Thursday, March 27, 2008

It's a motorcycle story - about bicycling!

I wrote this in 1995, I think, based on the motorcycles I owned. It ran in CityBike, the San Francisco free monthly motorcycle paper that has provided me with my longest-lasting job ever. You will read a subtle reference or two near the end of this piece about loud exhaust pipes and the folks who defend them, claiming they are safety items. See what you think...

Saving Lives

Every so often CityBike Publisher Brian Halton asks me to write about bicycling and motorcycling, about what's the same and what's different.

Usually I resist. I can't imagine many CityBike readers caring much about bicycling, but perhaps my attitude is outdated. I remember when few motorcyclists (except motocrossers, who used them for exercise) saw bicycles as anything but toys or rolling roadblocks on the scenic routes. Mountain bikes changed that perception, I expect.

Then, when I got numbers of letters from experts about road safety, I began to rethink Halton's request. There are some aspects of bicycling that might interest CityBike readers...

My friends and I do six or eight or 10,000 miles a year, every year, on our bicycles. Ninety-five makes 20 years for me. I'm not bragging about that, I'm only telling you what's true.

Bicycles aren't like motorcycles - if you want to ride with your friends on Sunday and you'd like to have a pleasant time, you have to get out a few times during the week. Do that week after week and the miles add up.

I know people with 35,000 miles on a bicycle, a damn bicycle, on its third or fourth paint job.

People by the thousands ride 100 miles on a weekend day, all kinds of people, men and women, young and old. Just like motorcyclists, some of them are better riders, safer, more skillful, more considerate than others. Just like motorcyclists, a few are assholes.

Most of us ride on tires an inch and an eighth wide. Our brakes are simple devices that squeeze rubber pads against the sides of our wheel rims. No ABS. We don't have horns or full-time lights.

We're out there every day, on the same roads you ride on your scoot. We average maybe 18mph, 10 or 12mph up the hills, 25 or 30 or more down them. So if there are 100 cars on one of those roads, at one point or another we're in close proximity to all 100; they all come by.

On your motorcycle, you're close to two cars; one in front of you and one behind. You feel funny about them, you want to get away, you gas it. We don't have that option.

We intimidate no one. No one thinks we're armed. No one worries that if they piss us off we'll chase them down in their V-8 pickup, drag 'em out and kick the shit out of 'em. It could happen; the sky could fall.

When I'm not on a bicycle, I'm typically on one of my BMWs. I believe there's an affinity between bicycle people and BMWs. Certainly, BMW has supplied bikes for marshal use at major bicycle races for years, here and in Europe. Kawasaki supplies dozens of bikes to the Tour de France.

I've put 30,000 miles-plus on my R80ST in three years, and about 10,000 on my K-bike in the last 14 months. I've ridden a few thousand miles on rented and borrowed bikes in various places: back east, in Oklahoma and Atlanta and Minneapolis.

I know men and women who put lots of miles, I guess, on all kinds of motorcycles, not just BMWs. In all conditions, all four seasons, all kinds of roads. My buddy Simon has over 200,000 miles on his '87 K75S. Garve Nelson racks up big miles on several Hondas and his big Yamaha.

I know lots of riders with 50, even 100,000 miles on their odometers. Without exception, their motorcycles are hardly louder than a ten-speed right after a thorough chain-lube.

Somehow, by some miracle, out there in that same world you cruise on your scoot, on those same mean streets, all those high-mileage motorcyclists and all my bicyclist friends have managed to survive.

Tell me loud pipes save lives and you can kiss my sweaty Lycra-clad ass.

Saving lives has not a goddamn thing to do with it.

The truth is: You want to be loud. You want to be the cock of the walk, to force people to notice you as you pass through their lives. Obnoxious is a word you apply to other people.

Be loud. Be whatever you want. Don't wrap safety-consciousness around yourself like a goddamn Volvo ad. If the highways were empty, would you put stock pipes back on?

Loud pipes save shit.

Teenage girls ride more miles on ten-speeds in a year than you do on a $13,000 motorcycle. They save their own lives - by learning how to ride.

You could do the same. You won't.

1 comment:

Ed W said...

Motorcyclists and bicyclists have to know all the same traffic laws as any motorist, but they also need another set of skills on top of that knowledge in order to operate safely on the roads. Some motorists 'get it' and understand why we do things differently - like crossing carefully on railroad tracks, manhole covers, and painted lane markers when they're wet. Some motorists don't. That's one reason I'd like to see motorcycle and bicycle education included as a routine part of driver's ed.