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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

12 Reasons to ride a motorcycle


We're several days into 2016, but I'm of the mind that a new year doesn't really begin until I buy a new wall calendar. Which won't happen for another week. I'm waiting for shops to lose their nerve and offer discounts.

In the meantime there's plenty of opportunity to make New Year's resolutions. Allow me to suggest one: make this year the one in which you finally get a motorcycle. Or, the year in which you convince someone else to get one. To assist in this, I've listed every reason I can think of to ride a motorcycle.

1) Riding a motorcycle makes you cool

Generally we like to hide this fact. But, in many ways, it is at the heart of all other reasons: in some way or another motorcycling will make you cooler than everyone else. And deep in their hearts, everyone else will know it. No, it's not very cool to admit such a thing –– indeed, part of coolness comes from respectfulness toward those who lack the good fortune of being you –– but, that makes it no less true.


You don't have to look like Beckham on a Bonneville to achieve this coolness. It happens naturally with all two-wheeled conveyances. As my wife once told me: "When you see someone on a motorcycle, it doesn't matter what kind, you think: 'Oh, that person is on an adventure! I wonder where they're going.'" "You don't think that about someone in a car," she said. "You just think: 'That person is stuck in traffic.'"

2) You'll find your zen

Part of being cool as a motorcyclist comes when you stop worrying about "embarrassing" things like helmet hair or walking into restaurants wearing base layers; you don't get upset when it's hot or cold or raining or windy. Ride regularly (and intelligently) for long enough and you'll even be less enraged by other road users' negligence. Because you know centering your anger on one person or thing only results in lost awareness.

On the road, the constant monitoring of your situation –– speed, angle, body posture, road condition, lane position, possible hazards, etc. –– serves as a meditation that clears your mind of the unnecessary. I have never once thought about the Kardashians while riding. On a bike you find mindfulness and inner peace, some of which will stay with you off the bike.

3) Commuting is easier and more fun

It seems a lot of people suffer a mental block when it comes to honestly considering motorcycles as viable everyday transportation, but the fact is, they make a lot of sense. If you live in one of the majority of places in the world that allow lane splitting, riding a motorcycle means you will get to work sooner and with less frustration. If you don't live in one of those places you should be writing your representatives and throwing eggs at ABATE members in an effort to get things changed.


But there's still plenty of advantage to getting to work on two wheels.

There's the nominal financial benefit. Bikes can be pretty fuel efficient. A good 250cc machine will give you upward of 85 mpg. And since doing basic maintenance (e.g. oil changes) is easier with a motorcycle, you can save some cash there, too. It's not unheard of for motorcyclists to encounter lower costs at toll booths and parking lots, but even if your area isn't that progressive finding a place to park is still generally easier.

I used the word "nominal" in the above paragraph because often when someone evangelizes the financial benefits of motorcycling he or she conveniently overlooks the cost of gear. Good gear is important for happy commuting and it doesn't come cheap. But I'm still willing to bet that the motorcyclist comes out slightly ahead at the end of the year.

4) Mother Earth will thank you

As a knock-on effect of fuel efficiency, motorcycles are a greener choice of transportation. Maybe not so much if you're still thrashing around on a two-stroke, but any modern bike will have to meet increasingly strict environmental standards.

If you're lane splitting on the way to work you're also decreasing your environmental impact by not sitting at idle for long stretches. If your engine is running for less time it spends less time putting crap in the air. If you go electric, of course, you can ride around feeling even more smug (assuming you are conscientious enough to ensure your energy supplier uses sustainable resources).


5) You're less of a drain on the system

Along with putting fewer pollutants into the air they breathe you're helping out your fellow citizens by placing less stress on the roads their taxes pay for. Because you and the bike weigh less than someone else and a car, you're causing less strain. That means the road lasts longer, and that means the need for repair is less frequent. Henceforth, feel free to shout "You're welcome!" at everyone you pass.

6) A motorcycle can't be hacked (yet)

One of the more terrifying Skynet-like things to happen last year was hackers remotely controlling a Jeep Cherokee. Last I checked, this sort of thing isn't yet –– yet –– possible with a motorcycle. Though, considering Ducati (and most electric bikes) offer the ability to make adjustments via smartphone, it probably won't be long.

If you're truly concerned about the machines taking over, though, a motorcycle remains a good bet. Especially if you choose a Royal-Enfield or Ural.

7) More humans are involved

Related to the above, it's generally the case that far more human hands will have been involved in the making of your motorcycle than in the average car. This is especially true if you buy boutique motorcycles, like the Ariel Ace, but even with major manufacturers like Honda people play an important role, performing tricky tasks a robot simply can't manage.


8) Your health will improve

When motorcycle proponents are scraping the barrel they drag out the claim that motorcycles help you lose weight. Ostensibly this is true: a 180-pound man will burn 40 more calories in an hour riding a motorcycle than he will driving a car. If he sings the whole time he'll scorch an additional 100 calories.

But take a gander at those attending Sturgis or Daytona rallies and it's clear riding a bike isn't a miracle weight-loss technique.

It is, however, incredibly good for your brain. The aforementioned zen state mixes with the endorphins that come from spirited riding or simply being outside and does wonders for your mental health. 

It pains me to give ammunition to trolls here, but I'm someone who has struggled a lot with mental health over the years. Since returning to riding, however, I've found things gradually improving. I'm calmer, more confident, kinder, and generally happier. And it's a simple truth that improved mental health leads to improved physical health, if not simply because it gives you the right attitude.

9) You meet the nicest people

Using terms like "brotherhood" or "sisterhood" in applying the connection between motorcyclists quickly sends one down the rabbit hole of self-aggrandizing BS. The idea of there being a special bond between the purchasers of a mass-produced item is silly. I am no more spiritually linked to other motorcyclists than I am other consumers of Kraft macaroni and cheese.

And yet, and yet... there is something.



Depending on country, you'll be greeted by waves or nods or extended feet when you pass other riders. Motorcycling induces a small-town friendliness amongst its participants, no matter where they are in the world. Showing up somewhere on a bike means people will go out of their way to talk to you, to share stories.

If you're open to this, you'll find yourself meeting people with whom you might otherwise never have had an opportunity to interact –– people from outside your socio-economic/religious/racial circles. And you will be better for it.

10) Because freedom

"Freedom" is such an overused word I sometimes question whether anyone really knows what it means. But I can't think of a better one to use in describing the sense of self-sufficiency and independence that comes from the simple act of getting on a bike and twisting the throttle.

We live in a jittery world; there are so many demands for our attention. If you are a person in a relationship with kids and family and a job and ambitions, it may feel at times that everything you do is for the service of someone or something else, that every action you take is directed by something external.

On a motorcycle it's just your little head inside that helmet. You are in control of you, totally and completely. You feel the immediacy of your actions and decisions. The zen state pushes away anxiety about deadlines and bills to pay and whether that girl at Starbucks was flirting when she told you to have a nice day. It's not selfishness, but simply the realization of the fullness of yourself.



On a bike you feel like a complete human being, not an insignificant part of something else. And with this knowledge you'll find your interactions with your partner, kids, family, job, ambitions, and so on, will improve.

11) Connection to the world around you

The freedom you gain from riding a motorcycle helps you appreciate the things in your life because you'll know you are free to be a part of them –– not obligated. The people and things you care about are things you've chosen to care about. But beyond that you will find an even greater connection to your surroundings, one that can be difficult to articulate.

I'm of the mind that swimming in a river is inherently better than staring at a picture of that river. Life is better when lived. But our cars are so climate controlled and infotainment loaded that the experience of driving somewhere is almost indistinguishable from the experience of watching the same drive unfold on a television screen. In the modern world we spend a shocking amount of time blocking that world out.

On a motorcycle you climb out of the "cave" of Plato's famous allegory. You're no longer looking at shadows but seeing the true objects of the world, experiencing them with all your senses. Admittedly, this isn't always fantastic –– when you're riding through a hail storm or behind a pungent cattle truck, for example –– but soon you find you're willing to tolerate the occasional negative for the sake of being able to fully experience the positives.

12) It can be damned exciting

I'm slightly averse to hyping the thrill aspect of motorcycling because too often it gets phrased in terms of fear and risk. In and of themselves, I'm not the sort of person who likes those things, and I suspect there are plenty of people who would be put off by them.

I mean, imagine trying to sell the idea of motorcycling to your mother: "It's great, Mom, because there's an increased probability of your dying in horrible ways."

Nope. That doesn't work for me.


But I will admit that there is an adrenaline aspect. When I push the bike above the speed limit, or swoop through a section of corners, or again make an unsuccessful attempt at a wheelie, there is that rush of buzzing happiness and giggling laughter. That is, without question, one of the reasons I ride. For some people it is the only reason they ride.

Regardless of your attitude toward risk (remember, because you are free on a motorcycle you are equally free to make decisions that mitigate risk) there's no denying that motorcycling is fun.

–– What did I miss? ––

Despite the fact this article is really long I feel I've forgotten one or two other reasons for riding. If you're one of the people who's taken the time to read the above (thank you), rather than skipping straight to the comments to complain about a list, I'd appreciate your adding to it. What did I miss? If you were trying to convince someone to take up riding, what would you tell them?

Parts of this post were originally published on RideApart.

Comments

  1. There is no better way to find yourself.

    Excellent post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I like that quote that says "Driving a car is like watching a movie unfold before you; riding a bike makes you the star of that movie". That sums it up to me — the immediacy of the moment, that the decisions you make directly influence your future. Great list.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Best thing you have ever written. Well done!

    ReplyDelete
  4. well enjoyed the read, and it does sound like a person with mental health issues, maybe you don't get out on the bike enough, but you make enough points to justify anyone non motorcycle to endeavor to try it
    and again good prose

    ReplyDelete

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