It could be said that there are two types of motorcyclists - those who ride on the weekends (but only when the weather allows), and those who don their helmet every working day, storm or sunshine.
Riding to work every day is sometimes exhilarating and sometimes painful. What is encountered on the road can be divided into two main categories - things that can hurt you and things that make it all worthwhile.
Things that Can Hurt You
Obstacles include all manner of traps for the unwary, such as roadworks, slippery metal manhole covers, other vehicles, and still-alight cigarette-butts, flicked nonchalantly backwards into your path1. Remember that every car, truck, or bus-driver is out to get you, or they are deaf and blind. Stay alert, take up an assertive road position and don't send conflicting or hesitant signals to drivers about your intentions. Be aware of vehicle blind spots and know your machine's stopping and turning limits. To increase your visibility2, consider wearing a fluorescent/reflective vest.
Advice and training on how to ride in such a way that minimises the likelihood of painfully encountering obstacles is widely available - make use of it. The Internet can be a useful resource (for example, this site) but nothing substitutes for practical training and experience.
Officers of the law can be stubborn folk. Why else would they stand in the freezing rain in flimsy plastic overcoats hoping that someone is going to be foolish enough to exceed the speed-limit, despite the fact that it's raining so hard that anyone who goes faster than a rather slow turtle would need the radar-like abilities of the comic book hero Daredevil?
It's best not to argue with them if you get caught speeding on finer days,3 but don't admit what speed you were doing, either, especially if the officer doesn't actually have a radar or laser-gun to rely on. Police are likely to be on hand in the event of an accident, so it's best to consider that the guy giving you a ticket today could be the one who you wish would use a truncheon on the lunatic in the Volvo tomorrow.
Bad weather can really hurt. It can also make you very damp. Sitting in an office, air conditioning malfunctioning, with wet socks, underwear and boots is not a pleasant experience. Your co-workers will laugh at you behind your back, while you try to avoid dripping water on the office's latest computer rollout.
Those who work outside, however, will probably be sitting at home, snug and warm, bemoaning the lack of pay for the day, but secretly grinning broadly. In some places, this includes the local police, but you can bet your bottom dollar that if you're suffering through a ride to work that somewhere out there is a just-as-sodden, and quite grumpy, motorcycle cop. At any rate, obstacles become much easier to hit, so it's a good idea to do everything on the road at a slower pace.
Your visor will mist up if you leave it down, but if you leave it up, even a crack, you will half-drown as a gush of water flows inwards. Anti-misting products are therefore a sensible purchase.
A variety of clothing and coverings is available to protect the rider from torrential downpours. Whatever your preference, an emergency set of plastic overcoat and pants is best kept under the seat. Plastic-wear can be cheap and effective, but remember to get a size big enough to fit over your leathers, with a long enough leg and a sturdy enough seam to withstand sitting astride the bike4. Plastic gear becomes sauna-like in tropical regions, so that you might as well just go without or use something else.
Other items to consider include the addition of a windshield for some extra wet-weather protection (when moving, at least); handlebar muffs; heated hand-grips; and a spare set of clothes, or at least socks and underwear, protected by plastic bags or stored in your panniers. Apparently waterproof socks are also available.
Things that make it all worthwhile
Costs and Benefits
Motorcycles typically consume less resources than other vehicles, although it is important to remember that costs such as servicing and tyres5 should be compared to fuel savings for some bikes. Parking is considerably easier, and often cheaper in undercover carparks.
Riding on a beautiful day is like manna from heaven. Even if you do have to go to work, on a nice day riding a bike means that taking the long way to work is a sublime pleasure.
Getting to Work... Fast
A motorbike can add some considerable time to your sleep-in, breakfast, or morning jog. In Sydney (Australia) a few years ago a race was held between a Porsche and a 50cc scooter, from the city down to Bondi Beach. The scooter won by 30 minutes.
Lane-splitting6 when vehicles are stopped (for example at traffic lights), or moving, is sometimes practiced by riders but not endorsed by this author. When the traffic is stopped, watch for timing of lights, flying cigarette-butts, and drivers who deliberately open doors or try to move across to block you off. When moving, particularly watch for drivers who make sudden lane changes. Don't try lane-splitting if the traffic is moving well.
Avoid lane-splitting into oncoming traffic, even when the traffic is stopped at intersections7. Lane-splitting may be illegal, or it may be encouraged, but either way do it with care, if you must do it at all.
Taking the Long Way to Work
Ultimately, getting to work is taking the good with the bad, the stressful with the frustratingly boring. Just being able to do it on two wheels makes all the difference. As often as you can, ride the long way to work. Take that bit of extra time and ride against the flow of the traffic, find an open road or a twisty bit of mountain and get back to doing what riding a bike is all about.