In the Beginning

Driving a car, your relationship with the road is like that with a friend. Bumps are softened. On a motorcycle, the relationship is much more intimate, like that with a lover. You feel every small bump and dip.

Me, November 2011

This is the unfolding story of motorcycling and me. While I'd toyed with the idea of riding for several years, I'd never thrown a leg over a motorcycle until I was 51. Then the time seemed right. My youngest kid had finished high school so I considered myself expendable. I'd just spent two years with every waking moment was consumed writing a book. With it completed, I again owned my life and was looking for a new obsession.

My driving force in life has always been pushing myself, taking on new challenges and mastering new skills. I thrive on exploring new places and always prefer to be outside with the wind on me as much as possible. So I gravitated to riding.

As I contemplated this big plunge, I made several assumptions. One was that riding a motorcycle would save money given that gasoline prices had just spiked. A second was that royalties from the book would pay for a motorcycle. But most of all, I assumed that having put in thousands of miles on road racing and mountain bicycles, and manual transmission cars for years, I'd pick up motorcycle riding easily.

These assumptions all turned out to be wrong. What I spent on motorcycling far exceeded any savings from higher gas mileage. I didn't sell enough books to cover the costs. And learning to ride was much, much more difficult than I expected. But it was also much more fulfilling. In life, I've always wanted to be where I'm not. And I'm rushing to get there.

In the few years since I began riding, I've fallen passionately in love with it. The average American motorcyclist rides 1800 miles per year. I did 16,000 my first year, 18,000 the second, and over 20,000 in the third. I've continued to average 15,000 to 16,000 miles per year even when I began writing a weekly column that eats up much of my Sundays. At night I often dream of squiggly lines on a map. Seriously.

When everything is clicking--I'm alone on a winding country road, I've got my "A" game, the music is in a groove--I sometimes forget the motorcycle is there and feel like I'm simply flying. If you don't want to take my word for it, trust Alton Brown.

Luckily, I live close to some fine riding, with twisty roads over mountain ridges, large state forests, miles of farmland (which often requires dodging Amish buggies), charming little towns (each different from all the others), and lots of historic sites. There's always somewhere new to see. (Here's a map of my favorite routes and road food). I particularly like combining riding with photography--one of my other passions.

When I began this blog I was riding a 2010 BMW R1200R. In BMW jargon, this bike was a "hexhead" (named because the engine cylinder covers are hexagonal). So these are the "Hexhead Diaries." I'll update them regularly with stories and pictures. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Between bad weather and commitments, I haven't had any rides worth blogging about for a few weeks, but wanted to pass along a comment I saw on one of the motorcycle discussion boards I frequent. For pure jaw dropping bizarreness, this is hard to top. The topic was the wearing of helmets. Even though I don't have to, I do. I favor riders being able to choose whether to wear one or not so long as who elect not to bear the costs of their decisions (i.e. insurance companies could reduce the death or injury payout to anyone who was in an accident without a helmet). I am, after all, a libertarian of sorts.

But, the person on the discussion board rationalized his decision to not wear a helmet by saying that he rode very fast and in a high speed crash, he was going to die whether or not he was wearing a helmet, so it really didn't matter. Some other genius added that he didn't wear a helmet because he would rather die than live with a brain injury and, according to his argument, wearing a helmet increased the chances of living but having a brain injury.

Both of these arguments were wrong on so many levels that I didn't even reply.

One thing I have found recently: after riding tentatively over the winter because of the gravel on the roads, I'm beginning to get my mojo back. Route 74 near my house has three tight hairpin curves where it crosses the mountain. Two have a recommended speed of 15 and one is 10. I normally go through at 25-35.

I can tell them I'm hitting them correctly when I lean so much that my boot rubs the ground. (Technically the foot peg should drag first but I tend to ride with my foot a bit splayed outward, which causes the side of my boot to hit first). Anyhow, That's what happened this week.

I did pass a benchmark: 50,000 lifetime miles in less than three years of riding. I'm proud that I've done that with only very minor mishaps--three low speed drops, one in my second week and one recently when I didn't see a patch of ice while pulling out of my drive.

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