How motorcycles are a rite of passage
My motorcycle story, an anthology.
Motorcycles are dangerous. The chances of you dying if you ride a motorcycle is greater than if you don’t. Let’s get that out of the way right now. No argument there. I don’t want to hear about all the stories you’ve heard about people crashing and dying and how it’s not the motorcyclist but the crazy drivers around her. I’ve heard all the stories. At least twice. I get it.
This article isn’t about trying to convince you they’re safe. I’m not here promote. I could care less if you buy one. I do, however, want to share the journey of becoming a motorcycist. Not just buying one to save gas or avoid traffic or because they have become cool and trendy. I’m referring to the motorcyclists who ride daily no matter the weather. Who go on three hour solo trips. Who would rather be on two wheels than four anytime. It become a part of them. Who they are. Their story.
The Honda Spree.
When I was a kid, I wanted a dirt bike. It was the 80’s and everyone had dirt bikes. They were what Sundays were about. They came in all sizes, from little 50cc dirt bikes to 500's. But my parents thought they were dangerous and refused to buy me one. So I watched my friends wash dirt off their bikes after a weekend of adventure.
I kept begging my parents.
Finally they gave in.
They bought me a little red Honda scooter.
Here it is below. 50ccs. This is the actual model.
While my friends were going to the track and taking dirt jumps, I rode this little fucker up the down the street sporting shorts and sandals.
But even on this little Skittle with wheels I felt something I’ve never felt before. A dettachment from the world. A connection to myself. A complete presence. A strange peace. When I was on my Honda Spree, I didn’t think about anything. I didn’t care about school or homework or what I wanted to be when I grew up. I felt wind on my face and a stirring in my soul. That’s it. Nothing else. And it was just for me. No one else.
Then I grew up, sold the scooter, got into other things like cars and girls. I got a job, paid taxes and chased things that I thought would make me happy. That feeling I felt on that little red scooter was soon a distant memory. It faded quickly like a summer fling.
In college, I begged my dad for a motorcycle. He said, Over my dead body. This is him on his motocycle in the 60’s. He fell off it once and broke his leg. I don’t even think he broke it. It was probably a sprang. He never got back on it again. I wish I could say my dad rode like the wind. That he was an Asian Steve McQueen. But he wasn’t. He probably rode it because he thought it would look cool. He would have been one of those riders who tells people he rides but keeps it in the garage for most of the year.
Then I got married and my wife was against motorcycles so I vowed to never get one.
Then I got divorced.
This photo below is of the day I brought home my very first motorcycle. I was in my mid thirties. It was a Ducati 650 Dark. I rode it all around LA, through canyons, Pacific Coast Highway, Ktown, to work, on weekends. I felt like Batman.
It was my call to adventure.
It was the first time I felt that feeling I had when I was a kid, connecting me to the spirit of that twelve year old with sandals and a shit eating grin.
I was going through the roughest time in my life. A rebirth and rebuilding. But when I was on this Ducati, my worries vanished. It snapped me right into the present. That’s the thing about motorcycles. It forces you to be present or you will die. So they become meditation machines.
It was also my best friend. I didn’t have many friends at this point in my life. I was freshly divorced and our friends were her friends so I had to start over and find new ones. My motorcycle became my first. It was always there for me. Ready for adventure anytime. And although it was just a machine, I bonded with it like a cowboy and his horse.
Ryan Reynolds once said motorcycles saved his life. I never understood what he meant by that until I got one. When he was a struggling actor, he rode the lonely streets of Hollywood often to get out of his head. To escape. To feel something.
I did the same.
While I was entering my man journey, getting something that was dangerous and frowned upon by family and others did something to me. It forced me into the arena. It forced me to stand alone. Pick up my sword. Slay my dragons. Riding my motorcycle became a rite of passage.
Right of passage. — A ritual or ceremony signifying an event in a person’s life indicative of a transition from one stage to another, as from adolescence to adulthood.
It became a bridge for me, connecting me to my inner child and a part of myself I hadn’t yet discovered. The adult. It was on my motorcycle, logging in hours and hours of riding, by myself, with a passenger, with friends, where I developed courage, independence, and feedom.
My second motorcycle was a Triumph Scrambler. It was the perfect hybrid of the dirt bike I never had as a kid and a cafe racer — a lightweight, lightly powered motorcycle optimized for speed and handling rather than comfort. A look made popular when European kids stripped down their small-displacement bikes to zip from one café hangout to another. In this case, a therapist zipping from one cafe to another to do therapy sessions.
It’s still one of my favorite bikes. I have a photo of Steve McQueen on one in my living room. I love this photo. It represents adventure. I framed it as a reminder to myself to always seek nectar.
It was the bike that I truly experienced the joy of motocyclying on. The Ducati was my trainning wheels. It gave me a taste but fear and uncertainty kept me from total submersion, when you’re hugging canyons and you and the bike become one. When the motorcycle becomes an extention of you as you slowly disappear. The Triumph Scramber gave me that, a blending of man and machine. It at that intersection the feeling of flying happens.
You are no longer human.
My next bike was a Harley 48. Harleys are very different bikes. If a Triumph is a ninja, a Harley is a cowboy. They are loud. They rattle. Take lots of gas. Loaded with American power, they don’t just slip in, they announce they are here. The positioning is different as well. Instead of sitting straight up and down, your legs are propped up like you’re sitting on a Lazy Boy. The first time I rode a harley, I felt like Jesse James coming into town.
I modified it into a Bobber with fat white wall tires, a single spring seat, custom exhaust, and high T-bars.
This bike gave me permission to make riding about me. No passengers. Just me and a throaty exhaust. I rode this daily, to the gym, movies, and diners. Cruised the streets of Silverlake and Echo Park. I learned to slow down. Go straight. It gave me a stance. I felt powerful instead of nimble. It was a different feeling. An evolution. It also reminded me I could die on these machines. As I fished tailed and slammed into a car. But luckily walked away without a scratch.
The white stallion.
I’ll start with a question. Who in the hell buys a white Harley? Two years ago, I would have never bought a white bike. Never. Motorcycles should be grey or black or flat black. Any dark color that hides dirt and scars. White is for scooters. So I went back and forth for literally a month. My guy friends can vouch for the annoying back and forth on our group text threads. I didn’t want to have buyer’s remorse. I didn’t want this to be a J. Crew sweater. Looks great on the mannequin at the store. Then you bring it home and realize you bought an orange sweater.
When I first saw this bike, I was drawn to it immediately for some reason. It has controversy surrounding it. This bike is disruptive and creates a split. The old vs the new. Harley redefined its entire line up this year. This one’s the most controversial. Because it’s built new from ground up. Upside down forks, a box headlight?! The old die hard Harley fans hate it. But the new Harley kids seem to like it because it’s one of the best Harley’s ever built.
Anyway, I love disruption. I love controversy. I love things that have something to say. It’s also very unassuming. It has the power to back up any color. It has a quiet confidence, doesn’t posture. It reminds me of who I want to be. But I think the real reason why I got it was because I wanted to buy something not all my friends liked or approved of. I wanted to get something that had push back from the world. And be okay with it. That would be my stretch. I used to never be able to buy something I truly liked unless all my friends approved. Motorcyclists will have opinions when I roll up. Some may give me a thumb. Some, another finger. This was treatment for me.
It’s also a hybrid of the Scramble and the 48. It’s sporty and handles like the Triumph but has the brass balls of a Harley Davidson.
And everytime I get on this machine, it reminds me who I want to be and where I can to go. I had to ride and shed many to finally feel comfortable on this one. The evolutions of my different motorcycles parallels my own evolution as a human. As a man. As a seeker. Each represented something. My truth at the time. And by riding it, I was standing on my truth and entering a new rite of passage with a better me on the other side.
No one buys a motorcycle because they’re safe.
We ride because it represents something. Courage. Freedom. Love. Exploration. A connection to parts of us we have stuff away. Or haven’t discovered yet. We ride to be a part of something. We ride to connect with others.
We ride because we choose to lean into the unknown.
Because we want to go on a journey.
We can not afford to be idle.
- Nick Cave
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