I have been called a "squid," "irresponsible," "reckless," "dangerous," etc. Some of these criticisms are valid. Actually, all of these have been valid at some point in time or another.
I received several pieces of e-mail from naysayers over the past week or so. The names will remain unknown to the masses to protect the indignant.
Here's what I have to say. It's quite a rant.
I am a 24 year old male. I was born and raised in Texas, a state with a history of rebelliousness and fierce independence. I was not "allowed" motorcycles during my childhood. Part of this is due to the fact I had my own plastic surgeon by the time I was 8 and my own orthopedic surgeon by the time I was 12. I have always been a thrill seeker. I have broken many bones. I have broken many toys. I rode my BMX bike like a maniac, and I skateboarded for 13 years. Later on, inline skated and now I have a mountainbike I ride aggressively when I want to pedal. I have rock-climbed. I have rappelled. I have illegally rappelled down the sides of apartment buildings. I have jumped out of planes, and off of cranes with a glorified rubber band attached to my ankles.
I love scaring myself. Kurt Vonnegut said, "Try to do something everyday that scares you." I do.
I always longed to have a motorcycle. Until quite recently, I was never able to have one I called my own. I always rode, and in many cases, crashed friend's bikes. The first bike I ever rode I crashed into a backstop within 10 seconds. It was a 75cc small trail/moped thing. I learned to ride on the street on a Suzi GS400. I crashed this one pretty quick, too, this time into a curb. Later, I wheelied this same bike into an IHOP sign in the restaurant's parking lot. It was a bold endeavor gone wrong. I also went over the top in a stoppie on this bike in the High School parking lot, ending up with some good Elbow Jerky and several days of suspension because the bike decided to headbutt an administrator's car. On down the years a bit, and I had a roommate that had a '87 GSXR-750. Once, he visited me at work and, while on the clock, I took the bike for a quick spin, and crashed it wearing shorts, deck shoes, a polo shirt and an apron (I was a waiter). I got fired, tore myself up and crashed my friend's bike in one fall. The oil cooler was punctured in the gaffe, and my friend stuffed the bike under a guardrail on the way home because of an oiled rear tire. I later highsided a ZX-7 belonging to the same friend.
Why do I relate all this?
There are too many goddam voices of reason in the United States today, and I for one do not want to join them. Our forefathers listed Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness first in the Declaration of Independence. Land of the free, Home of the brave.
But not recently.
Too many people these days, from the soccer mom in the minivan or SUV, to the legislator in Washington, take umbrage at any attempt by anyone to have a little fun in life. Orwell was close about it all, but he missed the true name of the evil. It's the Fun Police. I will limit my beef to motorcycles, to save a little bandwidth.
Motorcycle riders and racers, by there nature, are on the fringes of society, at least in this country. We all know The Look when we meet someone and they find out about our choice of transportation. We all see The Look when we walk into a store with gear and a helmet. We all see The Look and hear The Uncle Speech from people who seem to think that we Just Don't Know How Dangerous a motorcycle can be, so they tell us about their uncle who "laid it down to avoid a crash" and lost his leg/banged his head/maimed his arm/bought the farm.
Until after World War Two, motorcycles were a semi-accepted form of transportation, though I believe even back in the day, ol' Bob knew what the was doing when he bought an old Harley with atmospheric carbs, manual spark advance, no suspension, and some godforsaken control arrangement requiring 4 arms and three legs and an aircraft-style checklist to operate. Motorcycles were accepted by most, and the dapper cyclist would wear the latest Sears-Roebuck gear with his Lovely Wife riding sidesaddle. After big WWII, the returning GI's craved a little excitement and got some motorcycles after saving the world. So they rode around, the original Outlaws actually being nothing more than Veterans with some combat pay to spend.
Then came a little non-event called Hollister. Splashed across newspapers and magazines across the country were horror stories about roving gangs of drunks on motorcycles overpowering law-enforcement, raping and pillaging. Life magazine published embellished pictures and embellished stories. The truth, history reveals, is that it was little more than some drunks on motorcycles having some fun, with no carnage besides a few broken bottles. None of serious criminal acts that the media reports were true. No problems that a few calls to a Columbus DUI attorney wouldn't solve. A little film called "The Wild One" with a pre-bloated Mr. Brando, shocked Mr. and Mrs. Middle Class with what it rebelled against- "What do ya got?" The stodgy 50s of conformity and wholesomeness were Just Not Ready for such things, and from that point on, motorcycles were relegated to the Fringe.
Into the 60s and the real Hell's Angels. Legitimate hooligans, they epitomized the do-what-you-want ethos. Thing is, if law enforcement would have exercised a little lassaiz-fair attitude instead of the bring-out-the-guns mentality, the Angels would have been but a blip on the radar of rebellion in the 60s. Instead, with publicity and notoriety, they became the face of motorcycling to the general public, Norton and BSA and Triumph's attempts to the contrary be damned.
Soichiro Honda had some other ideas, and you began to see the Nicest People on motorcycles. But America has a long memory for what it doesn't like, and an explosion in motorcycle popularity was only able to live for perhaps a decade. America was so close to becoming a country where motorcycles were accepted, practical, reasonable transportation. Instead, we get the80s. I was too busy growing up to study the metaphysics of the whole issue, but for whatever reason, we failed to reach that point.
Now, we have another burgeoning explosion of motorcycle popularity. This time, it is the ol' Baby Boomers (those from whom I and fellow Xers come from) reliving the excitement they lived through just before the tide rolled back and the revolution stopped turning, before Nixon, embargoes, Disco, Greed and Reaganomics killed what the youth had envisioned. Now, having made their money and sold their souls, the Rich Urban Biker rides the land. I love to ride, and the fact anyone rides generally improves my view of them, but I find the breed leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
They are not me.
I ride because of the Outlaw heritage of my XX's two-wheeled forefathers. I ride because I love the rush of stretching the throttle cables all the way, dumping fuel down four 42 mm carbs into a monster motor. I ride because I know the bike might just prefer to kill me, after all. I ride to spite the guys in minivans that look at the bike longingly at lights. I ride because I think I actually like challenging the cages on the highway- am I invincible? I ride because mom doesn't like motorcycles, and bad girls do. I ride because speed does not always kill, it usually thrills. I ride because it makes me feel free. I ride because when I ride, I don't think about work at all. I ride because Everyman doesn't. I ride because you can smell the diesel, the cowshit, the foliage, the dead skunk and the fields of wildflowers. I ride for those drastic temperature changes you feel riding through hills. I ride because I know I might get hurt. I ride because I may just not be able to ride tomorrow.
And yes, sometime I ride damn fast, Sometimes I don't, and I putt around, but yes, most of the time, I may seem on a mission. I don't believe speed is Evil. I don't begrudge others when they want to go faster than me, though I might just try to keep up. I love wheelies- they just feel cool. I am not actually really that good at them- there are a lot of people that are much better. But I want to do them anyway. I've done stoppies as well, though not often. I've burned tires to the cords in burnouts.
I try to bring a good deal of "irresponsible" fun to my own life and others. I know the risks, I accept the consequences, and I remember the caveats. I have crashed. I will crash again.
I'll still ride the way I like, remembering ol Bob on the first Harleys. Remembering GI Joe just back from saving the world and wanting to just ride. Remembering the Hells Angels and the fact that, in the end, they just wanted to ride. Remembering what I was like as a kid, pedaling my BMX bike and dreaming of riding a motorcycle.
In the end, I ride because it's fun. And They don't like it.