Thursday, August 14, 2008

Where did it come from?

Riding two wheels with an engine attached has been in my blood since I can remember. As boy I was into Evil Kneivel. When my parents let me in the toy isles I looked for motorcycle toys. It must've driven my prents crazy. They knew I would someday become a rider. Not everyone grows up thinking that nothing could be better than a bicycle you didn't have to pedal.

But many came to it through influences on their lives. An uncle. A cousin. A movie like The Wild Ones. Maybe an actor simply playing a role like The Fonz. A guy couched in the appearance of being a badass who turned out to be one of the good guys.

When the time came to make that leap, to fork out your hard earned dishwasher's income toward some used and abused motorcycle, you cherished it. You rode it scared and at the same time with a sense of abandon. Dangerous yet liberating.

Call it the cost of living. The price of being more alive. The risk associated with riding could be balanced with good training. Observance and attentiveness. My mother insisted I learn to ride in the dirt before I hit the road. (No such thing as an MSF course back then) Wise woman. I learned all my instincts in those woods on either side of the neighborhood. Those woods where I crashed repeatedly. Bent handlebars and a rear rim told of my delight and my downfalls. A smashed turn signal gave sign to my process of learning what a controlled slide entailed.

It was always there. Always in me. The desire for that feeling of freedom to glide down the road or sail through tall grass and gravel on the backwoods fire roads of southeastern Wisconsin. Wind whipping my hair, some friend ahead or behind me on his own steed of of metal and rubber. Engines whining and clacking from missed shifts. We probably weren't going that fast but it didn't matter. We were in the moment and it was all that counted.

Fast forward to today. A whole new breed of riders are out there. Maybe you're one of them. And you're not so different from those of us who rode "back in the day". Just as scooters became popular because of the rise in the price of gas at the pump, so too were motorcycles found to be a fine alternative in the late seventies through the mid eighties. The last time we came out of an oil crunch. There was a lot more involved in that earlier trend but its easy enough to see one of the reasons being spending less money filling the tank. Although dare I say it, I think on ratio more modern scooterists are actually riding their scooters to work this time around than motorcyclists were in the late seventies.

Conversely, by design people who bought motorcycles had to learn to shift. They felt a dedication to riding that some modern scooterists might not share. I think evidence of that missing element might well spill onto the used scooter market should gas prices continue to fall. Its only natural. Riding is not simply a solution to high gas prices. If one thinks it is, one is fooling oneself. New riders usually don't last two years before they recognize there's a clear cut choice. It comes down to either wanting to ride badly enough that weather is merely a reason to bring proper gear in case you need it or parking the bike between rides for longer and longer periods of time. Then the battery dies like the final chime of a Grandfather clock at midnight. In the middle of the riding season.

Once again those of us who discovered these new versions of motorcycles to be much more than the original reasons we thought to buy them may soon be scooping up gently used scooters at very good prices. Bikes we only dreamt about a year or so ago. Never imagining we'd get to ride them, let alone own one. It doesn't matter where it came from. That need to ride for its own sake. Because the price of the machine itself is at least a year's worth of fuel. Plus insurance which never seems to decrease in cost until you reach some ethereal equation no one outside of the insurance world can even explain. And the actuaries aren't talking.

Its good to try new things and find out who we really are. What we really like. To discover that riding, no matter what style of machine you choose, really is a much broader and encompassing choice than you originally thought it to be. The infusion of new riders due to fuel prices has presented a whole new world to people who might never have considered riding as one alternative their old ways. Some of these people will fade away when they find riding takes a bit of dedication and extra work. A passion exceeding the norm. Maybe a Smart Car is on their horzon. Others will absolutely need that exhilerating experience of being on two wheels. It will be something they found they won't be able to give up.

The question isn't where it came from. The question is, where will it take you?