A Life of Motorcycling

A Life of Motorcycling …. by Tim Monroe

I’m no kid. I’m 49 years old. Yes that’s right, 49. No matter how much I deny it, I’m old. So why do I feel like a kid every time I swing a leg over a motorcycle?

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Ever since my brother and I bought our first motorcycle at age 17, there have been scores of people in my life that have questioned why, exactly, do I ride motorcycles? The easy answer is “because it’s fun”. But after 32 years of riding, I’ve given this some thought and have come to the conclusion that there are many reasons why “its fun”. And its not just fun, it’s also good for me.

I’ll never forget that Mom cried for nearly 3 days after the purchase of our shiny used Honda SL125. She was sure her sons would be dead within a few days. Our more understanding father convinced her that we were good, responsible kids and that we would be fine. I think both our parents thought it was just a passing fad and that we’d forget all about motorcycles by the following summer.

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Thirty two years, dozens of track days, thousands of weekend rides, and several cross-country trips later, its safe to say motorcycling will always be a part of our lives. But what is it about riding that is so intoxicating, so enjoyable, and so much of a rush?

I’m not an early riser most days. I abhor hearing the alarm go off at 6:30 A.M. five mornings a week. But I have no trouble getting out of bed that early, or earlier, when it’s a day to ride. In fact, I have trouble sleeping the night before, worried that I’ll sleep in too late and miss the prime riding time. It’s like I’m eight years old and its Christmas Eve. Living in Southern California, I’m fortunate enough to experience Christmas morning almost every week of the year.

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One undeniable factor is adrenalin. T-shirts are full of slogans like “everyone dies, not everyone truly lives” and “life begins at 150 mph”. A percentage of humans gets a rush from high doses of adrenalin, probably harkening back to our caveman days. Back then we got a rush from chasing and killing our dinner. Today a few of us need illicit speed to get the same feeling. Of course, one could argue that this is a fairly common human phenomena. There’s always a line for Space Mountain, you know.

Another factor is what I’ll call the Zen factor. Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a huge seller, and for good reason. Though the book had little to do with actual motorcycle maintenance, its easy to draw a connection between motorcycles and a Zen-like feeling that many riders describe.

If I haven’t ridden for more than a week, and I’m aimlessly bouncing around the house, my wife will tell me “why don’t you go for a ride?”. She’s a good wife, and knows what I need. In the rest of my life I’m always busy with seemingly hundreds of different details every day. My mind needs frequent vacations from everyday life. Riding provides that little mental vacation.

Riding a motorcycle, especially riding fast on a twisty road, will cause your mind to focus like no other activity I’ve experienced. Fatal consequences can quickly occur if you lose your focus. Rewards are just around the next perfectly executed turn, and when you get a bunch of them right its magic. If you get one horribly wrong you might have an unscheduled trip in an ambulance…or worse. Fortunately if you’re an experienced rider you probably get most of them right, and the few imperfect turns you make are still good enough to keep you on your side of the road.

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NOT our idea of the proper use of a motorcycle

This intense focus, for me, temporarily forces every other thought out of my mind. The longer I do it, the more “pure” my thinking becomes. And the more relaxed I feel. Like any other strenuous activity, too much can lead to fatigue and poor performance. But with a few breaks to swap stories with your buddies, you can make get in more than enough hours of “meditation” to keep your mind healthy until the next ride.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I also like the look of being a motorcycle rider. Some people (quite a few, actually) display their motorcycle hobby in the form of a black leather vest, chaps, and a not-quite-DOT-legal beanie helmet. If that works for you, more power to you. Others show their dedication to riding with Aerostich suits and flip-up helmets. My personal motorcycling statement a full face helmet, a one piece, rather colorful leather suit, and roadrace style boots and gloves. This outfit gives me a bit of protection, probably enough to save my skin in a low speed getoff if it doesn’t involve a car or a guard rail. But it also makes me feel like a bit of a “badass”.

I’m a slightly overweight, old white guy, with a hairline noticeably higher than it was a few years ago. But when I don my bright leathers, helmet, boots and gloves, and hop on my shiny fast repli-racer sportbike, I’m a different person. I’m a daredevil, a fearless lawbreaker that’s not afraid to get in your face, and I don’t care what you think about me. Well, that’s the image I hope to project, anyway. A badass, in other words.

I know I’m not much different than all those accountants and dentists who stop shaving on Friday and slip into bad-boy chopper guy mode on Saturday. I’m OK with that. I’m happy in the knowledge that I actually know how to ride a bike, and that for me the ride is the destination. No parking-lot jewelry for this boy.

There’s an undeniable social aspect of motorcycling. The male bonding ritual is a big part of riding, and for many folks is the main reason for owning a motorcycle. I enjoy chatting with my riding buddies, but only to a degree. After a while I get the itch to bond with my mechanical buddy instead.

With apologies to Queen, here’s my version of “I’m In Love With My Bike”.

“The machine of a dream, such a clean machine.
With the pistons a pumpin’, and the brake rotors gleam.
When I’m holding your bars,
Keep away from them cars,
When my hands on a grease gun,
Oh it’s like a disease son,
I’m in love with my bike, gotta feel for my ride on two wheels,
Get a grip on my boy racer helmet,
Such a thrill when the footpegs scrape.

Told my girl I just had to forget her,
Rather buy me a new carburetor,
So she made tracks sayin’ this is the end now,
Bikes don’t talk back they’re just two wheeled friends now”

Everything about motorcycle riding turns me on. Walk out to the garage and just look at the damn thing, fer chrissakes! It’s a sexy beast parked there. My pulse quickens at the sight of my little 675cc jewel. Chain oiled? Tire pressure checked? Engine oil and brake fluid level checked? Yes, yes and yes.

Fire up the bike and listen to the exhaust. Blip the throttle just to hear the quickly rising and falling notes. Clutch in, left toe pushes down, she clicks into gear. Execute a smooth takeoff, then try for as many seamless upshifts and downshifts as you can for the rest of the day. Throw in lots of smooth braking and turns. Make it look effortless to observers in cars. I know they’re all the rage, but who really needs a slipper clutch? Not me. My slipper clutch is my left hand, with smooth, rev-matching downshifts carefully practiced thousands of times. Maybe millions. Repeat often.

Riding is the reward, the rest of the stuff is just icing on the cake.

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