Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bygone Days

In the previous era things were different. For many riding enthusiasts, memories of that era are filled with times when groups of friends would join up just outside the neighborhood and ride all manner of dirt bikes on trails worn by preceding generations of young riders who had done the same.

Why would I call it an era? Because if you observe motor cycling's heritage, its first era can be defined as a time when communities were smaller than they are now. Cities and towns weren't surrounded by the unbroken sprawl of new homes. There were spaces. Farms and unimproved land were inviting places where kids could tear through the woods on trail bikes. Some of us may even remember things call fire roads, which were simply mowed paths through unimproved fields and woods so our fire departments could attack brush fires during prescribed burns. The beauty of it was, these roads really didn't require much mowing for all the kids who rode their dirt bikes along them. Imagine riding through the woods, your bike rolling along at the about the pace of a horse's gait. You don't see any other human activity unless its of the kindred spirits out enjoying the same things you are. No pavement. No signage.

Farms and local woods begged a young rider to roost a little. The fire roads were a different story. Although they were not that far from home, having something go wrong while on a fire road meant you were on your own.

Sometime in my late teens or early twenties chained signs began blocking off those roads. Forbidden. It became harder and harder to find places to ride which weren't farms owned by someone we knew. Then one day they were gone.

I'm sure even as I write, there are still places with open fire roads, or pastures and lots where today's kids are still able to bang around on their modern equivalents of our two stroke high pipe two fifties. But they're not a mere block or two away in most cases. In my own youth, either end of our subdivision boasted well worn trails and fields. I'll bet every modern kid with a dirt bike knows its just a matter of time before another farm disappears and the place once ridden becomes a hundred new homes in additions with names like Broken Trail or Daybreak Ridge. All I can think about is what it must've been like to actually ride Broken Trail or see daybreak atop that ridge.

The end of the era is defined by the majority of people who once did those things and no longer can. If you view this from another angle what you also realize is how its affected how people learn to ride. Where an older brother's dirt bike was put into service to teach you how to ride, those options aren't readily available to the majority of us anymore.

What follows is a new era. One where people with real road skills teach the rest of us how to stay between the lines. How to feel and negotiate every possibility. The fire roads and prairies are gone for most of us. Along with them an experience in riding that cannot be duplicated. But that is, as they say, how it is.

Even though riding farmland is still available to this rider, its not the same thing as those fire roads were. Those paths cut their way through places we intended to explore but never did. Conjecture of where those trails could have taken me is all I have now, and it in no way matches what the experience would have left with me.

So in a sense, this is about missing what was once available to most of us and in another sense it reminds me that the effect of change reaches us in sometimes unexpected ways. That there were no rider's safety courses then, but getting out of traffic and learning the basics in the woods was as common as having the bikes themselves. Wet grass, puddles and streams. Riding over dead falls or through gravel. Thick, tire sucking mud. Snow and its steamy sizzle after being spit back on the engine from the front tire. A different era for the majority of us.

Today, getting out of traffic means riding an hour just to be out of Megalopolis. Never mind leaving the tar and concrete ribbons. Someone realized how drastically things had changed and knew it was time to do something new. The rider's safety courses were born. Designed to instruct the best ways to handle any given street riding conditions, they will serve millions of riders now and in the future. Thus began this current era.

The Roadbum


Steve Williams said...

I was part of that previous era and was able to ride my little Kawasaki F5 (?) almost anywhere back in 1970. Fields, strip mines, just about anywhere I wanted to go and seldom a No Tresspassing sign.

I had a lot of fun, flew off the bike a lot of times, and became comfortable navigating through a lot of terrain.

My road riding was limited in comparison and when I began riding again after a 30 plus year layoff I realized when it came to riding on the highway I didn't have many useful mental skills. I knew how to hand the bike just didn't realize what being on the road meant in 2006.

I feel a lot of nostalgia for the times you describe and you're right they are largely gone unless you own a lot of land. At least here in the East. There are still places to ride but they aren't at the end of the street anymore.

Great post Roadbum!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

American Scooterist Blog said...

Thanks Steve. I checked out the F5 Kaw. I think I knew some friends with those. Makes me want to dig up another 250 enduro or at least an Armacci (sp?) Harley to play around with. Maybe the times are gone for good but the bikes are still out there. Paul's 400 also quickly comes to mind. Frogwing too.
uh oh...


CodyandMichelle said...

Since I'm 10 years older than you Harv, it was even more open as when you were growing up. But I rode bicycles back then and hiked alot(though we called it exploring).
There is just too many darn people on this planet! Incosideratation and rudeness runs rampant, right along with greed and overdevelopment. I really wish I'd been born way back , like in the 1700's. What you wrote about is definitly better days, not just for riding, but for pretty much alot of things in general. It's sad really, in fact, I have to go now Harv, I'm now depressed :(

Bryce said...

I feel sad to have missed out on the dirtbike era. Granted, there are still dirtbikes, but most are 4 stroke. Most are more complicated. Most of the roads you can use are more regulated. The idea of just getting the hell out there...that would have been cool. Granted, the safety aspect if something went wrong would be scary.

American Scooterist Blog said...

Cody, it made me sad when I read what I'd written. So many factors come into play that got us from there to here.
Bryce, it was a little scary. Someone, I think my best friend's dad once told me I'd be better off not chancing a break down if I rode the bike under 80% of its peak. He told me to listen to the engine, that it would sound different if I let the rpm's rise above whatever point the sound changed from running "right" to running stressed. You're right about the idea of being stuck in the middle of nowhere (no such thing as cell phones back then) being scary. I followed his advice and I know he saved me from trouble.


Bryce said...

I would be less scared of breaking down in the boonies than getting injured out there.

Combatscoot said...

Your post made be a little sad, too, but I have been dealing with such things for a long time now. The 4 acre's I grew-up on, as well as the surrounding mass of woods and fire roads is now an upscale housing development with a golfcourse. I grew up there, had adventures on mountain bikes, dirt and trials bikes there, and I seemingly remember every inch of the land. I often dream of the place as-if it still existed, with some changes, like a new storage shed or new addition to the house. I have to contend with teaching Tal to ride in our backyard, and then maybe some parking lot. (sigh)