Youthful Exuberance (and Stupidity)

Motorcycle StupidityIN 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….

21 thoughts on “Youthful Exuberance (and Stupidity)

  • Well, I remember one time I was pulling into a parking lot on my Harley 350 Sprint; I must have been around 19 years old. I took the turn too fast, and ended up hitting a wooden curb, which was protecting shrubs, which were planted in a bed of wood chips. I did an ass-over-teakettle somersault, and landed on my ass. I went right and my bike went left. We both had a wood chip softened landing. I was lucky. A younger neighbor of mine did something similar and ended up a lifelong quadriplegic. The stars were aligned right for me that day.

  • I had my bike for 3 whole days and decided to pass a car at an intersection on right on my way back to UCLA.. The car turned right. I grabbed the windshield wipers as I went over the hood of the car. Boy I bet I looked as surprised as the driver. My folks were against my getting the bike so I never told them. Now 50 years later, I realized that my dad knew because of the rubber missing from the left foot pegs. He trusted me more than he should have.

  • The vicious throttle of my speed triple often makes me twist it when reason tells me otherwise. Maybe as I mature I will resist the urge .

    … I am 67 . Can I expect to mature soon ?

  • Nice article and hopefully it will increase awareness for newer riders and understanding for us more experienced riders. I recall an experience when I crashed on my first motorcycle, a 1974 Kawasaki H-1. I had put on a quarter-fairing and clubman bars. I had stopped with a friend and had a pint then headed down a curvy road. He had a Suzuki GT550 so I knew my bike was much faster, but he had 40,000 miles more experience and he was a much better rider. Rounding a curve to the left I had the puckering moment, hit the back brake and went agricultural into a 3′ deep ditch with mud in the bottom at about 40mph. I went over the bars, broke the windscreen and slid face down up a grassy embankment, missing large palm trees. I had on decent gear and my pride was the only thing damaged. I do wonder how I survived moments like that, and know it is because I had a praying grandmother.

  • I started riding in 1976 as a young soldier in based in Germany had many rides that were too fast to “get rid of a bad feeling and put me in my happy place”. Lucky I am still here learned a lot since then I now run the only advanced motorcycle course in Ontario based on the UK Police system of safe riding. check us out or better still come and see what all the fuss is about.

  • taken a corner to fast and wide ending up in the wrong lane heading for a dump truck o shit i said to my self as i went throught someones front yard now heading for the front of the house cranked the bike around sliding on the grass side ways gave it some gas then shot right back on the road free from harms way. going back that way a 6 week or so later a bush was planted where i spun out. Richfield CA 1978

  • I like the way my ’07 FZ-6 handles. I have it outfitted as a small sport-tourer and have gone to great lengths to keep it light and flickable – nylon bags, carbon fiber bar ends, mufflers and frame sliders. light-weight comfort seat. I just don’t like riding big heavy motorcycles. The problem is that the factory modifications made to the old R-6 engine to give it more torque and better low end performance seem insufficient. The bike is still lethargic when it is kept in the lower RPM ranges and if you let it turn faster where the engine seems happy, its just too darn fast, Therefore the bike gives me a difficult-to-control urge to ride it as if it were stolen like some immature teenager and every time I do that end up taking on too much speed and too much risk. Is the problem too little self control or do I need to trade this bike for something with a slower turning engine with fewer (and larger) cylinders, more torque (and weight) and less horsepower? I love the lightness and the smoothness of this bike but I think I might be better off with an NC 700 Honda. Still I’m not excited by all the extra weight.

  • Thanks MCg for the wonderful article. Looking back over the years of motor cycling, I cannot find any regrets at all. And with God’s blessings, I’ve enjoyed many years of safe riding, visiting neighbouring countries on my 2 wheeler. The feeling of being able to ride a bike is really wonderful. Even at 71 now, I just hope to ride and ride to near places and far away places too. Many have said this already without doubt. I just wish to ride on till the day when I feel that my legs cant support me enough to mount a bike. But until then, I will ride on for sure.

  • Once and only once I rode my motorcycle after consuming a few beers. I was not in control of my bike and by the grace of God I made it home safely.

  • I have had some close ones myself, I recall back in 1949 I was riding a AJS much faster than the road was meant for, I passed over a small bridge that was like a monster bump in the road. The bike left the earth like it was headed for the moon, as it came down it left my body in a vertical position for a few seconds. I had a pack of cigarettes in my shirt pocket that feel out due to this position, I landed back on the back fender with some bruises to my crotch. I’ve had some real falls riding my Gas Gas in the hills but those don’t count, just the bruises that mark me up!

  • Isn’t it amazing those of us able to read this have all done the same things. I’m 72 and got my first bike (Triumph Thunderbird 550) when I was 14. And i still often jump on the bike when I’m in a hurry because it accelerates so much faster and is easier to change lanes. I always say the guardian angel assigned to me has always been a very hard worker. I’ve only been hit one vehicle even though at least one per day, on average, attempt to get me. The one that did was a pickup making a left turn from the lane to my right when I was going straight.— teens unfamiliar with downtown streets who had a few beers in them. Even though my right ankle was crushed, I still managed to crawl to my fake helmet before the police arrived:)

  • Nicely said David! 9 lives over and over for some. Others not so fortunate. Cheers all!

  • Also as a young buck I rode my sportster at a rate that was much to fast for the conditions.
    Riding in Toronto traffic on a main road I decided that I could pass a car that was going too slow for my liking, so I pulled to the right to get by him and as I shot past a fellow in a parked VW bug opened his door. I never forget the look in his eyes as I thundered toward him. I had time to grab the brake but hit the door at a very good clip and ripped the door from his hand, sumersaulted into the roadway after glancing of the top of the door. thankfully I had a good leather jacket with double elbows and shoulders and only suffered skinned knees and burned butt and some serious bruises.
    The bike suffered more than I and the lesson learned was much more awareness in traffic and always wear gloves and protective wear. Nobody wants to stick their bare hands onto the beltsander of the road. It gives a sense of security thinking one is protected by a layer of leather or kevlar.

  • George, truly “But for the Grace of God I go.” I am reminded by a latter-day “old saw,” which is “Don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s ALL small stuff.” When riding around L.A. like I did most of my riding time, one has to be rather circumspect in emotional outbursts, because you cannot be sure some loon wouldn’t actually try to run you down.

    A grand thing you seem to be in fine fettle after your little shunt!

  • In full agreement with this article, I always tell my riding buddies that God has done a great job watching over me as a youngster, be it on 2 wheels or 4, and for that I strongly believe that my credit account is about to run out. One major safety valve is controlling your “adrenaline” don’t be pulled into foolish acts especially when riding in groups. As the Eagles say “…don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy…” the song’s title afterall is “Take it Easy”!
    Ride safe

  • Actually, it isn’t always “youth exuberance” that gets us in trouble. Two years ago last month I did a REALLY stupid thing that should have killed me, but by the grace of God, I’m still here. Let my temper take control and left the road doing 85 coming out of a corner and remember NOTHING after leaving pavement. The evidence showed I rode the sandy ditch about 50 – 60 feet before hitting a rock buried in the sand, which threw me into a bank. The kinetic energy launched both me and the bike 25 – 30 feet in the air before the bike crashed onto the shoulder and I took out 3 of 4 strands of barbed wire. All in all, I fared well. Only one broken rib, broke the “tips” off of L-3, 4, & 5 and a slight hematoma in the brain. Still feeling the affects of my “momentary lapse of judgement”, what I now know was really just stupidity. (Was 67 when I did it…) (PS – Don’t let things bother me anymore. Life is too short as it is…)

  • When I was pursuing a MC license I had two good friends in the hospital with severely broken bones from their independent accidents on Cycles. Slowed me down for awhile but not long. Youth, exuberance and gasoline…what can I say?

  • The B.C. Road signs say it right. Slow down and keep your distance. I say go like mad but when you see people, cars, buildings, driveways along with intersections of course back it off and be prepared for the unexpected. My best lesson was sliding on oil film thru an intersection making a left stalling my 250 single and not thinking fast enough to pull in the clutch. Compression led to me falling and doing damage to myself and machine.

  • Thanks for the recollections and putting it out there. Always good to read about riders and their two wheeled stories.

  • Very good and honest posting!

    It’s funny how while we are younger, we believe we are brilliant, immortal, and infallible. However, some of the common sense that comes with age (i.e., “parents”) rubs you the right way eventually.

    Great to read you share your experiences. And we all have them.

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