Note: this post is from a previous incarnation of this blog, and is included here for reasons which should become obvious in short order.
Motorcycles have a wide variety of images associated with them; they are steeds, they are friends and lovers, they are phallic locomotor symbols, badges of badassery to some, and in at least one famous incident, massive stupidity detectors. (That fellow has since, I am told, seen the error of his ways.)
But today I’d like to add another title to the motorcycle list:
Motorcycles teach valuable life lessons. Good lord ‘n’ butter, if I had opened up my wallet and learned at the wheels of this particular mistress when I was a kid, my life would be very, very different now. The lessons include the awakening of confidence granted by the initial rides, the way that bikes can provide a whole new perspective without even moving, and now I will tell you one of the most valuable lessons a bike can teach you:
Know when to get off the bike.
Ordinarily, that’s a lesson applicable to the act of riding itself: as life-affirming and enjoyable as that act may be, it is vitally important to be aware of your body and mind—it’s a physical and mental activity in a way that a car can never be; you’re steering and holding the bike with your body instead of being cradled in a bucket seat and occasionally moving a finger to spin a wheel. You think about all sorts of things in the saddle, like not falling off, the weight of the bike, the increased sensory input from being out in the elements…whereas in a car, you’ve got comparatively less to think about: navigating and finding a radio station that isn’t playing a goddamned commercial—
But the lesson applies in other ways.
Let me back up a minute. That first bike I bought was not the one I’d always wanted. Like my boss at the time told me, “Never buy your dream bike as your first bike, because you will drop it while you’re learning. Buy a cheap piece of crap you don’t care about and sell it in a year.” (Another valuable lesson!) I took this to heart and bought a small Kawasaki Vulcan that was nice and did the trick, but wasn’t my dream bike.
The second one was. I’ve always admired the second-gen Yamaha Viragos: shaft drive (as opposed to the chain on the Kawi), a V-twin engine (as opposed to the inline 2) that was over twice the size of that of the first bike, and a lovely swoopy shape that, some say, started the notion of the “factory custom.”
That machine took me to my first and second bike rallies, went camping on other occasions, barrelled all over New York State, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, and provided me with some very nice breasts in my back at a sharp stop female companionship on a few occasions. Yes, this bike took me many places, in many ways.
When it worked.
You see, this sermon is something of a requiem. Last year, the month of July provided the finest riding weather I’d seen since I first took the MSF class…and I spent that whole month in a garage trying to figure out why the hell the electrical system was deader than Boris Karloff. It wasn’t the first electrical problem I’d had to sort, and this year, it turned out to not be the last, when my Virago up and died on me in the middle of a parking lot. Again.
I had bodged the wiring to the point where I could start the engine while sitting on the seat (long story, don’t ask), and thought that would see me through another season…but looking at this Japanese iron that had transmogrified itself from a reason to live, into a lifeless monument to the model, I felt a switch flip in my psyche and I knew this was no longer my dream bike, and I wasn’t going to be the one to fix it, if that ever happened.
Don’t misunderstand me—I do enjoy the mechanical aspect of bike ownership; I change my own oil and brakes, replaced worn O-rings, modified the exhaust…but the electrical system is, if I’m being honest (which a biker always is), so much spaghetti to me. Besides, while I like maintenance, I like riding even more.
Know when to get off the bike.
People, the lesson here is that there’s a difference between “not giving up” and “being bloody stupid.” Stubbornness is not a virtue. I fought for three years to keep this sucker running, and there’s no shame in finally admitting that it’s beyond my skill.
So the very next day, I took out a loan and got myself one of those bomb-proof Hondas. In many ways, I am having to relearn how to ride. Among other things, what’s sticking in my head is the sheer weight of the new bike, which, while still fairly light by cruiser standards, is still 230 pounds more than I’m used to. But I’m very good at getting into my own head, and I will get used to it; I got used to riding in the first place, and a 430 pound bike is a far cry from a ten speed. This isn’t that different, and the new bike will teach me quickly.
I can hardly wait to see what else it will have to teach.