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The Truth about Riding Motorcycles

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A white Harley Davidson sits on the shoulder of a broad country road under a brilliant blue sky.

This blog was prompted, believe it or not, by a troll commenter on Harley-Davidson’s Facebook page.  This particular fellow was egging on Harley riders by posting pictures of his lime-green sport motorcycle, boasting about how it outperformed a Harley 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.

A blazing sun sets over a back road, all viewed between the handlebars of a Harley Davidson motorcycle

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 – and riding fast is more exhilarating than the best roller coasters in the country.  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.

A Jeep Wrangler on back roads with the top off and windshield down
The closest any four-wheel vehicle will ever come to mirroring the experience of riding a motorcycle

Motorcycle Riding is a Fully Immersive Experience

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 motorcycle 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 (like my topless Jeep shown above).  You are fully exposed when you ride, with only your machine and your clothing 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.  Same thing for the blistering heat, which can be completely exhausting and unpleasant on a bike.

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.  Throw in the experience of the sky putting on a show over your head … there aren’t words for how that feels.

The sun sets on the horizon, setting the sky ablaze with brilliant oranges and reds

Why are Motorcycles so much fun to ride?

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.  If you aren’t taking the time to enjoy that experience, it eliminates a large part of why motorcycles are so much fun in the first place.

To steal Robert Pirsig’s analogy from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Repair – 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.  Riding a motorcycle, conversely, is to have a full and uninterrupted view of everything around you.  When you ride too fast, you are going to miss a lot.  Not only must you remain laser-focused on the road immediately in front of you, but you blast through so quickly that you miss everything around you.  The scenery becomes a blur.

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.  This post is neither about scolding nor about creating discord between riders.  What I am suggesting is that you miss out on a lot by doing so.  Next time you’re out, slow down a little bit and take a peek around you.  You might just be surprised at how much you’ve been missing.

The silhouette of a Harley Davidson motorcycle races across the blurred country back road
Just passin’ thru…..

 

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