It is bone chilling cold outside, with wind chills headed to record lows for this part of the country and I am thinking about this past year on my Harley. A little arthritis, a new lens prescription and a loss of some strength in my surgically repaired thumb all combine to remind me that I am on the downhill slide from those magic years when I was a Centurion charged with the responsibility of leveling the playing field for the folks in my little piece of the world. Occasionally, I am asked why I ride a motorcycle, particularly as I get closer to the age of 70. It is a fair question. Let’s jump in…….
Motorcycles are honest. By that I mean there is no anonymity when you are astride the iron horse. Mistakes and poor judgement are oh so obvious to those around you in their climate controlled steel cages. The stakes for miscalculations on a motorcycle are high, a very good incentive to maintain situational awareness and alertness. Situational awareness and alertness have served me well through my years in the military and patrol uniform.
Motorcycles challenge you physically. It is imperative you maintain a measured degree of physical fitness if you are going to horse around a 700 pound motorcycle. Drop your guard and park a motorcycle on a slight downhill grade and the reward is bulging eyeballs and the beginning of a hernia as you strain to push it backwards. Depending on the height of your bike, the balancing act at a stop light can be a challenge. Dexterity is required to manipulate the controls that require both hands and feet, often simultaneously, to keep the the machine in motion and upright. When I returned to cycling, after a long hiatus, the focus at the gym shifted from “toning” to strength conditioning. This never a bad thing.
Motorcycles eliminate distractions. You do not ride a motorcycle and enjoy a nice double shot, vanilla latte, while chatting on the cellphone, all the while impervious to the heat, cold or precipitation outside of your car or truck. You are able to enjoy the multi-sensory experience of the open road and concentrate on riding defensively through the countryside. Have you ever driven cross country in a car and arrived in a daze not remembering much if anything about the trip? This seldom happens on a motorcycle as you do not have the luxury of disengaging your brain. You see things that car drivers do not.
Motorcycles attract an interesting and entertaining subset of Americana. I have met some of the nicest folks who share a passion for riding. Motorcyclists back their well known hands down wave with an interest in their fellow cyclists, seldom passing a bike on the side of the road without turning around and offering assistance. After acquiring my first Harley a few years back, I stopped for fuel and could not get the fuel cap off. The mechanic at the shop where I took delivery was a gorilla, and had put some effort into securing the gas cap tightly on my machine. [Remember, I have arthritic thumbs!]. Two fellow riders soon stopped at the pumps and seeing my distress, ambled over to where I was standing. I explained the situation and one of these fellows, himself a hulk of a man, unscrewed the cap with considerable effort. I suspect the strongest bond between fellow cyclists is their degree of risk adversity. If you are totally risk adverse, motorcycles are not for you. Timidity and under confidence will get you hurt and the ride will be less than memorable. On the other hand over confidence will also prematurely end your motorcycle experience.
Motorcycles are exhilarating. The wind on your fists and the breeze on your knees are refreshing. The “new leather” scent in your family conveyance is replaced with the smell of freshly turned soil and the smoke from every BBQ joint you ride by. You quickly learn to avoid road killed critters, especially unfortunate skunks, as you are up close and personal with the aroma released in their demise. You welcome the smell of a freshly mowed lawn and revel in the wonderful odor of a freshly cut hayfield. Acceleration through the gears and the resulting wind in your face is enchanting as the g-force settles you into the saddle. The symmetry of clutching, shifting and finding your spot on the open road is satisfying in ways that few experience in their automobile.
Motorcycling forges an uneasy truce with the elements. Weather shapes your wardrobe. Leather, the beautiful synthetics available today, heated jackets and gloves, various baklava’s, scarves, heated socks and a variety of functional footwear must be considered when saddling up. It is like hiking, admittedly at a little faster pace. Personally, I wear reflective vests, another consideration as they add a layer of clothing on very hot days. Technology today has given us various “cool” jackets that actually circulate cold water through them for rides in super hot conditions. You become far more aware of this thing called weather.
Finally, I enjoy maintaining vehicles. This affliction dates back to my high school years during which I often washed my car daily, a habit I carried into my years on the Patrol. Motorcycles are intricate but relatively small and I enjoy washing, waxing and tinkering around with them. Today my bike is resting under a dust cover in our garage, ready for the next good riding day. I do not have the mechanical aptitude to go much beyond washing, waxing and detailing the motor equipment under my care, but I derive much satisfaction in those duties. There is a lot of chrome on these things, and road grime can find it’s way into the damndest places……….
These are the reasons I ride. Come to think of it………I am ready for spring!