“We are a group of complete individuals, and I mean individuals. Every one of us has a different reason for being who we are. The only thing we agree on is our love for the club. That, and our love for motorcycles.” – Sonny Barger, a Hells Angel
When I was growing up, I wasn’t close to anyone with a motorcycle, so all I knew about the machines, and those who rode them, was what I’d see in cartoons, or in movies. In my adolescence I’d taken in just a few certainties: motorcycle dudes are tough, they really like their bikes, and they could die at any moment. I knew that you needed one if you wanted to save the world. I knew strong guys rode them. I knew, if you were a woman rider, you had to be the walking epitome of sex, or have skin like leather left in the Texan sun. I knew you had to have a heart tattoo that read “mom” and enough skull tattoos that no one else could give you crap about it. For years, this was what I knew, and chances are, what you know too. We were, and are, wrong.
In college, I wanted to ride. I don’t know how to explain why. This sort of thing just calls to you like the scent of bacon wafting up the stairs on a Sunday morning, and my bacon was ready to burn. Excited and terrified that I’d fall off and die, I enrolled in classes to get my license.
Showing up to the class, I didn’t know what the choke was and didn’t even know you had to manually change gears on a motorcycle. None the less, after two days, I had it bad. I found myself waking up before the sun to head out and hop on the bike. Warm-up laps around our little parking lot full of cones became my fifteen minute trips out west. Every turn became a fish-tail dive under a semi-truck before I righted the bike upright and continued to escape the ensuing villains that were the people warming their bikes up behind me.
Proudly holding up my license, freshly printed with a little “cy” under the endorsements section, I told my parents that I couldn’t wait to get a bike and that I’d be riding everywhere. Think of all the gas I’d save! I had to start looking for my noble steed immediately. I had a girlfriend to throw on the back and tote around, dammit!
Sadly, there are no motorcycle garages on this earth where you just go pick one up for free and ride till you die. I needed a deal. I needed a blessing.
After a year of looking at bikes, then looking at the lint in the bottom of my wallet, then looking back at the bikes, I had started to lose hope. I started to say things like, “I can’t wait to get my first real job so I can afford a bike,” and, “My first bike will look just like that one over there, mom” as I’d point through our car window, preparing myself emotionally to not ride a day after my actual classes for five to ten years. What a tease. If vehicles are snacks, then motorcycles are Pringles; I was dying after tasting just one.
Then the miracle happened. A good friend’s dad was moving to Chicago to take a job and he didn’t feel like taking all three of his bikes. I was at home playing video games when I got the call from my buddy asking if I was still looking for a bike. Of course I was still looking. I went over to see the bike his old man was looking to dump on someone, and my heart fluttered. The man was outside wiping it down with a rag, like we’d just come out from a commercial break in Sons of Anarchy. I lightly rubbed the side of the bike and the handlebars the same way you feel a newborn’s skin.
He explained to me the specs: it was a Honda CB 750 Nighthawk. Made in 1997 with 14,000 miles on it so far. He never got out to ride it much. My eyes popped. This was by far the nicest bike I had looked at with any hope of buying. I glanced up from the tank to his gaze.
“How much do you want for it?”
“I’m just looking for someone who will ride it and enjoy it like it deserves… $400.”
(In my mind I drop to my knees and thank Jesus)
“Are you serious? When could I take it?”
“You can ride it home right now. Just give me the money whenever you get it. Don’t worry about that. Don’t trouble yourself. Just love it for me.”
I hopped on that sucker, revved it up and burst through the front yard, swerved around a light pole, and went flying back across the yard and out the driveway. I hadn’t ridden in so long, I barely knew how to get the thing started moving (that’s the hardest part of riding in my opinion, especially if you’re a newbie) and once it started, that thing rode me. Not wanting to stop, because I knew I couldn’t start it, I just circled in nearby parking lots while I waited for red lights to change and traffic to clear on my way home. Like a mother on the first day of kindergarten, the seller waved to me as I sped down the street and yelled, “You’ll be great!”
This was mid-summer this year and, since then, I’ve fallen for everything biking has to offer. I found myself taking three-hour rides through the country with no destination, or even an idea where I was going. I’d stop at a park in a small town I’d never heard of and eat crackers I’d brought in a backpack. Riding a motorcycle on a nice country road, on a sunny day is the closest you can feel to becoming an angel and flying around. You lose track of everything. You stop thinking. You become one with the road. This couldn’t be what all those boot-wearing, leather-clad gangs were into, right? This was too beautiful.
On the road, other bikers are much less common than cars, even on nice days, but I discovered we can all pick each other out in an instant. Flying down a four-lane road, I passed a man going the other direction with a big, grey beard down to his waist on a nice Harley. He didn’t look over, but put out his left hand as though he has casting down a staff, or holding on to a handrail. After my first ride, I discovered this was standard. In different parts of town, the county, the state, almost all bikers will reverently show their left hand to a fellow biker, to another man who understands what they do. The brotherhood is addicting. The eyes on you at stop signs and at intersections, the heat of the engine rising straight up to one’s chest, that shift into the last gear… it is all so much richer than expected. Hundreds of miles I could ride, from Lake Huron to Michigan and back among fellow brothers, in the beautiful Michigan summer weather.
Like any summer fling, things eventually had to change. It started to rain more. The weather got cooler and cooler, eventually leading to frost in the morning. Was this all I got? I grumpily tucked my motorcycle in the back of the garage after taking a few more rides to look at the magnificent change of the leaves, bringing the bike out maybe once a week, instead of three times a day. I started watching Sons of Anarchy every night on Netflix. I look at bikes online, and I go to shops and shows any chance I get. While riding my pedal bicycle across Iowa, I stopped with my dad at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa and stayed a few hours. Hard to resist the magic I feel around bikes now. They call to me, like a driveway hoop after you’ve just watched a great basketball game on TV.
Is this what I’m doomed for? Is this even a doom? I can’t save the world, I’m not in a gang, and I certainly am not the toughest guy, but the addiction is so real. The feeling of freedom is just right there in the garage. I guess all of these thoughts and questions will just have to wait… it’s finally a nice day out, and I’ve got to go ride.
Wish you could come too.
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