The Happiness of The Motorcycle
People think it’s about danger or speed — but it’s not
This article is going to be a miss.
I can already tell you that.
Because when it comes to talking about motorcycles, there are only two* camps of people:
- Those who already get it. They get it so hard that they don’t need it explained to them — and to be honest, you can never do half the job of explaining it to them as they already understand. Best you can do is “biker wave” at each other in passing; a single nod on some summer-sunned backroad somewhere.
- Those who don’t. Because they don’t ride. Because they’re gonna read these words and hear “bike” as some 2-dimensional, almost “storybook” object, like when we first read the word “bunny” and run our fingertips over fuzzy fur glued onto a baby book page, understanding “bunny” as the idea of “bunny,” and knowing more about that book — and bunny illustration — than the real bunny itself.
*Some readers want me to point out that there is a third group: those who don’t yet ride. And yes, obviously. But what I’m saying is this article will do nothing to throw them over that line. It’s something you have to touch and feel, not read.
My mom tells me I tore apart my “Pat the Bunny” book as a kid. Like, literally. Ripped the fur off the pages and stuck my fingers into the raw parts of the cardboard and gnawed on the edges until they were worn down, mangled and warped.
(If you’re wondering why my mother didn’t do a better job of corralling my book behavior, I guess my response to this is a.) mind your own business, Suzy Q. b.) I was her first kid, so she didn’t know better and c.) With my mama, we had to learn those “once you chew your book up it’s chewed up for good” lessons the hard way.)
But imagine, for a second, what kind of baby bites her own bunny book into a pulpy mess and rips the sweet little fur bits clean off its pages and then feels no ragrets over this. Maybe all kids do this. But moreover, it was an example, one of many more incidents where I did what I wanted.
Maybe, more times than not, that’s the kind of baby that grows up to get into shit like bikes (?)
Nothing makes me quite as happy as the bike does
I have a “cognitive function” explanation for this. I’m not sure it’s true and I’m pretty sure most people won’t like it, but: I blame it on “exercising my inferior extroverted sensing,” and if that means anything to you, then 👍👍👍
If not, then here’s this: goddamn it feels good to do. And feel. And be.
Does it not? I mean, does it damn not?? Like, the sort of wind-in-your-hair, cheesecake on your tongue Life Shit. First sip of cold beer on a hot summer day, the feel of a new lover’s hip, gravel beneath your fingertips. Those moments when you’re hyper-hyper here here HERE.
Bikes are like all of those super-mashed into one mega-moment, but over and over the whole time you ride. And damn, it feels good.
And not, like, speed
Everyone always thinks it’s about speed and those people make me so sad. Like, you could tell me I could never again ride over 60 mph and I’d be like “aiight. but I can still ride???” and I would. Every day.
The joy is from the way it sits gathered underneath you, from your backbone to its wheels; that line of energy from your palm to its forks to the road; that tension and explosion and potential and machinery and heat.
“I don’t care about zero to sixty,” I tell people when they ask. “I just love the line.” The live wire of tension between you, the bike, the road.
It’s about few things:
- Simplicity. Sometimes I’ll suddenly remember that somebody put the concept of a motorcycle together for me — like, somebody invented this thing, a damn motor on top of two wheels; the sweet bastard baby of a car and a bicycle, some “lost boy” of the vehicle world — and that thought just guts me to pieces. (Thank you to everyone who invented, built, and works on bikes. *hearts eyes.*)
- “Responsiveness.” Maybe there’s a better word for it, but I’ll be damned if I know it! “Responsiveness” isn’t just about speed off the line — whatever — but moreover the way it feels underneath you. Like when you “ask” a little more of him in a corner and he’s like “oh yeah, girl — I’m on it!” Or when you breathe a little on one side of the handlebars and he’s like “yuh, babe. turning.”
That’s it. That’s pretty much the whole list.
If you asked me to list more things, I’d just blow out “simplicity” into specifics, which frankly is super ironic.
Other drivers tho
Yep. They’re dangerous! Ain’t nobody refuttin that!
But bikers don’t ride because we’re not afraid of other drivers — we ARE. We just ride despite it. Bikers ride because we love riding more than we’re afraid of other drivers. We know we could die every. single. time. we go out. Any rider who tells you otherwise is lying. I think about it every single time I ride.
I just love riding more.
General safety tho
Nobody’s here to convince you bikes are safer — they aren’t.
Yeah. Weather. This is one of the biggest questions I get.
But, like there’s weather all the time. Weather every day regardless.
Look. Not to get all hippie dippy on you, because I definitely don’t love riding in the rain or cold — nobody does — but, just like the above: it’s just worth it.
The joys I get from riding is worth the inconvenience of getting wet or cold. And even though I’ll avoid both if I can, I’ll happily go out headfirst into them if it means the bike is with me through it all.
Again, all riders get it. Few non-riders will.
Lol, this is the easy part.
Gas. We all think of gas. And yeah, I’m not here to lie to you: shit’s nice. Like, it’s $8 to fill up and it lasts me… two (more?) weeks driving it to work and back every day, and it’s kind of nice.
I own my bikes. Everything I’ll ever pay is what I already paid, and the bikes and I ain’t even heard of the likes of “interest.”
Cost to maintain. I will never get hit with a bill greater than a couple grand, because that’s the value of either bike, and at the point I’d just sell it.
Insurance. Probably? I can’t remember what I used to pay for my Grand Am.
Parking. I pay zero dollars and park across the street from my office.
There’s so much I could say on this one but it’s all so ironic (see: simplicity), so I won’t.
Suffice it to say: strip away everything that is not OF ABSOLUTE ESSENCE. Amplify and explode out everything else.
No roof. No windshield. No windshield wipers. No seats. No seat heaters. No seat belts. No radio. No fuel gage. No cup holders. Only 2 rearview mirrors (at most.) No privacy.
But in its place: an engine with the power of a car. a seat. your enjoyment.
That, and when the ribbon fades away beneath you and you’re floating on top of a river. Damn, that’s good.
It feels good like austere, minimalist apartments feel good. Like a good, single pair of shoes. Like function over form. Like the colors white and maybe gray — like the white noise of road and the gray of it rushing beneath.
I was sleeping on an air mattress (for a year) when I got the bike, and a bike feels “simple” in a way that’s kinda beautiful and honest like that.
Unless you get a 70’s café racer. (Side note: you can always tell who has a 70’s café because the minute after they tell you they have a bike and you ask them what kind, they look down and to the side and pause in a way that I don’t even see people who have lost their parents to cancer do.)
Imagine something that filled you with that warm, expansive, overbrimming joy like your dog (or cat, whatever), except also add in an incredibly low-maintenance element.
He never jumps up on me. He never needs to go out, or get fed. He doesn’t chase squirrels all erratic. And yeah, I have to fire him up periodically, but I do that anyway, so NBD!
The ROI on that bike is insane. Like, literally insane. I’m getting away with murder getting to ride that thing every day like I do.
Kind of hard to describe.
I’m not big of public art, but one of my favorite statues ever is “Appeal to the Great Spirit” in Tulsa, OK — built in 1909, it’s a Native American rider on top of a horse. Sounds boring, right? Sounds like every other statue — I hear you.
Except it’s not. Whereas every other status has a rider in a position of “action,” sword forward or flag raised or rearing or rein-yanking his poor horse in the mouth (like Captain James Jack shall forever be immortalized in a Charlotte park), the rider in “Appeal to the Great Spirit” is a trusting, humble power stance — eyes closed*, arms out wide but down, palms up, a full surrender but, simultaneously, a full, expansive expression of the human form — and human experience.
And that’s a bit like the bike.
The first few times I took it out, the whole thing was so “vulnerable” it made me shudder. You feel very naked on a bike — not so much “stripper” as, say, “nudist” — but you have no choice but to wear it all on your sleeve and be okay. Like, yeah — this is my body. This is me. My motorcycle has a broken mirror and that’s him, too. This is us, and now.
*I think of his eyes as closed; definitely don’t care if they actually are.
LOVE AND UNMATCHED JOY
I just can’t with this one.
I could tell you what I have. I could describe for you the ways the road fades away into a ribbon and then the bike bleeds into the road and I wash away into both of them. I could tell you about the live wire that runs from my right elbow, down my forearm, into my cocked wrist and my hand wrapped my throttle, on long rides. I could tell you about feeling of a horse with the temperament and endurance of a car beneath me, ever-willing and ready to go. I could tell you about the point-to-point contact between the the asphalt, my knee bones, the bridge of my nose. I could tell you about the way love and pleasure and happiness feels from your palms to your feet, through your legs and your butt and your back and your neck and, most of all, where it always lands: right in the center of your damn sternum, like a broad, wide palm.
You can’t write about a bike without it sounding vaguely sexual. Which, frankly, makes sense, because being fundamentally “human” (authentically so, anyway) is sexual. And riding is very “fundamental-human.”
But I can’t really describe it, and I can’t give it to you. It’s a joy for each person has to find for themselves.
You just have to get on one. And either you will, or you won’t.