Why Ride?

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I’ve never worn colors (not having earned them) but I do ride – and because of this, I believe I share kinship on a fundamental with the 1 percenters. They get it. So do I.bike lead

So does anyone who regularly throws a leg over.

It doesn’t have to be a Harley, either. So long as it’s got two wheels, an engine and a clutch – you’re ticket is in hand. You’ve bought into something – and out of something – those who haven’t will not ever (and cannot ever) understand.

Those who ride – and those who do not. It’s an unbridgeable chasm.

Riding is one of the very few ways left for us to finger The Man in the eye.finger eye pic

Some of us have a primal – an animal – need to do this. To not just sit there quietly taking it, feeling ourselves grow old and flaccid until one day, we are – and it’s too late. We chafe at the rules, the constructs, the “allowed to’s” that, together, try to hem us all into this thing we didn’t sign up for called “society” – for the supposed “good” of which we almost never get to do what we want, based on our own best judgment.

Bikes correct this. They are all about what we want – to the nth degree. There is nothing more satisfyingly selfish than a motorcycle. You may occasional take a passenger, but the bike is yours profoundly – even more so than a gun. But there is commonality there. Especially as time goes by and the two of you wear-in together. There are also the rituals of maintenance, the wiping down, the polishing of stainless steel and chrome. Knowing exactly how many pounds of air the back tire likes – and the front one, too. That it takes just so much choke – and a firm kick, right about here – to  get it to start the first try, every time.bike polish pic

Tickling the Amals is something no one ever says about a car.

My wife does not ride – and like most non-riders, she actively dislikes bikes and everything associated with them. I get The Look every time I gear up. She is happy when I come back – but I know she would be happier still if I told her that was my last ride. That I was putting the Zed (and all the others, too) up for sale.

She’s going to be unhappy for quite a while, god willing.

When we were dating I tried to bring her into the fold. Told her all about the Right Now that exists at 120 when the broken yellow centerline begins merging into a single slightly blurry ribbon and the bike starts coming alive, like one of those old Saturn V rockets just clearing the tower, all that power finally unbound and now unstoppable. The slipstream increases and time slows down. The mind focuses in a way that must have been felt by our paleolithic ancestors when the big cat they were stalking from behind got wind and suddenly turned back on them. We moderns – most of us – lack access to such attention-getters.bike 4

Going fast in a car is fun, but it is nothing like going fast on a bike. The speed itself is much more intimate – and feels so much faster. 150 in a modern car is really no big deal. Or at least, it doesn’t seem like it is. On a bike, 150 feels like 180 at least and either feels absolutely incredible. The crescendo of sound; the physical weight of the wind bearing down. The road, literally inches from your all-too-fragile body. The only other people who experience this sort of thing are fighter pilots. Military power at take-off, afterburners lit and vertical ascent – the eyeballs flattening as the machine shits all over the usually constraining physical laws. To say nothing of the man-made ones.

They, too, dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.

To ride means learning to finely balance on the razor’s edge, knowing that to hesitate, to doubt – even to think – can tip the balance the wrong way. The reptile stem brain takes over. Must be given free reign. He does not ponder existential angst. He has no fear of death – because he has no consciousness of death. He is a biological machine, magnificently evolved to gauge a situation and then react to it – decisively, instantly. The snake strikes – the rider instinctively heels the machine to the inside of the corner, weighting the left peg, knee out and down, the rest of the body rolling with the bike to that fulcrum point of perfect lean angle.bike 3

That first time your knee touches pavement and you get it right is probably up there with the birth of your first child.

Maybe (just between us now) above it.

The physicality that is part of riding scares away a lot of people. It scared my wife three shades of white all the way down to translucent. She assured me she’d never get on “that thing” again. Body parts flying, I think she said.

Fair enough. Some people also do not like Sushi. Neither is a thing you can develop a taste for.

Throw it in the Woods?

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23 COMMENTS

  1. Why indeed? It used to all make perfect sense..

    When I was just fifteen…
    http://i.imgur.com/zC3pKa7.jpg

    It was a very good year….
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwv-DxOPhSc

    She was sun and rain, she was fire and ice. Was two-wheeled crazy but it was nice. And when she ran mad, you’d best leave her alone. ‘Cause she’d road rage like a river. Then she’d beg you to forgive her. She was every machine that I’ve ever known…..

    …… It was a very good year for small town girls. And soft summer nights. We’d both ride far beyond all the lights. Of our village green. When I was just fifteen…….

  2. A few years ago I got invited to sample a Ninja ZX6R at a Kawasaki Ride-And-Drive event. It was everything you described and then some. It totally changed my perception of what “fast” feels like. Once that bike hit it’s power band at 12k RPM, it felt like the hand of god was shoving me forward. The hit of adrenaline and the raw sense of velocity cannot be matched anywhere else.

    The very next week I got to sample every flavor of 911 from the base up to the bat-shit crazy 550HP Turbo S on a wide open track. Even the Turbo S felt slow and disconnected.

    Dammit Eric now I want to buy a bike. My soul needs stirring and a bike is the only way I can get my fix!

    • Mission accomplished!

      It’s big fun that’s (relatively) inexpensive. $10k or so will buy you a sport bike capable of out-accelerating a $100k Porsche (and so on). Plus, the inputs are more visceral and real – as you found out!

      • I have my (M)licence but have never owned a bike. Up to that point the only thing I had ridden were cruisers and an occasional Ninja 250. The Ninja 300 ABS has my name written all over it. It has a slipper clutch and revs to 14k rpm plus it can easily get 50+ mpgs driving it like it was stolen.

        I would love to own an early 2000’s Honda RC51. The deep V-Twin sound of those bikes is amazing. Much deeper than any Ducati I’ve ever heard.

        • That little Ninja is a lot fun! I dig bikes of that type (another example being the Hawk GT 650 Honda made in the ’90s). My only problem is I’m really too big for them. I can ride them, I just look a little funny riding them!

  3. Comes in as a earthbound second (sans any nerby traffic) to this guys description:

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth Of sun-split clouds-and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air.

    Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, Where never the lark, nor even eagle flew – And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod The high, untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
    John Gillespie Magee (1922-1941) A Canadian Spitfire pilot inthe Battle of Britian

    Why do dogs stick their head out the window going down the freeway? Ask a rider.

    • There is a lot of overlap, aviation and riding. I know several pilots who are as into bikes as I’d like to be into airplanes. Alas, I cannot afford the former.

      But the latter…

      • Eric – Being former Air Force, I had the opportunity to do quite a bit of flying and once in a while was allowed to take the controls. I’d be a liar if I told you that I didn’t love it. Just not enough to go through the rigmarole of getting a pilot’s license. And to me, I’d rather be on a bike. Having flown, Jet-Skied (real, stand up Kawasaki Jet-Skis, not sit down PWC’s any bonehead can hit a boat with), snow skied, Snowmobiled and automobiled all over the place, there is nothing in this world that can compare to a motorcycle for me. I gave up riding for a lot of years to placate my wife and family. I missed it worse than I ever missed nicotine. As long as I’m able to throw a leg over and hang on, I’ll do my best to keep riding.

  4. Terrific writing, Eric. This article sends goose bumps up and down my body. You capture emotions and feelings so well. Even though I don’t ride on mbs, I have 2 brothers who rode them for years. I even looked at a small mb in the early 80s but figured I’d be dead within 2 weeks on one. Still, I do like the looks of a really good bike. Wish I had the guts to get on one, but at 60 I’m too late.

    I saw a HD club at Adelaide last year at the Clipsal 500 car race, and was really in awe of the beauty of these bikes. Hundreds of beautiful and awe-inspiring transportation orgasm producing beings. As Peter Fonda once said: Jap bikes are great but you can’t ride all day like you can on a Harley. My youngest son wanted a bike at 16 but I said no, said I didn’t want to see his skin ripped up in an accident. Now he is 20 so I would not discourage him from buying one. HDs are very popular here in Australia.

    • Harley Davidsons always struck me as too clunky, getting their ergonomics through kludges (putting things on and adding features, rather than removing inessentials – and I really don’t like sitting up on a motorcycle rather than leaning forward). And there are comparable Japanese motorcycles you can ride indefinitely, like the Honda Gold Wing, but they got there by following the same path. No, to me the essentially right way to get there is the one modern Italian motorcycles use, or some of the classical British ones they haven’t made for decades (and which you wouldn’t want for other reasons, these days). But that’s all a bit academic these days, as I haven’t had occasion to put any of this into practice for years.

      By the way, Eric did a common U.S. mistake, “free reign [sic]”.

      • As a guy who has a thing for old Kaw two strokes I can’t critique anyone else’s preferences! Everyone should enjoy what they find enjoyable – and respect their fellow riders’ preferences. I don’t have a Harley, but don’t knock them for the same reason that I don’t knock classic AMCs (or Fords). I’m more of a Pontiac (and) Mopar guy!

    • Thanks, To5!

      An interesting thing about the Japanese stuff – in particular, the stuff made from circa 1969-1985: While the Japanese car industry was typically very conservative, the bike industry was downright audacious.

      The first H1500, for instance. A 12 second quarter-mile two-stroke production bike … in ’69. It set the world on fire. Then came Honda’s revolutionary CB750, which boasted advances not seen outside the race track (or on other than extremely high-end bikes) in a mass-market/affordable package. This bike was not only a technological tour-de-force, it was so well engineered it put the entire British (and American) motorcycle industry to shame.

      And within months, Kaw one-upped Honda. Instead of 750 CCs, 900. Dual overhead cams. And a 140 MPH top speed – in a bike you could ride all-out all-day and not have it come apart.

      The ’73 Z1900 had all the major elements of a modern bike. Even today, it feels – and rides – very much like a “current” bike.

      And it was designed more than 40 years ago!

    • to5, I’m 64 but I can’t wait till I can afford another bike. You may have never been abused as much as you can be on a Harley hard tail but that’s ok since I much prefer a Jap bike. I have my eyes out for a big Kaw with fairings since we have huge grasshoppers and more dove and quail to hit than I care to with just a full face helmet. I might be the only guy you see with some huge aftermarket front forks and a cowcatcher on the front, wild hogs and deer are mighty thick here plus varmints of every sort. Still, I’ll take my chances. I love the sound of a big inline four. I have noticed those engines when revved up at a stop will almost hold the bike vertical. Everybody else probably says I’m nuts but an old bud who’s no longer with us(tractor accident)said the same thing.

      • Eightsouthman – I know what you mean about a big four on bike; they sound kind of like a big angry hornet when you turn it loose. I credit Eric with getting me back into riding. I’d read his motorcycling posts and get all nostalgic. The next thing I knew, I was the owner of an ’08 KLR-650. That bike will cruise a gravel road like it’s on the highway and it has enough fairing and hand guards to give you decent wind protection too. Granted running highway speeds on dirt roads is fun and a thumper with a Super- Trapp does have an authoritative sound. But it cannot begin to compare with my Z-1000. And yes, I realize they are from two totally different motorcycle genres so comparing them isn’t really fair. But for a “standard” motorcycle, Kaw outdid themselves with this iteration of the Zed. Had there been such a thing as the “streetfighter” genre back when I was young it would have been (and still is) where I best fit into motorcycling. To me there’s nothing like snaking effortlessly through dense traffic in town or disappearing from a clover’s view before he even realizes you were passing him. And those popular big vee-twins? Don’t make me laugh. There’s a reason they call them “hogs.”

        Sunday before last it was really nice, so I took the Zed out for a spin. As I merged onto the highway, I blew right past a “hog.” He pulls up by me at the light and revs it up like he’s going to show me how it’s done. So when I reach the next light (about a quarter mile), I stop and wait for him…and wait…and wait. When he finally pulls up next to me he exclaims “Damn that thing’s fast!” Yeah. And it’s extremely reliable, reasonably comfortable, handles well (which I demonstrated for him when the turn arrow went green) and gets a little better than 40 MPG. I was polite and didn’t rub it in that Kawasaki’s an older company too.

        But anyway, if you need something big, 4 cyl and Kawasaki with a cow-catcher (or would that be a “Kaw-catcher”) and body armor for cheap, this may ol’ KZ-1000 cop bike might be just the ticket for you: http://springfield.craigslist.org/mcy/4237995650.html Heck, I’m even thinking about it myself. I’d say a grand cash will take it and I’ll bet there wouldn’t be another one like it around your neck o’ the woods. 😉

        • Love the Z1000, Boothe! Of course, it shares its engine (basically) with my Rex1200. They’re both descended from the old ZX-10 engine. It’s a great street performance engine, with strong low, mid-range and top-end power (as you’ll no doubt testify to). Plus, the bikes just look ballsy. This has always been a Kaw strong point. Even my little 250 CC two-stroke looks ferocious. Sounds it, too!

          Great call on the ex-cop Kz1000s. They made them all the way through to 2002, IIRC – so they’re relatively easy to find and the parts/service are a breeze. Almost as good as a Honda!

      • In that case, high-tensile wires with weights at the end might be fun….

        Just let the weights pull the wires as you pass by, and leave the assembly behind when you feel it tug… Nice, sharp wire should leave some impressive scarring, maybe even take off some extra appendages…

        And you save on ammo, too…. 😀

        (Just joking, we all know it’s fairly difficult to keep control and swing something at the same time. Dropping a grenade, though, or TNT, is easy… )

  5. Dear Eric,

    Thanks for the amazing description……I had no idea. No idea about any of it.

    Wow. I now have a new respect for “riders”.

    You have opened up my understanding.

    I had a friend who enjoyed snow skiing. She asked me if I had ever tried to ski. I said, “No, I don’t like the cold.”

    She asked if I had ever dreamed of flying? That skiing gave her a feeling of flying, even if only momentarily.

    So I went to the resort on the day you could get a half-day group lesson and ski free the rest of the day. Tried it. Loved it.

    But I would not have even tried if she hadn’t given the description she did.

    I won’t be “riding”, but I can now understand why it can become an obsession.

    Thanks so much.

      • I Love the article Eric. As you know I too crave the open road. I am now looking to acquire a 1200 BMW cruiser as my UTAHIDAHOWYOMINGNEVADA road bike. Road an 800 BMW yesterday and at 470 lbs is was basically a street bike.

        Very disappointed workmanship was excellent. Too light. Too easily pushed around by gusting winds in the mountains or even trucks on the road. Need a heavier bike I can afford. I may still end up with a FJR 1300 A Yamaha and the snag is I am in love with 2014 red model. I can pick up a 2012 or before cheap but remember. You need NEW tires from day 1 if you want to ride again tomorrow!

        I too understand the average 1% in American does not consider me one of his buds. My Kawasaki does not earn respect. They key here is I respect HIM for NOT going to the Ivory Tower like I do! This round is on me MC! May you keeps Law Enforcement busy and on their toes. You have earned my respect maybe the rest of the 99% and all those who do not ride could remember we are all Gods children. Those who think they are better than others are full of it. I wish I was man enough to quit my job and earn from prospect up. Not likely to happen in this lifetime. Hope we have reincarnation. If I was 18 I would give it a shot as long as I was never asked to kill anyone. That is what the US Military is for. I served. I love those Vets. No disrespect my gun has fallen silent. 41 years too late. Jills Uncle

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