Who would have thought. Who would have thought that an inanimate object could be such an emotional thing? Certain bikers get caught up on fuel economy, horsepower, quarter-mile times and the like but what about the statistics of fun? Sure, horsepower can be good fun. Good gas mileage can be a kick in the pants when you know deep down you are “sticking it to the man” at the pump. But just for a moment, stop and think about the fun you have in between gas stops and those few times when you aren’t twisting the throttle to its stops. Feel that? That, simply put, is fun. You can’t really measure it on a pie graph, and you sure can’t measure it by sitting on the couch. It mostly happens when you can feel the wind in your face and the road beneath your tires. Sometimes it happens when you walk out to the garage and just – stare at your ride.
We often forget “fun” when talking about our bikes. We talk about customization, where we’ve been, how much we have invested in our bikes but rarely say “and I have a lot of fun riding it.” Maybe it’s implied, I don’t know, but you would think it would come up in conversation. I’ve seen motorcycles that just scream for someone to rip it down the quarter-mile. I’ve seen custom bikes that raise the question if it can be ridden at all. I’ve seen a smoky burnout in a cheering crowd that looked like a lot of fun (not on my bike please) but was it any fun riding it there? I guess after a few beers who cares, right?
Could it possible that saying we are having fun riding our motorcycle takes something away from the image we are trying to put forth? I bet those “nice” people on Honda’s are having fun, (you know – the ones you used to meet?) but what about the rest of us. I’ve had a few rides where it wasn’t a lot of fun during the ride do to the weather or something like that, but when I look back on that ride I don’t have much to complain about. And overall I think we all ride for the fun of it - at least I do. Where are the patches sewn on leather jackets proclaiming “If You Can Read This – I’m Having Fun” or “Loud Pipes – Having Fun.” If you’ve seen one, let me know.
It appears that the culture of riding is based around the lifestyle and attitude of it all. We ride to have fun for sure and I know it goes beyond saying it out-loud, but to measure it like torque, horsepower or gas-mileage isn’t as easy as hooking your bike to a machine. I think, and this is just me, that it all boils down to perception. Fun isn’t built into our bikes, it’s built into us. We determine the fun we’re going to have in anything we do, and its up to me to decide if what I’m riding or where I’m riding to, is fun or not. And it’s revealed in what my perception of fun is compared to yours. It’s no different from our jobs, chores, or life in general, we can either make it enjoyable or make it suck. You decide. Can you measure suck on a pie graph?
Somewhere in a pasture deep in the Flint Hills of Kansas is a limestone rock standing upright placed there by early settlers. Upon that limestone rock are these words; “Man, the wind sure blows hard in Kansas, hang on to this here rock.” When you’re raised in Kansas it really doesn’t seem that noticeable, but I guess you could say that the wind can be a little stiff sometimes. I often think the barbed wire fences that crisscross Kansas is were put there to keep your stuff from blowing more than a mile away. As a kid growing up I don’t remember the wind blowing like it does now, but of course then I was a little closer to the ground and usually preoccupied with kid stuff. At least now I don’t have to worry about the wind messing my hair up.
Riding into work this morning on my Road King it was obvious this was going to be one of those days the weatherman warns about, “wind from the South at 15-20 with gusts up to 30 today,” sounds like a warning to most, but here it’s just like any other day. Now if the weatherman said it was going to be dead-calm today, I would be alarmed as that is out of the ordinary.
As a motorcyclist we often hear the phrase “ride like the wind.” I will tell you that if I rode like the wind today, I would be arrested for assault as the ride in was brutal. Normally heading with the wind isn’t bad, but even that was a handful. Riding West was like my world had tilted to one side with the horizon angled sharply while my shirt collar was slapping my face faster than a hummingbird flaps it’s wings. Okay, so maybe that was an exaggeration, it was more like a meadowlark flapping it’s wings, after all that is our State Bird. But, what do you do? We ride motorcycles and that is just part of it. If it’s cold or hot, windy or raining, we ride – at least some of us do. I didn’t say it was fun all the time, and there can be those days when you just have to convince yourself that even if you would have driven the car, you would have hated yourself. I sure wouldn’t want to hate myself.
So next time you are driving through, or better yet, riding through Kansas, don’t let the wind bother you. It’s going to blow no matter what and there is usually a limestone fence post somewhere to hang on to, so just get used to it. As native Kansans are, we just lean into the wind when it blows; hence the earlier comment about being alarmed if the wind stops blowing. That’s how you determine a native Kansan like myself to someone just visiting – if the wind stops, us Kansas folks fall down.
Life happens and as it does, it changes us. Daily. The morning’s ride to work is usually something that is ordinary and uneventful, but as I put my kickstand down after arriving at work, I stopped and realized I couldn’t remember the ride in. Twenty minutes had gone by and although I was coherent and aware of the ride, all I could remember was that two miles of Skiddy where the temperature dropped. The smell of cedar trees and how they reminded me of the pencils my mother would bring home from Anderson’s Lumber and Hardware where she worked part-time. I used those pencils in school and as I was leaving my teeth marks in them during Mrs. Stenstrom’s class, that smell of cedar must have stayed with me. Or was it the lead in those pencils?
I thought about a life-long friend of mine, Russ, who is moving back to Skiddy in the near future and how it would be to move your life back to where you grew up, after so many years of living in Wisconsin. Not difficult in the sense of moving your stuff, but in the emotional sense. I often think I should have taken the chance and moved outside of White City and experienced something else. Sure, the community made me who I am, but would moving have changed me? Again, life happens every day, so would it have been that big of a deal to move? Hmmm. Even so, I thought about those friends of mine that I grew up with and how some have stayed, but most have moved on. I still feel that connection with a few of them and it feels good to know that no matter where someone is in this world, we’ll always have that going for us.
The ride continued past the Skiddy Cemetery and I noticed how the sun was coming up over a bank of dark clouds in the East. The edge of the clouds filtered the sun just enough to make this particular morning look a little different. Or was it one of those life moments when I was changing. To see something in a different light might have a new meaning here. Maybe there is a scientific reason for the different light and how it affects you but I’m betting it’s more of a spiritual reason. The ride continued on, and I thought about how our lives are kind of like puzzles. The big difference here is we don’t know what the finished picture is going to be. Each piece we place in our puzzle of life changes what the picture will be and eventually the outcome, and each piece is represented by those people in our lives, our jobs, our environment, etc. A subtle change is all it takes to completely change the entire puzzle of life. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing here, it’s just the way it is. As we get about half way through our puzzle, we can start seeing the cabin by the water (or apparently a forest of cedar trees in my case) and the puzzle seems to be falling into place. Then a few more pieces are placed and you realize that this puzzle may be harder than you think. One thing is for sure; those that “fit” into our puzzle will be there to stay. A lot to think about on a twenty-minute ride. Or in this case; what ride?
So I made it to work safe and sound. In summary, science says when you ride into a valley the temperature will probably drop a few degrees. Also, someone decided cedar trees make good pencils, and you must have patience to put a puzzle together. But for twenty minutes I thought about friends that are dear to me and how we fit into each other’s lives. Friends near and far will always be friends, and some are very close to me no matter how far away they are. They are an important piece to my puzzle and without them my life wouldn’t be complete.
Some people have a way about them. There are those who are driven and challenged to be something bigger than the moment they live in. I believe Neale Bayly is this kind of person. I haven’t met Neale, but I understand him from a motorcyclist point of view. As bikers, we are always looking for “epic” in every ride but end up finding so much more than that. Neale has a show coming to SPEED Channel Sunday June 9th about his latest ride on their BMW GS series motorcycles to Peru to the Hogar Belen Orphanage. The ride takes Neale and his friends from Lima to Moquegua to visit this orphanage where Neale has visited before. He was inspired enough to start the nonprofit organization called Wellspring International Outreach to help orphans and abandoned children.
The world can seem so big but so small at the same time. Neale has traveled this world and along the way has had plenty of time to think and take in all the sights, smells and sounds that travel can put you through. As a biker myself, I can tell you it runs so much deeper than that for him. I have taken week-long trips and as the ride goes, your mind will take you further into the trip than any motorcycle ever will. It becomes about the surroundings and environment you’re in and it changes you. There is something about traveling on a motorcycle that brings the people to you. No matter where you are headed, as you are the one traveling into their world where you are welcomed with smiles and waves, and complete strangers are coming up to you to talk about your trip. Now take that to a global stage, where language and barriers or the lack thereof requires you to be dedicated to the trip at hand. For that I admire anyone who can take that on.
Epic trips take the ordinary and familiar to an extraordinary level. When a trip becomes epic it transforms you and all those involved. To simply say “it changed my life” does not do it justice, and in Neale’s case it inspired him to change other people’s lives. Now that is epic. I would like to think as I have traveled on my motorcycle and I’ve taken the time to say a few words to someone I have met that they will take something away from our chance meeting – I know I do. The faces, the words spoken and the handshakes and smiles are forever burned in my memory and I did nothing but ride into someone’s life and say hello. Now picture yourself taking the time to actually change someone’s life for the better and the impact you can have on a community and the people who need the help. Epic.
I look forward to watching Neale Bayly Rides when it airs. I’ll watch because it is about Neale and his group riding motorcycles through Peru on an adventure of a lifetime. But let’s face it – it’s not about the motorcycles, it’s about everything around the trip that makes it epic. If motorcycles are the reason you check it out, that’s okay too. But as you’re watching take a minute to look at the people and the faces in the background. Watch Neale’s reaction when his fellow rider’s Troy, James, Laura, Brandon and Bill meet the children of Hogar Belen; that is when the trip just became an epic adventure.
I said before that I haven’t yet met Neale. I say “haven’t yet” because as a motorcyclist our paths may cross at some point. As bikers we ride with our heads up looking at all that is around us, eager to meet fellow riders and locals along the way. Every ride has a little bit of epic built-in and I know Neale’s epic rides will continue. They have to – because the inspiration he gives to those of us that do ride and the impact he has on those because he rides can’t be measured. Thanks Neale, and ride safe!
There is never enough time in the day. Well of course not, because if there were we would be “all caught up” and that just can’t happen. We need to always be behind and scrambling to fit all that’s on our list of things to do into a five-pound sack. That is to say our list weighs ten pounds, or something like that. It’s crazy how we feel the pressure to do it all to make time for…what? What are we trying to make time for? We have a good idea of what we want out of life, but are we going about it the right way? We spend so much time working and worrying about the small stuff that our lives are happening right before us. Everyone starts each day with an equal amount of time so how do they get it all done when I can’t even fight my way out of this so-called five-pound bag?
I know what you’re thinking – time management, right? What I really need here is to manage finding a little time to sit in the shade. When I say ”sit in the shade” I really mean I need to spend more time working on a balance in my life. Of course there is still a list of to-do’s to get done, but once in a while I need to sit and just take it all in. You know the feeling, the sound of “outside” and nothing else. In the sun or in the shade, just taking it in and realizing that I am alive and there are things that I worry about that probably don’t deserve the energy.
There are those people who are very good at taking it easy and there are those people who make it look like they are taking it easy but still manage to fill their five-pound bag. I envy those folks for they are the ones that have truly found that balance I seek to find for myself. But as we all know, there is always something to do or get done no matter how hard we work at it. So when is that moment when you sit down and take it all in?
What we don’t realize is we really are making time to take it all in - a little bit every day in those little things that we find enjoyable. Maybe you find gardening or cutting the grass enjoyable. Maybe its walking the dog or painting. Or in my case, my daily commute – riding my motorcycle to work and back every day. It’s that time when our hands are busy and our mind is clear or we are putting ourselves in a state of meditation to find that peace of mind to relax. That few moments when we are actually doing something all the while taking a moment to breathe and realize that yes, we are alive.
So when you need that mental vacation from time to time and you just want to sit and listen to the sounds of “outside”, remember that as you go through the day you are doing just that. It may not seem like it because we are focused on the task at hand. But with a little effort, stop and look around and you’ll be surprised at what you see. Your life is happening right before your eyes…take it all in and see how fast your five-pound bag fills up.
The world really is a small place. Sure, if you pull back from the surface and look at a map, or take the globe off the shelf and give it a spin, it can look like a pretty large and daunting object. But seriously, how many times have you been miles away from home only to run into somebody you know? As random as it seems there is probably a logical explanation for that. For instance, like-minded people hang out or go to the same places, so it shouldn’t be out of the question that within the realm of travel that someone you know would also be there. Traveling on a motorcycle actually puts you in this position. As riders, we seek out the most scenic routes and the likelihood of running into familiar faces is probably high. Even if we are trying to find the solitude that riding a motorcycle brings, it is inevitable that the moment we look up from the gas-pump we will be faced with our neighbor down the street.
We’ve all been there – pumping gas, oblivious to the world around us, when someone calls out our name. We don’t hear it the first time so of course we seem rude, but the second time we hear our name, we look up and then scramble to put a name to a face. We stammer through the conversation saying everything but the wrong name in hopes that it doesn’t seem obvious that their name has escaped us. “Hey guy, it’s been a long time!” He sure remembers me, but for whatever reason I can’t come up with his name and if I try I’m sure I will be wrong. And just as if it couldn’t get more awkward, his wife walks up and calls me by name as well. What did I do to have such an impact on someone’s life that they remember me? And now I have the opportunity to forget two names as they stand there before me. I can’t get my helmet on fast enough.
The standard biker conversation ensues; how’s the ride going, where have you been and where are you heading sort of questions. But the one that caught me off guard was “when did you get a Harley-Davidson?” I’m confused. Most of the people I know are familiar with what I ride so this seemed like an odd question. They were riding a Goldwing so I felt it appropriate to answer their question with a question. “How long have you been riding a Honda?” Now they’re confused. This just became that weird feeling when you get on an elevator and say something to the only other person riding with you and they don’t say anything back. You know they heard you, but…silence. Oh, and there is a gas-pump in the elevator with us.
Well it seems that at this very moment there is someone out there riding a Honda Goldwing that looks just like me and his name is Jeff. They realized their mistake and I’m off the hook trying to remember their names. I do have three new friends out of this, only one of which I haven’t met yet. It’s a small world and I wonder if I will ever run into this guy. And what will he say when I pull my helmet off and he sees himself on a Harley-Davidson? At least I’ll get his name right.
The further I get into the future, the more I reflect on the past. It’s funny how the older we get the more we say “I remember when.” We often use that term when it comes to cars, motorcycles and even our friends because the history we are creating while living our lives often requires us to look back to tell the story. So that’s what we do – we tell stories, stretch the truth and laugh about the good times. We look back and laugh because even those bad days weren’t that bad after all.
I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to this as my tall tales get even taller and in most cases it always ends up being funnier than when it actually happened. Case in point; it was 1976 and me and my trusty Yamaha DT175 were out to the Katy trails just behind the White City Cemetery for a little fun in the dirt. Disregarding all common sense for my own safety, I would usually ride alone and not once in my Bell helmet did I hear my mother saying anything about clean underwear or “wait until your father gets home.” So off I went the two miles or so as the crow flies, (of course I felt like I was flying as any teenage boy would on his motorcycle) to spend the afternoon jumping and climbing a few hills.
Who hasn’t ridden a motorcycle only to suffer a mechanical break-down? Not me. Over the years I have become very keen on what is a real break-down compared to a road-side fix. But it wasn’t an overnight education. After the first few minutes of getting to the Katy trails, I laid my motorcycle over on the left side. Not a real bad crash by any means, but it was enough to get up and dust myself off. I picked up the DT to find my shift lever bent underneath the engine case. Not knowing what to do, I pushed it more than two miles home (I’m not a crow) back into the yard. My brother Danny was a huge help in pointing out the obvious solution to my problem – grab hold of the shift lever and bend it back out. There, problem solved. Why wasn’t it obvious to me? It sure would have saved me a lot of effort and it would have kept me riding for the afternoon. But from where I was standing the problem seemed to big to handle on the side of the trail. I was apparently more concerned about clean underwear and if my dad was home yet I guess.
Looking back at the situation now I can laugh about it. Not only did it not seem funny at the time, it also gave me plenty of time to think about it as I pushed it home. But it’s a lessened learned and it definitely builds character. It also gives you the satisfaction of knowing that you won’t make the same mistake twice. Fast forward to 2008 and I’m riding my Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail. For some reason, every time I shift gears up or down, it takes excessive force. What in the world is wrong with my transmission? After talking to a friend of mine, he told me I need to put a little lubricant on the pivot for the heal-toe lever. Hmmm, lubrication. Who would have thought? At least I had my clean underwear on.