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Friday, May 23, 2014

why i have ridden motorcycles for 44 years now

I was 8. My dad bought me a go-kart, I was a lucky kid, but I convinced him to sell it and get me a mini bike. Nothing special at all, just a tube frame, 3.5 hp lawn mower engine, a throttle and a rear brake that was a flat plate of steel that rubbed the back tire. Changed my life. That feeling of a motorcycle as an extension of my mind began and the longest I have gone without a bike since that day is 31 days. 31 days? Yup, totaled a bike and it took 30 days to get a check, bought a new bike the next day.

It hasn't been all roses owning a bike, I crashed and injured myself in many ways on the dirt, then had a few street accidents too. Watched my best friend in the world die on a bike 20 yards in front of me when a drunk driver lost control of his pick up on a lovely Saturday afternoon in Malibu.

But no matter what the situation or circumstance, I am always drawn back to the feeling. The feeling of how a bike becomes an extension of your mind. See, if you have never ridden, you cannot fully grasp it, but when you take control of a motorcycle, it becomes a part of you. And it doesn't matter what kind of bike you are on, if you are actually in control of the bike it is a part of you. Together you lean into corners, together you share the rush of acceleration and the effects of braking. You are exposed, open to the weather, the smells, the excitement.

What? You drive a performance car? Big deal. It is not the same. You sit in a car and get tossed around by the forces at work. you sip a coffee, adjust the radio and seal your self in a cocoon, separated from the world. Short of the fact that you turn the steering wheel and push on the pedals, you might as well be in row 23, seat c in an airplane.

I will try to explain the feeling. First you have to understand riding a motorcycle goes against the very nature of the motorcycle and physics. Huh? Its a single track vehicle, stand it up on its wheels and it wants to fall over and lay on its side. So just by riding to the end of the block you have accomplished something. But now, you take that natural tendency to fall over and eliminate it by being in control and making the bike do what you want and it is glorious. The acceleration of a motorcycle, even a small displacement bike, is intoxicating. Its raw. twist the throttle, row through the gears and get up to speed. Every action you make has a reaction. Get on a mid to larger sized engine and you will understand power. As you go through the gears you feel yourself pushed back on the seat, the wind picks up and punches you in the chest and helmet. Suddenly you are holding on to a speeding projectile and you connect with the fact you are controlling it. Dialing up or down on the throttle changes the sensation and the effects of the wind/speed. Slow way down and enjoy the scenery and smells, wind it up and the best roller coaster in the world becomes tame. Now its time to turn. In a car you turn left a and get tossed right in the seat--your body going against the forces of nature. Turn a motorcycle and you must let your body lean into the turn, tempting nature as you push the motorcycle towards its natural desire to lay on its side, but countered by momentum and throttle. It feels right, it feels natural and when the turn ends you look for another. That sensation of leaning over at 45 degrees, horizon titled in your helmet, road winding in front of you and you and the motorcycle joining forces to beat physics, its amazing.

Then there is the whole getting from Point A to Point B in a much cooler fashion than everyone else around you. When I used to teach CMSP (MSF for you non Californians), I often talked about first bike selection. I endorsed buying a small, sued bike to get your riding legs under you before buying your dream bike, and I reminded the class of one thing, no matter what bike you are on, you are infinitely cooler than someone in a mini-van. Think about it, when you a re on a bike and stop at a light, poll up in front of a store, or just cruise down the boulevard, people look at you. They make conversation with you a s they walk past your bike. You are Fonzie, Evel Knievel,  and Steve McQueen all in one nice package, picking up groceries on your way home. Non-riders equate what you do with what they know and they know TV motorcycle riders. Thus you are cool.

If you have never ridden before and are reading this, ask someone who rides to read this and see if its true. Even better, go take an MSF course and learn for yourself. I promise you won't be disappointed with motorcycle riding.