Motorcycle Riding: A Journey of Freedom and Discovery

It has been many years, decades since I have been on a motorcycle. I got my first motorcycle when I was 15. It was a 1982 Yamaha 650 bike. I had wanted a motorcycle once I started earning money. We spotted one on the side of a country road. ...

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It has been many years, decades since I have been on a motorcycle. I got my first motorcycle when I was 15. It was a 1982 Yamaha 650 bike. I had wanted a motorcycle once I started earning money. We spotted one on the side of a country road. The guy was asking $600 for it. I think we got it down a little cheaper. He threw in a helmet. I would turn 16 by the time school started. Where most kids wanted a car, I was perfectly happy with a motorcycle.

I learned to ride the bike on the country roads up near Wild Rose, Wisconsin. One of the guys at the farm offered to teach me how to ride. First, I rode with him. He showed me about the clutch and shifting gears. When it came to my turn, we started at a T intersection, which was probably a bad idea. I goosed the engine and let the clutch go too fast. We shot away from the stop and across the street into a ditch. By some miracle, I managed to steer us out of the ditch and onto the road. After that I was a bit more careful about feathering the clutch.

When we returned to Texas, we loaded the bike onto the back of a pickup. There was no way I was riding that thing over 1000 miles home. That year in school, I had so much freedom riding to school instead of taking the bus. I was also able to go visit friends, go to the mall, or even just ride around for fun. I was having a great time despite the near misses on the road.

I learned quickly how people are not mindful of motorcycle riders. I experienced getting cut off in traffic, people just stopping suddenly to make a left turn, and people driving too close. Part of the danger was my own 118 pound frame on that bike. I was too skinny for that much bike. It was a battle to lift it whenever it tilted over. But, it also meant that I had too much power. It was all too easy to go fast. I could manage having my rear wheel lock with the brake. All kids learn how to do that on their push bike. Once, I accidentally did a stoppie when I was approaching an intersection too hot.

I learned that hot summers can cause the kick stand to melt through asphalt. I carried a piece of plywood after that.

I rode in rain and in freezing weather. I even rode through a flooded street one morning on the way to school. I had squishy shoes all day. In less than one year, I had stories.

My motorcycle story ended in early May when a friend and I were struck by a car at an intersection. We were both broken that night, requiring a couple of weeks in hospital and lots of recovery time. I was never 100% after that.

The following year, I managed to test ride a Honda Goldwing that somebody bought at a yard sale. I rode just to get over the fear of riding again. But, I never rode another motorcycle after that.

Decades later, I made a friend, James, who is an avid motorcycle rider. He used to ride sport bikes at ludicrous speeds. Talking to him reminded me how much I enjoyed riding as a teen. He eventually got himself an adventure bike. I couldn't justify buying a bike for myself. At least, not a regular motorcycle. There was a Honda Scooter on Craigslist one day. I decided it was cheap enough that I would buy it. James drove it home for me.

Once I owned the scooter, I took a motorcycle riding class. They did offer a scooter riding class. However, I would have been limited to riding scooters. Fortunately, they had bikes to teach us to ride. They provided a BMW G 310 R. This was the first motorcycle I had ridden in decades. There is that saying, "it's like learning to ride a bike. You never forget". Sure enough, I was able to pass the tests and maneuver without too much trepidation.

It's one thing to ride after so many years on a closed course. It's another to ride in traffic. It was frightening to ride in traffic and at high speed (63 mph on a scooter) after so many years. For the first weeks, I would ride to work using back roads. It takes time to familiarize yourself to how your bike handles.

Once I started regaining confidence, I started riding faster and on busier streets. I also started testing the limits of leaning into turns. It's still scary to see a patch of gravel on a turn. But for the most part, I've become comfortable with maneuvering. I may soon be ready for a full motorcycle.

I took a trip an my scooter to a nearby town one day. It was a one-hour drive to get there. And it was another hour to return in the dark. That was the longest trip I have taken on any motor bike. I enjoyed the idea that I could do it. However, I did not enjoy the experience all that much. Perhaps it was the discomfort of riding upright for so long. Whatever it was, I have no illusions of long rides in the country. Perhaps my opinion would be different if I had a more comfortable ride. I haven't given up on the possibility of a long ride across the country. However, I know it's not going to be on this scooter.

I can't say that riding has changed my life all that much. I enjoy the same freedom I had driving my car. From my perspective, riding a motorcycle is just transportation. I happen to enjoy riding more than driving. But I don't find myself going out on long rides any more than I would go for a long drive. The biggest difference is exposure to the elements. Sun, rain, wind, dust, and bugs all make riding more real. You can't really zone out to the same extent on a bike as you can on a car. It still freaks me out a bit when I hop on the bike and don't put on a seat belt like I would on a car. Maybe that's the difference. The stakes are higher when riding. Survival is a more present desire on a motorbike. It's a more physical experience, in general.

It seems like riding is more of a journey of self-discovery. You find little limits to push here and there. Part of my learning has been accelerating out of turns, which require more lean the faster you want to take off. It's little things like this. I'm constantly trying to master a small change that allows me to be more in control and less afraid. In that regard, every ride to work and home is an adventure. From my perspective, most cars on the road are out to kill me. So, I have to remain vigilant of what other drivers are doing and where their blind spots are. I don't rely on drivers to look out for me. My running scenario is that they don't see me, so I need to be ready to act. The question always is, "do I have what it takes to survive?"

This probably sounds more nerve-racking than it actually is. When you're riding, you get into a zone. Even a quick trip to the convenience store could turn into a problem. Experienced riders often say ATGATT, all the gear all the time. This one little ride to the corner store might be the one where you lose some skin or crack open your skull. I will, on occasion, go full squid when I don't plan on going highway speed. But, I do this fully aware that even a slow fall could be bad. I temper some of my paranoia by remembering that in Italy it is common to see people zipping around on their Vespas with only open face helmets and without a care. I figure, if I drive slow, then I don't need to gear up too much. For scooting around town, speed is not necessary.

I wish I could come with some definitive statement about how riding a scooter or motorcycle has changed my life or outlook on life. But it has done neither. I do feel more alive in that there are more senses involved when riding. However, some of that has a trade-off on hot summer days here in Texas when you are in a full-face helmet and a jacket. Maybe feeling more alive is gratitude you haven't died from heat stroke. But even so, I'm glad I'm riding again. I enjoy zipping around my little city through the back streets to do errands. Some day I'll graduate to a larger bike. For now, I am content with my zippy scooter.

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