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

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The other day a member of our riding club had purchased a new scooter. He wanted to put some miles on and get out on the open road. There was a chance of rain. The weather channel ominously told of the potential of heavy rains, large hail and straight line winds. Tom's intent was to show me his new scooter and hopefully miss the bad weather in his less than five minute ride home.

After he hung up I went on line to get a better picture of what was coming in the skies. While the Weather Channel screamed warnings the radar site I use showed the pattern splitting to the north and south right over our town. Once Tom got here I showed him what I saw and we agreed we would clean the bikes and talk a while to see what transpired.

We cleaned the bikes, talked about bikes and spent about an hour just hanging out in my garage. More clouds moved in from the southwest. Black thunderheads, the kind that roll in fast and seem to boil their way across the sky broke a line of trees to the south. Tom thought this was it. There would be no ride.

Again, the clouds split wide soon after they appeared. It was like an invisible wedge blocked them from finding us. Some stormclouds moved north of us, and splitting eastward they stayed well to the south. We went in and check the computer again. It appeared this thunderhead was the last in a strong line of storms. We walked back outside and into the back yard to see to the southwest better.

Blue sky. Behind the roiling lightening sparked darkness was clear sunshiny blue sky. In moments the storm was east and while the deep thunder was clear, it was past us.

The two of us grinned as we donned our gear and started the bikes. In moments we were riding the countryside that begins just outside my neighborhood.

But it gets even better...

After we returned we talked about the ride. We decided that the next day (yesterday) we would ride again when Tom got off work. At about five he was here and we were ready to go.

I wanted to ride the Avon area. Its a small town off the expressway. Surrounded by lakes and quite a bit more hilly than some areas around here it boasts some incredible riding potential for early weekend mornings. I just haven't been able to do it yet.

The sun was hot yesterday. It actually set a record. Upper seventies and bright clear skies. We rode in a general direction and found a back way into the town. Gassing up at the Shell we talked about which way to head out of town. Town being oh, approximately a mile long give or take. Back north we went.

At this point its any one's game and Tom picked some great roads. Long sweeping bends climbing hills through still bare stands of trees. Rivulets and ponds. The sun heating the black fabric of my Corrazo.

There's a term the classic rock stations use when they play a number of songs in succession by a certain band. Getting the lead out. I'd say that's a fair description of what this ride felt like to me.

From Avon to St. Stephen and back home again. We put on roughly fifty miles and it felt so good. Tom said this is only the beginning and I believe him. How could I not? There is so much to explore in the Avon and surrounding area. We have only just begun.

The Roadbum

Monday, March 26, 2007

Whose Ride is It Anyway?

When learning to ride we all probably dealt with people who told us how dangerous motorcycles are to ride. Suicide machines. Hondacides. Name some derogatory term for the machine or the sport and I bet I can recall a time it was said to me. Without fail non riders' eyes would get suspicious and some advice or story about someones brother, cousin, or friend of a friend would fill my ears.

Oddly the reason for the crash or accident wasn't given. I had to ask that question on my own. Because we all know people don't cause accidents, the machines they're using suddenly take over and operate independently of the user. It happens all the time and motorcycles are notorious for displaying this characteristic normally reserved for living things.

People rule the majority of things and situations they find themselves involved in. They either take control or relinquish it. Its that simple. The responsibility lies with the individual.

When people relate these fearful stories about how Bob sent himself into a ditch some early morning sometime after bar closing they always leave out the part about the bars closing. Never mind that Bob helped close a certain bar. Bob was the victim and his dastardly motorcycle forced the liquor upon him.

They might tell the story with vivid detail but ask a few questions and chances are you're going to make them angry because they just got caught in a half truth or a flat out lie. If you point out Bob relinquished his control of the situation voluntarily or that Bob just assumed he could operate a motorcycle the way he would anything else in his life, they'll walk away angry.

People tell me how dangerous motorcycles are all the time. I tell them in all the years I've owned them, going into my teens, I've never walked by them in the garage and had one jump out and try to bite me yet.

Is that a dumb reply? No it really isn't. Because it always reminds them responsibility lies with the operator. Before they can utter another word the gears in their heads are turning. They stop talking and start thinking. The common response afterward is "just be careful out there" and that's something I appreciate hearing.

Now something new is happening and I can't seem to get past it. Riders who normally understand the individualism imbued in the spirit of riding motorcycles are giving faux warning about riding in bad weather. Here's the point those folks are missing: When someone tells you about a ride in bad weather and they're still a fully functioning human being, it means they rode well enough to get through it just fine. Regardless what the naysayers whine about, it already happened. Its a done deal. It happened without incident. And its up to the teller of the tale to decide if such a ride will be undertaken again. The person begging them not to do it again is forgetting two important things. First, Teller of said Tale doesn't need any one's permission to ride any time anywhere on the public roads of these United States. Secondly, Teller of said Tale probably learned a few things about being safer about riding in any conditions that the naysayers may need to know for their own safety someday.

When someone makes the choice to ride, they already took a leap against the grain. They've determined its worth the experience even if becoming the focus of naysayers' attention is drawn to them. Why? Because they really don't worry about what other people think. And they shouldn't, either.

People have ridden truly bad weather and did more than survive they found they enjoyed the experience, they explained to others how they got through it and then others learned to be better riders. Some riders have been in those same conditions and said they would never do it again. But from what I've seen both groups will share what they did and how they got through it.

We all have our limits where we feel we can handle a given condition well enough to get through it with relative comfort. Its not the same bar for any two people. Trying to bring anyone to our personal level of operation or comfort is an exercise in futility. Some riders will lay a bike low through the turns even on wet pavement. Others will baja off through the woods, beginning at the fire trails and working their way deeper and deeper into the steep terrain of canopied forests. Some take a go at snow while others like me enjoy riding in the rain on a warm afternoon.

It all starts with the idea that you or I could actually get through this situation. After all, none of us in this generation are going to be the first to do it. Millions have done it. They remember riding motorbikes through the woods. Or across fields, soaking themselves in muck. They remember the fun it was, the little two strokes tooting at high rpm for all they were worth.

No, before the naysayers condemn us for riding in bad weather or deride us for the way we're "influencing" the riding public with our disregard for safety and the "image" we present, they should remember some of us did these things before. Maybe as kids. They should also take notice that we ourselves are using all of our fingers to tell the stories. What riders who've done these things know, the rest of us can learn.

The Roadbum