Motorcycles: Get your motor runnin’
Took a look down a west bound road,
Right away I made my choice;
Headed out to my big two wheeler-
I was tired of my own voice.
Took a bead on the Northern plains
And just rolled that power on…
Bob Seger, Roll Me Away
By JOHN SKINNER
The bear was scrawny and probably pretty cranky. It was early spring in the valley and the critter had most likely just emerged from hibernation. The bear was maybe a year or two old, and likely still with its mother, who was disturbingly not in sight.
Uh, oh. I’m prey.
I made myself big, shifted into neutral, revved the engine to a red-line roar and hit the horn. The bear saw a freakishly large and horrific monster with a huge black bug head and armoured thorax barrelling in its direction, shrieking like the ursine angel of death.
Or so I hoped.
The smarter-than-the-average-bear (I have come to think of him as Yogi, sitting on his haunches with his paws at his chest, just like a practitioner of the ancient art. Or a baseball catcher) looked quickly from side to side, found the odds not to its liking and bailed into the bush. I tore by and didn’t stop for an hour. A whole lotta nature, as a late friend of mine was fond of saying. Up close, minus the steel and glass protection of the car.
I was on Highway 7 just west of the small city of Hope, British Columbia, returning from an upcountry ramble of 1,200 kilometres on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border past a whole lotta nature of the more placid variety – deer, mountain sheep and goats and a couple of coyotes. And endless vistas of forest, canyon, lake, river and farm.
A whole lotta human nature
He was an average-looking, middle-aged dude, with the beginnings of a pot belly lending some geography to his Dockers and Hawaiian shirt. Topsiders on his feet. A real straightarrow, lizarding in the sun at a table outside Starbucks, grande coffee in hand. Just another local guy enjoying a glorious summer Sunday afternoon gazing at the mountains surrounding Squamish, B.C., “the outdoor capital of Canada.”
“Mind if I sit here?” I said, pointing at the only empty chair.
“Help yourself,” he smiled, gesturing. “Nice bike you got there. Great day for a ride.” We chatted about the weather and sports. His cellphone rang.
“Yeah,” he said, and listened for a few seconds. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Turning to me as he walked away: “Have a good one.”
He strolled over to a black Harley-Davidson Road King, unlocked a hard bag and pulled out leather chaps, biker boots and a black jacket with a death’s head logo and the words “Hells Angels British Columbia” across the back. And roared off to who-knows-where. Weeks later, I recognized him in a newspaper photo after he had been charged with various criminal offences. Some months after that, he walked on all counts. Just another average guy you meet on the road.
A whole lotta cruel nature
The two-lane, lightly travelled blacktop in the British Columbia Interior was bordered, as so many of those roads are, by a river. It was spring and the river was bouncing and billowing with snowmelt from the mountains, a rushing, roaring torrent of whitewater funnelled into a narrow channel that, by later in the summer, would become a lot more placid. I stopped for a look and a listen. Flotsam was everywhere, logs, sticks . . . and a deer, eyes large with terror, being swept along in the current. The deer was working hard to keep its head above water, but it was flailing out of control. In an instant it disappeared around a bend. I hoped it could find a place to climb out, but I wasn’t optimistic.
And a whole lotta scary nature
The sun was bedding down under a blanket of dark clouds. The temperature was dropping. I was most of the way to my day’s destination when the hail started. Big as marbles, bouncing harmlessly off helmet and armoured Rocket jacket, but creating treachery where the rubber met the road. Slowwwly, now. After a couple of small but ominous skids, I rolled gingerly to the shoulder (it looked like this) where there was no shelter, but little danger of skidding to my death under a truck. The hail stopped about 20 minutes later. Soaking and cold, I rode the remaining few miles into Merritt, B.C., found a motel room and poured a shot of single malt from my travel flask. The only good view of a hailstorm is in your rearview mirror.
The Zen of it
“Travelling in a car is too much like watching television,” writes Darwin Holmstrom in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Motorcycles, “I feel as if I’m viewing my surroundings through the end of a glass tube. When I’m on a bike, I feel as though I’m actually there, experiencing the world. Not only do I see my surroundings, but I feel them, smell them, taste them. I feel part of something larger, something complete instead of feeling like an uninterested voyeur.”
Or, as the legendary motorcycle philosopher Anon put it: Only a biker fully understands why a dog sticks its head out of a car window.
So why not give it a try?
Maybe you find the idea a little scary. So did I: My lifetime motorized cycle experience amounted to a couple of weeks puttering around some traffic-free backroads in northern Ontario on a Honda 50 (a one-cylinder, 49-cc putt-putt slightly more powerful than an electric bicycle) when I was an unlicensed 15-year-old. And 40 years later, here I was, considering hopping on a four-cylinder 750-cc monster and riding in traffic. So I enrolled in a motorcycle safety course run by the British Columbia Safety Council (which, sadly, no longer exists) and six weeks later I was up and running with my learner’s permit. The rest is just putting in the miles.
So if you’re new to this, or if you haven’t sat on a motorcycle since you were a testosterone-twisted teenager, take a course. There are any number available, either privately or through a provincial or state agency. Any bike shop can point you in the right direction.
Reduced to its essentials, riding a motorcycle is about risk and reward. Done right, the risk is minimal and the reward, on a good day, is off the scale. Even in — or, more precisely, after — a hailstorm. And there’s a bonus: at your age, you’re safer. Grey-haired riders don’t get that way from pure luck.
Between 2006 and 2010, the number of over-50 male motorcyclists in British Columbia increased from 22,130 to 33,020 — a 49.2 per cent jump, according to the Insurance Corporation of B.C. The 30-49 group increased by only eight per cent to 29,830 and the under-30s on bikes went up 11 per cent to 7,450. There are more of us and our lead is increasing.
In 2010, under-30 male riders had an average of one crash for every 17 riders. The 30-49 group had one crash for every 40 riders and our guys had one for every 56 riders. In 2009 it was: under 30, one crash per 16 riders; 30-49, one per 33; 50 and over, one per 52 riders. Older, wiser, safer. There’s no reason to think other provinces and states haven’t seen a similar trend.
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’
Hunter S. Thompson
We don’t all want to experience the excesses of the late Dr. T, but for the less lunatic among us, the motorcycle experience can be dialed down to a more serene ride not completely lacking in thrills, planned or otherwise. For bad boys who observe the speed limit, there’s little to compare with the wide, sweeping curve of a hinterland highway with smooth pavement, light traffic and a 20-mile view down a valley cloaked in a million hues of green and washed by a foaming river. There’s little to compare to the heart-stopping moment you come a bit too close to edge and twist free of trouble. The former can be frequent, the latter rare — if you pay attention. Risk and reward can be set in balance. We can all get a taste of Dr. Thompson’s rush without pushing past the fine line between thrill and disaster.
“Motorcycling forces riders to transcend their egos — to empty themselves and exist in the world around them,” Holmstrom writes. “When you’re out in the world on a bike, you must be completely in the moment, completely aware of your surroundings, or you may find yourself meeting your concept of God earlier than you might have hoped.”
Plus, it’s a lot of fun.
And the things you see . . . .
There are zillions of motorcycle Websites. Some of my favourites:
The Complete Idiot’s Guide Mostly about cars, but has some good motorcycle articles.
Destination Highways A great guide to the best motorcycle roads in British Columbia, Washington, and Northern California. A Southern California edition is in the works.
Adventure Rider: Click on Forum for fascinating stuff from all over. Good photos, too.
AND WHATEVER YOU DO, watch this video.