A few weeks ago, I completed the purchase of yet another used motorcycle... at the age of 60. Yes, I am now the proud owner of an almost all-black, lovingly-tended geriatic sports bike, a Yamaha Seca 900 from 1983. In other words, my bike is older than some readers here.
The first question that comes to your mind may well be WHY? Shouldn't I be tending my investments, buying comfy pants with stretch waistbands, and reminiscing about the Good Ole Days? No, because the remaining days are the only ones I'll see. I'm a Boomer, with a birthright to never fully grow up. And if I can't still have fun and take the odd dumb risk, what's the point of being alive? If the Deity wanted us to be safe at all times, s/he would have made us immortal, banned the invention of any fast vehicles, and designed us with carapaces of fiberglass and foam plastic. I could lie, for the sake of RedRoom's in-house topic, and claim this as research for my novel -- after all, the hero is a motorcycle-riding poet with an old Yamaha. But I won't.
For those of you who've never piloted a bike, let me explain the addiction. Cars (dedicated bikers call them "cages") insulate you from the environment with climate control, sound-deadening materials, supple suspension, and a mostly flat ride. Heck, you can put on the cruise control, turn up the music, yak on your cell phone and pretend you're not really driving at all. In fact many car drivers I notice on the road are exactly like this -- they're not really driving. They're just putting in time, and will continue to do so until they meet a more irresistible force, or immoveable object, they failed to notice.
On a motorbike, one can't afford to phase out for a second. All those alien-looking, helmeted and be-leathered people you've seen whizzing around in traffic are actually practising a difficult form of meditation: Staying Alive on the Road. One must be constantly aware of what is going on with the other traffic in all the lanes around you. Mentally bookmark those no-signallers, the tailgaters, the lane-drifters, the yakkers, texters and make-up and -out artists, and give them a wide berth. Stay well away from big trucks, because they not only emit turbulence but also high-speed volleys of retreaded tire rubber.
When you approach an alley or intersection, watch for drivers who suddenly pull out or hang a left turn in your path; this is how most motorcyle fatalities happen, car drivers saying "I just didn't see him!" Keep your eyes on their front wheels -- if they start to roll, take evasive action. Sitting at a stop sign or light, keep your eyes on the rear-view mirror in case some idiot is about to turn you into a bumper decoration on the vehicle ahead, because he failed to notice that there's a stop. Watch also for random changes in the road surface: gravel, sand, oil, grooves in unfinished pavement, pools of rain or oil or diesel fuel. You also must be sensitive to every quiver and sound of your own bike, because it's all you have to defend you against the unexpected.
On the plus side, even a medium-sized (and priced) bike these days has more acceleration and braking than all but the most exotic cars. You feel an immediate response to every control input, and get better gas mileage than all but Priuses. You can park almost anywhere, and bikes are a great conversation starter with other bikers, or the idly curious who don't expect to see wrinkles and greying hair when the helmet comes off.
Perhaps the best defense of bikes -- which, after all, are toys -- is the FPD ratio. Of course, you understand the concept of Fun per Dollar. Blow a few bucks on a Frisbee, kite, or kitten, and you'll get a high Fun Per Dollar return. Buy a Hummer, new Harley, or private plane -- you'll probably have fun, but not nearly as much per dollar. On the subject of fun, riding means a sensual involvement with the landscape and the world around you that cars lack. You experience cool fog in autumn valleys, blazing starfields at night, the smell of every place. You dance with the road, leaning into the turns, setting up the line through the next corner, weaving the best route between potholes, road cracks, and RVs. Riding is energizing -- I can start out feeling foggy myself, and one good crack of the throttle up to 6000 rpm or so not only merges me with with freeway traffic but puts a smile back on my face. For the price of a few gallons of gas, you can spend wonderful hours exploring twisty, curvy two-lane roads (the best riding) when there's no traffic or law enforcement around: a roller-coaster ride under your control.
If you know what you're looking for, are willing to learn and do some simple maintenance, and are still a little crazy, consider this. You can pick up used motorcycles, well-maintained (get a mechanic or knowledgeable biking friend to verify this), from the '90s or ' 80s for $1000-2500, depending on size, model, condition and mileage. Usually you will pay less to insure one than you would a car. You can expect, as I said earlier, acceleration, braking and (if it matters) top speed comparable to that of a high-end sports car. For example, my bike, when new, would do the quarter mile in under 12 seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph. And it isn't much slower now.
"But it's so dangerous" I hear you protesting (or is that your inner Mother Voice?). It can be, if you're reckless, attention-deficient, don't take a safety course and learn your own limits, or buy something too fast for your ability. On the other hand, I've had motorcycles on and off from the age of 16, and never had a serious accident. I have fallen off, but that was usually my own fault. Maybe I'm lucky. But I've already had a reasonable life and still feel some health and strength in me. I'd rather go out this way, and leave a good story, then die feeble, attached to a network of tubes, monitors, and impatient relatives. You makes your choices; this old, noisy, wonderful bike is mine right now.
And it's fun, too.
Causes John Oughton Supports
PEN International, Amnesty International, League of Canadian Poets, POR AMOR, Greenpeace