IN A FAIR WORLD WE’D HAVE JUST LAWS, HONEST POLITICIANS, NO WARS AND I’D ALREADY BE DEAD. I admire new motorcycle riders. It reminds me of the exuberance that infected me about motorized two-wheeled vehicles before I was a teenager. I can’t help but smile when I think of that era, which seems like another century ago. (Well, actually it was much earlier in the last century, long before fax machines, CD’s, cell phones and the Internet). By the time I transitioned from a minibike to riding my first motorcycle to high school, the experience I recall was filled with enthusiasm — even when I was frozen to the bone riding through the snow in the winter.
Anyway, the over-arching recollections of being a teenage motorcyclist are quite pleasant. But I really don’t know how I survived. I not only did everything wrong, in terms of attempting to keep my hide from smashing onto the road, or other objects, it seems once I made all the known riding mistakes, I started to make up new ones.
I’d love to say I never made a mistake more than once, but that would be re-defining history.
I recall one particularly close call as a teenager (one of many) when by all rights, I should have become a side-door ornament for a truck that wanted to be in the same location as myself at the same time. I recall an amazingly fast reaction time and evasive maneuver that seemed to transcend time and space as I instantly swerved off the road, jumped over a curb, maneuvered around a telephone pole and street signs, while standing on my footpegs as I danced over a sidewalk and some grass, and then avoided a few parked cars before guiding myself back to the road with no harm. In the adrenalin-rush moments afterwards, I was beginning to feel profoundly competent about my demonstration of crash-avoidance sophistication and what I considered to be my superb riding skills that managed to save my life…again. However, simultaneously I struggled to suppress another thought. Before the pride could fully pervade my thinking, I had the haunting realization that this incident was, once again, a result of my own doing. My spirited riding was simply overly ambitious for the traffic I was in and was the cause of a driver not expecting me to be where I was when he was moving into the same space. In a fair and just world, the newspaper headline would have said “Stupid Motorcyclist Died From Riding Too Fast for Traffic Conditions.”
The point is that incident was not my first or last close call which was my fault.
Now of course, we all have experiences of close calls that were not our fault. That’s part of riding. But, at this later age, to me it doesn’t seem necessary to add to the default risks by creating my own predicaments, which I seemed to do routinely as a kid.
Now, in defense of myself, although it may have taken many years before I was able to slow down, I did learn some other basic things as a youngster (even if I had to make the same mistakes more than once). I believe that most bikers, once they experience riding in the rain in a short-sleeve shirt with no other attire available will appreciate the benefits of riding gear and especially rain gear (or at least a long-sleeve shirt). Although it took a few years longer before I was more respectful of actual protective gear, it didn’t take long for me to start strapping a jacket to my bike.
And then, after losing various jackets and items that were not adequately strapped to my bike, I became more attentive to how securely I was strapping things to my bike.
These are ridiculously basic things, but no one told me about them before I had to learn them the hard way. (At that age, I might not have listened anyway).
OK, what I’m really trying to emphasize here is that in my youthful exuberance as a teenage motorcyclist, I demonstrated a lot of stupidity but even if I didn’t learn things real fast, I did learn. The two greatest lessons I recall taking to heart at that age were:
1) Riding Alertly
2) Riding much more conservatively with a passenger
The latter point was, perhaps, the only thing I can sincerely take credit for, in regards to becoming a more responsible rider at that young age. And even that was a product of personal absurdity. I had taken my girlfriend on a particularly adventurous (wild, dangerous and high-speed) ride, which although not unusual for me, was not how I typically rode with passengers. When the ride was over, she was electrified and thrilled by the experience and told me she wanted to do it again. However, even though nothing unexpected occurred as part of this experience, I threw cold water on the moment by saying it would never happen again because it was too risky. Somehow I recognized that it was one thing to play with my own safety in the name of a good time, but it was not appropriate to risk a passenger’s well-being. And I can say that for the rest of my life, I have done a fine job of generally staying true to that decision. (Proof that some teenagers are able to appreciate some level of responsibility, in spite of any indications to the contrary….)
So, I invite you to bludgeon me for my youthful stupidities, or perhaps, share your own….