It is motorcycle season, friends. Look twice before pulling out. I always do.
I love motorcyclists. I still remember what first endeared motorcyclists to me. It was not long after I got my driver’s license and started paying attention to what was actually going on around me instead of trying to find ways to torment my siblings in the back seat.
It was a beautiful Spring day and I was driving down Alcoa Highway towards Maryville (pronounced Mare-vul, for any of you vacationers who may have picked up this local publication while visiting our beautiful piece of the country.)
I vividly recall that I was behind a Harley, the driver of which had to have been known by the pseudonym Slash or Bulldog or Bear or some other fearsome nickname given only to the most intimidating of bikers. He was clearly on a pleasure ride, and I was content to follow behind him in the slow lane.
After a short time, I noticed another group of Harleys coming at us from the other direction. The three riders opposite us each raised their arms in friendly recognition of my adopted biker, and he returned the wave. There was no overbearing enthusiasm on anyone’s part, just a simple moving of the left arm from the handle bars with fingers extended in a simple acknowledgement of each other’s existence.
Surprisingly, this gave me the warm and fuzzies. I decided to remain behind this biker a while longer and see what happened. We passed more Harleys – they all followed the same formality. We passed old couples on Goldwings. Again the mutual show of respect. I became so intrigued that I skipped my stop and continued on, just to further examine this phenomenon.
A few moments later, I saw reality approaching. In the distance two bullet bikes with what I assume were younger riders – maybe even teenagers – approached. This was going to pit two very stratified generations against one another. I knew my faith in mankind’s lack of humanity was about to be restored because there was no way these two groups could bridge the generation gap between them. But to my amazement, these three riders all offered the same formal salute. I was baffled. If these three people had been in cars, they would have completely ignored each other, just as hundreds of us had been doing during the entire day. Even worse, if they had been going the same direction in those cars, they might have been exchanging all sorts of other gestures besides waves.
What was it that gave them this sense of brotherhood? Of shared humanity?
It was their motorcycles.
H.G. Wells once said, “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” I’m not sure that the context of that quote and my thoughts align perfectly, but from that day forward, I have felt similarly about motorcycles.
Years later, I signed up for a biker safety course with hopes of becoming a member of the community. It was two solid days with the first half-day spent in the classroom. The remainder of that day and all of the next were spent on the back of a motorcycle.
When I first stepped out onto the course, it was pretty intimidating. The patterns all the cones were set up in made it look as if aliens had gotten tired of making crop circles and had graduated to traffic cone art.
But I persevered. I actually just followed the lead of the 14-year-old girl who had been riding dirt bikes since the age of 8 and rode circles around the rest of us.
By the second day, I had actually begun performing pretty well and was feeling a little big for my britches when we began braking drills where we would accelerate the bike up to speed and brake as quickly as possible to simulate an obstruction in the road. The key was to press the brakes in the proper order while maintaining control.
I was entirely focused on pressing the rear brake and supplementing it with the front brake only after I had fully depressed the rear, then firmly applying both at full force to bring the bike to a stop. After a few runs, I was motioned to pull over by one of the instructors, “Are you an accountant or architect or something?”
I stared at him in amazement. How did he know?
He didn’t wait for my response. “You are over-analyzing this – it is a single, swift act,” he instructed as he squeezed his hand and pressed his foot to the pavement simulating the process. “Don’t think so hard. Just do it.”
Nursing my wounded pride, I eventually did overcome my analytical side and graduated from the class with flying colors and, most shockingly, no road rash.
When it comes to a motorcycle of my own, I am torn. My wife would support my owning one and I actually am already licensed as a result of the training course. I guess what keeps me from committing wholly to buying a bike is the recognition that my flesh and concrete do not mix well. If I turned that sucker over, it would hurt.
Now, a turnover might not be all bad. There is certainly no quicker way to lose weight than by way of friction. So motorcycling for me does have some upside potential.
Perhaps someday, I’ll commit and become a part of the two-wheeled community. Until then, I’ll keep looking twice, both ways.
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© Michael L. Collins