If it goes wrong it can go very wrong. If it goes right, then you smile to yourself count the hours till you do it again.

I once met a rider who hung up his leathers for good, not for the usual reasons. He didn't stop for newly-born kids, wasn't guilted by a significant other, didn't step away after a bad crash. But, he told me, he lost his passion when he lost his San Francisco commute. Retired at a young age, he missed the daily rush of battling traffic to get to work. Everything else was poor substitute.

I didn't get it. At the time my commute consisted entirely of bland freeway lanes, no battling required. I was happy to not challenge Death daily. But two years ago, an office relocation thrust me into a proper San Francisco commute. Been battling ever since. I wouldn't give it up.

"Commute" is a bad word for most, one of the worst. It's hours wasted staring at the ass of the vehicle ahead. It's sharing uncomfortable space with strangers and not being able to do a damn thing about it. Commuting is helplessness five days a week. Not for me. Most days—this is no exaggeration—my commute is the highlight of my waking hours.

FIRST RIDE: 2018 Kawasaki Ninja 400

Mark's view aboard his Ninja 250 commuting through San Francisco

On a motorcycle, commuting is not a helpless act. I am not bound to follow the lead of the slowest common denominator. I have no awkward company but myself. A line of dawdling cars clogging the freeway becomes a moving puzzle to overtake. Watch the gaps between them, eyes on converging lanes, and a well-timed slip between the slothful lot yields an addicting drip of joy.

As all lanes bunch up into downtown San Francisco, I batten down the hatches, focus my mental capacity on deftly filtering through a sea of autonomous steel boxes. I anticipate their moves, study the body language of shadowy figures through rear windows, constantly adjust my trajectory and pick my moments for frictionless spatial intersection.

In the city, rules dissolve in a swirling mess of urgent life. Pedestrians dart between gridlocked cars, bicyclists blindly cut through reds, drivers struggle to find a place for their oversized transport. In the middle of everything, little me acting a selfish ass on two wheels, slipping clutch and throwing revs to maintain forward momentum and find the cracks in the clockwork where speed and safety fit.

CYCLE THERAPY: Life, Family, and Motorcycles

If it goes wrong, I lose big. I'm on the ground, I'm in the hospital, I'm possibly dead. If it goes right, I get to work on time. I sit behind a computer, and grin to myself. If it goes right, I can't wait for the evening battle home.


Mark is an Executive Editor at IGN and writes about adventuring by Ninja 250 on his blog, The Sunday Best.

This story was original published on August 22, 2012.


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