You’ve bought your first bike. But first you have to hide it from your parents or your wife. You have to figure out a way to lock it to the carport, or in a storage unit. But you didn’t really think about where you’d put it, once you got one.
Everything is as intimidating as it is new, exciting, as it is frightening. No matter how old you are, you’re born for the second time, given another chance to live life the way you’ve always wanted to. The roads are your freedom; your wheels are your ticket to the most amazing day you’ve ever had. This is your shot at adventure, to renewed vigor, your escape from the mundane – but at a price.
You drop your bike a hundred times for stupid things like missing your footing at a gas station, or haphazardly moving your bike in the garage. You curse words you don’t remember learning. What you wouldn’t give for an indestructible brake or clutch lever. But that’s okay. Nothing a sticker and some zip ties won’t fix. Oh, and you’re the butt of every joke with your riding buddies. They call you a ‘squid’ and make fun of your chicken strips. You really have to learn what that means.
The other day, you took one hand off the handlebar and felt like Evil Knievel. Some might say Malcolm Smith or Jason Britton. You have no idea who the hell they are, but everyone has supposedly ridden with them. You might have even popped a first gear wheelie by accident. You really need to figure out how to do it on purpose because that was AWESOME! You talk to every rider you meet and ask a hundred questions to which, unfortunately, there are a hundred, completely contradicting answers. So you find forums to get your information and learn all about that thing called ‘trolling.’
You find a good group to ride with and you grow.
You never miss a bike night, or a stunt show. You click ‘going’ to every bike event on Facebook. And afterward, you leave a smiling mug shot on their page. You take pictures and video of EVERYTHING. You ride everywhere, anytime. Who needs an invitation? You’re happy to go it alone. You might have even ridden all the way to Arizona just to touch the border at 3:00 am because you were bored, before turning around and heading back home. My name is Danger!
Someone says you should try the ‘twisties.’ Someone shows you how to do wheelies; or you watched YouTube and learned yourself. But now that you know how, you can’t stop. It becomes a habit and the tickets start piling up. You know the motor cops’ names that operate in your city or your favorite ride spot by heart. You start learning where all their hiding places are.
You go to the motorcycle conventions just to watch the stunt shows and sit on new bikes. You’re not buying one right now, but making a list because your beginner bike feels too slow – time to move up.
You’re learning who all the professional Moto GP riders are and you follow all the stunt riders on Instagram. You spend every night at the stunt lot, and then ride some more after, just to see how fast and far you can go before your gaslight comes on.
You start getting pretty good at this whole riding thing, but the tickets are getting old. Damn the popo’s for profiling. But hey, at least you’re finally getting rid of your chicken strips. Only…it’s scaring the shit out of you. So you decide its time to try some more training, or maybe track days. And then you grow.
Just like teenage angst was a cliché the first time, not much has changed the second time around. You have your click you’ve fallen into whether it be the vested riders, the stunters, the canyon carvers, the retro-emo boom or the track junkies. You pick one and talk crap about all the others. Sure he’s fast, but he can’t wheelie like me. And vice versa. You get the picture.
You’re doing track days every month. You’re commuting miles and miles to and from work. You’re racking up seat time, miles and credence. You know everything and you’re still staying out late riding with your buddies.
And then …
Somebody crashes. Everybody crashes. You crash. The unfortunate mishaps come in threes, only to end very badly. Maybe you’re in the hospital for the first, second, third time. Maybe you’re going to your first, second, third funeral. Your family is getting worried and they’re on your case. They don’t understand you. Maybe you don’t understand you either. All you know is riding is who you are now. Maybe you’re lucky enough to meet a partner who understands and accepts it. They’re the ones who hold your hand after surgery, the ones who stand by your side at the funeral. They’re the annoying one who blows up your phone while you’re splitting lanes through traffic at the worst possible time. You make a note to put it on silent, but you don’t think about the feeling they get when you don’t answer.
But you’re good at this now. You can’t quit. You race. People know who you are. You’ve climbed your way to the elite. Everyone in the canyon inflates your ego by constantly reminding you how fast you are, especially if you’re a girl. It’s extremely addictive and despite the run of bad luck, you keep pushing harder and harder, as fast as the bike will go. Maybe you even competed and won a championship or two.
One day, you realize that very few of your riding buddies are left. The person who held your hand before is probably gone, replaced by a newer, more efficient model. Or at least one that doesn’t complain as much.
Now you’ve crashed a hundred times, fixed your bike countless more and you’re tired. And then you grow.
You still commute to work because you have to, but you’re not splitting lanes thrice the speed of traffic anymore. That’s for kids. You’re not waving your fist at other drivers either. You haven’t crashed, or dropped your bike in quite some time, but you may still get a ticket or two because everyone knows cops have stiffies for motorcyclists. No, but really, you appreciate what they do, and are thankful when they pull a ladder from the roadway that you might otherwise would have hit.
You don’t really go to many events anymore unless you know friends might be there. You’ll definitely ride to a Moto GP race, visit the local speedway or take your vacation at a motorcycle rally nearby. But you’re over the whole bike night thing.
Your chicken strips are back and that’s okay. At least you don’t have to spend as much money on tires. If you do get a wild hair and feel like scrubbing in (on a perfectly fair day – not too hot or cold), you leave really early, you know, before all the squids get to the mountain. You still do track days, but you ride in the intermediate group. The demon comes out long enough to get your adrenaline going, but not long enough to satiate your thirst.
Your gray hairs are coming in a little early. You scoff at hearing about ‘rider down’ on the radio. You’re a member of the AMA. You’re an instructor. You’re an explorer and you fantasize about a cross-country trip on the bike. You might even take it because you finally have the PTO to cover it, since you don’t call in sick to work all the time anymore. You don’t go conventions because there’s nothing there you haven’t seen at the dealer or in the magazine. You like the bike you have. Still, a second one would be nice. You know, one for commuting, one for track. But that’s mostly all talk.
You still keep in touch with your still-living riding buddies, but mostly through Facebook. You still see them once annually at a rally or bike meet-up, maybe even lunch. But they won’t make fun of you if you drive.
The great thing about getting to this point is you’ve passed through the guillotine and survived. You can take your bike apart and put it back together which saves you a ton of money on maintenance. Your insurance rates have FINALLY gone down.
You know your boundaries. You’re smart. And you can complain all you want because you have experience. You know what you can and can’t get away with. You know the consequences and which rides are worth the risk. You’re picky about who you ride with and for good reason.
And yet, the squid completely ignores your advice. No big deal. You shut up and nod your head, confident with the fact that you don’t have to prove yourself anymore, especially to him/her. The new rider asks you a question and you take the opportunity to mentor. You give him him/her the hundredth different answer, but don’t argue when they say someone else told them different. At least you tried. And you hope they grow.