WHY I RIDE
It all began simply. Early one morning, in the office, one of my co- workers, coffee mug in hand, rather curiously asked me why I ride motorcycles. Somehow I thought I could produce the answer immediately; because it is amongst the most delightful experiences of my life; I ought to be able to explain it to anybody- but I stalled. It sounded too much like having been asked why do you live, or why do you love? The answer is too fundamentally obvious and instinctively human to necessitate explanation.
Riding motorcycles over the years has been such a passion for me, some say bordering on obsession, yet I had never seen a reason to sit down and put my thoughts and feelings into words. Now I suddenly feel I have so much to say. But I found myself balking. Maybe what is so great a feeling, is not so easy to describe. Instead I found myself wanting to say something concise like, "Well its obvious, like, no duh!"
An explanation may start somewhere like - It's about living and loving. It's about love, life, nature, mankind, and their' interplay; that which creates the yearning for spiritual satisfaction in all of us. We almost all start as passengers, and sometimes it happens instantly. You fall in love with the freedom of movement, the feel of the road, the force of the wind, the smells- your total physical and spiritual oneness with nature. Some don't make the connection immediately often because of the inherent associated dangers, and abandon further riding temporarily or permanently. For those of us who return, those who are searching for that certain feeling, the one that drives to want to re-experience that sensation again and again; there are wonderful roads that lie ahead.
Anyone who has witnessed Hollywood portray bikers in films like "The Wild One" or any other macho representation of "Bikers" and their ways, automatically assumes that biking is exclusively about looking tough and being threatening, guzzling neat Tequila, and riding fast, real fast. That stereotype defines a minority, and it has more to do with vanity, than riding. Posers are everywhere; they'll spend more time off their bikes in bars, malls, and parking lots, than riding their machines. In my experience most riders have another perspective that is seldom represented.
It has become very clear to me that serious motorcycle enthusiasts are individuals who are not run of the mill. They are nonconformists, they tend to have strong dreams and aspirations, and are emotional, fervent folk. While some of these qualities are somewhat abreast with the Biker stereotype, they fall short in one significant way; many bikers are also sensitive, passionate people. They are individuals not because they are motorcyclists, but they are motorcyclists who are individuals. Maybe identifying some of these qualities to casual observers is difficult because of the hindering facade of protective hardware; but closer examination will inevitably reveal their love for life. Motorcyclists are drawn to their pastime by their sense of adventure, their love of life and their respect for the world and its contents. This facade, however, has created a negative image of motorcyclists as insensitive, leather clad tyrants which is unfortunate.
Riders frequently encounter other riders on desolate roads, in gas stations, in far away towns, states and countries, and always seem to find an immediate common bond. I believe that it is our search for inner peace, and our zeal to explore the outer and inner worlds to find meaning to life (and not our bikes, leather, or Kevlar) that unites us. The equipment and apparel are only the means of transportation and transformation irrespective of our age, colour, and socio-economics, etc. That "common bond" transcends our means of arrival at that time and location. The group I often ride with is composed of Orientals, African-Americans, Latinos,Brazilians, etc These are the true "United Colours", not of Benetton, but those of Kawasaki, Ducati, Honda, BMW, and yea even Harley-Davidson...
Some time ago, I took a new acquaintance who had experienced an interest in riding as my passenger for a group ride with four other riders. The ride included several days of fast and hard scenic riding, carving through some of our finest "twisties". In an attempt to get to know me better she asked me what I did for spiritual satisfaction. We were so engulfed in the answer, I thought she was joking. We were alone, in the middle of a rain forest on a cool morning with leaves in full peak of their fiery transformation, colours so rich they would astound you with sheer brilliance. There were waterfalls around us, and asphalt was being churned below; continuous quick lefts, hard right turns. Sunlight over the horizon line was glaring in my eyes as I rode the crests in rapid succession. We were moving, and beginning to dissociate with the present. The only reminder of the perceived reality was the hum of mufflers, and taste of the next bike's exhaust dissolving on my lips; hinting the pseudo-reality of the present. In my haste I assumed we had spontaneously connected on a deep, personal level, and this manner of questioning was her humorous display of "Eureka, I see what it's all about now!" Alas my joy was short lived. Upon further inquiry it became apparent that I was seriously mistaken, all she wanted to know was if I did anything more mature!
The point is that some people just don't and won't get it. To many, motorcycling is just a hobby, a short term satisfaction at best. These "Fair Weather" motorcyclists accumulate 1-2000 miles per year on their equipment on occasional sunny afternoons, and think little else can be obtained from that mass of metal, plastic, and rubber. Others may have never wanted to ride, or may have even tried riding once; didn't enjoy it, and could all do without the rest of us who do. These people are usually only impressed by the object and it's form, physical properties and attributes. What they fail to appreciate is the experience of getting in touch with their own inner self, where within they may find lurking some remnants of their humanity.
As one gains more experience in riding, functions such as shifting gears, looking at instruments, studying the curve of the next turn, flicking into "twisties", countersteering, weight shifting, other traffic, and the road surface begin to resemble your bodies' autonomic nervous system. This is the system that automatically controls your metabolism and homeostasis without your direct awareness, such as your heart rate, or your digestive system. This leaves you a lot of time to become engulfed in nature and absorb all that is around you.
While joy rides and quick trips around town, or to the beach serve the transportation functions rather well (let's face it is a vehicle after all), they are altogether different from the spiritual association. The transformation from joy rider to transcendental biker, however, only happens when you go out for several days, on lonely scenic roads; certainly off the Interstate highway system. Spending time just riding, no conversation; hours on end spent riding, absorbing and reflecting, man, machine and nature simultaneously. Comparison with a car is completely irrelevant. In a car your field of vision is limited, the car's four wheels and suspension remove any feedback from the texture and feel of the road. The driver and the other occupants are completely oblivious to subtle changes in humidity, temperature, and odours. In short, there are substantial barriers preventing both the physical and spiritual connection, and the car never becomes an extension of your body and soul. Subsequently, in riders jargon motorcars are referred to as "the Cage".
Distancing yourself from mundane function, laborious tasks and effort are the key ingredients for disassociation. You need to become automatic in your functions, when you need less time to think, relate and synthesise, you make a small step towards this symbolic liberation. Additionally, when at all possible, it is almost critical to remove stimulus by other people or signs of civilisation from your range of vision, unless you are with a pack of riders that you are comfortable and familiar with. With practice and time spent on long trips, preferably alone, or during long periods of riding in remote areas, you begin to develop the ability to disassociate more and more. I know this will get me in trouble, and it may sound strange and unsafe, but during certain conditions, by not concentrating you can become a better rider.
The physical laws that govern turning a two wheeled vehicle and (the resultant opposite reaction of) countersteering, require you to change numerous variables by shifting your posture and your weight, in order to make the dynamic balances equate. Yet all these movements become automatic with experience. You are left with a lot of time to absorb again. So seek natural beauty and serenity in your surroundings, find exotic roads and landscapes and lose yourself in them, only to find oneness with the air, the wind and nature in its entirety. These observations have led several people that I know who are also pilots, to compare a lot of the physical and spiritual sensations associated with riding to the ultimate freedom of motion- that of flight. These subjects as they relate to flying have been beautifully explored by Richard Bach in several of his books including, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and Illusions.
For me Sport-touring is what brings out the magic. It is how the mind experiences the physical laws of Newtonian motion, which become transcribed at a spiritual level. The physics of the movement can be scientifically demonstrated by various equations involving mass, gravity, acceleration, and numerous other forces and their opposing reactions. Human emotions however can transform them to a purely transcendental experience- a quantum leap, beyond Newtonian Physics as it were. For me this usually begins to happen on the second or third day of a tour, usually on a beautiful desolate forested road, around a corner with little or no signs of mankind around, it could be anywhere. My sleeping bag and tent bungeed tightly behind the small of my back, riding along endless new roads, saturated in deja-vu, I shift gears to find the lower edge of that power source on tap and lean hard on the sport bike as I begin to flick man, machine and equipment into a "twisty". My usual powerband-induced adrenaline rush and exhilaration turn comfortable, a familiar euphoric warmth. I begin to feel inner peace with such intensity I begin to smile, it is a little like being in love. Moments like these, and there are plenty, humble me and behove me to be awe struck by the power of life. These moments altogether abate my day-to-day concerns and anxieties, they become dwarfed in the passion, and the exhilaration of joy. You become a little cleaner, younger, and brighter. I can't help but be reminded by a strong force of man's potential, his capacity for loving and living and how little of it we use in our daily lives.
How I yearn to metaphorically bottle these sensations to take home, to share with others and to rehabilitate myself when I forget. I have learned that I can't. I can only remember that it feels rather wonderful. One thing is for sure, mankind can recall pain more easily than joy, so I ride often and I ride far and I always feel good afterwards- sometimes for days. The need to experience this exhilaration of life will never cease. If it is addictive, I prescribe a solid dose to all those around, knowing full well the addiction, the craving, and the cure. One and the same, the remedy can always be found around the next corner.
Most critical decisions of my life, those that have required deep reflection, have been made on motorcycles on desolate roads. The time necessary to reflect, ponder, dream and mentally experiment are so abundant when I ride that to me there is never a better place to think than the time I spend out there on the road. When I get to work in the morning; after one of my frequent jaunts, my co- workers usually ask me what I did. I tell them, " I just rode and it was wonderful". Habitually my run will be acknowledged and then someone will begin the discussion about the latest sports results, and the focus shifts away. My emotions about motorcycling are at times difficult to express to non-riders, especially over their first cup of Java- but I really wish I knew how.