“Why do you ride?” That’s a question that every motorcyclist has to answer at some point. The answers are as varied as they are clichéd.
Everyone is going to have their own answer, and each is going to be a little different. But for most people, it’s going to be a myriad of factors. I know it is for me. Personally, I had no significant interest in motorcycles until I was in my late twenties. I had always appreciated them from a performance perspective, but had never desired one, up until my brother rode his Vulcan 900 up from Tampa to visit us in Kansas City. Suddenly, I was intrigued. It just looked so…fun. Remember when driving was fun? When your parents first threw you the keys and let you take the car out on your own, every single outing was an adventure.
Like most of you, I enjoy driving for the sheer purity of it. The steering wheel loading up in corners. Perfecting that seamless heel-toe downshift. Slapping the shifter into the next gear while you elicit a chirp from the tires. As verboten as it is in these days of increased safety consciousness, speed is certainly part of that. But for me, speed is not the goal. The sensation is the goal. The raw, tactile sensations that are masked in daily commuting, are exposed the faster you go. The harder you push, the more that curtain is drawn back. Each degree of aggression is rewarded with one more peek at the sublime.
A motorcycle is that. All the time. To the nth degree. Unadulterated, visceral sensation at all times. You like the mechanical interaction of a manual transmission? How about one that you can hear each physical gear click together? You like direct steering? How about steering so sensitive that an ill-timed fart can throw off your racing line? You like responsive brakes? How about a front brake that lets you do the sort of handstands that make pre-pubescent Russian gymnasts jealous? Couple that with the kind of acceleration that will embarrass nearly anything on four wheels, and you have a truly potent creation.
The Speed. Oh, the Speed. She is a fickle mistress. She calls to you. That siren song crawls its way into your soul, and triggers something primeval. I’ve been in a lot of powerful cars in my day. Five hundred horsepower becomes commonplace. But even weighed against those impressive numbers, nothing matches the exhilaration of a motorcycle at wide open throttle. The first time I rode on the highway, it terrified me. I couldn’t believe anything could feel so fast. Even at under the speed limit, everything just came so quickly. (That’s what she said?) Maybe that makes me a pussy, to be scared at sixty miles an hour. I don’t care. But you do get used to it. Some sooner than others.
There is a reason that so many people upgrade from the 600cc sportbikes to the litre bikes. They get used to it. Complacent. Bored. They need something more. That Speed calls to them. Just as how nothing seems to measure up to your first love, nothing seems to measure up to that first delirious taste of real Speed. So they go looking for it. Again. And again. And again. On faster and faster machines. At higher and higher speeds. At more and more severe lean angles.
But Speed is not an only child. She goes hand in hand with her twin sister Risk. The more time you spend chasing Speed, the closer you move to Risk. Everyone has their own barometer for how much they are willing to accept, and there are ways of mitigating the danger through training, strategy, and equipment. But make no bones about it, Risk is always there, breathing down your neck. If you cannot accept the fact that someday she may draw you into her painful embrace, then you do not belong on two wheels.
This is not to say that any who ride have a death wish. I know I don’t. I’ve got big plans to be one sexy grandpa later on down the road. There’s a lot of corduroy and tweed involved. You’ll see, it will be magical. So no, I don’t have some intrinsic desire to be cleaned off the front of a Chevy Tahoe with a squeegee. But that being said, the inherent risk does have a surreal effect on your thought processes. When you acknowledge the fact that a poor lane change decision, or an lapse in judgement at a stop sign could wipe you from this Earth, you begin to focus.
Sure, there are motorcycles with surround sound, GPS, and cupholders, but to me, that misses the point. A wise man once told me, “you want to be comfortable, drive a fucking car.” It should be a pure experience. It is meditative. A lot of the time, I am unable to turn my brain off. I am wracked with indecision, doubt, depression, and self-loathing. But riding a motorcycle quickly removes all of that. Hustling a sportbike down a backroad at a full clip is such a full body and full mind experience that everything else ceases to exist. It has to. For if your mind wanders, if your reflexes dull, you may feel that harsh caress of Risk.
I’ve never been a religious man. Church never spoke to me. But screaming down the road, covering a football field every second, with your toes inches from the pavement, deafened by the wind which tries to simultaneously batter you, strangle you, and dash you upon the ground…I can find peace. At least until that white CRV tries to murder me. That just means I have to be better. And faster.
Fails is a freelance photographer who sometimes pretends to be literate. You can see his portfolio at www.failsphotography.com. He is talking in third person because it makes him feel mysterious.