On: The Motorcycle

I know it’s kinda wussy to admit, but I’m afraid of motorcycles. It’s unfortunate that admitting that makes me feel wussy—after all it seems very reasonable to me to be hesitant around any machine that can propel you over 100+mph down a piece of concrete. But there’s this very masculine stereotype about being a dude riding a bike. From Easy Rider to The Wild One to The Lords of Flatbush it’s the same notion—the open road stretches out before you and your buddies as the wind blows in your faces, all the world an oyster and you a group of wildmen about to crack it open and discover its pearl… It’s iconic tough straight male American bullduggery!

(Just don’t for a moment think about the latent homoeroticism lingering like a storm cloud over most buddy movies like this; after all, what could be more straight than a couple dudes rejecting social conventions and going off into the wilds alone with few belongings, a bottle of whiskey and an attitude of exploration???)

I suppose I should clarify—I’m not actually afraid of motorcycles themselves. They are after all inanimate, and in their un-ignited state no more dangerous than a telephone pole or a can of Crisco. Rather, my terror involves motorcycles and me, specifically me riding upon a motorcycle.

There are plenty of what I think of as perfectly good reasons for my fear—you’ve probably seen a motorcycle before and don’t have to stretch your mind too far to know what I’m referring to. They’re so open, so exposed, so only possessing of two wheels and lacking the normal car safety mechanisms like doors and a roof. Plus, how’s my hair going to look after being crushed by a helmet all day? But what concerns me the most has to do with the wheels.

My first complaint about the tires is their size, specifically their width. Obviously there are all sorts of bikes and thus all sorts of tire widths, but one thing you can be pretty certain about is that a motorcycle’s tires will not be wider than your car’s. This should give you pause. Cars have been designed to run on four tires of appropriate width, yet motorcycles seem to feel that they can get away with only two wheels and significantly thinner tires. This is a serious amount of hubris and I remember my Sunday School lessons well—Pride goeth before a fall, which is an especially bad image given that falling off a motorcycle sounds like something you’d want to avoid.

This tire thing really gets me jumpy. If you’re riding on a motorcycle there are maybe six-inches of tire width contacting with the ground. That seems insufficient to me at any speed above 12mph. Now think what happens when you come to a turn—you lean the bike leans the tires lean, and now you’re riding on maybe three or four inches of rubber. And people do this at speeds well above 12mph. Speeds with big numbers like 50 or 72 or 108.

That’s insane. It’s stupid. It’s exactly the sort of thing my grandma warned me against doing, and however nutty her advice was—and it was nutty, I mean who tells a four year old child, “You keep smirking like that your face is going to freeze that way forever”??; she also insisted that it was illegal to drive a car without shoes and that I would get arthritis if I cracked my knuckles—on this one I actually agree with her.

My other fear about the tires has to do with potholes and other in-road degradations. If you hit a pothole with a car the tire’s wide enough that at worst you might damage a portion of it, but the reality is that there are potholes out there wide enough to gobble up an entire motorcycle tire. Additionally, and more importantly, if you hit a hole with your car you could blow a flat, though if that occurs you still have three other good tires upon which to rely. You pop a tire on a motorcycle and suddenly you’re driving a unicycle—so much for the macho male image.

I bring all this up for a reason. As dutiful readers already know I’m presently on what I like to think of as a sabbatical, and one of my goals in taking time off was to tackle some long-standing fears. To that end over the past months I’ve flown in an airplane (don’t laugh, that terrifies me); held a tarantula (even worse than airplanes); learned to SCUBA-dive in the ocean (yes that ocean, in which there are all sorts of as-yet un-discovered organisms lurking about, and sharks too); and starting tomorrow I’ll be taking a motorcycle class.

I know what the tired reader is thinking—it’s just a motorcycle, plenty of people ride them all the time, ergo—get over it. But only a fool fights the irrational with the rational, and this is more about confronting fears than riding motorcycles. Damn things scare me and that’s enough so spare me the logic. If I survive I’ll theoretically be licensed and ready to hit the open road on a bike; if I don’t, well, at least I’ll go trying.

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