One reason I don’t prefer interstate riding

I-495 in Massachusetts. Heavy traffic on busy highways in densely populated areas like Lowell, Mass. can dramatically elevate your level of danger when on a motorcycle. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)
I-495 in Massachusetts. Heavy traffic on busy highways in densely populated areas like Lowell, Mass. can dramatically elevate your level of danger when on a motorcycle. (PHOTO BY DAVID M. FITZPATRICK)

As a rule, I don’t care for interstate riding. It isn’t that I don’t like going fast or that heavy traffic makes me nervous; I just prefer a slower pace on non-interstate roads with, predominately, just one lane either way. I like trips with nice sights, and interstate fare tends to be the same old mix of guard rails, interchanges, and overpasses.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a place for highway riding. If I have to be somewhere in a hurry, especially over a long distance, the interstate makes sense. In the summer of 2014 I had to ride the highways through four states to Connecticut for a job interview—well, okay, I didn’t HAVE to RIDE, but I had to be in Connecticut, and it was beautiful weather in July, so… well, so I did HAVE to RIDE, I suppose.

And some people, like my good friend and RZer WingMan, do a lot of highway riding. If he had his way, we’d ride the highway whenever the opportunity arose. Not me. But during a trip through New Hampshire in June, I did some highway riding that helped remind me why I prefer to not do that.

I was at my sister’s near Concord during a motorcycle road trip but had plans to meet up with a friend in Chelmsford, Mass. for lunch. There were plenty of non-highway routes to take, but all of them were longer rides and likely confusing if you weren’t from the area and didn’t know the territory. So I did a quick Google Maps check and found a fast route via I-293 to the Everett Turnpike, also Route 3, then onto I-495 in Massachusetts briefly before jumping off at my destination.

Traffic was light and easy on the way down, although I did get horribly mixed up and spent an extra half hour riding up and down 495 trying to locate an apparently nonexistent exit. I finally found my friend’s house, and after lunch and some hang-out time, I finally bid her farewell at about 5:30 that evening. I headed up the road a bit into Lowell to hop back on Route 3.

As soon as I turned onto the ramp, I realized that the return trip was going to be very different than the earlier jaunt. It was rush hour, and traffic was at a crawl, just a few miles per hour away from a standstill. It was too late to change my mind, so I managed to merge with the roughly three zillion cars and plodded along for several miles before we finally began moving. And that’s when I remembered the worst part about riding on the highway.

It’s the heavy traffic. And that alone wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t been for the dangerous drivers. These folks don’t much care about any other traffic on the road, and they sure care less about motorcyclists. And they drive way faster than the speed limit. In my experience, the best thing to do is get in the center lane, keep fair distance between me and the car in front of me, and don’t give a crap about whether someone who wants to 90 behind me doesn’t like that I’m not speeding beyond all reason. I stay out of the right-hand lane because during a rush-hour situation like that every on-ramp becomes a dreadful slow-down as people merge and create even more dangerous situations for someone on a motorcycle.

It was crazy, heavy, speeding traffic for miles, and I’ll certainly say that it honed my skills and kept me more alert than usual for the entire trip. And this is another reason why I don’t care for highway riding: I’m riding so defensively that I can’t even enjoy the view, much less a breath of fresh air. The latter, of course, is a lot harder anyway when you’re surrounded by endless exhaust-spewing cars.

I missed my exit and have to get off in Manchester and take a different route to my sister’s, but that was the best part of the ride that day—and, more than anything, offered the best contrast to the harrowing experience I had just survived. It was the perfect comparison to remind just what it is I love about riding.

Leave a Reply