This blog was prompted, believe it or not, by a troll commenting on Harley-Davidson’s Facebook page. This fellow was egging on Harley riders by posting pictures of his lime-green sport bike and boasting about how it outperformed Harley bikes in every way imaginable: better acceleration, better handling, better brakes… on and on.
He might well be right. All of that likely is true – most Harleys are not built for sheer performance numbers. But here’s the bottom line in my mind: if you are riding strictly to get from Point A to Point B as fast as humanly possible, you’re missing out on a large part of the joy of riding motorcycles.
Don’t get me wrong – I love the blast of acceleration and the thrill of leaning hard into a perfectly-banked bend in the road. Riding a motorcycle is a relationship between the machine and its rider that’s unlike any other driving experience. Once you are at home on your machine, there’s nothing that matches the feeling of knowing intimately how it will respond to your input.
But riding a motorcycle is far more than just being able to blow away the competition at red lights or ripping through bends like some high-speed Gran Prix racer. It’s not just a relationship between man and machine; one of the biggest perks of riding a motorcycle is the connection made between man and his surroundings. Being on a motorcycle is about being enveloped by your surroundings, being fully immersed in the experience of the environment you’re traveling through.
I had a conversation a few years ago with a close friend of mine who was considering purchasing a motorcycle. He was looking for insight into what I thought about riding – what I loved, what I hated, etc. He wasn’t looking for specific suggestions about brands or bikes, but for general feedback about riding itself – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
After maybe 10 or 15 minutes of conversation, I struck upon a way of describing it that fit perfectly in my mind – riding a motorcycle is a highly visceral experience, far more so than driving a car or even a convertible. You are fully exposed when you ride, with only your machine and your clothing available to provide you with any means of “climate control” and protection. Love it or hate it, all the sensations of your surroundings are magnified – riding a motorcycle through the rain is a far more unpleasant experience than driving through it.
But riding your motorcycle on a beautiful sunny day? No other means of transportation can compare. The smell of fresh air and flowers, the warmth of the sun on your body, the cool refreshing blast of air as you ride…. there’s just no comparison to how that feels. It’s an easily-accessible gateway to heaven on earth.
And, in my mind at least, if you are spending that beautiful day blazing through the miles as quickly as you possibly can, the surrounding landscapes blowing past you in a blur… that’s just missing out on such a huge part of the joy. When you ride, you have a 360 degree panorama at all times. To steal Robert Pirsig’s analogy – driving a car is a bit like watching television: watching through tiny windows into your surroundings, instead of being able to view the entire atmosphere. And to ride fast is to miss a lot – not only must you remain so laser-focused on the road immediately in front of you, but you blast through so quickly that you miss everything around you.
One last thought about riding: it’s a highly personal thing. Everyone gets something different out of riding, everyone enjoys different things about riding, and everyone enjoys riding in different ways. I’m not suggesting that riding fast is WRONG and YOU SHOULDN’T DO THAT. What I am suggesting is that you miss out on a lot by doing so.