Last week I had to visit a funeral home to give my condolences to a friend who had just lost her brother in a motorcycle accident. The place was about 20 km from my work place, which of course I covered in one of my bikes, and I came back with a heavy heart, the head full of morose thoughts. Although I have driven many miles in various cars, I have never in my life had one to my name, as I despise “driving”, and would rather “ride” anywhere that is too far to just walk. Indeed, riding is what I do daily, as I commute on a motorcycle, I go to most places on a motorcycle, and when I have had the chance (that is, when I do not have to take the family with me) even move from one city to another on a motorcycle. I have been riding almost every single day of my life (with a few intervals in between, as when I’ve lived in Latin America riding was neither a sensible nor a convenient option) since I was 16 years old, so about to celebrate 30 years on the saddle this winter. I own three bikes and I usually joke about how the only thing that prevents me from buying another one is that I only have three sons to bequeath them to, and it makes me uncomfortable to think some unknown schlub may be tinkering with my iron when I’m not around any more.
So it should come to no surprise that I consider myself a biker. A very peculiar one, as I do not belong to any club or chapter (my anarchist and acratic beliefs would prevent me to feel comfortable even in such loosely-knit associations). But I consider most people belonging to those just posers anyway. Be it as it may, what I wanted to devote today’s post to were some insights that those 30 years of riding around have given me. Not that I consider them especially innovative, original or profound. But just thinking about them took me for a nice ride down memory lane and made me realize to what extent my chosen way of transportation has shaped the kind of person I ended up being. I’m going to present them (inspired by the great Matt Foreman) as a comparison about bikers and people who ride motorcycles (PWRM for short), two totally different classes. All bikers ride motorcycles, for sure, and most do it pretty frequently, but you can be sure that not everybody that straddles a two-wheeled vehicle is a biker. Not that I’m saying that one kind of people is somehow superior to the other, or adorned with more desirable traits, or that everybody that ever rides should aspire to become a biker, far from it. Just saying that there as definite chasm separating both, and that it helps to know what side of the chasm you are standing on.
· PWRM’s think that scooters and the new class of “megascooters” are a sensible and convenient way to move around the city. Bikers would rather be caught putting their dick in a dead pig’s mouth (well, it’s an occupation fit for a British Prime Minister, isn’t it?) than seen in one
· PWRM’s think it’s great that some bikes have a deposit under the seat where they can stow their helmets. Bikers feel a strange tingling and disorientation if they enter a building (or, more markedly, a bar) without carrying their helmet with them
· PWRM’s spend significant amounts of money in super-safe helmets, and fancy jackets with Kevlar protections and distinctive “I ride a motorcycle, or why on earth would anybody put on something like this” look, even when they are just going around the corner to buy the newspaper. Bikers wear non certified helmets and twenty year old leather jackets that absorb rain like a sponge and make them feel miserable after 10 minutes in harsh winter weather (that’s when they deign to wear something other than a worn t-shirt)
· PWRM’s know how many horse power their bike produces, how long it takes it to get from 0 to 100 MPH, how many MPG they can extract from it, and how well it brakes (I bet there is a figure that measure that which they are also familiar with). Bikers know the sound of the motor of their bike by heart, and have a soft spot for last week unexpected choir of clunks (they find it endearing and call it “personality”)
· PWRM’s go on extended vacation without as much as having a single moment of compunction about their vehicles. Bikers have separation anxiety if their butt is off the seat for more than 24 hours, and every day they are separated from their iron they dream longingly of it
· On rainy days, PWRM’s drive their cozy cars and commiserate the wretched souls they see soaked on two wheels. On rainy days bikers cover themselves in plastic (so they get equally soaked, only more slowly) and commiserate the wretched souls they see trapped inside little wheeled cages of steel and glass
· PWRM’s expect their vehicles to perform flawlessly, comply scrupulously with the scheduled maintenance (taking the aforementioned vehicle to a licensed dealer) and think about selling it if it ever malfunctions. Bikers take care of their bikes mostly themselves, but oddly know on a first name basis the mechanics of all the repair shops within fifteen miles from their home
· PWRM’s are afraid of accidents, and reconsider switching to a safer mode of transportation every time they hear of a casualty between their acquaintances. Bikers are afraid of accidents and think “aw, shucks, nobody lives forever” when they kick start their bikes in the morning after having toasted the latest departed one too many times the night before
· PWRM’s think an uneventful ride is a good ride, and cherish arriving as soon as possible to wherever they were heading. Bikers savor being on the road for as long as possible, and although they curse and swear the ringing in the ears due to noisy exhaust pipes, the bumps on the road barely softened by nominal shock absorbers, the numbness on hands and feet due to excessive vibrations and the mosquitoes covering them from head to toe, there is no other place on earth where they would rather be than on their machines, regardless of how long it takes them to arrive from point A to point B
· PWRM’s stop besides you in traffic lights, have a long look at your mount and say things like “nice bike, dude” or “wow, real classic, what year is that model from?” Bikers stop besides you in traffic light, and just keep on looking ahead, and may be give a world-weary sigh that speaks volume of the shared experiences you could harp about if you didn’t already know that conversation with strangers is for wussies
· PWRM’s buy now and then motorcycle magazines to find out about the newest models and the best brands, or the life of super bikes pilots, or what some guy is doing around the world in a Gold Wing, and then throw them away. Bikers cherish their super-worn out collection of Easy Rider and Iron Horse from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, think that modern magazines are all crap and would rather have a tooth pulled out without anesthesia than part with any of the old rags
· PWRM’s sell their bikes to buy newer, faster, glitzier ones without a second thought. Bikers would rather sell a son or a daughter into slavery than be separated from their irons
· PWRM’s don’t know a spark plug from a carburetor jet. Bikers could tell you in their sleep the number of threads in the spark plug (and the gap in both mm and fractions of an inch)
· PWRM’s tend to have their motorcycles clean and in a pristine condition. Bikers sometimes do… and sometimes don’t
· No spouse of a PWRM has ever felt jealous of his or her significant other relationship with his bike. No spouse of a biker has ever stopped feeling so, and telling him or her “you love the damn thing more than me!”
· PWRM’s (at least the younger ones) sometimes see their bikes as means to get chicks (sorry ladies, I don’t think it has ever happened in the history of the human race that a woman has bought and flaunted a bike to help her get men… although girls on bikes are a well known dude-magnet). Bikers sometimes see their old ladies as cheap labor to help them clean the iron
· PWRM’s on knowing you ride a bike will typically share with you stories of how they once had one, loved it, but then settled down. Bikers don’t
The last difference made me realize that most likely, once you become a biker you stay one, until you are called to ride in the Great Highway Beyond. Sometimes, while I am putting on my rain gear knowing full well the next half hour of my life is going to be miserable to the nth power, that I’m going to risk my life in the slippery asphalt zigzagging between unaware sluggish cars that will not notice, and would not care if they did, that I’ll be cold, increasingly wet, looking ridiculous when I arrive to the office and have to contort myself out of the overall that by then will look like a giant rubbish bag… I entertain the possibility of also “settling down”, selling the three damn things and buying a comfy protective shell on wheels that can keep me warm on winter and cool on summer. That’s when I wake up screaming, and have to calm the wife telling her it was an inconsequential nightmare, and then try to sleep again soothing myself with the thought that I’m not there yet, that whatever life throws at me I’ll try to face it as I’ve done so far: over two not very reliable wheels of old iron, tall, proud and completely irrational.