Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Selfish Rider

Why I ride...because I can? Because I want to ?  Because it feels good? 


A quick run to the grocery store seven miles from my house is just another excuse to go for a ride. A top box and a cargo net, a cloth bag and it's easy enough to make a modest load on two wheels. I'd rather ride than drive any day that its not too cold, and that's pretty much never in the Keys. Rain is no problem, because as the Norwegians say (I am told) there is only bad clothing, not bad weather. It takes minimal rain suits to ride through rain in South Florida. Hypothermia is a very low risk factor in the sub-tropics. 
I don't usually wear all the gear, I ride with a helmet and gloves which is more than most around here, but I decline to offer advice or judgement about how others ride or what they ride. I grew up riding motorcycles in a world where protective gear was newspaper in winter to stay warm under a leather jacket and jeans usually ripped over work boots. I feel for people afraid to ride around the block in pants and a shirt just as I feel bad for people who can't leave their homes without a gun in the glove box. Life is pretty good out on the road sometimes...just riding, not worrying.
I have driven all kinds of different vehicles in my life, but I am convinced two wheels is best. There is a dynamic in riding a machine that by its very nature is unstable. It's a machine that requires training to use, practice to use well and thoughtfulness to use safely. Yet it is also a machine that encourages risk, invites the rider to seek the sublime experience of being alone in a world, overpopulated and loud with activity. I travel for the pleasure of travel, for the joy of mastering the medium, for pleasure.
The machine itself is of less moment if it runs well, a scooter, a motorcycle its all the same to me. Big or small I'd rather ride than drive, though I generally prefer medium sized in the world of motorcycles. Driving a car is a matter of adjusting the climate, the seat, the radio (or the Bluetooth for people who are Modern) the cup holders and finally the steering wheel. Cars are mobile homes, not machines for travel or excitement or tools for feeling something. They prevent you from feeling discomfort because God forbid you should feel uncomfortable.

The fact that you will arrive on time and only slightly creased when you drive a car is a given. That you might possibly be one of 40,000 people killed each year on US roads (if you are in the US) seems impossibly unlikely. But were I to undertake the same journey I would be expected to arrive crumpled and exhausted and filthy were I to survive and not join the ranks of the 4,000 riders killed annually on the same US roads. Yes but I would be grinning ear to ear, not frustrated by the hassle of modern car travel on crowded freeways. Which joy is a paradox for those that don't share the pleasure of two wheels.
There is romance associated with motorcycles, frequently a combination of the movies and ridiculously outmoded images of motorcyclists as outlaws, the one image feeding the other. But for most modern riders the ride is simply a way to make some private space in this increasingly crowded world. It is still acceptable when riding to be out of touch. Sure modern technology will keep you on the phone if you so desire with Bluetooth and a helmet microphone but one is not expected to answer the phone while riding. Thank God sez I.
                                                                                               Loading the Auto Train
I don't even like to listen to music while I ride, though that is technically possible of course these days. When I was sailing I used to spend hours sitting on the edge of the boat looking out over the waves while the boat steered itself I'd get hypnotized by the movement of the water under the hulls of my catamaran. On the motorcycle I do the same thing, I write letters that will never get sent, I compose the finest possible essays for my blog, I plan a bright shining future as I ride. I live inside my head in the moment and it's lovely.
But riding is also about the magic of managing traffic, of assessing the road, checking for hazards, planning turns and anticipating traffic patterns and passing zones and traffic signals and slow trucks and finding the best way ahead. It's as active a way to travel as driving is passive. Riders know they are better drivers thanks to the development of the skills required to ride. Riding is an adventure, an exploration, the pursuit of new inner horizons. A motorcycle need not be expensive, it will be useful given the parameters of climate -two wheels in snow is beyond my desire- and it makes the mundane fresh and new and interesting. It is a wonderful gift and I treasure it. It is my daily escape and even today I look forward to the ride home from work as much as I did a decade ago on the same highway. When I drive my car to work my colleagues know something is up.
Difficult to explain the pleasure of selfishness. People ask me what would I do if my wife asked me to stop riding and my answer is I would never marry anyone who imposed such a condition. Riding a motorcycle is that good.