Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Retreads- returning to the world of Motorcycling

The other day someone ask me what got me back into riding motorcycles. That got me thinking, and yes…writing.

Before I got back into riding, I spent some time asking more experienced riders for advice.  Well, you can imagine the plethora of more colorful and smart ass answers I got. There were a couple, however, that were useful.  The two I thought to be most helpful were to take the MSF course,(  which I did.  The other was to always be playing the “what if” game or as I like to call it “just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean that they’re not really out to get me.”   Other than the time a road captain told me I turn like a big turd on Roller skates after I took one that went a little wide (OK, a lot wide), the “what if” game stuck in my mind.

Here is how you play.  Pretend that when you are riding on the mean streets of SO FLO (or any other place you call home) that every single solitary car, bus, and van on every single solitary road on every single solitary day is out to get you. Pretend that they are looking for any excuse and opportunity to turn you into an 800 pound, two- wheeled pinball.  Oh sure, they will try and make it seem like an accident (which is the only thing that keeps me from going completely insane).  This exercise in mental health (or illness) is easy to do in town or on our many back roads.  Now, unlike the wonderful MSF course that teaches us to watch out for those hidden driveways, oncoming cages, and crossroads; this is a whole different level of mistrust.  In my world, I’m always thinking about who can hit me, and then calculating the odds of them being successful at doing so, then planning my escape.  Then I plan how they will atone for their transgressions, but that is for another article.  It’s all part of being paranoid.  I try to know what they are going to do before they do.  Welcome to Will’s World!!  OK, you say “Now what?”  Should you too obsess about every devious driveway, crazed codger, bumbling bus driver, bone-headed bicyclist, deranged dog, dive-bombing bird (this one actually happened) and that schizophrenic, sociopath, suicidal squirrel that we have read about recently?  Or, how about this scenario: the ride leader has to stop short because the car in front of him has a hallucination at a green light. The result is that everyone has to stop so short that I give the guy in front of me an unscheduled Prostate exam.  Now if that person happens to be a Polish friend, and since we are both of Polish decent, we may actually be legally married in some small Polish village.  Just thinking of that is enough to make a person park their bike for a very long time. 

Relax; as they say in AA, “You can only control so much” (no, I’m not a member). Luckily, humans have an incredible ability to process and prioritize the world around us. We all can observe our environments, interact with it, and refine our actions within the blink of an eye or the electric firing of a synapse to be more precise. The more we play the “what if” game, the better we get at it.  Now I should say that if you are just beginning your adventures in riding, stick to the wonderful stuff they teach at the MSF course.  The fundaments will serve you well until you are ready for the next level of paranoia.  For the rest of us paranoid Bikers, let’s talk about some of the things we can do.  First, belonging to a club is probably the best thing you can do. In the world of motorcycling, there truly is safety in numbers.  When there are a pack of ten bikers coming their way, I promise they see us.  You also have the advantage of having members with many years of varied experiences. That is a wealth of information that should be drawn from often. Next, while you can’t control the fast and furious pace that these challenges come at you, you can control your pace.  Reducing your speed by as little as 3-5 mph allows your mind vast amounts of additional time to process things. Unconsciously, this allows your body to relax and be more responsive. Of course, this also depends on the kind of road you are on. When riding in denser traffic, it is usually a good idea to roll back just a bit.  On the other hand, when braving our interstates and turnpikes you’ll want to keep up with the traffic flow.  On highways, cars may have a harder time judging your speed and position, so keeping up with the pace is safer. Of course, you can still worry about deer, armadillos, night riding, oil slicks, untold amounts of road debris, people throwing cigarettes out the window, and anything else you want to keep you at that healthy level of paranoia.

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