Ten Things I Learned From My First Year of Motorcycling
I never really wanted to do it, really.
I looked down on motorcycles, in fact; that people would take that much risk when there are plenty of fun options with seat belts, air bags, and roll cages just confounded me. Then two days in a parking lot with some qualified MSF instruction happened. Aaron and I soon owned a pair of two-wheeled ponies.
That was July 2015.
Since then, learning the motorcycle has taught me many things about my life.
- Learn to mitigate risk, not avoid it entirely. Life is this thing we all go through where everything is trying to kill us. Hell, some very smart scientists figured out that sitting in your comfy office chair every day is as bad for you as smoking. Not even Monty Python could make this shit up.
- Just because it requires more skill than you possess doesn’t mean you can’t do it. When we first approached those intimidating, enormous machines (250cc Honda Nighthawks from the late 90’s), I thought I was in way over my head. A single MSF course kept me in the saddle. Now I’m learning something exciting every day I ride. It’s the way I felt when I was 6 years old on a piano bench.
- The people who learn are the people who survive. The fact that we took the MSF class at all? We’re 50% less likely to be involved in an accident. Seriously. Just passing a safety course cuts that statistic in half because it says something about who we are. I like that.
- Find a qualified instructor. There’s a lot of things I’ve learned to do from the internet: Building an LED controller. Tuning my mountain bike. Mixing the best amaretto sour in the world. But some things require an experienced hand to guide you, especially when your life depends on it.
- Preparing for the fall isn’t the same as planning to fall. I didn’t plan to drop the bike (a low-speed low-side, thankfully), but I’m damn glad I had more than shorts on. If I learned anything from Boy Scouts: Be prepared. Also, don’t be a fucking squid.
- You go where you’re looking. If you focus on an obstacle, you’re going to hit it. I mean, knowing that a dining room chair just fell into in your lane is very important, but there’s some very sinister wiring in our brains. It pulls our focus (and our front wheel) to the lumber when there’s plenty of open pavement next to it. Focus on the escape route and you’ll actually escape.
- Kids look at you like a superhero. Why? Because the bike is interesting, I guess. I don’t have kids and I can’t climb into the mind of an 8-year-old. But I doubt any of them peer out the back of the bus and cheer for a minivan to rev its engine. They also don’t think any less of me for wearing the full armored suit.
- Let the front wheel do whatever the hell it wants to. Keith Code pointed out our survival reactions are more dangerous to us than most actual road hazards. The concept is almost zen; that you must trust the stability inherent to that spinning front wheel. Trying to fight it will only get you thrown off. Most often you just need to let the irregularities work themselves out and keep throttling ahead.
- Mobile phones should all be rigged to explode the instant they’re brought near a steering wheel. Now that I’m constantly watching for other drivers’ intentions, I’m stunned at how few people keep both hands on the wheel. Part of the thrill of riding is that you’re totally engaged in the act, not tolerating the vehicle as an unfortunate necessity. I wish more people would learn to enjoy (and focus on) the act of just driving.
- I grew up afraid of a lot of things I shouldn’t have been. We’re fed an awful lot of misinformation during our formative years (gays are pedophiles, marijuana is a gateway drug, Republicans are fiscally conservative, etc.) Whether it’s well-intended or not, bad advice is like a dining room chair in the middle of the freeway. I’m in my thirties, but I’m still finding my way around obstacles like those. You can’t keep pointing the same direction; the escape path to the open road is always changing.