Two-Wheeled Urban Sur-(thrive)-al


By Morgan Goldbloom                              Photos by Shannon Decker

So, I’m going to preface this whole thing by saying that I’ve been living and riding in the heart of Seattle for the past 10 years. Thus far, with the help of a little bit of skill and a whole lot of luck, I’ve managed to stay alive and keep my motorcycle upright.

It can be rough for a little motorcycle in the big city. It’s an asphalt jungle clogged full of homicidal taxi drivers, smart phone blinded pedestrians, smugly suicidal bicyclists, and terrified tourists. Seattle may have some of the worst traffic in the US, but the following tips and tricks may just help you survive and thrive in any urban environment.


 Keep Your Eyes Ahead!

If you’re reading this, chances are you already know the old biker (life?) wisdom of “Look where you want to go.” That mantra is a good start, but there’s a lot more you can do with your eyes while riding. Try to scan the environment as far ahead as possible. I’m talking about blocks, or miles if you can. Look for disturbances in the traffic flow, like cars getting around construction, a stopped car, or a crazed half naked man rolling a garbage can into the road. Trust me, you’ll want to position yourself as far away from that as possible. If you spot the hazard before everyone else around you, you can squirt into another lane, or turn down a side street before you get blocked.



 Half the Size, Twice the Violence

The universally accepted Law of Gross Tonnage dictates that a motorcycle will lose in hand-to-hand combat when pitted against just about any other vehicle. Yes, even a lowly Smart Car can dispatch you easily with brute force. But despair not – a motorcycle can use its nimbleness, speed, and size to overcome any foe… like a lithe petrol-fueled ninja.

Traffic laws aside (we’re all big boys and girls), a bike can maneuver between traffic if need be. Personally, I’d rather carefully slip by a couple cars and cut down an alley, than sit in traffic. When you do come to a stop though, keep an eye on your mirrors for cars approaching uncomfortably fast from behind. If that car isn’t going to stop, drop the clutch and get the heck out of dodge.


Mine is Bigger than Yours

If you’re riding a dual-sport or adventure bike, use the height and upright ergonomics to your advantage. The tall seat and suspension travel of dirt-friendly machines allow for a commanding view of the traffic ahead. If a bus or large truck blocks your line of sight, back off or simply stand up. You don’t want to blindly follow a large vehicle into an intersection after the light turns red. The extra suspension travel is also desirable when riding over broken pavement or down dirty alleys. Exercise extreme caution and discretion while bombing down alleys however. It can be a great way to bypass traffic, but pedestrians will not expect you. And remember, they’ll be coming toward you stroller first… just like a pizza landing cheese-side down.


Fear the GPS

My Garmin Montana 600 has proven itself to be an invaluable piece of gear during my travels. I use it anytime I’m riding in an unfamiliar area. And that’s the point. On a motorcycle, it’s not your GPS that you need to worry about – it’s the GPS in the car next to you. I’ve learned to see the GPS as the mark of the tourist or visitor. When I spot that little box lit up in the car ahead of me, I mentally mark that vehicle as a potential threat. The soccer mom from the suburbs, nervously driving into the city for a weekend shopping spree, will be the one to jam on her brakes and turn in front of you.


Practice, Practice, Practice

Keep your skills sharp. How long has it been since you practiced emergency braking? How about in the rain? As the years tick by, it’s easy to get complacent with your riding skills, and just assume that you’ll be able magically avoid the next accident. However, if you don’t regularly practice threshold braking, hard countersteer swerves, etc, in a variety of conditions, you’ll only have yourself to blame if you have to “lay ‘er down”.

These days, in the city I honestly feel safer riding a motorcycle than driving a car. I have more control over my personal safety bubble on a bike. In the end, these tips and tricks are just the basics. Never stop learning new riding skills, and honing the ones you have.