Saturday, March 14, 2009

Why Ride?

When you get hit, and fly through the air like that, it's called ragdolling... because you look like a ragdoll as you fly.

It isn't as bad as it looks; but how it looks could only possibly be worse by being lit on fire, or dropping into a vat of acid, so that's not much consolation.

Kevin Baker linked to that video above, with the comment:

"I get the urge to buy a motorcycle once or twice a year.

I go lay down until the urge goes away".
I've been riding for 28 years, and 17 years (legally) on the street.

The first bike I ever rode for my self was a little Honda ATC 70 (all pics taken from that a family friend owned:

A few years later, I graduated to a 1979 Honda XR80, that I personally rebuilt (with some help, but less than you'd think) from a box of parts that had been given to me:

As it turns out the "bike from a box of parts" thing would become a recurring theme in my life.

I had several more small dirt bikes and mini bikes for the next few years; all of which I acquired as busted junk, and fixed myself. I taught myself how to be a mechanic on cheap little motorcycles and minibikes (and the occasional go-kart).

The very first "street bike" I owned wasn't even a motorcycle at all; it was a 1978 Puch VS50. I was 13, and again, it came to me as a box of parts formerly owned by my aunt, handed down to my youngest uncle, then left in a garage for 10 years (looked just like this one, but not as nice):

Once I got it running, I traded it for another BOP bike; a 1986 Honda Spree 50 scooter, in red, identical to this one:

Which I proceeded to get running, and trade up for an '85 Honda elite 250 that wasn't quite as much of a basket case as the Spree had been:

All this was long before I had a drivers license; but long after I'd started working. It was done with my own money, nothing given to me... Except the occasional birthday or Christmas gift of course. One birthday I got a new coil and regulator for the Spree, and I was thrilled.

Meanwhile, I was still offroading. On the dirtbike side of things, I eventually worked my way up to a '90 Kawasaki KDX250 (the pic is a '91 though. I couldn't find a decent pic of a '90).

The KDX was the first bike I ever paid more than $500 up front for. It was $1500 in three instalments, plus my scooter (I was making from $200 to $400 a week at the time working a couple different jobs):

In some states the KDX is street legal, though not in Massachusetts. The cops in rural northern New Hampshire never seemed to care much though...

By that time however, I'd actually figured out that I liked quads better for offroading. When I was 13, I managed to scrape up $500 for a thrashed '86 Suzuki Quadracer 250, with blue nerfbars:

Christ, I though I was Gary Denton. I even had the Hoosier holeshots (but not those magnificent Mr. Ed teeth. Jesus christ Denton was a horseface).

Then when I was 16 I got my license, legally bought and drove a car, and acquired my holy grail of offroading (which cost me the KDX, the Quadracer, and a bucket of cash):

A Yamaha Banshee 350 (with DG bumpers and nerf bars like that one)... and man did I trick that thing out. By the time I was done with it, if it weren't for the ridiculous air resistance, it would've done a flat hundred easy.

I also acquired another BOP bike, a 1981 CB750 (mine was red with gold pinstriping) for the princely sum of $700:

Which I suppose you could say was my first real honest to god street bike.

The only problem was, I couldn't get insurance for it (what company is going to insure a 16 year old on a 750)... so I drove it illegally anyway.

Yes I know. Bad Chris.

It was the first non-aircraft vehicle that I managed to do over 100 miles an hour with while I was in control (though I had cars up to that speed and beyond shortly thereafter); and I estimated a top speed of 130 (the speedo was useless over 100).

A few months later I started my great American and world tour; leaving home for college (I graduated HS at 16), and then the AIr Force; and I sold all my bikes.

I didn't have a bike for about a year and a half; then my room mate at the time crashed my car, and his insurance wouldn't pay, and my insurance wouldn't pay (some technicality about his license, and towing a trailer) so to partially
compensate, he gave me his '86 Honda V65 Magna 1100:

HOLY CHRIST that was a powerful bike.

Of course by the time I got a hold of it, it had seen better days (it was about 9 HARD years old at the time, and had more than 60,000 miles); but fresh from the factory it had 115hp, and could pull an 11 second 1/4 mile.

I could pick up the front wheel all the way up through 4th and I would guess the top speed was still over 130 when I got it (again, the speedo didn't accurately measure anything beyond 100).

Man I had a lot of fun with that bike. Highway 89a from Wickenberg up to the Canyon... it has to be ridden on a powerful but agile bike to be understood. It's absolutely unbelievable.

I would sometimes leave around 5, make the 90 miles from Prescott to Phoenix in under an hour (to see my girlfriend for a few hours) then blast the 90 miles back in under an hour again, to be back by around 2am.

Unfortunately, about a year after I got it, I laid it down. There was some wet sand in a corner, and I slid; and knowing I was going to high side if I didn't, I dumped it and rolled off. The thing slammed into a Joshua tree at 70, and pushed the front brake disks into the crank case.

That was the last bike I owned for myself; though I've rented, borrowed, had companies pay for (while I was living in Europe) and otherwise ridden many others since. I've crossed rivers and blasted through deserts on quads, cruised 1000 miles on a BMW sport tourer, and hit 176mph on a public road with a GSXR1100 (yes, I was VERY VERY STUPID).

I love riding, and I love the machines you ride on. I think the love of them both is intertwined, and in my case can't be separated. One adds to the enjoyment of the other intrinsically.

Is motorcycling dangerous?

Well, that answer is relative. In the U.S. it's between 2 and 5 times more dangerous in terms of injuries than driving a car an equal number of miles; but in terms of number of deaths and serious injuries, it's less dangerous than say, swimming.

In the last 20 years of street riding (including mopeds, and illegally riding in the street before I had a license), I've laid it down in the street twice (both environmental), and been clipped once ("Oh god, I just didn't see you"). By the grace of god, no serious injuries resulted from any of them.

I've actually had far more serious injuries dirt riding than I have on the street (nature of the beast. You don't get 30 feet of air off slippery dirt on the street).

Around the world, there are actually something like two times as many motorcyclists as car drivers; and over all they have a considerably lower accident rate. The problem is, motorcycle accidents are FAR more likely to result in death or serious injuries (again, nature of the beast. Not having a two ton.. or more likely three ton these days... steel cage around you when you hit something is a considerable disadvantage).

The question is, for you personally, is the increased risk of death of serious injury worth the increased fun, sense of freedom, increased manoeuvrability and speed, reduced cost of transportation, and other advantages of a motorcycle?

For me personally, it is; and though I don't have a bike now, it's one of the first things on the list for when we get out from under the legal bills.

Motorcycling combines recreation and stress relief with transportation. On a bike, the journey is at least as much a part of the experience as the destination.

When I'm riding, I'm reducing my stress level. That alone is worth the increased risk; never mind the fun, and the high speed, high MPG transport.

...Of course this is also coming from someone who finds the most effective stress reduction comes from things that almost, but not quite, kill you.