Sunday, February 7, 2016

Explaining why I ride motorbikes to non-riders

Hello all,

I am about to attempt the hardest, most challenging and most complex written piece in my existence. Yes, it's going to be even harder than composing that intricate essay about the complexities of authoritarian versus facilitating approaches in the context of 21st century educational leadership. It's even going to be harder than writing that poem for my wedding speech. But I must do it. It has to be done. It will be done.

Quite a while ago I started riding motorcycles. I was in my mid 20s and up until that point in my life, I had never ridden. My mum, as beautiful and wonderful that she is, would never let me ride a bike while I was little (you know, seventeen-ish little) and if she had her way today, she'd stop me in a second. But she doesn't, because that's how awesome she is. Against the wishes of everyone around me, it would have appeared that one day I just decided to ride and that was that. But this is not so.

As I was growing up, sneakily and cruelly in some respects, I was surrounded by bikes. My grandad was my first bike hero. He pretty much only ever rode scooters as far as I know. Yes, he had a three-wheeled Eastern Block contraption probably made in the deep deep south west of Russia that kind of resembled a car, but almost every memory I have of him included that little scooter which he rode daily. It was a little step-through (where you can put your feet on a platform) if my memory serves me right, a kick start (no key, but an animated kick downwards on a lever) and probably two stroke (loud as f!@k). He pretty much rode it till his last day on this planet.
How I remember the red and white bike

At about this time in Budapest, where we lived in the mid 80s, my dad as I recall somehow got a hold of a red and white Marlboro colours racing bike. I have a vivid memory of this bike, all shiny and new, and it revved hard, hard enough to leave an impression on me. I think it was a two stroke too, a lot of bikes were back then. I remember seeing someone ride it in the street where we lived and it was a wonderful magical thing to see amongst the Trabants, Ladas, Wartburgs and Skodas of the time.

So that was the early memories. Unfortunately I do not remember ever riding on these two bikes. The next time I remember vividly having anything to do with bikes was when we moved to Australia and my dad and his mate got road/dirt bikes. Thomas and Dad would takes these bikes all over the place, he needed it for work while we cruised around in our green Kingswood, it was basically the only thing we could afford as a second vehicle. Now and again he would take us on this bike for a little spin up and down the street, no helmets, no safety gear, just a bit of a squirt to get my sister and I all excited to be on a bike. And excited we were rallying him to go faster and faster up the little hill, feeling the wind in our hair and the sound of the little 175 engine pushing along.

Then the bikes stopped. Dad and Thomas sold theirs, no one we knew had bikes and as school and life changed for a teenager like me, bikes were not part of the scene, until one day I saw a motorbike on the cover of a magazine in the newsagent. Before the days of the internet the only source of seeing motorbikes was either glimpses of bikes on the road or in magazines at newsagents. I desperately flicked through the pages of many a magazine with the discouraging eyes of the shop attendant, as I wasn't about to spend eight dollars on a mag every month or so; I hardly had any pocket money anyway. One day though, I had to have the magazine, no matter what.

On the cover was a bike I had never seen before. It was round and smooth, you could see the trellis frame and it was very very shinny, without having any fairings (plastic bits). It had an old-school round headlight, but it was new. You could see the whole engine, the twin cylinders proudly standing at attention and all the pipes and bits and pieces tucked in there nicely. It was love at first sight. The bike? The award-winning Italian-designed Ducati Monster M900.

Keeping in mind I knew nothing about bikes, I knew I liked this, so I bought the mag, the only bike mag I had ever bought. I took it home, read the article, drooled over the pictures and when all was said and done, there were three pictures of this Ducati on my bedroom wall next to my other dream machines, a Corvette Stingray and a Lamborghini Countach. My love affair began.

I even grew my hair long after seeing this movie.
Then for the next little while, again, nothing much happened with me and bikes, until 1996. At the time (and perhaps still), my favourite movie was The Crow and if you haven't seen it, it's not much of a movie now, but it was Brendon Lee's last where he was actually killed on set and the soundtrack featured Nine Inch Nails amongst other bands, so this goth-classic action flick stole my heart a few years earlier. In 1996, a sequel was to be released and lo and behold, The Crow - City of Angels was a must see for me. Not only was Vincent Perez my man-crush, but what bike do you think popped up in this movie? Yep, a dirty, black, dark-looking throaty Ducati Monster. It got a bit of airplay too and instantly my mind went back to those pictures in my room. Then and there, I knew I was going to have one one day.

Fast forward quite a moons and as the planets aligned nicely about seven years later, after Uni finished and I had the finances, it was time to get my licence. By this stage, I was lusting after a Kawasaki ZR-7, a bike that was renowned for modifying, had Kawasaki reliability and were becoming rather cheap second hand by this stage. Having never ridden a bike before, after one private lesson and a weekend with QRIDE, I was ready to go.

I was adamant that a ZR-7 was mine. I found one, at the right price so I took it for a spin. Exactly as I had thought, beautiful smooth bike to ride. When I took it back to the shop, I thought I'd better ride a few more bikes, just to be sure. Off I went to the next dealer where I rode a Hyosung GT650, another naked that was new on the scene and a bargain to buy brand new. In fact, it would have been the same price as the ZR-7 second hand. This bike felt very different. It was clunky and much rougher and, perhaps because it was brand new and a "no name" bike from Korea, I gave it a miss.

I had one more bike to try that day. Yep, you guessed it, there was a Ducati dealership I have driven past hundreds of times and even though it was way out of my budget, I had to at least ride a Monster, just to compare. In I waltzed and the dealer very quickly spun me a story of one that they had out the back, but that if I ride it, I will love it so much that I will buy it. I distinctly remembering thinking what a bullshit sales pitch, I was never easily swayed by salesmen and it wasn't about to happen now. Anyway, out rolled a Ducati Monster 620ie. It had high slung carbon fibre exhausts and was canary yellow. The colour did nothing for me, but those exhausts definitely got my attention.

My first love (I mean bike)
The dude fired up the engine and pretty much as soon as I heard that deep distinct Ducati rumble, it was all over. I had to have it, even before I rode it. Don't tell me how much it is, I know you have finance, TAKE MY MONEY! TAKE IT NOW!!!! So in this moment, just consider what I have written so far. Consider that this is the bike I have lusted after, the pictures up on my wall, the bike in the movie, the thirst for a motorbike at this point in my life. As I test rode it I was so overwhelmed, I can't even describe it. I signed up (with 23% finance) and paid way too much for a second hand bike, but my care-factor was less than zero.    

My mates at the time also owned bikes and there was one year where we rode on the weekends along the twisty roads behind Brisbane with not a care in the world. More on this later. Since this time, I have owned a number of bikes. I sold my love, then bought a Honda CBR1100XX Blackbird, then back to a 620 monster, onto a scooter and currently I own three cheap Hyosungs.

Enough about history, the aim of this article is to explain why riding is an important, no, let's use a different word, a VITAL, part of my life.

I have three beautiful kids, a very understanding wife (who is also beautiful) and a family around me who I love very much. Every time I go out for a ride, I think about these things:

- I love them very much.
- I should be spending time with them.
- I need to be safe, but also enjoy the ride.
- QRIDE taught me many things.

Without fail, I think these things. But before I go riding, before I think about the above, I also think about these things:

- At work, I have to do A, B, C, D....
- At home, I have to work on A, B, C, D, E....
- I have certain stresses, not big stresses, but none the less, stuff I think about.
- I am getting older.
- What have I done with my life? Etc. etc.

Anyway, I think you get the idea. But here is the catch. When I get on my bike, I think about:

- Nothing. Except...
- OMG, this thing sounds awesome.
- If I shift my weight a little bit further and counter-steer, this corner will be a breeze.
- Looking for optimal gear to take corner, balancing front and rear brakes with engine break.
- Road conditions perfect right now. The road is smooth and cambered just right.
- No one can see me, no one can see me, no one can see me.
- I'm so cool right now.
- Don't twist too hard, second gear can land you in jail.
- Not a race track. Still not a race track. Crap, it started looking like a race track.
- OMG, this thing sounds awesome.

All of 'regular life thinking' vanishes. Any pressures, thoughts whatever I had buzzing through my head before I put on the helmet, disappears. In a way I imagine it's my own personal version of reaching what Buddhists call enlightenment. It's the off-switch to boredom and repetitive Groundhog days, and the on-switch to something different, something cool. There are moments when I'm in the zone; cruising by myself, the sun just peeking through the canopy, the road twisting ever so perfectly, the engine left in a slightly lower gear to hear the deeper rumble of the v-twin. I lean into the corner, shifting my head and body slightly towards the apex, the bike responds like a well trained dog asked to roll over and just a slight twist of the throttle to accelerate through the corner delivers the medicine I need. A smile under my helmet can not be seen by anyone, my heart relaxes just that little and I'm at peace with the world. Things go into slow motion. The engine picks up the revs, and I see a rider down the road a bit. I pick up pace, lean slightly more, a bit more aggressive on the gears, more throttle to aid the cause. Within a dozen or so corners I've caught up and settle into the pace. If it takes my fancy I'll dive past or just sit there focusing on my lines. We get to the cafe stop where a dozen riders who have gone through similar thought processes are sipping cappuccinos and as I dismount, even on my Hyosung, a rider comes up to me and makes my day by saying he could have sworn that my bike was a Ducati coming up the range.

Then there are the other times, like riding through the city, revving our bikes and causing pseudo-mischief, or the mate who always does a wheelie from the lights or the one that turns my bike off via the kill switch when I'm not expecting. We ride, we eat, we laugh, we talk shit and put each others' bikes down, or talk them up, it's all a bit of fun; a kind of legal drug.

I hope you understand.

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