Zen on Two Wheels

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”The man hunched over his motorcycle can focus only on the present instant of his flight; he is caught in a fragment of time cut off from both the past and the future; he is wrenched from the continuity of time . . . in other words, he is in a state of ecstasy; in that state he is unaware of his age, his wife, his children, his worries, and so he has no fear, because the source of fear is in the future, and a person freed of the future has nothing to fear.”  – Milan Kundera

I don’t remember the first time I rode a motorcycle. I was too young.  I remember the story my mother told me about that first time though, and through that story have created the memory.

Sitting in front of my father, as if on his lap, we sped around our large back yard.  His two-stroke Bultaco (or Can-Am or Maico, he was a bit eccentric when it came to motorcycles, a trait I inherited to some extent) sang like only oil-burners of the early 70s could. We did a small wheelie, and sped faster.  Ahead, a single path of dirt led to a small hump.  We approached it faster and faster.  Magical weightlessness for just a second, then an abrupt stop.  These things happen when you ride motorcycles.

My mother was horrified. She was no stranger to seeing my father crash, in fact she was quite used to it, but this time her toddler was with him.  She ran over from the patio of our green 70s suburban house to find us both rolling on the ground next to the sputtering motorcycle.  Paralyzed by laughter.

A few years later on Christmas is my real first ride memory.  My father somehow convinced my mother that her six year old should have his first motorcycle, a pull-start minibike.  That ride in the shallow snow of our front yard taught me about throttle control.  I tooled around for a few minutes and then decided to take a sharp left at the short single-strand wire fence put in to hold my mother’s roses.  That sharp left resulted in a firm twist of the throttle as my right arm moved forward.  Instant acceleration and panic led to an encounter with the fence.  I can still see the small scar on my right leg left by about 20 feet of wire rubbing it before the next post took me out completely.  I was back on that minibike by the end of the day.

A few years later we moved and I met a new friend.  His name was Al Russell, we played football and baseball together, got into fights over girls, and generally were best friends.  The kicker was that Al Russell Sr. owned a motorcycle shop.

I doubt it was my first time in a motorcycle shop but I will never forget walking into Al Russell’s Sports Center with my father and meeting Al Sr.  He welcomed us into his office, we talked for a bit then he started to show us bikes.  As we walked the showroom, he didn’t say anything but I knew my father wanted the shiny new YZ 250, the motocross bike of his dreams, but it’s littlest brother the YZ 80 would be too much motorcycle for his son and he wouldn’t be able to say no.  Soon we found exactly what we were looking for the MX 100 and MX 175.  The MX was the in-between model, not quite the bite of the YZ but more dirt worthy than the dual-sport DT.  The two shiny new white motorcycles were loaded in our pick-up and off we went.  The ride was smiles ear to ear, no words, just anticipation of that first ride on a new bike.

For the next several years before I left home for hockey and school I would ride for hours on end in the horse pasture or the vacant lot next door.  My mother would close the blinds and turn on the TV or the stereo to drown out the engine noise as she tried to keep her mind off of the next accident.  On weekends we rode in the desert, the mountains, and everywhere in-between.  I rode every day I could.

Those years were the beginning of my life-long love affair with motorcycles.  There have been tragedy like my father’s pre-mature death and eventually triumphs like college, marriage, and children that could have resulted in the end of the affair.  But my passion for motorcycles has endured.

Motorcycles have been a constant.  Even when I haven’t owned one I couldn’t stop thinking about what it would be like to ride that corner, that field, that mountain.  I’ve tried to swear off them altogether only to find myself lusting after the exhilaration, the freedom, and the focus they provide.

I’ve owned sportbikes, supermotos, and a grand prix race bike.  From the trails to the racetrack I’m at peace when I’m on two wheels.  It’s selfish I know.  We as motorcyclists talk about the comradery, the community, the friendships, but we all know deep down that what matters most is the relationship between you and your bike.  If we were honest we’d tell you it’s the only thing that really matters, the rest is at most a bonus, and often just camouflage.

Today, most of my rides are at trackdays, controlled environments friendly to motorcycles and those who like to ride them fast.  I follow MotoGP and watch the races and every motorcycle movie or documentary I can find.

My wife calls it an obsession; I agree with Kundera, it is ecstasy and freedom. Maybe she’s right, but we all need something that we can immerse ourselves in.  Something that is only about the present.  No fear of the future or pain of the past.  Just now.

This post isn’t specifically about writing, it’s about living in the present (good for writers too).  It’s a little bit Zen, just on two wheels.

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