They’re always nice about it though.

    My HJC modular has an integrated sun visor, which helps distract me from the crushing weight and shattering din.

  • HoldenL

    A Pinlock or similar antifog fitting for your shield, because inevitably, you’ll ride in shield-fogging weather.

    Take the helmet inside with you and store it where it’s safe and won’t get knocked around. Don’t keep it locked to the bike.

    If the forecast calls for rain when you’re going to leave work, take your Roadcrafter into the building with you, if there’s a place to store it. Then you can don the Roadcrafter before going outside when it’s time to leave for home. In dry weather, roll up the ‘Stich and keep it in the top box.

    When the days get short, and you ride to work in sunshine and ride home after sunset, don’t forget to take your clear shield with you. It’s super easy and quick to swap shields on an Arai helmet.

    +1 on the shoes.

    • runnermatt

      I agree with the Pinlock. It worked wonders on my Shoei Quest.

    • Phil Mills

      Double-plus-recommend on the “take your rain gear INSIDE with you”. I can’t count the times that I hear thunder and rain start pounding on the roof at quarter-to-five and get instantly reminded that my Frogg Toggs are sitting securely in the right-hand saddlebag on my motorcycle a hundred yards away from the office door.

  • akvamme

    i always carry a plastic garbage bag with in my backpack. if it’s gonna rain, the laptop and anything wet sensitive goes in there.

    • Wes Siler

      Yep, I do the same thing.

    • Rameses the 2nd

      I think you just discovered a new gear market. Introduce a motorcycle garbage bag and you can just re-package glad bags and sell them for 5 times more.

      • akvamme

        ha awesome. and if i put a “certain” bar and shield logo on them, 10x!

        • Rameses the 2nd

          For sure and if you tear a bag while doing that, sell it as a vintage bag. It’s a win-win situation.

          • Robert Horn

            Surely someone somewhere (That I’ve never heard of) sells classic waxed paper bags…

        • David Kent

          That would be a bust. When was the last time you saw a “bar and shield” logo in the rain?

    • Eric

      I work in the computer field, but I take this a step further and use a large padded ziplock anti-static bag. Just for peace of mind.

  • UrbanMoto

    Where’s the link to part two of the article? ;-)

  • Rameses the 2nd

    So glad that I work in the IT industry. I can just show up at work in my riding gear and nobody is bothered by my helmet hair and my riding gear. I am certainly not buying a $1,000 jumpsuit for riding. The ammo case tip is great; I need to fit an ammo case on my Scrambler, so I don’t have to lug everything on my back.

    • sean macdonald

      located in so cal? contact nate over at ba-moto. he’ll set you up.

      • Rameses the 2nd

        Unfortunately, I don’t live in So-Cal. I live in Chicago. If anyone knows a place in Chicagoland area, please recommend.

    • therubbersidedown

      You clearly haven’t ridden in an aerostitch. Worth every penny and more

      • rudedog4

        My only regret with my Roadcrafter is that I opted for the 2 piece instead of the 1 (the 1 piece provides better rain protection). Still, it keeps me pretty dry, so long as I have the windscreen on my bike.

  • runnermatt

    What I have found while commuting is account for the unexpected. I’m not referring to that car pulling out in front of you either. Instead I’m talking about the weather, because even if you don’t ride in the rain, inevitably you will not check the weather good enough or the weather man will get it wrong. This goes for temperatures too. Just because it is cold in the morning don’t get caught having to ride home without wearing your safety gear because it is too hot. And vice versa, it isn’t fun staying at work later than you intended only to freeze on the way home because you didn’t bring the right or enough gear with you.

    Carrying two pairs of gloves is a good idea too. I have a pair for hot and dry weather and another pair for cool and/or wet weather.

    Then someway to carry everything. I mounted a Twisted Throttle DrySpec D38 to my CBR250R. It is a huge bag, bigger than I realized when I ordered it, but I’ve still managed to fill it up (large lunch box, multiple layers of riding gear and gloves, etc). Here is the review with pictures that my girlfriend wrote up on her blog last year:

    Lastly, I’ve found that if the temperature drops into the lower 60′s and below I need something to keep my neck and chin warm. The fairing on the CBR doesn’t do much unless I’m in a full tuck. I picked up a “Turtle Fur Shellaclava” from a local motorcycle dealer and it works wonders keeping me warm.

    • akvamme

      oof. my neck just got cold remembering the 35-40 degree rides in spring/fall. good call on the neck warmer.

      • runnermatt

        Yeah, I think the coldest I’ve ridden in is the upper 40′s. Lower 50′s my hands would start getting a little cold by the end of my hour commute. I have a set of Icon Patrol waterproof gloves that work pretty good otherwise. I guess heated grips and/or hand guards would be ideal for colder weather. I’m not sure if my bike’s electrical system would handle heated grips though.

        • BryonCLewis

          Got the same gloves I only use them if it is below 50, This week had two mornings in the mid 30′s. I wear some liners underneath them. I have a 24 mile, 30 minute commute through rural areas and just at the end the tips of the fingers are starting to go numbish.

          • runnermatt

            Until I was laid off last week my commute was 50+ miles with 95% of it being 55-60mph.

          • Generic42

            Ditto on those gloves, any recommendations on liners?

  • Joe

    I commute most days, about 8 months a year in NYC. I commute from Brooklyn to Queens, about 12 miles each way (you laugh, but this can take an hour).

    My tip for all is to trust your instincts. Some days, I wake up and even though it may be a beautiful day outside, I’ll get this feeling in my gut that says, ‘take the subway today’. If by the time I’m dressed and ready that feeling is still there, I take the subway, no further thought required. I believe in my instincts. You should too. If for no other reason, your head needs to be 100% in the game before getting on your bike.

    • Jai S.

      “about 12 miles each way (you laugh, but this can take an hour).”

      I’m so thankful for lane-splitting.

      • Mr.Paynter

        Same here, and I agree with the instincts, if I think something like that even once, I follow the gut.

      • Davidabl2

        This sounds like an ideal BICYCLE commute, because as far as I know lane splitting on bicycles is legal everywhere.

        • Jai S.

          Bicycling often doesn’t save anytime. It’s great though. I’ve been a bicycle commuter in the past.

          • Davidabl2

            In places where there’s virtually no parking available it does. And where I live traffic violations on a bicycle don’t imperil one’s driving priviledge.

  • Phil Mills

    “Know where the gas stations are along you’re route. Especially if you’re on a DR-Z400S or anything that notifies you it’s running low by making you switch to reserve.”

    ..and for the love of Pete – be sure to TURN THAT PETCOCK OFF OF THE “RESERVE” SETTING once you’ve filled up. I have had to do the “coast of shame” once and ended up bumming some gas off a guy mowing his lawn. Never again.

    • zombarian

      On my KLX I’ve actually kept it in reserve for over a year, it’s less of a hassle to fill up on the way home once it hits 100+ on the tripometer, than to have to use the petcock on the highway every 80 or whatever miles.

  • Afonso Mata

    Get a top case. It looks ugly, I know, but unlike panniers you won’t feel wide as a truck when you’re splitting lanes.
    And you can put pretty much everything inside it. Apart from the laptop and paperwork, it can hold some stuff you needed from te grocerie store before going home. Alas, during the winter, mine holds permanently a pair or clean shoes, socks and underwear. Nomatter how much money you spent on your Gore-Tex rainwear, you’ll get wet if the rain is too much or your commute is too long.

    • Piglet2010

      Or get a bike that does not have super-wide panniers, e.g. the 2014 Ninja 1000.

    • Kr Tong

      Just went across california looking like this. It worked fine but there’s better alternatives.

      A duffelbag and rok straps looks absolutely perfect. I’d get a little rubber sheet thing to keep the bag from nicking your tail

  • FrVentura

    always cool to see these reviews. awesome job ;)

    Unfortunately there isn’t aerostich in Europe. I would appreciate to buy some of their clothes. I’ve already bought their gloves, but paid heavy taxes for it…

    • jonoabq

      For a good used Aerostich regularly check ADV rider, lots of stuff in the “almost new” category.

    • Generic42

      Perhaps you could find a friendly American of similar sizes who perhaps just bought the exact Aerostich you wanted but has to let it go?

  • jonoabq

    Since most of the good stuff has already been mentioned I’ll just add in a couple that I always have in a tail pack or under the seat. A good flat kit with small flashlight is a must and I always have a pair of Castelli cycling arm warmers for under the Stich. If you want real warmth Aerostich makes a 12v bib that has a 30w draw, its light/small and fits under the closest fitting jackets with no problem.

    • HoldenL

      *faceslap* Arm warmers! What a great idea. I’ve got ‘em, never thought of using them under a Roadcrafter … thanks for the tip!

  • Chanson

    I took a new job and my commute jumped from 7 miles to 50. Due to the mileage on my leased car, it would have saved me money to buy a Roadcrafter and I got as far as trying to decide on color. Unfortunately I opted to stay comfy in the vehicle as my commute was opposite traffic. Now that I’ve moved and I’m again within ten miles, the ~$800 spent on the Aerostitch is totally unjustifiable and I now see that I should have sprung when it made sense.

    Also, invest in AAA. I’ve been caught 2-3 times on the side of the road to or from work due to faulty electrical systems. Thankfully I met that boss through riding, so he was always sympathetic.

    • contender

      If you auto-pay your AMA membership you get free roadside assistance for both cars and bikes. Roughly the same as the base AAA membership which does not include motorcycles. It’s a better deal unless you live in California where you can use AAA in place of the DMV.

      • rudedog4

        Not true, if you have AAA Plus RV. They will indeed provide roadside assistance for motorcycles in addition to cars.

    • Afonso Mata

      Here in Portugal (and I’ll bet in most of the European Union), roadside assistance is standard coverage on the law-mandated insurance policy.
      You really have to pay that of a premium, so it becomes a “top tip for commuters” ?
      (no irony intended, it’s an honest question)

  • Maymar

    I’m lucky enough to have a job where the dress code is reasonably lax, and all I need to bring with me is my work phone (well, and the plugs and cables and battery packs needed to keep it charged). Did just fine as all that stuff fit in my jacket. Still, recently picked up an SAE->USB converter (wired to the battery) and a tank bag, which has made things even easier for me.

    And after accidentally riding to work the first time on what ended up being the day Toronto got something like a foot of rain, I pretty ardently check the weather reports in the morning to make sure there’s a pretty reasonable chance of no precipitation. Considering I already work outside, it’s sort of nice to have a heated cage to return to on the more inclement days.

  • Renato Valenzuela

    cargo net and backpack. done. ez-pass dual lock velcro on the windscreen. double done. simple 12-volt cigarette lighter ac adapter with trap door from wal mart clipped to my battery terminals. triple done.

  • David Kent

    Best advice is the last paragraph. Couple years ago I decided to boost my “I ride no matter what” street cred by riding my heavily modified DRZ400 dirt warrior to work on a day calling for afternoon freezing rain. We rarely get cold enough here for that, so I ignored the forecast. I left work during rush hour in the rain, immediately getting hemmed in behind stopped traffic on the interstate on ramp. Seizing the opportunity to show how cool I was, I snuck behind the guard rail and rode down the steep grassy bank towards the main traffic lanes, which were thick with (thankfully) very slow moving traffic. Reveling in how jealous I was making the cagers, I was immediately brought to justice as my wheels contacted the black ice that was lying in wait on the roadway. My bike came out from under me like Custer’s horse. It was so quick and forceful I didn’t even get a foot off the pegs, and I slammed my knee and elbow REALLY hard on the road. Smug turned to “WTF was I thinking” as I tried to stand up and repeatedly slipped and fell on the ice. It was slicker than snot on a doorknob. I actually had to lie on the groad and drag the bike inch by inch across the lane to the grass where I could finally stand up. Seemed to take forever, especially with the cagers blowing their horns and opening windows to yell their assessment of my intelligence. I rode the rest of the way home in the grassy median, to the consternation of the trooper who couldn’t follow due to congestion, black ice, and many stacked accident calls. I got home just in time to hear my ordeal being unkindly discussed on our local AM radio talk show. Next day was bright and sunny. I rode to work again. But not on my bright yellow DR. I wore a different jacket and rode my very nondescript 1500 Vulcan for many, many days….

  • Scott Otte

    Commuting on a bike is not for the faint of heart. I ride to work daily, but it’s not really commuting when you rarely have to deal with traffic and you can do this on they way home.

    • ThruTheDunes

      LOVE Skyline – you are a lucky man – took my mom (in the pickup – she was about 70 at the time, a Yankee that had never seen the big trees) up to Skyline from Half Moon Bay, down to the 9, and then took the little back door road down into Big Basin Redwoods. As we wound down into the Redwoods, it got darker and damper and cooler as the woods got thicker. When we got way down in there, she turned to me with this awed look on her face and said, “THIS (pause) is the Forest Primeval!”
      Whenever my wife and I would head south from visiting friends up north or vacationing, we would take this road back as much as possible. If you have not done it, you should. If you have any friends visiting that have never seen the big trees, you should take them. Primo way into Santa Cruz/Monterrey Bay from the Bay Area.

  • engageit

    I like helmets with sunvizors, instead of or at least as an alternative to photochromatic.

    Stay alert is number 1, if you ask me. Complacency really does kill on motorcycles.

    My Kriega R30 backpack holds a very good amount of stuff, adds some refectivity to my mostly black gear, is 99.9% waterproof, and is so comfortable when on the bike I almost prefer wearing it to not wearing it. I find it compromises handling much less than carrying my gear high up and back on the seat or tail. Tankbags are good too, but they keep you from really getting down over your tank if you’re into that kind of thing. That’s why I prefer the backpack to the tankbag for commuting.

    And please stop talking about how motorcycle don’t cause congestion. That is not true everywhere, like most of North America for a start. I cause as much congestion as 2 people in a car would, approximately, or maybe a little more since I do like to have a nice safe space in front of me. Yes, I do get where I’m going faster, so maybe I reduce congestion for myself, but not for anyone else.

    I’ll also second knowing when not to ride. Made that mistake last year, riding one morning when I had to scrape frost off of my seat. It hadn’t rained or snowed, so I saw no reason for the roads to be slippery, until I found myself riding on 200 yards of the MOST slippery ice I have ever encountered. After my off, I tried to push the bike across the road and couldn’t get enough traction to even start the bike moving a bit.

    Best thing about it was I was wearing my helmet cam, lol:

  • Davidabl2

    #1 don’t commute when you’re not at your best, mentally, emotionally or physically.
    So you need a bike commute alternative, even for days when Mother Nature is co-operative.

  • enzomedici

    The proper gear is essential, especially in winter, but also in summer. Here in Las Vegas, it gets super hot in summer and pretty cold in the winter. I sold my cheap gear and now have much better gear. Where I live it will be 21 F in the morning next week which puts the windchill at -4 @ 70mph commute on the highway. In the winter, I wear Dainese Xantum D-Dry jacket and Dainese Tomsk D-Dry pants which are great for staying warm, Sidi On-Road Goretex boots which always keep my feet warm with just a simple pair of socks. Have a pair of gore tex gloves with heated glove liners that keep my hands warm, without those I wouldn’t be able to commute in the dead of winter. I don’t have a windshield or fairings, but I do use Barkbusters to block the wind on my hands. In the summer, it is the opposite. I use a Dainese mesh jacket and Dainese mesh pants even when it is 110. I wear an Icon Stryker Vest at all times because it seems like half of Vegas is either texting or driving drunk at any given time. The only real time I might consider not commuting out here is when it rains. It doesn’t rain often, but when it does, the roads can become super slick because the oil builds up on the roads for a long time between rain and when it rains the oil and water mix to make the roads a skating rink. Even simple corners become death traps. It rained two weeks ago and we had over 150 accidents in a two day period.