For the love of
I am a motorcycle rider. It is my favorite mode of transportation, and I don’t think there is a world in which I wouldn’t ride. It is the perfect mix of fun, danger, challenge, and teachings. A motorcycle frames things from landscapes to frustration in a way that one wouldn’t see otherwise. A motorcycle will teach you patience and discipline while showing you what it means to be out living in the world. The sensation of motorcycling to me is one of unrefined grit, a windswept beard, and a shit-eating grin.
I love motorcycling, so witnessing the recent decline in interest in motorcycles is upsetting to me, to say the least. What was once seen as a symbol of independence and freedom is now overlooked for whatever other priorities the population deems relevant – priorities that I do not share.
I want to share a few thoughts that I have had and a few things I have learned from the saddle to do my part to inspire new riders to swing their leg over a bike and realize what they have been missing.
A Great Way to Clear Your Head
A quick crack of the throttle is the fastest way to create some space between you and whatever nonsense is currently filling your head.
When I am out on the bike, it doesn’t take but a few miles to clear my head of whatever has been bothering me. Stresses of work and life itself get ripped from my head as the wind whips past my ears, almost as if the wind creates a vacuum that pulls the negative thoughts out of my mind and leaves them in the turbulent river of air that follows me.
Space in my mind that I had filled with fabricated stresses are replaced with the task at hand – keeping awareness of my surroundings, the feelings of wind hit my face and the warmth of the sun above, and taking in the sights and sounds – at least whatever sounds come in over the top of the engine noise.
On a bike, one learns to stay present. A lapse in judgment or focus has high risks on a motorcycle as the environment in which one rides is constantly changing. Other cars are obstacles that must be monitored, the sides of the roads scanned for wildlife looking to cross, and patches of sand and gravel must be seen before attempting to take you out.
It is refreshing to be able to seize the opportunity to be so focused on a single task. In the world today where distractions are abundant and easily found (if they don’t first find you), the opportunities to block out the world for a while and focus entirely on a single task are few and far between. There are no emails, text messages, or phone calls on the back of a bike.
They Will Challenge Your Patience
Motorcycles have a tendency to create an intimacy between man and machine. Maybe it is the way man and machine must work together and lean into turns, maybe it is the physicality of maneuvering and handling a heavy piece of equipment, maybe it is the idea of being out in the open and the feeling of freedom, maybe I am over-romanticizing the whole thing.
Bikes require maintenance more maintenance than a car. So, not unlike any intimate relationship, there will be times when patience is challenged. On a bike, there will be those bolts that don’t want to cooperate, seized from continuous heating and cooling cycles, road salt, and water, or with stripped heads from poor mechanic’s practices. There will be times when your “simple” routine maintenance is a headache every once in a while.
Through each of those challenges, I have learned a little something about myself; I have learned patience and problem-solving. I have found myself having to take a few steps away to keep myself from taking a wrench to the gas tank.
Should there ever be a time where I come to a point where I lose that battle of self-control, well, I suppose, I have a story to tell over a beer with my buds.
Aside from learning these things about myself, owning a bike has required me to learn about mechanic work. Sure, I could take the bike down to the dealer at every maintenance interval or leak, but where is the fun in that, really? Owning a bike should come with owning a set of tools. The occasional Saturday afternoon with a couple of beers and grease under your fingernails feels good, and fixing up the bike is a great sense of accomplishment.
There have been times where I have faced challenges on the road away from the comforts of my garage and a full set of tools. Things break on motorcycles when you ride them as hard as they were intended to be ridden. In these situations, I was forced to rely on my creativity and resourcefulness to get myself out of a situation.
Reliance on oneself is incredibly empowering, and it comes by the bagful when you buy a bike. No matter how big of a group you ride in, you are in charge of your own machine. You ride it yourself, you maintain and work on it yourself, and you must fix your roadside situations by yourself.
The difference between breaking down on a motorcycle vs. a car is your exposure. When your car breaks down, you can lock the doors, recline the seat, and take a nap until the tow truck shows up. On a bike, you are out in the open, no cabin to rest in. You are exposed to the elements, and if you can’t fix the problem yourself with what you brought with you, you must wait for your backup on the side of the road or try to duck into a nearby gas station or diner if you were so lucky to have broken down in close proximity to one.
All of the above sounds like adventure to me. I live for the challenges and hardships that come along with riding a bike. It is fun for me. When motorcycles are running well, and everything is going to plan, they are fun in the moment. When the plan falls apart, and the ride doesn’t go according to plan, well, those moments are fun later. You have a story, and those other bikers that appreciate a good breakdown story and have been there themselves can share their own breakdowns and MacGyver-esque fixes that they have used to get out of a jam.
Motorcycling puts you in the adventure. Without a windshield and cabin in front of you blocking the wind, bugs, and rocks, you are a part of the environment and inserted into the adventure. Sitting in a cabin with windows and climate control turns the road and sights in front of you into a video game; you are taking in the surroundings through a screen and not out in it. By stripping the cage away, you are feeling the adventure unfiltered and exactly how it is. It is something that is felt deep within and is hard to put words to.
Traveling on the back of a bike is different than traveling in a car – there is less room for niceties. Anything that you need to take with you on a bike must fit in the saddlebags or be able to be strapped to the passenger seat. This takes one back to their roots, back before they needed a lot of “stuff” to be comfortable.
It teaches one to be resourceful and selective, making tough decisions on what is actually a “need” and what is a “want.” These are lessons that are applicable off the bike, too, as people tend to collect too many things over the years, and everyone can afford to lighten their load a touch.
The Decline of Popularity
As one who loves motorcycles, the decline in popularity is upsetting; however, I cannot say that I am surprised. Anyone paying attention to the trends of the world can see why the popularity of motorcycles is declining.
Motorcycles are hot, heavy, costly, and a highly individual activity. There are challenges to riding and owning a motorcycle and maybe the farthest thing from “easy” in terms of personal transportation.
The more crowded places get and the more people on the road, the more danger there is to motorcycle riders.
Young people are coming out of college in more debt than ever, and the cost of a motorcycle isn’t in the cards for some.
Comforts have become so easily available that the discomfort of motorcycling holds little appeal to the uninitiated person.
It takes a specific person to enjoy the danger and discomfort of a motorcycle and seek that challenge. These people are becoming more rare by the year.
Their fall in popularity is only multiplied as social media informs many of the trends of today. The less people that ride, the less people post motorcycles to social media, and the cycle keeps going.
With all of that said, I still have a deep love for motorcycles. They symbolize strength and independence and bucking against social norms. It is the complete opposite of the direction the rest of the world tries to drive – toward a cookie-cutter set of values and priorities.
Motorcyclists have been stereotyped, and I am fine with that. Those who know what it really means to be a rider know that there is far more to it than may be shown to others.
I hope I have opened some eyes and sparked some interest in those who have been thinking about swinging a leg over a bike and twisting the throttle.
Yours in strength
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