Common Tread

Adventure commuting with Lemmy

Jun 16, 2014

ADV. Commuting. Touring. Bah! Label it what you want. I just ride a lot.

Sometimes they're long highway miles, sometimes I zip through mucky dirt, and sometimes I just scoot about in nice weather to get a bite to eat. My sportbikes have never been on a track and the only time my Honda XR650L has gotten dirty was when I shot across a muddy patch to make a rooster tail. I own old Harleys, and when I go for dedicated motorcycle rides, it is usually with buddies on old bikes. We break down a lot, and the destination really is never the important part.

Now, if I can sneak some moto mileage in while I'm doing something else, by God, I will! Among TeamZilla employees who actually put in their 40 hours a week at HQ in South Philly, I believe I have the longest commute, at a Google Maps-claimed 68.1 miles each way. So when the powers that be asked me to pen my Geek Bio, I jokingly coined the term "adventure commuting" to refer to my riding style. Fearless Editor Lance wanted me to explain what the hell that means, so here goes.

The view from the seat of the Magna. Photo by Lemmy.

The bike

I collect the old Harleys I love for my weekend riding, and then I keep another bike on hand that's just practical, for my daily haul. It's usually filthy, the paint is trashed, it has battle scars. It's likely liquid-cooled, for those times I am forced to sit in traffic, and it has to be big. By "big," I mean both physically large, so it has nice highway manners, but also large in engine size. I am a big rider (about 275 pounds), and I ride in a manner that could be described as, ahem, "spirited." Showing the bike mercy is not something I'm good at. My adventure commuters also need storage, and they tend to have shaft drive, to reduce my maintenance chores.

Thus, most of my adventure commuting machines have been Japanese bikes that I can buy affordably and that stand up admirably to the wrath of a very large, angry man thrashing the snot out of them. Examples are my first-generation Kawasaki Concours and my current mule, a tarriff-buster Honda Magna.

The morning ride starts out nice, and goes downhill from there. Photo by Lemmy.

The ride

I start at about 1,000 feet of elevation, in a very rural, heavily wooded section of eastern Pennsylvania. I descend pretty quickly, which is the first real challenge of my ride: I can gear up for the ride where I leave, but where I am going may be 20 degrees warmer with far different precipitation. I usually wake up to fog, which is not nearly so prevalent at the lower elevations.

Miniature ponies cheer on the adventure commuter, and envy his horsepower. Photo by Lemmy.

My ride to work begins on twisty two-lane backroads, the kind of roads you read about in all the motorcycle rags. Because of how early I must leave (6:20 a.m. to be at work by 9 a.m.), it can still be pitch black in the fall and winter. Early-morning hazards include gravel that can be hard to see in the low light, and deer. I love deer — they taste great — but boy, when I'm on a bike, they really are the worst.

So I've got 20 miles of this, and then another 10 of suburban riding. Some stoplights and a little more traffic occur, but hey, it's not totally awful. I'm going to work, right? It's not like this is my dream moto-vacation. At this point, my blood pressure rises because I am pulling onto the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

My section of the Turnpike is constantly under construction, and is only two lanes per direction. Perhaps most infuriatingly, so as not to jam up the on ramps, buses and big rigs are required to stay in the left lane. This rather foolish setup effectively leads to two slow lanes, and no passing lane. My blood pressure is going up just writing about it.

I spend about 40 miles on the highway getting to RevZilla. I jam some tunes occasionally, but for the most part, I am trying to zip through traffic and avoid the fuzz. I need a clear head and quiet mind to do that.

My co-workers think they're hilarious. Photo by Ryan Targoff.

So, with a commute so long, you know old Lemmy has had some fun times on the way down. There was the day I lost two quarts of oil when a freshly built chopper blew its pushrod tube seal. Pity the poor cars behind me. There was another day very recently when I split lanes for 28 consecutive miles, according to my odometer. I was exhausted by the time I hit open road.

Another time, I was buzzing in on the Concours, moving rapidly. I started coming up on a car, and reached down for a handful of brake and there. Was. Nothing. There.


Good enough! Photo by Jason Mahoney.

So I used my rear brake to slow The Barge down, but had to make it the rest of the way with no front brake. When I got to RevZilla, we zip-tied a set of Vise-Grip pliers to the stub, and I got home on that.

Ride to Work Day photos. Just about every day is RTW day when you're an adventure commuter. Photo by Lemmy.

Then there was the time I was coming to work and saw some guys in a big, expensive Audi hit another motorcyclist and try to run. I parked The Barge across their path and hauled the driver out of the car, and made him apologize. He wasn't real keen on the idea of waiting for local law enforcement to show up, so he pulled out a wad of cash the size of a gas station attendant's, and started peeling off hundreds until the downed biker thought he had enough to pay for a new set of footpegs and a muffler. Everyone went their separate ways, no doubt thinking about what had just transpired.

And there was the time I slid The Barge at about 50 down the highway. In a snowstorm.

It's a crazy life, coming to RevZilla each and every day. And going back home. Maybe today I'll take the long way home...