How difficult will life be if I get rid of my car and only have a motorcycle? That is a question that I remember asking about 4 years ago after I bought my first motorcycle, a 2002 Suzuki GS500. At the time I had a 1989 Chevy Suburban as my secondary vehicle, but I rarely took it out because of the stress of driving such a large (and gas hungry) car. Eventually the suburban broke down and I sold it thus starting my foray into living without a four wheeled cage. Sure, things might be a little tough, but it can't be THAT hard to get around with only a motorcycle right? Here is what I have learned being car-less for the last few years.
Givi is worth its weight in Gold!
It took me over a year and a half without a car before I finally broke down and got a Givi monorack system. Givi is a company that makes hard luggage that locks to your motorcycle or scooter. Honestly one of the main reasons I avoiding getting one for so long is because of the expense and also because they are UGLY. Having a large egg shaped pod on the back of your motorcycle breaks up all the clean lines, especially on something like my ZX6R. After months of riding with a backpack I broke down and bought myself a Givi. I managed to find a used system off craigslist that was actually for the ZX9R of the same year as my bike. The ZX6R and the ZX9R are so similar in body styles that I was able to make the rack fit on my bike with little modification.
The first thing I was worried about besides my vanity was if the case was going to effect riding at all, especially when lane splitting. I really didn't want to bang any mirrors or have my bike be too wide to fit in between cars. Thankfully, the Givi case was only slightly wider wider than my shoulders and didn't extend past where my mirrors normally would. I didn't have to change my riding style at all with my new luggage. Aerodynamically I can always tell when the case is on or off the bike, but it's really not as noticeable as you would think. It also gives passengers a better sense of security since they have something to lean back on when I am accelerating.
The case itself is also deceptively large. From the outside it looks like you can carry just a couple things in it, but in reality you can fit 2 full size full face helmets in the case. This makes grocery shopping a lot easier than going with a backpack or messenger bag. I can fill up a hand basket at the grocery store as well as carry out a gallon of milk in the other hand and it will all fit in the bike without a problem. I could probably fit 4 full size gallons of milk containers in the bike and still have room for some snacks if I wanted. Who really needs that much milk though?
Keeping up with the maintenance on your motorcycle is CRUCIAL when it is your only form of transportation. I made the mistake in 2008 not to change my tires when I knew they needed to be replaced. That choice combined with a mistake in air pressure helped cause an accident when my front tire lost grip when I was braking. Sometimes you have to learn lessons the hard way, now I always keep up with all the consumables my motorcycle needs (oil, filters, tires, or air pressure etc..).
It helps if you can learn to do most of the wrenching yourself, that way you will know everything was done right and it will save you a lot of money. I've heard many horror stories of riders getting their bikes back from the mechanics only to find a key bolt to be loose or a nut completely missing.
Plan B Transportation
You do need to plan for any contingencies that might arise which would prevent you from riding your motorcycle. When I received multiple fractures to my shoulder blade in my motorcycle accident I was put up in a sling and therefore unable to ride. I fortunately lived less than a block away from the local train station and so getting to and from work was only a little more difficult than it would normally be. That experience really hammered in my psyche the need for backup plans in most of the things I do.
Don't forget that there are some times when you need to carry things larger than a motorcycle is capable. If you are at least 25 years old you can rent a car for those rare instances. It is sort of a hassle but at least you know you always have the option to get a car if you need it. Occasionally I have relied on friends with cars if there is something way too big for me to carry on my own. Do this rarely since you may wear out your welcome by you are asking to 'hang out' every other day just so you can use their car.
Elements and Motorcycle Gear
If I were to use one word to describe the majority of my riding career it would be 'cold'. When you ride 365 days a year, even in a place as nice as the Bay Area California, you are going to be cold the majority of the time. Windchill and ambient temperatures can really suck the heat right off your body if you aren't protected. I always ride in full gear which means jacket, pants, gloves, boots, and full face helmet.
When it gets really cold I'll wear a sweatshirt underneath my leather jacket, and sometimes a windbreaker on top! Even then it can be very cold while riding a motorcycle. You also need to account for rain, snow and heat. It's no fun to ride when it is pouring out, and even less fun to ride when the temperatures go above 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
When it's raining your tires have an easier time losing traction and when its hot you will be sweating bullets with even the most ventilated gear. I have used this exposure to the elements as a sort of test of my own resolve and philosophy. Realizing that being cold is just a sensation (albeit sharp sensation) on the skin helps to alleviate some of the pain. If you have no desire to go through that you should really consider an alternate form of transportation during those extreme weather days.
How to Deal with Motorcycle Gear
I ride in motorcycle gear that is designed for the crash and not necessarily for walking around. Whenever I want to get on or off the bike I sort of feel like an astronaught about to do a spacewalk. If might seem like a pain, but my gear has saved me so much skin I gladly put up with the inconvenience of having to put it on and deal with it when I'm off the bike.
That is another great reason to have the Givi Case. I can fit my jacket, gloves, and over-pants in my Givi which only leaves my helmet which I usually carry with me anyway. If you don't feel like getting the Givi system then the poormans way of locking things to the bike is with a long steel cable. You can loop that cable through your your forks then through your jacket sleeves, pant legs, and then your helmet. Your gear is then exposed to the elements and to passersby so make sure you don't leave anything valuable in your pockets.
When you ride a motorcycle it is best to be resolved to the fact that starting or ending a ride is going to be a process. With all the practice I've had I can gear up or down in 45 seconds. That is a lot longer than just opening a car door and putting on a seatbelt. Prepare yourself for this fact mentally and it won't bother you. Whenever I don't want to put on my gear I remind myself of one of my favorite quotes from the book The Hagakure:
* * * * * "There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything." * * * * *
Clothes, Fashion and Helmet Hair,
Another thing to consider is the sacrifice in fashion you have to make when riding a motorcycle. Sometimes it's cool to walk around the mall in leather pants, motorcycle boots and a leather jacket, but generally I find it to get too hot even in an air conditioned facility. I've taken to wearing over-pants that can be slipped on over my regular clothes and I take them off and put them in my Givi case if I plan on walking around for more than 5 minutes. That's fine if you plan on wearing casual clothes and a T-shirts when you ride, but it sucks when you need to go to an event that requires classier attire. Suits or even nice shirts don't fair well when they are being plastered against your body from a tight fitting motorcycle jacket. You end up looking like the only person in the world with a phobio of irons.
That is a great example of a situation where the Plan B transportation comes into play. One thing that you will have to deal with all the time is helmet hair. I've had a few different hairstyles over the years and the easiest to maintain while riding a motorcycle every day is having no hair at all. I used to buzz my head every couple weeks and it made dealing with helmet hair a non-issue for me. You can also keep a hat with you if you do have hair that gets messed up easily.
I currently have a mohawk and it has been one of the most challenging hair-dos I've had to maintain with a motorcycle. Thankfully, after months of riding with one I have perfected a system of hairspray and blow dryers that keeps my 'hawk looking pretty good even after a 20 or 30 minute ride. Granted it never looks as good as it does before I put on the helmet, but with some creativity and patience any hairstyle is possible.
Dating and passengers
Motorcycles sure are sexy right? That's what the advertisements say at least! In reality I've found that dating while not having a car to be difficult at best. The problem is compounded because I insist that all passengers have a minimum of protective gear while riding with me. I have extra gear that I loan out but depending on the girl it is often times too big or too small for them to wear. If the girl has a car I can either meet them somewhere or have them pick me up, but neither is very chivalrous. Dating with a motorcycle I give two big thumbs down! On the plus side, if you do find a girl to date that has a car that can help solve your Plan B Transportation issues. :-D
Dealing with Negative Reactions
In my experience more people think motorcycles are bad than good. Before I got a bike I would ask people about them and I would hear things like, "Oh I've always wanted a motorcycle too!" or "That sounds like fun, let me know when you get it!." After I actually started riding all I hear are negative statements of how dangerous it is, and this was even before I was involved in any accidents.
Now when I tell people I ride I expect to get a negative response. Even telling people you wear full gear all the time, ride the proper motorcycle, and RUN A MOTORCYCLE SAFETY WEBSITE isn't enough. It can be endlessly frustrating but that is another instance where if you prepare yourself before hand you should be able to handle the situation cordially and intelligently.
After being car-less on and off for 3 years would I recommend it? Maybe. I would say that you have to be a very strong person mentally to be able to deal with all of the burdens not having a car brings. In full disclosure everyone should know that I am currently saving up for a car since I am tired of riding in the rain or in the heat. If you have a car right now and you are considering selling it so you can buy a bike I would advise against that.
Save up $2000 instead and buy a bike in addition to your car, you will find your riding experience to be much more enjoyable in the long run. However.... I do feel a special sense of kinship with any rider I pass on the freeway when it is 40 degrees and pouring rain. Being a fair-weather rider might be more fun, but it's not nearly as badass!