Now, that’s a stupid question!

What’s the point of all this?

On a Q&A forum I found the following question: What is the point of riding on a motorcycle other than looking “cool.” Are there any physical advantages as compared to a car? I know the old adage says ‘the only stupid question is the one you didn’t ask,’ but the question that poster posed is dangerously close to a stupid question. I borrowed one reader’s answer as a starting point for my own rant.

The ‘point’ of riding a motorcycle is to ride the motorcycle. It is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it.  People bandy about words like ‘freedom’ and ‘exhilaration’ but they are weak sauce compared to the reality.  The reality is so, so much more.

Me and my ’74 shovel (aka ‘The Bitch’) in West Texas enroute to Alpine. Man, I just love West Texas!

Again: the ‘point’ of riding a motorcycle is to ride the motorcycle.

It is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it.  People bandy about words like ‘freedom’ and ‘exhilaration’ but they are weak sauce compared to the reality.  The reality is so, so much more.

Me and The Bitch riding through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, in the Colorado Rockies.

Seriously, how do you describe the challenge of leaning into a hard curve on a twisty mountain road in the Colorado Rockies, just a hair’s breadth from the high side that’s gonna hurt like hell if you don’t maintain your line?  What words can match balling through the New Mexican desert alone on a star-studded night, with ghost shadows marching across the sands as the chill night air seeps through the seams in your leather jacket?  Can language even begin to capture the feeling of blasting through the heart of Dallas on a Saturday evening, twenty or thirty of you in a pack, so there in that moment – so large and loud and alive – that the straights in their cars instinctively move aside to let you pass?  How do you tell someone who’s never been there about rocking through a mountain pass on a chilly autumn morning, sun at your back and your best road dog at your side as you crest the Continental Divide and rumble down into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison?  Can you make any sense at all of the delight you feel waking up in a rain-soaked tent in Rapid City, South Dakota, on your way to the annual rally at Sturgis, and laughing about it because Who fuckin’ cares? We’re at Sturgis, baby!  

Into every life a little rain must fall…

And if that’s hard, try explaining how even the ‘bad stuff’ gets good, later. Things like riding through the wake of a hurricane in downtown Houston, water so high on the road that it’s burbling and bubbling at the ends of your exhaust pipes and dousing your ignition system. Things like spending a sleepless night camped on the banks of the Rio Grande, kept awake by the bitter cold and the new traveling companion who neglected to mention that he snores like a fuckin’ buzzsaw.

This is me riding through the Black Hills of South Dakota, doing a little sightseeing during the annual Black Hills Classic Motorcycle Rally, a gathering of the tribe that’s been going on since 1938.

Things like kneeling in the mud in a pouring rainstorm to help a stranger get his motorcycle started, because the biker’s code says you never leave another rider behind. Things like facing off with a shotgun-wielding deputy sheriff who is screaming at you and your buddies to get those goddam bikes out of there before he arrests the lot of you, because one of your buddies can’t get his bike started and the biker’s code says you never leave another rider behind. Things like your buddy suddenly remembering, after twenty minutes of trying to kickstart his shovelhead, that he installed a hidden kill switch as a security device just last week, and Oh, yeah! That’s why my bike won’t start….

One of my favorite works by Dave Mann: a loving couple two-up on a nice Spring day. Dave Mann’s monthly centerfold paintings for Easyriders captured every aspect, from the quiet pleasure of a run up the Pacific Coast Highway….
….to the drag of getting beefed by some biker-hating cop. and everything in between.

….because every biker knows the best stories are the ones that really sucked in the moment.

Are there physical advantages? Well, let’s see…

Me and The Bitch and the Marlboro Man’s Softail on Skyline Drive, above Cañon City, CO.

There’s the fact that you’re out in nature, breathing fresh air, instead of being cooped up in a cage with the air conditioner on, guzzling fossil fuel and contributing to global warming. And let’s remember that motorcycling is not a sedentary activity the way driving a car is, either. The constant shifting of weight and the tensing and relaxing of different muscle groups actually burn calories, really, and help you maintain a healthier body. Add a kick-starter to your machine and you can just about sell your Nautilus!

Look at the grin on my face. I am on a motorcycle I just rebuilt from the ground up: new paint, polished aluminum, a few chrome touches like new exhaust pipes and handlebars…. There are few finer feelings in this world than what I was feeling in that moment. I wasn’t posing or profiling or showing off. I was just grooving on the feeling: my Harley, the wind, a bunch of good friends all riding together, heading for a party. I didn’t know someone was taking pictures, and didn’t even know the photographer, but sometime later he came into the motorcycle shop where I worked and gave me several excellent photos made that day. Wish I could remember his name (and if you see this, Mr. Photographer, shoot me a kite, eh?) but wherever he is, I bless him!

And for most riders there is also an emotional benefit to being in the wind. You see it in the slogans on biker t-shirts: Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul; Sometimes it takes a whole tank of gas before I can think straight; and You never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist’s office. I know that, for myself, nothing can clear the cobwebs and help me forget about a crappy day like some time in the saddle. It’s two-cylinder meditation. My mind is focused on the ride – the shifting of gears, the changes in pavement texture and potential hazards, traffic patterns, the weather, et cetera – and tending to all that frees your mind from the weight you carry.

To quote Jackson Browne: ‘It’s a peaceful, easy feeling…’

There are also the benefits of being a smaller vehicle in traffic, in those enlightened states that permit motorcycle ‘filtering’. This is the low-speed lane splitting which allows motorcyclists to work their way through stopped traffic. It gets them where they’re going faster and reduces carbon emissions. It also eases overall traffic congestion, which helps get everyone moving faster, further reducing emissions, et cetera. A real win-win. I just wish the Texas legislature would get on that bandwagon, rather than all the horrid, hateful ones they have seen fit to climb on lately.

I was in a pack of thirty or so motorcycles when we stopped for lunch at a roadhouse. Before we could get back on the road, we were surrounded by heavily-armed law enforcement officers, who drew down on us with AR-15s. They proceeded to run every one of us through the mill – driver’s license, tag number, VIN – just because they could; just to inconvenience us, just because that many bikers in one place absolutely must mean something criminal was going on. They did get one guy, who had an outstanding warrant, but had to let the rest of us go.

Finally, in cities where land is at a premium, and motorists are desperate for parking spaces, motorcyclists require much less space than cars and trucks. If office buildings, colleges and malls would provide secure parking for motorcyclists, they could reduce the demand for parking by the drivers of full-sized vehicles, and again, contribute to lessening carbon emissions, fuel consumption, global warming, and so on.

So, it’s all that and more, and you notice that none of that has sweet fuck-all to do with being ‘cool.’  We ride because we’re riders.  We don’t know any other way to be.

Your mother did warn you about me, right?

3 thoughts on “Now, that’s a stupid question!

  1. Excellent! Nailed it good!
    While I was only an up and down the coast city and town rider, I still felt the exhileration of just getting on and starting up my Sportster.
    Sadly, gladly, I gave up my bike when I met my future wife of 47 years – her previous beau rode and it soured her – not a biker chick.
    But I know the feeling, miss it, but life has other plans.
    Seems like we were cosmicly ridin’ together back then in the “70s! Great times.

  2. Sorry, had to clarify; when I gave up the Harley I upgraded to real horsepower – a Tennesee Walker
    and Appaloosa. My wife had a small farm at the time and is a real Nature Goddess. We rode many a year together on horsepower.

    • When my wife and I hooked up she was not a biker chick, but she knew what bikes meant to me. I had that shovelhead for twenty years before we got hitched, and anyone looking at me could tell I was a scooter tramp.

      We got married in a church, but there was a Harley manual on the altar, old-school style, just to make clear she was marrying a biker. She’d take short rides with me, but my summer vacation trips were reserved for me and my favorite road dog – a week every summer wandering around the Rocky Mountains and Great American Southwest.

      However, one of her friends was interested in getting a bike. I’ve always encouraged women to ride, so when I scored a big sale of some first edition books just before Christmas one year I bought tuition to a motorcycle safety course for her and her friend. I had no expectations that my wife would want to ride her own, but I thought she’d enjoy taking the class with her friend, and I wanted her to at least understand how riding a motorcycle felt.

      Well, she did enjoy the class, so much so that, much to my surprise, she began talking about a bike of her own – something small enough for her height-challenged stature, but powerful enough that she could get out of the way of oncoming traffic, et cetera.

      We were still talking about it the day a hit-and-run driver took us out: a punk kid in a pickup traveling the opposite direction, passing another vehicle on a curve. He looked me right in the eye and kept coming. Never slowed, never wavered, cold as ice.

      I did everything I could – warned the couple on the bike behind us, slowed down, moved as far to the right as possible, had my headlight on… The pickup driver just didn’t care.

      There was no shoulder, and the road right up to the point of impact was lined with barbed wire fences, so I hugged the edge of the pavement and tried not to lose it, but just when I thought we’d gotten away with it he clipped my left rear turn signal. The force of the impact was enough to throw us off the road and into the ditch, thankfully unfenced at that point, but the front forks dug into the soft earth and my wife and I went ass over teakettle. The pickup driver just kept going.

      I got off easy – sore muscles from riding the thing into the ditch – but my wife and the couple on the bike behind us (who saw the guy hit us and opted to run off the road rather than end up as hood ornaments) were all injured. The woman suffered broken ribs and other internal injuries, and the guy still has pain in his ankle all these years later, from where his brand new bike landed on top of him.

      My wife’s injuries were relatively minor, although she was transported to the hospital and held for observation, but when I examined the bike later I realized the asshole who hit us narrowly missed taking her left leg off at the hip.

      After that, to no one’s surprise, my wife didn’t want to be on a bike again, and wasn’t keen about me being on one.

      As if that weren’t bad enough, the asshole totaled the bike we were riding – a 1987 FXRS I’d just spent two years customizing. I had installed the final piece – a blacked-out pillion pad – on a Friday afternoon. 48 hours later, on a sunny clear autumn Sunday, we were ass-up in the dirt, waiting for the ambulance and wrecker to arrive. Dig that? 48 hours – two mollyfoggin’ days – I got to enjoy the fruits of my labor before that piece o’…. well, I bet you can imagine what I have to say about the guy!

      I’m glad you found some hay-powered horsepower to ride, in lieu of the Sporty. Me, I can’t let go. I’ve been a rider my entire adult life – it isn’t a hobby; it’s in my blood – and I don’t believe I’m never going to be content without it. My wife’s not happy about that, but thankfully, thus far anyway, she tries to understand it. Me, I’m not thankful for much these days, but I’m thankful for that.

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