Automobile advertisers paint a beautiful picture of life behind the wheel. From curvy scenic roads, to the picturesque streets of the cities, whichever model they're selling has the world to itself. Nothing impedes the drivers' freedom of the road.
Of course, the reality of modern motoring drives people violently insane.
According to the Texas Transportation Institute, in 1997 the average L.A. driver wasted 82 hours stuck in traffic. Seattle drivers averaged 69 hours lost, and even in Las Vegas road congestion cost high rollers 34 hours they could've spent gambling or ogling strippers. It's no wonder people go nuts.
In addition, the Institute estimates U.S. drivers in that one year wasted 6.6 billion gallons of gasoline struggling along overcrowded roads, squandering resources and fouling the air while they drive each other crazy.
And in 65 of the 68 areas studied, the situation is getting worse. They can't pave fast enough to keep up with the constant increase of traffic. In more than half the study areas, time lost to traffic congestion has increased at least 350% in only 16 years. The standard band-aids of car-pooling and public transportation have generally failed to make an impact.
So is the end nigh? Is our freewheeling way doomed?
I don't know, and it's not my problem. I started riding a motorcycle 25 years ago, when I had to commute to a job in mid-town Manhattan, and since then I haven't been bothered by traffic except when I'm forced to drive a car. The little Honda CB175 I started out with turned trafficjamming into a sporting proposition.
The little Honda didn't last long, nor did the 350 Twins after it. I kept looking for a better traffic-runner. What's needed is a narrow, lightweight motorcycle with instant power on demand, quick handling, and wheel-locking brakes. On derelict New York City roads, the best bike for the job in 1980 was the 300-pound XT500, with a 25-inch Tomaselli "Super Touring" bar. The simplicity, light weight, power, and reliability sold me on single-cylinder motorcycles.
So I looked forward to testing the Blast in traffic.
JAMMIN' XT at 59th and Broadway, Manhattan, 1981.
The closest thing I have to Manhattan these days is the lunacy of the Las Vegas Strip. But it's pretty close; they even have a fake "New York, New York" for a little atmosphere, lots of clueless lost hungover tourists, and swarms of hustling, diving buck-thirsty cabbies. Only things missing are the huge potholes and gaping open repair pits.
I knew what to expect from the Blast and I wasn't disappointed. It went through traffic like a beach ball through rapids. Its widest point, at 27 inches, is the breadth of the handlebar, as it should be. Scooting through tight spots I could judge clearance by where my hands were. The handling and brakes are ideal for agile riding amongst the "iron buffalo", and the upright riding position is perhaps an advantage. The clutch and brake levers are close enough to the grips that I could easily keep two fingers over each for faster response to threats and opportunities.The two mirrors gave me the Samurai's "eight-pointed awareness" necessary for safely navigating the flow of traffic.
The engine has enough low-end grunt to lunge off idle, but once on the move I kept the revs up for maximum acceleration and compression braking. Some people who are used to two-strokes or Fours find the big Single's engine braking intrusive, but I like it - roll the throttle and the bike's response is instant and predictable, two characteristics important for fast riding in close quarters.
Between scrimmages of playing in traffic I managed to get some shopping done. With a daypack, and the canvas gear bag slung across the saddle behind me, I could accumulate a shopping cart full of loot before heading home.
A handy motorcycle beats all the constant petty frustrations that drive people to "road rage". A bike slips in and out of traffic without a ripple, without having to bull and bluff its way through. It seems like drivers these days even appreciate that a motorcycle takes up less resources and road space than their cushy 2-ton cages. I wonder when the "experts" will wise up and start promoting motorcycling, instead of still more freeway construction and proven failures like car-pools and public transportation.
It does take something special to ride, though. It takes more skill and spirit than spacing out with the radio on. Maybe there aren't enough of us to make a difference. But riding a good motorcycle is one of the finer things in life, and driving a car in modern traffic isn't. Maybe as more people catch on to that we will make a difference.