Every time I talk to someone about riding a motorcycle one of the first things they say is, “Toooo dangerous.”
I thought this way myself for most of my life. I did ride off-road motorcycles, though. Blasting through the woods at 30 mph, narrowly avoiding trees, hammering through creeks and mud pits, or sailing through the air, motor screaming after clearing a jump. But there’s a big difference between off-road and on-road. The most significant is that trees don’t move. And of course, there is the speed thing.
After years of riding dirt bikes I took the plunge about a year ago and bought a BMW R1150R. The real reason I did this is that I loved riding a motorcycle but the places I had once left tire tracks were being closed one by one. Rocket City, with it’s sweeping turns and long, table-top jumps shut down first. Colonial Hill, a decades old riding mecca with steep rocky hills and tight, winding trails got bought by the Huntsville Land Trust. No way those enviro-whacks were going to allow a motorcycle on their property. To ride I had to trailer the bike and drive for an hour. I just wanted to ride.
I soon found that while I love riding trails and tracks, the road is even more exhilarating. For one thing, it starts at your door. And you aren’t exhausted after every ride. Cleaning the bike doesn’t involve prying off mud caked three inches thick. And I will admit, there is a certain cockiness that comes when you duel with huge steel beasts every day. Yes, it is dangerous. My heart still beats fast every time I throw my leg over the saddle. I try to monitor everything around me. Every car. Every patch of gravel in a turn. The greasy spot in the middle of the lane at a stop light. Wind. Sun. Dust. Water. Everything matters on a bike. To stop paying attention is to die. And if you aren’t good with this, you have no business riding on the street.
Is that a foolhardy way to approach life? Some would say yes. They’d say you have to be safe. That’s what our government would have us believe, restricting our lives more with every law they pass. That’s what our mothers would tell us. Apparently that’s what a lot of wives believe too. And they’re right. You do have to be safe. And I am. I wear a helmet and proper gear. But I realized something after I’d been riding for awhile and I didn’t get killed or maimed – not that this couldn’t happen on the way back home this afternoon. I realized that you can’t live your whole life in fear or you’ll never experience life. And when I ride, I feel alive. I feel everything.
Riding a bike isn’t like driving a car where you view the world from behind steel barriers and panes of glass. Cars are comfortable. Safe. Quiet. On a bike you feel every gust. You hear the wind. It buffets your clothes. You can feel the heat. Smell the engine. Smell the burnt clutch of a passing truck or a freshly mowed lawn. Sense the vibration of the engine through the handlebars. Bug strikes are an inch from your eye on the visor of your helmet. It isn’t comfortable. When you ride a bike, you view the world from inside the world. Not as a spectator but as a participant, with all the associated risks. In fact, it’s a lot like writing.
To pull in the reader you can’t observe the world around you in comfortable silence through DOT certified safety glass. To pull in the reader you must be inside the world you are writing. You have to throw your leg over that saddle and understand the consequences. It must be uncomfortable, and smell bad. You must feel the wind. And fear the rain. Avoid the metal monsters seeking to grind you beneath their wheels. Pay attention to everything and take nothing for granted. How else can you ever experience the delight of cresting a hill on a moonlit night, an empty road before you, beckoning you to twist the throttle and test the tires in that turn? Anything less isn’t story. It’s just… riding in a car.