Get your motor running

I was never one for joining clubs, but on this particular occasion, I’m proud to say that I now belong to the fraternity of motorcyclists. On Sunday I completed M1 exit motorcycle training and I’m itching to get out riding. Given that I’ve been waiting over twenty years to learn to ride a motorcycle, another week, month, or year before I drive one on the streets won’t kill me (I hope).

It’s hard to believe that for more than half of my life I’ve stifled my desire for a street bike. Every spring when I’d hear the whine of a motorcycle I’d quickly spin my head to see the bike. I remember being on the verge of buying one several times, but unfortunately, practicality always prevailed.

When I first got my license, I didn’t have the money for a motorcycle and a car. Since winters are not conducive to safe motorbike riding, I opted for the obvious choice; a little sports car. Sadly, no amount of all-window-open driving could mimic the feeling I longed for of riding a motorcycle where I would be surrounded by … or even part of the wind.

Time crept forward, and anytime I’d have my head turned by a Kawasaki Ninja or Honda CBR, I heard my parents’ voices echoing about how unsafe motorcycles were (never mind that my uncle ran a motorcycle shop for years).

Perhaps the biggest deterrent to riding was the reality that my stepmother (then a radiologist) would bring home to the dinner table including stories of gruesome motorcycle crashes that she had to deal with that day at work. In fact, it was either her or my father that asked me if I knew what emergency doctors call motorcyclists: “organ donors.”

Given the striking disadvantage that motorcyclists have in terms of road safety compared to cars and trucks, when I began thinking about having a family, I parked the idea of owning and driving a sporty little motorcycle. (The snag was that I could see myself on the bike, and once I’ve visualized something, it’s usually only a matter of time before it becomes reality — mind you not normally twenty years).

Then I met dirt bikes. We had a very dirty, exciting affair, but still I longed for a sport bike.

When I began looking for a motivator to complete my doctorate, I wondered if I could justify the purchase of a sport bike as a graduation gift to myself. (After all, we were gifted a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by the program director when we started the program, so it would only be fitting). I decided that the motorcycle training course would help me to make up my mind.

While I had expected a lot of 17 year olds in the course, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the average age in the class was closer to forty. We became fast friends as we rushed the fraternity of road warriors. I wish I had taken a photo of our class and instructors, because it is a memory that I will truly cherish.

Although not on the curriculum, I also learned a lot about facing challenges, the importance of practicing, persevering, and not letting fear run my life. I was inspired by the 65 year-old who had decided that life was short, and he wanted to learn to ride. Another guy who had ridden for years had stopped after a horrific motorcycle accident where he broke more bones than I knew I had. Both men awed me with their passion for life and their willingness to “learn new tricks” and “get back on the horse.”

I’m glad that different forces in my life delayed my joining this magnificent brotherhood, because when I was in my teens and twenties, I don’t think I’d have had the respect for the machine that I do now. I feel better prepared now that I’ve already got a good grasp of the rules of the road, and have enough awareness of the risks to never ride without (fashionable) protective armour.

While aware of the risks of riding a motorcycle, I am also keen to the fact that there are few things in life worth doing that don’t have some risk involved. I look forward to being one with the wind, because life is for living, not for avoiding death.

I appreciate the support of my old and new friends who understand that there are some things that you just have to “get out of your system.” As an anonymous rider once said: ” Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul.”

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