Motorcycle GearHead

Eric on Valkyrie

Thinking Happy Thoughts

OK, full disclosure up front; I’m a bike nut. By saying ‘nut’, I don’t mean to imply that I’m reckless—I teach a couple dozen MSF motorcycle safety classes per year, and I try hard to practice what I preach. But I am compulsive about bikes; I live, and breathe, and dream motorcycles. I tell Sue that so long as it’s other bikes that catch my roving eye, as opposed to other women, then it’s OK.

Right? Well, yeah… so long as I don’t run up the debt.

I will never catch up with Jay Leno’s collection (not even close), but my next bike will make for a lifetime total of fifty (I’m aiming for one hundred, but don’t tell Sue). I suffer from MBS (Multiple Bike Syndrome), and it can be infectious. For those who know bikes, I currently own a Goldwing (Sue’s favorite), a Valkyrie Tourer, a Moto Guzzi 1200 Sport, and a Buell Ulysses.

Envious? You should be. 😉

So, what is it about bikes? Why do some folk think that motorcyclists are crazy, while others (me, for one) cannot imagine why anyone would deprive themselves of such an exhilarating experience? As an aside, I have a cousin who once voiced the opinion that riding bikes was like riding a ‘murder-cycle’, and the kicker was that he’s a firefighter. That is a very admirable career and I laud him for it, but please—to chastise me for riding a motorcycle, while he voluntarily ventures into burning buildings!

But I digress. Back to the question: Why do some people so deeply love motorcycles? It’s no mystery to me, but when I try to describe the feeling to people who haven’t been there, it can be quite the challenge.

Sorta like trying to convince me of the allure of cauliflower.

I once read a statement by a fellow motorcycle fanatic, errr… aficionado, and he said something along the lines of ‘When you’re driving a car, it’s like sitting and watching a movie, but when you’re riding a bike, you are the movie.’ I think that sums it up pretty well.
Driving a car is not a simple thing (even though the people who text, or shave, or do whatever else while behind the wheel are in effect pretending that it is simple). But even so, riding a motorcycle requires a much higher level of participation.
My dear Mom is ninety and still drives her car. She’ll occasionally ride on the back of my Goldwing (a Barcalounger on wheels, as far as passenger accommodations go), but there is no way she could actually pilot a bike. On a bike the rider is very physically engaged, especially on twisty roads (the best kind), where the rider leans with the bike and shifts his body weight, rotating his focus through the curve while pressing through the corner, all while coordinating throttle, front and rear brakes and perhaps clutch control. And trying to ignore the giggling. Ooops, I guess that’s me…

It’s an invigorating experience; I feel very alive, and absorbed, when I ride. And all I have to do to live the thrill is roll the bike out of the garage and fire it up.

A common bit of advice is to write what you know, but how to incorporate motorcycles into a science fiction/fantasy novel? I compromised by deploying a purpose-built biped in ‘Guild of the Viizar’, where a conventional motorcycle would have been sorely out of place in the minimal-gravity lunar environment. Here’s a blurb.

The handlebar yanked violently in his white-knuckled grip, nearly wrenching itself free, and Airen found himself fighting to stay astride the vehicle as it skewed wildly to the left. He yelped—loud inside a suited helmet—and the front wheel was caught up in a diverging rut in the rocky formation concealed just below the loose, chalk-colored surface. Airen twisted the throttle open to lighten a front wheel that was digging in, and he wrenched the bars to free the wheel from its rutted diversion. Surface matter arced out in a lazily floating plume behind the paddle-treaded tire, lending the illusion of a sedate cruise. The rear end abruptly came back around, whipping nearly 180 degrees the opposite direction, and with little traction the biped slewed from side to side, threatening to suddenly catch and fling him headlong from the saddle.

Sound like fun?

On rare occasion a driver (‘cager’, in bike-speak) who pulls up beside me at a traffic light might scowl in disapproval, but more common is the melancholy smile and nod of the head from someone who is likely thinking something along the lines of ‘What an adventure! I wish that was me…’

If that has ever been you, encased in the boxed-in, sterile environs of your car and casting that wistful smile, I would suggest that you give motorcycling a try. What the heck, you’ve only got one run around the circuit, right? I could dredge up other clichés, like ‘grab the golden ring’, or ‘it’s on the bucket list’, but the truth is that there will come the day for each of us when such adventures are no longer an option.

Two scenarios, as best I can figure: we get old and die, or we die young, and in the meantime we have either taken those adventures we someday thought we might, or we haven’t. My brother (another bike nut, especially over BMW’s) recently sent me this link to a video that makes me think of that person eying my bike with envy. Check it out: Out of the Rut

So if you’re tempted by that vision of personal freedom, sign up for one of the MSF beginner’s courses, often offered at places like Vocational Colleges (google it—you’ll get results). You don’t need to own a bike, the class provides small, un-intimidating machines to learn on. When I started coaching I thought the students would be mostly young males, like when I started out long ago, but in reality the students span a wide spectrum, where it’s not unusual for middle-agers and seniors to outnumber the young, or for female students to outnumber the males.

Maybe the bug will bite, and you’ll get that seriously cool Triumph 1200 Explorer before I  add it to my stable. Or maybe you’ll enjoy the bike class, but decide that it’s not for you, and you’ll try something else adventurous, like piloting a gyrocopter over the cane-fields of south Florida.

Hmmmm—I used to do that, but that’s another blog.


An Understanding of the Curious Cat


Teiko (Nightfall's camera-shy)

I have recently read a number of pieces about introverted personalities, and about writers, and since many of those articles made reference to cats as pets, I wonder if there is a real connection? After all, I myself am an introvert, a writer, and a lover of cats (and proud of it!), and so is that not all the evidence needed? And since I was relieved to see the introverted personality-type championed rather than pitied (’oh, you poor, poor dear’), I now take up the gauntlet and come to the defense of the often maligned feline.

I claim to be especially well suited to that task, because while I cannot say that I know the how or the why of it, I’m quite certain that in some prior life I was a cat. There is simply too much of a connection for there to be any other possibility.

Some people just don’t get it—they do not understand the curious mind of a cat. They wonder why anyone would bother with the effort required to build a relationship with such an aloof, persnickety creature. Such folk clearly do not appreciate the cat, and I might venture that they are in fact often inclined to favor a dog of one stripe or another. Not that I mean to disparage the dog, mind you—dogs are fine by me. I was in fact once owned by a fine Chesapeake Bay Retriever, many years ago.

But still, to favor a dog over a cat!? That I cannot understand. To begin with, there’s typically no need to earn the affection of a dog—the only requirement is that the human is breathing, offers food, and does not threaten with a stick. And that’s OK, but a relationship with a cat is something that you must truly earn, and so is of greater value, by my reckoning.

A dog is like a teenage boy; loud and boisterous, forever attempting to maneuver himself into the center of attention. Here I am! Me! Me!  The closest a cat will ever come to such demonstrative action is to rub against your leg and purr, or simply plant himself in the way and defy you to pass by without recognition.

Admittedly a cat will sometimes come off a bit on the arrogant side, with her air of superiority and I-can’t-be-bothered-to-notice posture. If everything is not just as she would have it she’ll likely express disdain by issuing a great yawn when attention is directed her way. Moreover, many folk facing the blank stare of a cat simply do not understand that it is the responsibility of the person to come up to standard, because the cat is just too cool…

Upon presenting herself to new company a cat immediately recognizes if the person is of a cat-sympathetic temperament. It’s an aura thing. Only after being recognized as a potential ally may that person begin his or her campaign to win over the cat’s affection. Such a campaign is, by the way, much more likely to succeed if all standard dog-approach techniques are abandoned forthwith. Such is to say one should not caper about, hopping from foot to foot while excitedly calling out “Here Boy! Here Boy!”

A cat would regard such foolish and unseemly behavior with suspicious reserve, as well she should.

I am pleased to advise that I harbor no such inadequacies—I understand all too well the mood, and the motivation, behind the enigmatic behavior of my furry friends.

I understand, for example, that when we walk through the house, Teiko is not walking with me, he is leading me. He must assert his position of authority and diligently direct me in the proper direction; that being either toward the woefully neglected food bowl (it’s never full enough), or to the door. In the latter case once the door has been reached the course of action is somewhat arbitrary. To go in, or to go out? That depends solely upon which side of the door it is that he is currently located. A closed door is meant to be opened and the threshold crossed—that is a fundamental tenet of the cat. If the door was standing open, then the entire issue becomes moot—not worthy of consideration.

You see? I do understand.

I further understand that when Nightfall arrives at the back door, his yowls muffled by the small rodent clenched between his teeth, he has no intention of eating it, nor does he think that I’ll do anything with it other than gingerly bag-and-trash it. The entire purpose here is that I recognize his prowess as a hunter. Once he sees that I have observed, he is finished with it. Dismissed.

Both our friends Teiko and Nightfall are long-haired Turkish Angoras, who were so gracious as to adopt Sue and myself as their own. We are honored. Teiko (pure white coat, incredibly soft) is perhaps the most outgoing cat that I have ever known. He looks you straight in the eye, watches TV, and has an endearing habit of doing forward somersaults when he gets excited. Nightfall (pure black coat, also plush) is more reserved, and his is the name given the understudy in my short story ‘Edgar’, which tracks the competition between a Master Wizard (feline) and his mentee.

And so you see, I hold the advantage in our household. Like I mentioned at the outset, I was a cat once, and so all this comes naturally to me. My grasp of the thought patterns of the cat, my native intuition of his likely actions—these tools help me to maintain control of our interactions. By understanding the psychology of a cat, I can outfox him. Teiko and Nightfall may believe otherwise, but it is not they who exert control.

No, my furry fellows, it is I who calls the shots here, I’m the one—

Ahh…What’s that??? Nightfall, meowing at the door?

Sorry, gotta go!!!