Seven Things I Love About Motorcycles

As a teenager I vividly remember my Dad telling me all the reasons I shouldn't start riding a motorcycle. He told stories of his friends who were injured or killed riding bikes. He talked about his experiences on their bikes (he never had one of his own) and described how you never really master the machine, how you're always right on the edge of a crash, and how afraid of motorcycles he was.

I eventually wound up on a bike anyway.

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With four bikes in the garage and an insatiable need to feel the wind and watch the road pass under my feet, it doesn't matter if it's a quick blast up a nearby canyon road or a road trip of several thousand miles, between work and other responsibilities I never feel like I have enough saddle time—though I ride every month out of the year and just about every day from spring through fall.

I have friends who have decided it's time to move on to other things. They used to ride a lot, but now if they're on the bike one or two times a year, they call it good. Some have even sold their bikes. I know others, who because of health reasons, just can't ride anymore. I can't imagine what that must feel like. Yet, I know it will come to that for me someday too. Nevertheless, I'll keep riding until I physically can't anymore.

With that said, here are seven things I love about the ride and the machine:

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#1 It's fun: I don't quite understand why, but it is. What's so fun about riding in 100 degree heat, 30 degree cold, wind, rain, sleet, and yes, even a snow storm or two? I've done a lot of fun things in my life, but this is by far at the top of the pile. My friends tell me that I have dozens of fun rides that are in my top four or five—they're probably right, I don't keep count. My list of favorites is constantly evolving as I experience new places and new roads. Regardless of the conditions, time on the bike is a lot more fun than time off the bike.

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#2 I've experienced a lot of very cool places: I say experienced, because you don't get quite the same thing from a climatically controlled automobile as you do from the seat of a motorcycle. Your senses are on high alert as they are bombarded with the changes in temperature as you pass a cool stand of trees on a mountain pass, the smells of pine, sage, and hot asphalt after a rain, the steam rising up on the road as day breaks and the sun hits the pavement, or the warmth of the sun on your face.

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#3 Great people: I've met from all around the world—great people who are willing to stop and visit. Something they wouldn't do if I was in another car. Some are great friends, some have become friends over the years, some just feel like friends for the few minutes we're together. That's not to say that everyone who rides a motorcycle is a great person. Some are not. I've just observed though, that most of them are, they have great stories to share, and are always willing to talk about where they've been or where they're going. The "wave" that implies, "I'll stop and help you if you need it. We're in this all together." Is something that represents the kindness other riders have shown me over the years and something I try to pay forward when I'm on the road.

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#4 It's a machine I can learn more about: I originally thought of using the word "technology" here, but although there is a lot of modern technology in the bikes I ride, at their core they are still based on a 115-year old tractor motor that started out on a bicycle-like frame. I like that. I like the straightforward nature of these machines that I can tear apart and put back together. I'm always learning something new whenever I get my hands dirty working on a motorcycle in the garage. I'm a mediocre self-taught motorcycle mechanic, but the simple nature of these machines lends itself to learning how to maintain and repair your own bike. Right next to wasting time in the wind, I enjoy the time spent in the garage with greasy hands. The other day my wife and I were headed out of the house and she could smell the oil from the primary where I was rebuilding the clutch on her bike, and said, "I bet you like that smell, don't you?" Yes I do. What's more, I think wrenching on the bike and understanding how it works makes me a better rider (although I realize that's not for everyone and Harley dealers would go out of business if everyone did it themselves).

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#5 It can be challenging and a skill that can be mastered: I don't mean to imply that I am a master, but I do think about how I can become a better rider every time I'm on the bike—and I strive for mastery. There are skills to learn and practice that will make you a better rider. I try to practice them whenever I'm on the bike. For example, I'm convinced there is a correct way to ride in a group—which I've tried to teach Sue as she's started riding her own bike.

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#6 It's a very "in the moment" experience: I don't know if I'd call it a "zen" thing, but you could. Riding a motorcycle takes a lot of focus. Unlike riding in the car, I think it takes more concentration. Although there are contemplative moments on the bike, you can't allow your mind to wander (you really shouldn't do it in a car either, but obviously there are a lot of people who do). Although there's a lot of things that become intuitive or second nature with time in the saddle, you can't check your brain out and ride on auto pilot. I like that about the experience. I think it's relaxing to spend a few hours focused on something else besides what's going on at work, your dumb neighbor, or the argument you had with your daughter.

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#7 It's not for everyone: Not too long ago I reconnected with my best friend from High School. Motorcycles came up in the conversation, and he said something like, "You're braver than I am. I'm never getting on one of those things." I can respect that. I also know he doesn't know what he's missing. That being said, comparatively speaking, at least in the U.S. and Canada, there are far fewer motorcycles on the road than automobiles. I like being, "that guy" at work and among my non-riding friends. I like the experiences and stories I have to tell about those experiences. I like being a little bit different from those who don't ride.

I found out a couple of years ago, long after my Dad had passed away, that he really wasn't afraid of motorcycles, but my Mom didn't want me to ride so he was trying to be discouraging. When she told me that he loved motorcycles, I couldn't help but think about all the times we could have spent on motorcycles together. I think I liked it better when I thought he was afraid because I can imagine how it must have felt to set that love aside for his entire life.

With that in mind, let me add a #8.

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Even though I have grandkids of my own and am well past the age where I can make decisions for myself, knowing that my mom doesn't like me riding a motorcycles gives me some kind of strange, rebellious, satisfaction.