A 1980’s Schwinn Tornado bicycle gave me my first taste of independence. That black, orange, and yellow bike opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me. I could go farther, and get there faster. It gave me freedom to explore more of my neighborhood and town. Like most kids, everything in my life when I was young was time bound. There was always a curfew. Traveling faster meant I could explore more before it was time to come home. It wasn’t until I learned to drive a car that I experienced another leap in my understanding of time and distance the way I did when I was a kid on a bike. Learning to ride a motorcycle changed everything.
Riding has its rewards, but it also comes with consequences. My more adventurous friends and I commandeered an open field near our neighborhood when I was a kid. One summer we carved out BMX style dirt course there using tools “borrowed” from our dads. It was complete with long downhill runs, sharp turns, and dirt mound jumps that would rattle your teeth when you landed. While riding on this track I had my first physics lesson in inertia (i.e. when your bike stops abruptly, but you do not), though I wouldn’t know it by that name until later in High School. I did learn that it hurt and didn’t do much for keeping a bike in working order either. My friends and I spent summer afternoons repairing our bikes (and licking our wounds) from the punishment the track inflicted. I eventually graduated from the Tornado to a Schwinn Predator, complete with bar pads, hand breaks, and a bright chrome finish. Tinkering, upgrading, and working on our bikes in each others driveways set the stage for later when I’d find myself doing the same thing in my driveway on motorcycles. To this day I blame the chrome finish on the Predator for my attraction to cruisers early in my riding career.
In the late 1990’s my dad purchased a Suzuki Savage 650. The Savage was meant for my mother to learn to ride on, but she quickly decided being a passenger was enough excitement for her. My dad had recently fulfilled a life long dream of owning a Harley-Davidson and he wanted riding companions. His excitement at getting back into riding after many years was infectious and my sister and I caught the bug. She and I quickly took over the small motorbike and spent several Saturday’s with my dad in empty parking lots torturing the gearbox, lurching around, and running into curbs. After taking the motorcycle safety course my sister decided that riding wasn’t for her so I claimed the Savage as my own. I went over to my parents house, where the bike lived, as often as I could once I passed my riding test. I even “borrowed” the bike a few times when my parents where out-of-town. I was hooked.
The Suzuki was not only the bike I learned to ride on, it was the fist bike I crashed on. Being a new rider I was over-confident and thought I understood the mechanics and physics of riding (see my previous lesson on inertia). It only took a cool, damp night and a steel manhole cover to show me how little I knew. My back tire hit the wet metal circle while as I leaned over coming around a bend to merge into traffic. It was just enough to lose traction. I slid along the road trailing the bike and we both came to an abrupt stop at the curb across the street. I was lucky (at this stage of my riding), as I was wearing a full face helmet, gloves, and a jacket. After checking myself out and finding no serious injuries I surveyed the damage to the bike. It was mostly roadworthy. I was close to my parents garage, so I got up, dusted off, and limped home. If you’ve ever wrecked a vehicle that belongs to someone else, especially your parents, it doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 60, you know that special kind of dread that just sits in the pit of your gut. It is unlike any other fear. Having put more than my fair share of dents and scrapes on my parents cars as a teenager, I was all too familiar with this feeling. I figured my days of borrowing the bike were over. I’m glad that wasn’t the case. After convincing my mom that I was OK, my dad I went to the garage to look over the bike. The forks were a little askew, the foot peg and clutch lever were a little bent. A few minutes with a 5 lbs. sledge-hammer and a bit of muscling the bars and forks back into alignment was all it took to get the bike back in order. I felt like I was a kid again, sitting in a driveway, fixing a bike that had taken some lumps because I thought I was a better rider than I was. It took a little longer for me to repair my parents trust than it did to fix the bike. Visits with the Savage where to be supervised for a while.
When I started living on my own in my 20’s, it took time to realize that I was truly “on my own”. I didn’t have to call home if I was going out late. I didn’t have to tell anyone where I was going when I left. This realization came to me in stages. Little boundaries that I tested and pushed at until I understood where my limits where. My riding experience evolved much the same way. First with hour-long trips on my fathers Savage, then to increasingly longer trips on other bikes I’ve owned. I slowly expanded my riding from day trips on the weekends, to commuting to work, and eventually to long multi-day overnight trips. The more I pushed and explored how far I could ride the father and more I wanted to ride. Understanding that my motorcycle was more than a machine but a means to explore and experience my surroundings in a new and exciting way. I wish I’d understood that earlier in my riding. I’d forgotten what I learned as a kid when I started riding bicycles, I just needed to remember it. This seems to be the case with a lot of things I knew when I was 8 and had to relearn as an adult.
Since my first riding trips I’ve logged tens of thousands of miles commuting, weekend riding, taking road trips, and camping trips. I still get just as excited to ride today as I did the first time I went on a solo ride. I finally understand that riding a motorcycle is more than just puttering around back roads on a Sunday morning. It is a literal vehicle for adventure, for experiencing the world in a way that cannot be duplicated. When I ride my motorcycle I am part of the environment I am passing through. I can feel the weather, smell the trees, connect with the road and the scenery in a unique way. It’s hard as you get older to have new experiences. They come fast when you’re young because everything is new. Riding a motorcycle gives me the chance to reconnect with my 8-year-old self. To remember what it felt like to ride through my neighborhood and push against boundaries searching for new adventures.