Friday, June 12, 2009

Bike To Work Day

The traditional Bike To Work Day this year is on Monday, June 15, but the weather here may be iffy on that day, so I decided to commute by bike today.

I got up early with the idea of leaving home around 6:30am, hoping that traffic on the freeway would be light. I work in downtown Seattle, which is about 40 miles west of North Bend, and since Seattle has Lake Washington separating the city from the eastern suburbs, I have to travel on I-90 for about 30 of those 40 miles. I have taken the GV250 on the freeway before, and she has performed quite well considering her 250cc engine. She can get up fairly easily to 110-120kph (since she's Korean, her speedometer and odometer are metric), which is about 68-75mph. From North Bend to Issaquah (traveling about 18 miles west) the speed limit is 70mph, so I am able to keep up somewhat with traffic (most go about 80mph when the State Patrol aren't watching).

In the picture above, I'm loading up my saddlebags with my business wear and my laptop. There's a problem - my laptop doesn't fit in my bags - I wish I had a backpack, but there's none to be found, so I have to bring my briefcase and carry that over my shoulder. Everything else fits in the bags just fine.

Since I am going on the freeway, I want to be super visible, so I don my lime-green vest over my leather jacket:

The ride on the freeway starts out OK. I've been staying in the right lane, but since the carpool/motorcycle lane that starts in Issaquah is the left-most lane I make my move across three lanes. I'm successful at that and now I am in the HOV lane - even at this time, traffic is getting pretty congested in the other lanes, so it's good to take advantage of my HOV status.

However, as I start to pick up speed, my motorcycle starts to act peculiar. The engine start to sputter, and the rpms fluctuate - it's as if the engine is starving for fuel. The bike is bucking, so I pull off the freeway to try to figure out what is going on. Things seem OK, so I accelerate back onto the freeway only to have the same issue happen again. I'm a bit low on gas, so I think that maybe that's the issue. I get off the freeway and fill up. I get back on the freeway and things seem fine, but then the bucking starts again. Now I'm on the floating bridge going across Lake Washington, and I'm not quite sure what to do. I keep the speed/rpms down, the problem goes away, and I end up in downtown Seattle.

Stop and go traffic in downtown Seattle is not really fun on a motorcycle, in my opinion. I go about a block only to have to shift down and wait at the light. This procedure is repeated for a number of blocks. Also, even the smaller hills in Seattle that I hardly notice in a car become a challenge to take off from on a motorcycle. I have to feather the clutch so I don't fall back, and apply just enough throttle to move forward without jerking. It's now that I long for the "twist and go" operation of my scooter! However, it's a necessary learning experience for me, and I improve with each block.

I arrive in the parking garage at my office. When I park here with my car, it's $16 for all day parking. With my motorcycle, it's $6 - a good savings. The garage has several dedicated spots for two-wheeled transportation. I park her and use one of the shower facilities that we have to change into my business clothes.

I look up the forum for my motorcycle to find some solution to the "engine starvation" issue I had during the commute into town. It appears that others have had the same issue, and the solution seems to be "Seafoam." If you don't know about this product, it's an engine additive that many swear by. It does a great job of cleaning the varnish and junk that sometimes forms on carburetors, and is a really good fuel stabilizer, helping to remove moisture from your fuel lines. I plan on getting a can after work before I make the ride across the Lake Washington floating bridge and I-90.

After work, I ride to a NAPA Auto Parts store south of Safeco Field. There's so much road construction in Seattle. There is a lot of dug up asphalt, and steel plates over the roads. I heed the road signs that say "Motorcycles Use Extreme Caution."

I arrive at the auto parts store, pick up a can of Seafoam and an energy drink - the cashier reminds me that one is for my bike, one is for me, and to not switch them. The bike downs the Seafoam, I down the energy drink, and I head back into downtown to get in the carpool lane across the bridge.

The bike is working great, with none of the problems experienced this morning. I'm about to get into the tunnel just before the bridge, when the overhead road signs say there's an accident in the tunnel. There are two tunnels; one for the mainline traffic and one for the carpool lane. Usually the accidents are in the former, due to the higher level of traffic - but not this time, the accident is in the carpool lane. I am in the middle of the tunnel at a standstill - the traffic moves a few feet, then stops. I am essentially walking my bike through the tunnel. Pretty soon the traffic clears, and we're off. Once past the bridge, the traffic starts to bunch up again, so I get off the carpool lane, and take some surface streets as I proceed east.

I get back on the freeway in Issaquah, and really push the bike to see if there's a repeat of this morning's problems, and happily, there is none. I make it home with no further incident.

Upon returning home, I assess the ride. Did I enjoy it? Parts of the ride were nice, and I am glad I did this for the experience, but overall, I have to be honest and say I didn't enjoy it. Riding on the freeway is simply not an enjoyable experience - there's too much wind buffeting, and while the GV250 can operate at freeway speeds, she is revving at 8000-9000 rpms at that speed so the ride is pretty buzzy. With me on the bike, she is more comfortable at 60mph then at 70. Maybe if I had a larger cc bike (or lost weight) I would feel differently. Downtown traffic was not very fun either - I would much rather be on a scooter, without having to shift up and down from stoplight to stoplight. Actually, I would much rather be cruising on some nice country road in my area, rather than dealing with downtown traffic.

Having said all of the above, it was great to actually experience commuting to work. And, who knows, I might try it again.


Baron's Life said...

Hi Lance, a great and detailed good as twiter but not limited to 150 characters...
I learned something from it...BTW, I agree with you, riding on that stretch of the freeway can be very stressful especially if you have to meet a deadline/schedule...Also Downtown Seattle requires constant shifting going up and down those hills. (They are tough to negotiate by car, let alone a motor bike). I'm not sure I'd ride to work every day if I was in working downtown Seattle

Danny said...

It takes a little while to get used to the traffic and freeways. But then again I don't live in as busy a town and I don't have to go downtown. I commuted a lot by bike last year and it took time to get comfortable. I was happy when I was able to get back to it this year.

As far as your fuel issue, I have heard SeaFoam is great. I should probably run some through mine. Mostly because of the tank. If I were you though I would consider a look at your fuel valve. Is it automatic or do you have to turn it on to start the bike. If it is automatic some of those have vacuum lines that run to the carb. A clogged, disconnected or leaking vac line can cause the problems you described. If it happens again soon be sure to check it.

Lance said...

Baron, thanks for the blogging encouragement!

Danny, from what I have heard, Seafoam is a wonder product. I took the bike out today and ran it on the freeway up to the speed/rpms where the problem started to occur yesterday, and she ran great. If it happens again, I'll check the lines. Thanks for the suggestion!

Doug C said...

I always thought that the traffic in central Ohio was the pits but I learned, after reading Intrepids blog and now yours, that we got it pretty easy here.

Every once in a while there will be a wreck that screws up the flow here, but it's been months (knock on wood) since I've been caught in it. Last year, as I past a wreck on the opposing side, I saw 2 riders in the breakdown lane waiting for traffic to start flowing again. Walking a bike for a couple of miles is not fun. And if its air cooled and summer time... well, yuck.

I suppose when this area gets HOV lanes (never driven in a diamond lane before!), I'll know what congestion is all about.

Too bad the ride was not enjoyable, but now ya know.

Good post, Lance!

bobskoot said...


I know what you mean about all those hills. My car is a 5-speed and when I go to Seattle I try to avoid all those really steep hills, like the ones north of the Pike Place Market. I don't like to put excessive wear on the clutch, but otherwise on a bike hills are easier once you get the technique down. I usually hold the front brake (right lever) and twist the throttle at the same time (just a little), then let the clutch out a bit until I feel it engaging, then let off the brake. You could also use the foot brake but I like the handbrake better. Saves doing that stoplight dance.

but you are right about shifting manually. I prefer to use the scoot for urban commuting, and use the bike for highway travel.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Lance said...

Doug, thanks. On further reflection, maybe my negativity on the ride was because it was the first time for me - a lot of new stuff for me on that ride. So, I think I'll be giving it another go sometime soon.

Bob, thanks for your tips. Oh, for a Kymco Xciting 500!

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