The Art of the Ride

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Why ride a motorcycle? 

You are exposed to the elements. It requires concentration, involvement. You cannot text. You may get wet. You are fully in control of the thing, especially if it’s a bike without ABS or stability control. There are no seatbelts. 

Exactly. 

Riding is what driving was, once – before most of the fun was emulsified by safetyism into mere transportation. To get on a bike is to experience the elemental, again. Just you and it – even if you have a passenger. Because it’s all on you, which is good. If it has a kick-starter, all the better. Move the kicker up or down just a bit, until you feel the engine rotate to just the right spot, compression building. Then a single, perfectly timed downward stroke. It comes alive in a connected way that is as far-removed from pushing a button as looking at a Playboy when you were 13 was from the real thing, a few years later.

The pipes sing their song, the machine settles into its rhythm.  

Now, you’re ready.

Hear – feel – the gravel under the tires as you roll out of the driveway, every nuance of the road. You get to know it, intimately, in ways not possible in cars. It is right there – inches away from your feet. Your eyes can pick out the individual macadam, trace the cracks. You roll with it, an unwinding ribbon of endless adventure. If you are lucky enough to live in a state that hasn’t imposed a requirement to wear a helmet – the proto Face Diaper – you will know the feel of the wind, conveying raw data about speed in a way that cannot be gauged, as by a speedometer and its anodyne numbers.

Here comes a curve. Downshift in anticipation. You do this, yourself. As most don’t, in most modern cars. There is no Lean Angle Control (I made that up). How far over? Where is my turn-in point? Maybe a little pressure on the rear brake – if they’re not linked, as they are in all modern cars – to take a little weight off the front end? There is a subtle art in this. And a satisfaction – when mastered – largely unavailable in most cars, which do most of the setting up for you. And have electronic interventions to safety-net you. Some late-model bikes have them, too – but only so much.

Thankfully so.

Of course, they are working to do to motorcycles what has already been done to cars. They haven’t been able to go as far – or as fast – because people who ride are a different demographic than those who “drive,” in air-fingers-quotes to emphasis the difference. Driving having been gelded by safetyism – the latter made into a sickly fetish object now generally worshipped by those who close doors and push buttons and do not want to be involved in the former activity of driving.

This was easily managed because almost everyone “drives,” in the sense  that almost everyone needs to. This includes many who don’t like having to and who for that reason like a car that does as much of the driving for them as is technically feasible.

Including the parking.

Let go of the wheel. Just push another button. In you go. All done for you.

The inevitable elaboration of this being the elimination of driving, altogether. In its place, transportation – “automated” and “self driving.” Windows rolled up, cell phone turned on.

Sensory connection to the world outside, off.

Many want this – and why not? Most cars made since about 2015 or so are already almost there. Lane Keep Assist. Park Assist. Brake Assist. Trailer Back-Up Assist. Speed Limit Assist.

Why not seal the deal?

It has been harder to get motorcycle people to come along for this ride because they are a self-selected crew that wants to ride. There is no need to ride. Especially when almost any can “drive.” It is analogous to choosing to learn how to weld, or to frame a wall. It takes active interest, for the sake of the thing, itself.

You don’t have to – but you want to.

Most riders do not want safetyism. It is a much harder sell, being contrary to the point. Something like Lean Angle Assist – should such an imagined atrocity ever become actuality – would go over with most riders as well as Advanced Rappeling Assist would find love among rock climbers.

Riding a bike is practical in some ways. A bike is generally much less expensive than a car – and always easier on gas. The thirstiest of them use less gas than the typical economy car. They fit where cars do not – including the smallest economy cars. Some can tote more cargo than some cars, too.

But these are incidentals – perks. Nice to have but not the essential thing. Those who know this already do. If you’d like to know, there’s only one way to.

. . .

Got a question about cars, bikes or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in! Or email me directly at [email protected] if the @!** “ask Eric” button doesn’t work!

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26 COMMENTS

  1. And why have multiple bikes on top of that?
    Like tools- for different uses. Sure, any bike can be used generally, just like every tool is a hammer except screw drivers which are chisels and pry bars, it is better to have a fast bike, a comfy lazy ride bike, an off road bike, a fuel sipper bike, and an investment/show bike. Or just a bunch so when the others are broken down at least one is still working

  2. One of my best memories was cruising Rte2 in southern Anne Arundel county, MD, coming home from Pax River. Beautiful day, but I was tired and had another hour to ride. So I pulled off, went under a big maple tree and took a nap. Bike parked right there beside me. You just don’t get those things in a car.

  3. “You cannot text.”

    I actually DID see a guy texting on a bike once… if not texting, he was at least playing with the cell phone in his left hand while holding the throttle with his right….

  4. Now at 71, arthritis and vision issues have kept me caged for the last 15 years.

    I started late in life and I am so glad I had 25 years to rack up some 500,000 road miles on seven bikes.

    The eternal combustion engine is The Creator’s greatest gift to the world. Sitting on one between two wheels is the best way to enjoy.

  5. The other great thing is the people you meet. Whenever I’m on a trip and stop to eat or for gas someone inevitably comes up and starts a conversation. I was at a rest stop and they had a group giving out free coffee and one of the older guys told me he was a DC motorcycle cop and used to ride in JFK’s motorcade. Old bikers have lots of great stories.

    Right now I’m restoring a 1973 Moto-Guzzi Eldorado.

  6. I owned a dirt bike for about 15 minutes when I was 18 or 19. I bought it for $150 and rode it home a couple blocks, not knowing how to properly shift gears. It was loud as hell as the muffler had been removed. There was no gas cap.

    I was hoping I could fix up the thing. Unfortunately, my dad had different ideas, and told me to get it out of his yard immediately. I had to go return it. Sad, because he could’ve helped a little, and I would’ve been interested in his mechanical advice at that point.

    Who knows how having that bike would’ve changed my life or what adventures could have been had? Guess I could still get one. I’m just older and less interested in such things.

  7. My brother owned a Norton ca. 1968-70. Had carburetor troubles, rode it once on the road and it broke down, not that much fun when you have to lift and haul a big motorcycle.

    All of sudden, the thing stopped running. Can’t leave it on the road, somebody will take it home. The motorcycle riding days were short lived.

    Rode bicycle on a country road 50 years ago, stopped at a big pond and an old farmstead, couple of buildings left. Had big rock pile, so I got off the bike and sat on the top of the pile of rocks picked from fields long ago. The view was idyllic, so you sit down to rest before you continue back to the fort. I sat there on those rocks and I heard some low sounds and then saw some movement. You pay attention then, something alive is around somewhere. I looked at the grass nearby towards a building, lots of movement going on under the tall grass. I look to my left and I see a rat, next thing you know, there are rats surrounding the entire pile of rocks and the trails leading to there rat nest.

    You’re outnumbered and feel like you’re being stalked, it does spook you. You just have to move on down the road. You get out of there fast.

    Took a couple of 11 mile rides to know what it’s like to go longer distances, then the 55 mile ride that takes a lot out of you.

    Netflix is down 500 USD per share from its ATH, lots of tears in beers there.

    The high flyers Amazon and Tesla are losing altitude. Dow down 3700 points from the high so it is a 10 percent correction zone. The 10 percent must be going to the big guy.

  8. I’ve enjoyed motorcycles for nearly 50 years now, when retirement came it was time to move to a drier climate with a long riding season. Eastern WA is generally March thru October instead of Western WA with 3 seasons of rain and odds in favor of dry July 5th to Sept 15th. Way less traffic and more wide open spaces here.

    This continued enjoyment is a good incentive to stay healthy and reasonably fit as the years pile on! So many great memories starting in 1973, HS graduation summer trip around the Western US on a 450 Honda with three friends.

  9. ‘Riding is what driving was, once – before most of the fun was emulsified by safetyism into mere transportation.’ — eric

    One wonders how European motorcycle makers — BMW, Ducati, KTM, et al — plan to survive in the EU riders paradise of safetyism and emissionism. Aren’t they going to get squeezed in their homelands, till nothing’s left but export markets?

    On a side note, a surprising swathe of well-heeled Democrats I know are in Europe or headed there soon — some on months-long grand tours. Whereas the appalling outbreaks of vaccinazi compulsion last winter rather cooled my ardor for the Old Continent, just as the original nazi outbreak in the late 1930s would have done.

    Should Europe manage to become, yet again, the birthplace of a fresh world war, then I say write ’em off: somethin’ wrong with them white folks.

    • There are very good reasons why a lot of people left Europe to come to America.

      Constant warfare is one of the most important ones.

      Huge numbers of people came here to get away from it.

      Our “representatives” (and many of the people themselves) have forgotten this.

      Let Europe destroy itself. We can’t stop them from doing it, but we don’t have to help them along. Let’s make things and build a future instead. Like we used to do. Like China is doing (when they are not being repressive).

      We can. Washington D.C. may not want to let us, but they are not nearly as important as they think they are.

  10. Great article Eric, thank you.
    The greatest thing in my 50+ years other than my family, was motorcycle roadracing. Just as you described. Nothing else has come close, not even dirtbike racing.
    One of my favorite things about roadracing was the sounds. OMG, they were amazing to me. Running a bike through the gears near redline (12500 back then) was music to my ears. A cool bonus was passing a bike and the harmonics would reverb, OMG!!! it was so cool. Sometimes if I had enough lead, I would slow down the pass to stay next to the other bike just to hear it’s music.
    ps: I was never an advocate of doing this on public streets. Way too many obstacles and cars and unknown street conditions. Go to a track day, and enjoy.

      • me too. I’m a few hundred miles NE of you and we’re socked in for what looks like the next 24hrs. Looks like your about to get some nice boomers.

        I was just thinking about the RR thing, and if I would have been interested in at all if it were electric bikes? I don’t think so.

        • Hi Mark,

          All the cats are great! Including the new garage cat – a stray I call Big (because he’s huge). You’ll likely see him in a video one of these days. Total count: Three inside, one in the garage and three others who are regular customers outside!

          • I wish, on the, ‘Recent Comments’ on the right side of the webpage, that at the bottom, there was a Plus sign so I could click on it & expand the comments further back in time.

            I imagine if I, ‘signed in’ I’d get that option… ‘er sumthin’, but I’m just not the, ‘signing in’ kinda guy.

            I was gonna say something about the cats… …Must. … Resist.

  11. Used to ride what I called “the loop” which was a low & slow roll through cotton fields, the edge of Appalachia, and lovely rural Alabama. Then my neck of Dixie had a population explosion; there’s too much traffic to feel safe and it’s just not fun anymore.

    I fervently believed in “all the gear all the time”. Probably looked ridiculous on the old Sportster covered head to toe. No one ever said anything about it just as I never said anything about the useless brain buckets, etc. I rarely rode in groups. Also fervently believed in riding within your ability i.e. low n slow.

    The dumbest ones are the crotch-rocketeers with a $1000 Shoei, $500 Oakleys, tank top, shorts, & surf shoes. The attached Go-Pro will record them losing their skin to the pavement when they go down. Got passed by two such museum quality specimens the other day. I was going 60 & they had to have been going 100+. Other than being startled my reaction was “see ya roadkill”.

    • Hi Mike,

      I also prefer to ride alone – for just the reasons you’ve said. For the same reason I always run alone. I don’t want to have to try to keep up with someone faster than me – nor be slowed down by someone who isn’t as fast as me. All of us have our own pace. Same as on a bike. But with more serious consequences. Especially when it’s a bunch of guys – some whom you may not know well. In that case, it is almost inevitable that one of them will try to show off – and some of them will feel pushed to over-ride their abilities…

      Not good.

      Also not fun.

      It ruins the point of the thing.

  12. Toilet Assist? And people say we are living in decadent times? Surely not a possibility with these kinds of radically new technology’s!!! /s

  13. I’m taking the bike out this afternoon, heck I might even use her kick starter. Weather I’ll survive the idiots in the roundabouts is another matter. Have fun and enjoy Bike season.

    • Hi Landru,

      I love my ’76 Kaw Kz900 for many reasons – one of them being it has a kicker as well as electric start. I use the latter only rarely, on principle!

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