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Getting to work - Equiraptor's Journal
Getting to work
I recently started working for The Planet at their headquarters in downtown Houston. As a result of being downtown parking is limited. Most of us have to pay for car parking (motorcycle parking is freely available under the building and there's a bike rack available). However, the company will pay for a bus pass for employees. So I can either pay to park my car, pay for gas, pay for more frequent maintenance, pay for more tires/brakes/etc, or I can take the bus for free.

Yes, believe it or not, even car-enthusiast me has gone for the bus.

I'm not entirely happy with this. I dislike the lack of autonomy. I don't particularly need autonomy. My work is flexible enough to generally allow me to leave when I need to for the bus. We pass off tasks between each other regularly, so, "I need to catch the bus, here's what's going on with this..." is fine. I have a lot of options for busses to take home, so if my schedule does need to vary somewhat, I can adjust for it. The only "valid" (not selfish?) reasons I have for not liking the bus are the time I spend sitting outside, waiting on busses, in the cold, and the added time the bus takes over driving (both because the bus moves slower than a car and because the bus runs on their schedule, not mine).

What other alternatives do I have? Well, I have a bicycle. Work is less than 5 miles, on the street, from home. I could absolutely bike that. There are a few problems, though. First, there aren't showers at work. While that's not much of a problem this time of year, it will be one. Second, my schedule currently has me going home in the dark. My current bicycle is not equipped for riding in the dark. I've had bikes equipped for riding in the dark in the past, though, and I'm just not comfortable with that. Drivers do not see me, even with lights, and I'm not comfortable riding in the dark through some of the neighborhoods I'd go through.

So... Remember that free motorcycle parking I mentioned? I've wanted a motorcycle for some time, and that would give me the autonomy I want. It'd probably cost me more than just paying for car parking, if you ascribe all the motorcycle costs to the commute. But since I want a motorcycle anyway, just for fun, I don't think that's fair (in the same way I wouldn't assign all the costs for my fun MX-5 to a commute). Yes, I know, commuting on a motorcycle is dangerous. I have a route selected that I think is relatively low risk. I'll still have to watch for those idiots in cars who don't look at anything outside their vehicle (see my crash in the car earlier this year), but the route offers good escape routes, roads in good condition (for Houston), and relatively low congestion. Commuting on a motorcycle in the rain also sucks for a lot of reasons. I'll keep the bus pass and be using that in the rain, at least at first. I'll see how things go on the motorcycle and decide if I want to get some rain gear or not later.

Does this long, rambling post have a point? I suppose it does. I have to admit, I'm a selfish American. I've tried riding the bus, and I find it acceptable. Functional, tolerable, only occasionally frustrating. Even so, I find myself wanting autonomous transportation, and being American, yet again, I'm turning to the internal combustion engine. And I'm not even looking at a small little scooter that'd meet my needs well. Noooo, I want a big 500cc sportbike!

At least 500cc is a lot less than the 6.2L of a Corvette engine? *hides*
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thatwesguy From: thatwesguy Date: December 12th, 2009 05:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
For what it's worth, my research indicates that ever since I got a phone capable of playing video (e.g. TV shows I otherwise would never watch, and TED.com talks) my bus rides have become 89.4% shorter (at least perceptually). This tips the balance of most commuting in favor of public transit, for me.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: December 12th, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I use the iPhone pretty extensively while on the bus. Unfortunately, my ride home has a 15 minute transfer that, lately, has been too cold for me to want to be glove-less using the phone. There's not enough light to use the Kindle this time of year, either. So I spend 8 minutes on the bus, 15 minutes waiting around in the cold for the next bus, and then 11 minutes on that next bus. The ride in, 30 minutes on one bus, is a lot nicer, but that route isn't currently practical for the way home.

I get a lot of satisfaction from driving, from controlling my fate. I'll also gain experience, even on the street, that I can use in my racing. While some people would love it if their car could drive itself to work every day, I'd rather do the driving myself.
thatwesguy From: thatwesguy Date: December 12th, 2009 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I see what you mean.

The "driving skills" aspect is an interesting factor. Most drivers don't consider the skill of becoming a better driver in their cost-benefit analysis of commute method. I like it!
eliset From: eliset Date: December 12th, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love my scooter, but it's not really logical to ride on cold/wet days, so you might factor that into your cost/benefit analysis.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: December 12th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
They make rain gear for riding motorcycles that I hear is quite effective. That does add cost (buying more gear, and this'd definitely need to be good stuff), but a way to get to work on a motorcycle and stay dry exists. Honestly, I'm more concerned about my ability to handle a sport bike on wet ground. When the drive tires loose traction in the wet, the car stays upright. The bike? Well... I need some skill first.

There's a lot of "I'll pay more if I'm happier" in these equations, but there's also a lot of "how happy would X actually make me?"

There's also an aspect I forgot to mention. My group at The Planet is a 24/7/365 operation. The bus isn't available for some shifts. I may or may not be able to convince them to let me use some of the under building parking in "off" hours, but the bus may not always be an option if my schedule changes.
eliset From: eliset Date: December 12th, 2009 06:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Makes sense.

My personal suggestions based on my experience:

- Absolutely take the class.
- Your gear, at a minimum, should include Snell-certified helmet, reinforced gloves, good boots (I wear Docs, but they make special motorcycle boots), and crash jacket.
- Don't give anyone a ride until you've been riding at least a year. I'm at 18 months, and I still haven't.
- spent a few months getting used to the bike before taking it out in inclement conditions
- install a louder horn (This is a good one - I literally met a Deaf guy who could hear it)
- assume people can't see you, and ride like that. I keep one finger near my horn at all times, and automatically give right-of-way to everyone else.
- get a used bike, not a new one. You will drop your bike. No sense in damaging a new bike unless you just love that model
- wave at other motorcycle riders. The wave is important! And scooter riders love the wave too. :)
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: December 12th, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Most of the riders I've talked to have provided similar (or identical) advice. I'll probably be going for the special motorcycle boots, just because I don't own boots yet. The helmet may end up being an SA rated instead of M rated. Apparently, the differences are that the SA protects better (multi-impact tested to more strict standards), but the M rules require a larger viewing area than the SA rules. So if the SA rated helmet I'll be buying for the track has a sufficiently large viewing area, I'll use it on the motorcycle, too. Either way, it'll be a full face Snell rated.

The motorcycle community is a great community. Even in the sports car, I've had a few interactions with motorcyclists (when the car's in the racing stickers, they recognize me as an enthusiast and we exchange waves). Waving as a sign of community, including the "I've got your 6" mentioned in your link, has always been a part of Miata ownership for me and I'm looking forward to continuing and expanding that on a motorcycle.

The only, the ONLY reason I can think of to get a new version of the bikes I'm looking at (Ninja 500R or similar) is for fuel injection. The pre-2009 bikes are carb, the 2009 and later are EFI. Still... A $2,000 2007 500R with 6,000 miles on it? Yeah, that sounds nice.
From: thomasj Date: December 13th, 2009 12:08 am (UTC) (Link)
All of these are are great tips.

I did actually buy a new bike (Ninja 250) as my first bike, and I dropped it *the first day*. Used is good =)

eliset From: eliset Date: December 13th, 2009 02:00 am (UTC) (Link)
I got my Vespa new too, but I expected to drop it - I was just very in love with a particular model.
From: thomasj Date: December 13th, 2009 12:07 am (UTC) (Link)
As a motorcycle rider:

* A 500cc (the Ninja 500 is a great choice, I see you've mentioned it) will do excellently for your size/body weight. I know a number of female riders who love their Ninja 500s.

* Go nuts on gear. There really is a price:quality relationship in that market. And it's your ass obviously.

A rough guide of what quality gear costs would look like this:

Helmet: $200-$400 (certain brands will be $500+)
Boots: $100-$200
Jacket: $100-$300
Pants: $100-$300
Gloves: $60-$120

If you expect to do a lot of riding in the rain or other weather conditions, I can not say enough good things about Aerostich (http://www.aerostich.com/) suits. The entry price is high - about $700 - but they last FOREVER, and are the best quality multi-purpose suits available. Many motorcycle tracks that host one-day events require either full leather OR Aerostich but no other textiles.

The riding community is a really great one, at least in the mature group. You will find a subset of the 18-24 guys in minimal gear with 1000cc bikes doing wheelies down city streets... and some Harley guys who won't talk to anyone, but most of the Hog riders are actually nice guys.

And, you'll get at least 40 or 45mpg. Gotta love that =)
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: December 13th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC) (Link)
The 500R and a GS500 are the two that are at the top of my list, at the moment, not that I've ever actually been on either. The 500Rs seem to be a lot more common around here (I've been looking through both Houston and Austin craigslist postings). I kinda want to skip the 250cc stage - get a 500cc and stick with it for a while, instead - but I don't want to be one of those idiots who buys more bike than they can handle. The actual active "looking for a bike" stage will start after the course and after the gear.

I'm figuring on going to a local shop (or two or three) when it comes time to look for the gear, in part to help get a good fit, and in part to get advice. I figure I can figure out helmets - I have some experience with that - but suits, gloves, boots, I have no clue, and with my small size, fit is a concern. I do have an interest in a one piece suit I could just wear over my "normal" clothes, instead of dealing with separate pants and jacket. Thanks for the link to Aerostich. That'll definitely feed my curiosity.
From: thomasj Date: December 13th, 2009 01:04 am (UTC) (Link)
If you want over-clothing, aerostich is the way to go. I was also put off by the $700 price tag, but I talked with Aerostich owners, and some of them are wearing the same suit fifteen years later. They're really well made.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: December 13th, 2009 01:44 am (UTC) (Link)
While spending more means it'll be longer before I get a bike, I'm definitely willing to spend for quality gear.

From a review of the suit:
"This will keep you dry for about 25 minutes, and then you get Aerostich Crotch."

HAH. Ride to work should be about 20 minutes...
From: thomasj Date: December 13th, 2009 01:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Getting the right fit is critical to make sure it doesn't leak =)

They generally send it to you, you try it on, figure out what you need, and send it back; they alter it and send it back to you; repeat until satisfied.

I got some good wet-weather riding in and haven't had any leak issues yet. But then again, this is California :P
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: December 13th, 2009 01:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I figure I can probably provide pretty good measurements, too, which should help get the start closer.

Our thorough thunderstorms are more likely in the afternoon / evening than in the morning, and I don't mind getting home wet. If the bad storms do get me wet, I can always hop back on the bus the rainy mornings.

I'll be starting off using the bus in the wet, anyway, as I'm not going to go straight from "never ridden" to "riding in rain." Admittedly, I did that in cars (I had my learners permit for 3 days before I drove 100 miles in a thunderstorm), but 4 wheels and 2 wheels are rather different.
From: thomasj Date: December 13th, 2009 03:14 am (UTC) (Link)
> I figure I can probably provide pretty good measurements, too, which should help get the start closer.

They have a sizing chart on their website, IIRC. If you can get exact measurements, like a tailor, I believe they can get it much better.

One thing people notice is that the suits feel too long and too open around the waist when you are standing up in them. This is because they fashion them to fit you just right when sitting on the moto.

So if you get one, make sure you go sit on your moto for a good while to see how it feels.

Oh, and run it about fifteen times through the dryer, no heat. They are somewhat stiff before they break in fully. The dryer cycle will help that along.
(Deleted comment)
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: December 13th, 2009 05:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Gear before bike was decided, oh, I dunno, a year and a half ago? It's definitely happening. I'm not sure how to try on the gear as though I'm on the bike without actually sitting on a bike, but I'll figure something out. Rigid full-face helmet and real bike pants and jacket (or one piece suit), not jeans, not fashion leather, were decided about that time, too. I figured I'd decide what sort of motorcycle gear closer to when I bought it, but it'd be gear designed for motorcycle use.

How bad are motorcycle boots for wearing throughout the day? I mean, other than they're really clunky compared with my normal style...
From: thomasj Date: December 13th, 2009 11:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I wore mine all the time for a while at my place, and they got to be a bit tough on the feet. However, I bought very high quality boots intended for the rigors of track racing; they're not made to be walked in, they're made to work correctly on a motorcycle and keep your ankle/leg rigid in a crash.

I started carrying clothing in a backpack, along with shoes, and it was only a few minutes to change at my office.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: December 13th, 2009 01:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
*nod* I'm thinkin' sandals in the backback on the not-so-cool days, and on the cool days maybe staying in the boots. Then again, the office tends to be nice and warm, even when snow's falling outside, so I can probably wear the sandals inside year 'round.

I discovered on my second (maybe third?) day that I have a coworker who goes barefoot. All the time. Sometimes he brings shoes but leaves them in the car. Not even socks. Somehow that seems... Potentially unsanitary.
From: thomasj Date: December 13th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm surprised they let him do that; sounds like a liability for the company, should something happen...
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: December 13th, 2009 02:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, it's a "normal" office. None of the servers are at HQ and we're not handling anything heavy. It seems sandals would be as reasonable here as at any other office environment. I'm just thinking... What if more than one person went barefoot (I hate shoes myself), and he brought in something from outside?

*shrug* Whatever. Sandals are both small and lightweight, and I can pack some fuzzy, warm socks, too, in case I do get cold.
sfida From: sfida Date: December 21st, 2009 10:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow, I drive by The Planet every day on my way home. Our company has a contract with you guys, actually, but for the Dallas facility.

I wish I could ride the bus in. Parking is free in the Galleria Area, yes, but gas isn't, and like you, the company would pay my bus fare. The problem is that my 25-minute (in the morning) commute would become a 90-minute commute simply because Metro is so badly organized. Leaving the house at 5:45 every morning? Let's see how many ways to say "NO" I can think of...

As far as the 'cycle goes, I can't do anything but reiterate just what you've said, but please give some more thought to safety. Houston drivers are crap, and I think they're worst of all in Midtown.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: December 21st, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Alpha Services group actually works on all the servers in the various datacenters. If it's the downtown facility you drive by, that's where I work. Almost none of the servers are here, though - the Houston ones are out further north and there are multiple locations (both with servers and without) in Dallas as well.

I'm thinking either Kirby-> Allen or Kirby -> Memorial. While Houston drivers are CRAP, the traffic loads at the time of day I'm on those streets isn't excessively high. It looks to me like I should still be able to find escape routes, etc. The restricted access nature of Memorial and Allen reduce the risk of being rearended while at a stop light (fraggin' idiots).
sfida From: sfida Date: December 21st, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I found a while ago that it's faster for me to take Memorial through Downtown to I-10 than to take any of the highways anywhere in the neighborhood of 4:45 in the afternoon.

You're right about the Parkways, but Kirby is worrisome, especially with all that construction right now. Granted, during the commute, you'll likely be driving with people who know what they're doing, but even still. After you clear San Felipe, you should be good either way, but I'd have the willies about it for sure.
equiraptor From: equiraptor Date: December 21st, 2009 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, construction's done on the part of Kirby I'd be on! It's all broad and smooth and nice. =)
sfida From: sfida Date: December 21st, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hope they move on to that part of Westheimer pretty swiftly, then. That area makes for an interesting study in speed control by potholes. Thank God for that lifetime-unlimited-alignment deal at Firestone.
keri80 From: keri80 Date: December 22nd, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hi, I got your comment from Houston TX. I'm going to leave you a livejournal message with my name :)
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