Our two wheeled path out of lockdown – What is the role of motorcycles?

So what is the role for motorcycles in our two wheeled path out of lockdown?  It is clear that this will lead to many of us spending more time on two wheels.   Yet, even as we see a recognition of the benefits of motorised assistance for pedal cycles, the role of the motorcycle seems to be overlooked.  Are they needed, or should they be viewed simply as a sideshow, a novelty for a fringe minority?

role of motorcycles

The COVID imperative

Firstly let’s consider the topsy-turvy world we currently live in.  After continual requests to ditch the car in favour of public transport, we now have no choice but to avoid it.  Social distancing on a bus, train or the tube means vastly reduced capacity.  The social distancing requirement means that capacity on public transport has reduced by 90%.

As you join the vast masses displaced from the public transport, what are your options?

It is true that large numbers of journeys are relatively short, making the active travel option viable for many.  Walking and cycling can and will take the strain for many trips.  It cannot come as a surprise to us though, that walking and cycling will not be viable for a very large percentage of those displaced public transport trips.

Ask yourself: if active travel (which is free) was an option for all those commuters on the train, why were they on the train in the first place?  Why would you pay to make a trip you can conveniently make for free?  I don’t know about you, but being the thrifty person that I am, I always resist parting unnecessarily with my hard earned cash.  If you do have money to waste, please feel free to send it in my direction.

How far?

The biggest issue for these displaced public transport travellers is going to be distance.  Walking or cycling is not an option for the distance many need to travel.  This is before you consider those for whom active travel is not an option for any distance due to disability.  Or if, like me, you are just too old for all that physical effort.  Yes, we all need exercise, but for some of us that 10 mile commute just is not going to happen on foot or pumping away at pedals.  In 2018 the average trip on the London underground was 8.9 miles and on average surface rail trips were 30.9 miles.

During the lockdown we have seen enormous numbers of people taking to their pedal cycles. But how many of those trips were to get to work?  Many with time on their hands will have jumped at the chance for a pleasant cycle ride to get their permitted exercise. When a return to work is on the cards, will they all be able to make the trip under their own power?  A short lockdown cycle ride for exercise cannot always equate to a long distance commute.

Time is money

Another drawback of active travel is the time it takes.  Living in a city centre it is fair to say that cycling probably won’t take much longer than driving a three or four mile commute.  But if you are commuting in from the suburbs, ten or more miles, you are going to be hit with a double dilemma.  Both driving and cycling will take far longer than the time you have available. 

We all lead busy lives.  Recently, over 8 million furloughed workers found themselves with far more time on their hands than they are accustomed to.  But as they return to work, they no longer have time to kill.  An hour or two for walking or cycling when you don’t have to be at work is pleasant, and good for you too.  A two hour walk or cycle ride to work, followed by a full day’s toil, may not be great. Add a further two hour trip home and walking and cycling are going to lose their appeal very quickly.

Motorcycles to the rescue

The role of motorcycles in transport is, in my view, self-evident.  The Government seem intent on pushing e-scooters.  In many respects these are motorised two wheelers. For me, they don’t immediately fill a need not already covered by active travel.  Motorcycles, by contrast do provide that longer range compliment to active travel.  Motorcycles carry the key transport benefits of cycling out to those who really need a motorised solution.  To quote the Transport secretary himself: “Motorcycles are an enormously important way of getting around— 2.7 billion miles were travelled by motorcycle in 2018


Don’t look on motorcycles as a challenge or opponent for cycling and walking.  They are a complimentary solution.  They can meet the needs of large sectors of the commuting public.  Displaced from mass transit, many commuters still wish to avoid the downsides of cars.  With a few simple support policies from employers, local authorities and central government, motorcycles can be a significant salve to the dilemma of lockdown transition blues.

Ride To Work Day 2020, on 15th June, is going to be one of the most important transport campaigns this year.

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