A since-vanished-from-my-life friend got into motorcycling fairly late in life. He was suffering aftershocks from a nasty divorce and wanted to put a little adventure into his life. Through work, he stumbled into a small group (of which I was a member) of guys who went two-wheeling every evening, weekend, and holiday. If he was going to see any of us away from work, he needed to buy a motorcycle and learn to ride it. At our recommendation, he took an MSF basic class and started with a small, used bike. From there, he got the bug and began a small collection of small used bikes and started racking up some serious miles on a motorcycle. The company we worked for died and we all scattered into the winds of economic migration. Three of us ended up at the same company in Minnesota, for a while, which kept the motorcycle group thing happening for a few more years.
I sold my 850 TDM and moved downward in cc’s to the SV650. The core member stuck with his beloved 650XS collection and his Honda CBX. The new guy surprised us all by buying a new Harley “sport” cruiser. Because he wanted to avoid the laughter as long as possible, he didn’t let us in on the new purchase until he had put a few thousand solitary miles on the Sportster and was secure enough in his new Harley relationships to give up on us.
Except for the above-mentioned friend, we all kept migrating; objects in motion tending to stay in motion. I left the industry for permanent vagrancy. The charter member of the group left the state for a whole new lifestyle, including marriage. The original subject of this rambling song and dance stayed with our Minnesota employer and kept on keeping on.
After leaving the real job, I lost touch with my friend and I haven’t seen him in a couple of years. A few months back, I had some reason to want to get back in touch and called him. After getting business out of the way, we tried to catch up a little. I was a little surprised to learn that he’d given up motorcycling and was planning to sell the Harley. He’d already sold his other bikes and the Sportster was the end of the collection. He said that he’d quit because the riding season was too short in Minnesota and it was more hassle than it was worth.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I resent the 3-4 months that winter cuts out of my riding season, but I don’t really object to a period of forced maintenance because, otherwise, I’d ride my bike until it fell apart under me. Sometimes it does anyway. He, on the other hand, was convinced that the Minnesota riding season is only about 3 months long. He doesn’t ride in rain, wind, or temperatures under 75F. He doesn’t ride on a day that meets those restrictions if the weather report, including the long range weather report, suggests those conditions aren’t absolutely guaranteed.
Part of his choice of riding style created those restrictions. The fashion statement he decided to make on the Harley stuck him with a brainbucket, face shield-less helmet, weather-intolerant leather gear, and a stripped down bike without a windshield or a riding position that allows for aggressive maneuvering in imperfect riding conditions. It’s a fair-weather bike and he was always a little inclined toward being a fair-weather rider. Without long periods of fair weather, he became a non-rider.
Maybe it was an advantage that I started riding off-road. Fair weather is boring weather to a cross-country racer. Enduros are hardly worth riding when the trails are dry, well-maintained, and hazard-free. A trials event without cold rain is . . . something less than trials. Motocross without mud is stadium-cross and that is about as close to real motocross as pro wrestling is to a street brawl. Less than perfect weather is part of real off-road motorcycling. Real motorcycle events are not spectator sports, they’re for motorcyclists. Almost all of my favorite events have had a 10:1 (or much greater) participant-to-spectator ratio. In fact, most of the spectators were just motorcyclists recovering from motorcycle injuries, not disinterested “fans” who are so disconnected to the sport that they wander on to the course like squirrels in traffic.
When I moved from Nebraska to California, I rode through wind, rain, ice storms, and snow to be able to have my bike in California instead of being stuck with a car in that traffic-jammed place. I was poor and had my critical personal belongings strapped to my bike for the first week I lived in SoCal. But, I could ride every day and I found my way around my new hometown a lot quicker on the bike than I ever could have in a cage. I moved there in April and discovered the year I’d picked to move was the wettest, coldest, windiest year in decades. Large sections of the Pacific Coast Highway had washed into the ocean during rainstorms and I often arrived at work soaked to the bone, even when I only lived 5 miles from work.
After a month or two of that wet spring, I decided to get a real riding suit for those few months. I went shopping and at every bike shop I visited someone told me that I was crazy for riding in February. “It’s too cold for motorcycles” I heard over and over again. The first time I got this lecture was at a parts house where the owner warned me that some SoCal nights got down to a “freezing” 45oF and said that I was nuts for exposing myself to that kind of weather. Coming from eastern Nebraska’s radical April weather, 45oF seemed like getting’ naked temps to me. For nine years, I was on either a bicycle or a motorcycle every day in California. The only time I suffered 4-wheels was when I was taking my family somewhere or buying a big pile of groceries for my food-inhaling, athlete daughters. It was never too cold for the bike, or too wet, or too windy, or too hot. Yeah, I’ve frozen my butt off a few times. I’ve ended up shivering under a hot shower in a motel only a few hundred miles from home, too cold to ride any further, too tired to find HBO on the tube, wishing that I’d ridden a little faster when the weather was good. But I have never been on the bike wishing I’d driven the car; not once in almost 300,000 miles of street biking.
Not that I can remember, anyway. All of my memories of being on a motorcycle are good. Even the ones that ended up with me hobbling around on a crutch, wearing a sling, or groaning like an old man because of busted ribs or some other mangled body part.
I’m writing this piece in November. It’s 35oF outside this morning and I’m going to make a few trips around town before I head to work, on the bike. Supposedly, it’s going to snow this weekend. Maybe that will end the riding season for me until the snow melts in March or April or whenever it warms up again this winter. We start MSF classes in April, regardless of what Momma Nature decides to do to the outside temperature. I’ll be on a bike in April. It will probably be too cold for motorcycling, but I’ll ride anyway.
MMM April 2004