What I’ve learned from riding a motorcycle

For the past month and at least till the end of this month, I’ve had a motorcycle. I’m not sure about a lot of things about motorcycles, but will tell you cruising down a road on a cool evening is great fun. Here is a list of the few things I’ve learned.

1) Drivers in Huntsville are comprised of mostly idiots. The best advice I ever got about driving a bike is “drive like you are invisible” and it has probably saved my life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen shock on other drivers faces when they finally see me. Or the number of times someone has cut me off. Or the sheer agressiveness of Huntsville drivers. Hey people, enjoy the ride!

Also of note, the stretch of Memorial Parkway from University to Governors scares me in a car. I won’t ride it on a bike.

2) Bikers are friendly. Any time I pass another rider, they wave. I guess we all recognize each other and the difficulties of being invisible, so there is a “biker wave” we share as we pass. Next time you are following a bike and see another coming from the opposite direction, watch for it. It is easy to miss, but the left hand leaves the handlebar and opens just beneath the handle. It is subtle (for safety reasons) but while riding it is unmistakable.

3) Everyone else wants a bike. Okay, not everyone, but lots. The bike I ride is pretty, so I get a lot of comments when I get on or off of it. Today an older gentleman stopped me to talk and told me how, in his younger days, he bought a bike in San Antonio and rode it to Key West. Great story, and if I hadn’t been on a bike he would never have spoken to me.

4) There is a hierarchy of bikes, but it is very muddy and indistinct. All bikers agree that riding on two wheels is better than four, but after that it gets shady. In general, American iron is better than everything else. But not always. Harley Davidson rules the American bikes, unless it is custom. Ricers (Japanese bikes) suck, but if you ride “Nice Rice” you are high on the scale. What makes it nice is up for debate. Honda Gold Wing fits in there somewhere. To some, as primo and to others as wannabe. Rice Rockets have a whole seperate system that I don’t understand. With them, you’ve got to figure out what to do with a Ducati, which is Italian. No one seems sure where to put the German BMW bikes. I like them, but are they street bikes or rockets? Dirt bikes are for posers. Scooters are too. But any bike is better than no bike, although I doubt I’ll ever see a hard core Harley rider be happy on a Vespa.

For the record, I currently ride a Ridely. It is American (raising me up the scale), but also an automatic (lowering me down) and therefor unusual (raising me back up).

5) Riding alone is fun, but like many solo activities, riding with others is more fun.

6) Loud pipes save lives. I fully believe both American and Japanese bikes could be built to be quieter. In fact, several companies make an electric bike, mostly in scooter styles, that are practically silent. Yet until the general population of drivers become significantly more aware of bikes on the road, I won’t ride one. My bike is LOUD. That has gotten a driver’s attention more than once. A silent bike would almost truly be invisible.

7) Leather has a purpose. I knew this before, but let me say it again. Leather riding gear is less about cool and more about safety. Leather is the “seat belt” of the bike world. Riding leathers are “cool” because bikes are “cool,” and not the other way around. Leather does everything from crash protection to flying debris protection. And wind protection. I got hit in the chest by a rock today and in the face by a bug. Both hurt. A simple leather vest would have gone a long way with the rock.

8) Helmet laws are stupid. Not wearing a helmet is insane, but forcing them onto bikers has resulted in lots of ways around the law. Every day I see bikers wearing Helmets that have absolutely no safety benefits at all. Bike shops sell “novelty” helmets every day that offer no protection. I wear a DOT certified helmet, because not doing so doesn’t make sense to me.

9) Bikers are conforming nonconformist. In a sense, bikers conform to a group dynamic like any other group. Clubs even have uniforms along with rules about what you can wear. But individuality rules the roost. Bikers, even club bikers, find ways to express that. Anyone who knows me and my love of Halloween will not be surprised to learn my helmet has a skull on it. Or that most of my other riding gear has other similar themes.

10) Outlaw bikers are not the norm. Despite what you might get from the media, the vast majority of bikers are good, friendly, law abiding people. Even in the clubs. While we watch out for each other and have each others backs (I’m shocked at how much expensive stuff is left on parked bikes… Helmets, ipods, and more all because we trust other bikers and count on the mystic of the brotherhood to keep theives at bay) I know more lawyer, banker, accountant, doctor, military, teacher, professional bikers than I know outlaws.

One last note. There is a code of honor among bikers, and don’t think there isn’t. I don’t fully understand the code, but it is there.