Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Reflections Upon Pouring Water From A Boot

When you pour water out of your boots, I guess that says something about you.

Especially when you rode your motorcycle right past your (operable) car in front of the house on the way to work.

Especially when you’d checked the forecast, and left your rain gear at home anyway.

As motorcyclists, we are well aware of the dangers we face every time we throw a leg over and hit that starter button (or kick the starter).  Many of us do things to alleviate at least some of that danger by wearing protective gear like helmets, jackets, boots, etc. Often these things get uncomfortable, especially in a central Texas summer, but we weigh comfort against safety.

As motorcyclists, we are also completely exposed to the elements. The aforementioned heat. Cold. Rain. Hail, sleet, June bugs, roadside critters that decide to take us down like we’re a zebra on a nature show. We dress for the weather, too. A large array of options exists to keep motorcyclists dry even while riding through monsoon conditions. I actually own gear that can keep every bit of me dry except the gap between my collar and my helmet – even waterproof gloves and boots.

Sometimes though, I, for one, just feel the need to say to hell with it. Don’t get me wrong – I do believe in the use of safety gear, and I’d never encourage anybody to not use it. But sometimes, just sometimes, there’s an unexplainable joy to be had from saying “fuck it” and just hopping on and going. Just to feel the breeze against the skin. To experience the joy of risk. I think risk taking is part of human nature, and I also firmly believe that it’s stronger in those who are drawn to bikes. Even those who wear All The Gear, All The Time.

I also occasionally leave rain gear behind, even when I know it’s going to rain. I think it’s good to remind ourselves of our connection to the elements once in a while. What better way to do that than to ride a motorcycle in the rain? When you ride in the rain, you really become aware of all sorts of sensations. You feel water running down your body, trickling into places you really weren’t much aware of before. You can feel your clothes soak through, from outer layer to skin, step by step. You’re definitely aware of how much the temperature is affected by water falling out of the sky. The wind becomes a lot more noticeable. Especially on days like today, when the rain felt like that ice bucket challenge that was going around the internet a couple of years ago.

Riding like that takes me back to my early days of riding when I didn’t have all the right gear and just made do. Maybe it wasn’t the safest, but it was new and exciting, and I noticed everything, and drank it all in. It’s like getting a fresh start, almost. Like feeling the new rider excitement again.

Like I said before, I’d never encourage you to leave safety and comfort gear behind, but for me, it’s a shot of fresh mental energy sometimes.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mileage Is Knowledge

A club brother of mine is fond of saying “mileage is knowledge”.  I don’t know if Raoul originated that phrase or not, but I first read it in his writing. It’s since been adopted by a number of our members.

I recently had an experience that truly drove home the meaning behind those words, at least in one context.

We had a group of close to ten bikes, along with several cages following along, and we were headed from Round Rock, Texas to Jennings, Louisiana.

 Shortly after pulling up our kickstands and hitting the road, we hit rain. Hard, cold rain. Hard to see the vehicle in front of you rain. We were in familiar territory, though, on a highway we were all familiar with, traveling near Austin, so we were fine. The sun was back out by our first gas stop and all was well.

Another fuel tank’s worth of travel, and the passengers in our chase vehicle warned us of heavy weather ahead. Never discouraged by a little weather, we saddled back up (some of us with rain gear), and hit the road. I soon discovered that my waterproof riding gear is old enough that it’s now water resistant riding gear.

The rain never let up on us the rest of the day – or even that night after we got to our rally. It was once again a hard, cold rain. I’ve ridden in a downpour this bad with such bad visibility only maybe once or twice in almost 30 years of riding.

My brother Dragon had taken the lead, with me just behind him and to his right. Gypsys tend to ride in a tight staggered formation. It’s safer than the handlebar-to-handlebar arrangement that most clubs use, but the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and the American Motorcyclist Association would probably still shake their fingers at us and give us a good glaring. Anyhow, I was glad of two things that day: One, that our club wears our colors on a gold colored vest instead of black leather, and Two, that Dragon and I have ridden together so many times over so many miles.

There were times that my faceshield was so fogged that all I could see was a vague gold blur just ahead to my left. I often couldn’t even see vehicles we were passing until I was alongside them. I just held my position, and if that gold blur got closer to me, I changed lanes to my right. If the blur got farther away, I changed lanes left. Dragon and I have ridden together so much that I was completely comfortable following him. I trust his skills, instinct, and thought processes. We’ve put in the miles. Mileage is knowledge.

A couple of weeks later, he and I rode to downtown Austin to watch the spectacle that is the block party on 6th street the Friday night of the R.O.T. Rally. There’s a parade of motorcycles, and the fratboy party zone of 6th is blocked off to all traffic but bikes.

We took a different route, trying to avoid the actual parade and its clusterfuck of occasional riders and weekend warriors out playing biker for the weekend. We wound up in traffic behind a couple of these types. We remarked how the two had no clue how to ride next to another person, much less in a pack. I reflected that one of my greatest joys is riding in a group of people who get it – who have mastered their machines and have learned the art of riding in a pack. It’s one of the things I’ll miss most in my retirement from the club. There truly is no way of explaining the feeling. You either know it or you don’t. Again: mileage is knowledge.

Of course, there are many other ways the phrase applies, so shitcan the idea of “resale value”, get on your bike and rack up some miles. If you don’t have a bike, you should seriously consider buying one.