There are two kinds of motorcyclists: Those who believe there are two kinds of motorcyclists and those who don’t.
So, you’re still reading? You poor bastard… The saying really goes more like:
There are two kinds of motorcyclists: Those who have gone down and those who will.
Seems like a fatalistic perspective – especially when uttered by a rider. So, what makes some people able to ride for years, decades even, while others get off the horse after one interesting experience? Even then, what makes the veteran rider able to survive?
I was inspired to write this article after reading friend, in-law, partner, and fellow rider Henrek Lalaian’s article Motorcycle Safety and Survival Guide.
The first issue, whether or not we ride after clearly understanding the risks, is murky and likely very personal. For me, riding is a few things:
- a source of privilege
- life affirming
Fun should be obvious. It’s probably why we undertake most activities. I mean, surely Grandma with the crochet needles is having some sort of fun. (If I ever crochet, please kill me immediately, unless of course I’m crocheting a motorcycle jacket while splitting lanes on my bike.) But motorcycling is undeniably fun and exhilarating. You don’t just move about like in more ho-hum forms of transport but become an active participant in your locomotion. The power to weight ratio of even the most humble motorcycle sold in the US is still enough to give a lot of peppy cars a serious run and may be the quickest thing most of us ever command. Fun for sure.
However, if you bought a luxo-car because of the commercials showing off how well the car isolates you from your surroundings and the whole driving experience, I doubt motorcycling is for you.
Sorry all you trike riders, but I’m not sorry that you ride a fake motorcycle. That, ladies and gentlemen, is my segue to the Challenge portion of this write-up. You see, there is great challenge in managing a single tracking (two wheeled) vehicle. If all you want is to be in the air when you commute, drive a freakin’ Miata or a used LeBaron convertible. The trike poses ZERO challenge and should be disqualified as a motorcycle. All the risk (exposure), none of the benefit (nimble, efficient, narrow).
Learning how to make the most of a two wheeled motorized gizmo is an amazingly rewarding experience. You must be prepared to fail. You must also be prepared to not be able to wipe the bug chewing grin off your face when it starts to work for you.
So, what sort of privilege is riding a motorcycle? It’s really about what sort of privilege it brings. In the US, we see bikes as toys and riders as idiots who aren’t even conscientious enough to remember to fill out their organ donor cards. But in most other parts of the world, motorcycles are legitimate transport and are given certain types of preferential treatment. They get to “filter” to the front of an intersection. They get to share lanes (a privilege we here in California actually have). Plus they’re able to park in places where your single person carrying full-size SUV can’t.
In exchange for undertaking this risk (which reduces congestion, reduces energy consumption, reduces parking real estate usage, etc… ) we should be granted privilege. We should get a 10-15 mph higher speed limit on the highway (and many of us just take it). We should be allowed to (safely – and yes, there are safe ways) swim through traffic. Society ultimately can benefit – and so should we as riders. In exchange for taking on ultimate risk (life and limb) we should be rewarded for our willingness to do it and the resulting benefits to the collective.
Ultimate Risk brings me to the Life Affirming portion of the agenda. How would you feel after battle? How would you feel after six battles? How would you feel after six hundred battles? At some point, the ability to negotiate this crazy set of circumstances must remind you that you HAVE successfully negotiated them. This is something that has always energized me. People used to ask if I was scared. My response was that I felt victorious after each ride. And while I respect the activity, fear has no place in it. Fear is a counterproductive obsession best reserved for bungee jumpers looking for a legal form of Crack.
None of this answers why some folks manage to ride for decades and hundreds of thousands of miles while others, well, do not. This is where George Lucas had the one and only philosophical nugget in Star Wars Episode I. As Qui-Gon is chatting with Anakin’s mom Shmi (seriously, Shmi?) about young Anakin’s amazing abilities, we are treated to this little gem from Qui-Gon:
He can see things before they happen. That’s why he appears to have such quick reflexes. It’s a Jedi trait.
Anakin is not a fantastic Pod Racer because he’s good. He can simply see slightly into the future. In lieu of having to react to events, he is able to ACT. The need for quick reflexes is driven down because the changing environmental conditions have been anticipated.
So, young Skywalker, you must become a motorcycling Jedi if you wish to partake in this activity for any length of time. Feel (mainly yourself). Observe (everything!). Profile (driver’s posture, condition of car, etc). Anticipate (what are the most likely actions someone may take given the immediate conditions?). Look into the future and ACT. If you find yourself in a position of reacting, you are behind the game. Move back to the front of the game.