Monday, April 24, 2006


This is another installment of previously written essays that I occasionally post here. It may help you understand what "drives" people to ride those infernal machines known as motorcycles. And no, a Vespa doesn't count!

In spite of the dangers that accompany every motorcycle ride, motorcycles are becoming more mainstream than they ever were. Baby boomers are fulfilling lifelong fantasies of posturing as Easy Rider and cruising through town on a customized chopper. Women have long enjoyed riding motorcycles but it’s only recently that it has become socially acceptable for them to be bikers rather than just biker babes. Admittedly, riding motorcycles is in and of itself an inherently dangerous, some say reckless, activity. But there is no other mode of transportation that legally offers the thrills and excitement, the enjoyment of being one with the road, that motorcycling does, and riding in motorcycle friendly California is one of the best ways to experience this.

There’s a new kid in town, Joanie come lately, and she’s rollin’ in on her hog. Whether tooling around town on a customized Harley or riding across the country on a fully dressed Honda Gold Wing, the woman’s place has almost always been on the back of the bike. Fortunately this is no longer the only way for women to ride. More and more women are giving up the queen seats and side cars to ride their own bikes alongside their mates. Many women who have been closet bikers can now proudly leave the mini-van in the garage and bop around town on their bikes. Some grandmas are fulfilling life-long dreams of touring across America on its back roads, meeting people from all walks of life and generally having the times of their lives. Still other women are trading Oprah-inspired book club meetings for group rides, sometimes with no particular justification except the enjoyment of the ride itself.

Out on the pavement, all motorcyclists actually take their lives into their hands every time they hop on a bike. Hitting the open road has a different, even literal, meaning for a cyclist. Regardless of continuing technological improvements, bikes are dangerous just by nature of their design. Because a motorcycle’s tires are so much smaller than a car’s they allow less contact with the road. In recent years improvements in the design, structure, and materials used in manufacturing motorcycle tires have greatly increased their grip; reduced the rate of blowouts; and helped improve bike handling and road traction. Along with tire R&D, new suspension technologies, lighter weight materials, and stronger frame designs have helped enhance handling and drivability. But all the high tech R&D available can’t help a motorcyclist in his battles with inattentive, ignorant, and reckless car drivers. A cycle/rider combination’s relatively small stature makes them less visible to other drivers. Not only do car operators have difficulty perceiving the speed at which a motorcycle may be coming toward them, they have trouble judging how far away they are. Or they erroneously think a motorcycle’s better handling characteristics will compensate for their own lack of judgment. When push comes to shove, in most accidents between motorcycle and motor vehicle, the cyclist had the right of way. Unfortunately the laws of physics supersede the rules of the road, and a motorcyclist who is right just may be dead right. (Wanna know how I know this?)

Despite the risks involved, the lure of the open road joins with the liberation of zooming along free of the confines of a hulking metal cage to entice riders into the great outdoors. Riding in California is one of the greatest ways to experience the fun and challenge a motorcyclist craves. First, to make commuting more bearable, the fine art of lane splitting, once mastered, offers more than enough excitement to satisfy even the most masochistic rider’s need for an adrenaline rush. Cyclists all over the country envy Californians’ ability to legally ride through rush hour traffic, slithering along on the lane markers between the Lexuses and Range Rovers, leaving frustrated drivers in their wake to mutter into their car phones about missing Johnny’s baseball game because they are once again stuck in traffic in the Sepulveda Pass. An even better way to get from town to town in LA is to leave the boring, overcrowded freeways to ride the twisty, hilly canyon roads. Speeding along Topanga Canyon Road to reach the beaches of Malibu beats any amusement park ride known to man. (Of course, the operative word is speeding!) Words cannot describe the divergent views encountered on the stretch of Topanga Canyon from the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to the 101 (Ventura Freeway). Finally, riders can choose to spend the entire day on the PCH, starting at the Mexican border heading north all the way to San Francisco. Along the way the ride along the coast travels through beach towns like La Jolla, Malibu, and San Luis Obispo, and past the naval warfare installations at Point Mugu, continuing as far north as Carmel and Big Sur before scenic overload necessitates a stop for the night to revel in the wondrous sites just encountered. All in all, not a bad way to explore the coast and take advantage of motorcycle friendly California.

In conclusion, motorcycling offers a unique experience to all who partake while the dangers previously associated with riding have been reduced. Women are coming into their own in a previously male-dominated arena. Improvements in handling, safety, and driver awareness reduce the element of danger, although with the increased popularity of extreme sports, people seem more willing to risk life and limb for thrills, chills, and spills. Finally, it can be argued that traveling by motorcycle, whether customized chopper, touring cruiser, or sport bike, can be the most exhilarating, enriching means to experiencing America at its best.

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