When motorcyclists’ approach their bikes, their heart rate speeds up as they throw a leg up and sink down to the black leather. It’s their rightful position: between the tires, over the twin, and into the wind.
I turn the ignition and push my thumb into the start button. Twisting the throttle, my golden-black, chrome trimmed machine opens her fierce throat, and I got ride.
Leaving the driveway, I start slow and think it’s going to be a casual ride. Stopped at a light, I realize I’ve already passed a few lights and now I’m positioned to merge onto the highway. Seeing the green arrow, gravity thrusts my back against the seat. Sunlight flashes on the Harley-Davidson emblem and a casual, slow day fades away in a small cloud of exhaust.
The road opens and my bike moves to the front of the pack; wind buffets my face and relaxation washes over me. Two lanes converge and I jump the 202 noticing the green blinker light on my bike’s shining chrome instrument panel. A small white car to my right moves closer; shifting lanes again, I lean into the wind, and in seconds I’m slip-sliding away at 75 mph.
Cruising now, but a black truck in front of me is spilling small rocks from its full bed. I twist the throttle and the Big Twin’s pant and roar quickly sends me past the hazard. In minutes, I relax; sinking deeper into the leather seat, I notice the sound of the engine. It’s a sound I enjoy. A smile, fueled by the adrenaline-rich alchemy of heat, highway, and Harley, crosses my face.
A few minutes on the highway and time for a lane change to the 60 merge. A first overpass is bathed in a subtle light-red mixed with shadow. Only the heat, light, and shadow of the desert can paint like this. I survey it all and understand why my heart rate speeds up: an open road, colors, sounds, smells, and my body tingling from Cleopatra’s good vibrations under me. I’ve taken this road before, but every day is different. Today, desert winds deliver a dark, smoky odor, and perhaps tomorrow it will be the acrid scent of livestock, or roadkill. I’m engaging life. I’m not on my cellphone, or watching television. I’m alive and keeping distractions out of my mind will keep me alive.
A zeppelin, tethered by a long line to the ground, waves over the Lexus dealer next to the highway and it reminds me of the Hindenburg and its world-shaking explosion. The world of motorcycling started with explosions, and I remember the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and their draftsman’s diagram of the Big Twin along with a three word explanation describing in layman’s terms what’s happening inside the engine below me: suck, bang, blow. I regret not buying the Suck, Bang, Blow T-shirt at the museum.
Coming to an overpass cluster, I notice my bikes steep tilt into the corner line. My confidence is unshaken. I trust the Dunlop’s to hold gravity and they do. I feel the bike below and I move quickly to avoid being cut-off by a distracted driver in a silver van with a dirty back windshield.
Over my left shoulder to the east, mountains shimmer with a subtle purple; to the west, a setting sun looks small but turns my face golden. The amoral highway below me reflects the glare of my headlights and I am unchained from duty. Everything is loud and yet soothing; and at 80 miles an hour, mystery is found in experience. The sound from below is the engine’s suck, bang, blow. Not everybody loves it. Riders don’t care.
There is mystery in the sight of wind, the sound of purple mountains, and the touch of highway music. Bikers flash their tattoos and emblems while taking a quick sideways glance at desert shadows falling, and the unfolding drama below me happening in six gears. The drama is like life itself — a mosaic — a colorful collection of obstacles and hazards, autos and animals, senses and mysteries.
Next to me, in autos, the caged-ones are distracted: eating, texting, drinking, smoking, talking. Perhaps they are repentant, but I am not; neither is the road. Bikers know this, yet choose to travel that color-shifting journey no matter the weather. They ride to be alive, to get wind in the face, to fight gravity. Riders proclaim, you got the cell phone, but I GOT RIDE.
The world grudgingly acknowledges our choices, and we agree with the risk and reward of cycling’s big mysteries in movement. We see you looking out your windows to stare and point. We see you in your vehicles insulated from color, sound, wind, heat, cold, rain, snow, ice, dust, smell. We see you. Do you see us?
You cannot know how biker shift happens and how we coax out textures and sounds from spaces between gravel and air. To be or not to be; this is not a question; because if the choice is either sitting between the wheels, over the twin, and into the wind versus sitting in a stale container messing with the cell phone, the Cheetos, and the dirty windows, I’ll take the smell, the sound, and the heat every time. The vocabulary of the Big Twin’s explosions drips down from Shakespeare: To be or not to be?
I choose to be!
Because I GOT RIDE.
YOGA AND LEATHER: Yoga for Bikers is Gregory Ormson’s niche yoga offering. He conducts classes for motorcycle riders at Superstition Harley Davidson in Apache Junction, Arizona. The following are benefits of yoga for riders and a suggested way to start.
YOGA BENEFITS FOR BIKERS
Increased core strength and overall muscle tone through weight bearing and power postures. Builds strength for long days on the road.
Improved balance and strength by practicing one-leg standing postures and better control in tight U turns and backing.
Increased mental focus and coordination, clarity of thought developed by silence linked to conscious awareness in yoga practice. Life and death on the bike is directly related to mental focus and clarity.
Improved sleep after a hard yoga practice leading to alert awareness while driving, deeper sleep leads to increased energy on the road.
Improved posture and improved flexibility for back and neck comfort on rides.
Immune system boosted by massage of internal organs through poses of constriction and release and through practice of breath control. Internal organs take a pounding on the bike, and yoga’s corrective is a full body massage through posture and breath work.
Improved response to stress by postures that place stress on the body and yoga teaching a new response: to relax and breathe in the midst of stress. This leads to staying calm on the road — the first lesson taught in Motorcycle Safety Foundation riders’ class.
WHEN BIKERS AND RIDERS START YOGA
Start out easy with beginner classes, like YOGA AND LEATHER. Be patient and give yourself time. Observe how you improve when following breathing exercises, focusing in meditation, or moving in asana. You may find increased range of motion in your neck or more comfort and depth when twisting from side to side. Perhaps the forward and backward bending in your class will begin strengthening your back around your spine. You might notice your balance improving, and that you concentrate better. Maybe this will translate to other areas in your life.
You may notice how yoga’s lessons on breathing and relaxation in the midst of stress become applicable to driving or life problems. Breathing deeply is so important, that breathing alone may be enough to shift perspective and bring calm.
Get beyond stereotypes — both others’ and your own — the benefits of yoga for riders are too important to let worn out cultural ideas stop us from shedding old skin. “The times they are a changing,” Bob Dylan wrote. Yes they are, and yoga practice in a Harley Davidson dealership proves it. �0Uoe