The Great Bikening

I’ve mentioned it on Twitter a few times, but I purchased a used bicycle about two weeks ago. My reasoning for this decision was because I’d cancelled my boxing gym membership and I needed something to provide a measure of physical activity. I’d loved boxing, but after moving five miles in the wrong direction, suddenly a 30 minute drive just to get to the gym didn’t seem so appealing. Not to mention, I’m trying to get financially squared away and a $45 monthly gym membership just didn’t fit with that goal, especially after I’d picked up a poor attendance habit and was only going about once a week (I’d been hitting the gym three times a week when I first started).

I’d been reading on a few blogs (Mr. Money Mustache and the Art of Manliness) about how rewarding it is to commute to work via bicycle. I checked the distance between home and work on Google maps and discovered it’s just a hair under 10 miles one-way. Shit, I thought to myself. That’s doable. Yeah, I could do that.

The math worked out. Google estimated the time at 50 minutes. My normal commute right now via motorcycle is about 25 minutes. But since I was already spending two hours on fitness when I went to the gym (and only getting one hour of actual exercise out of it), this scheme would allow me to spend my time more effectively since I was turning commute time into exercise time!

So I went out and purchased a used bike. It took a few tries; I looked into BICAS first but they didn’t have anything comfortable for my height. Bookman’s Sport Exchange had a very reasonably priced, very stylish looking green bike that I fell in love with after one test ride.

I rode it home. It was about five miles. I nearly died of exhaustion.

I recall lying on the carpet, gasping like a fish and wondering two things: first, how the hell was I going to do twenty miles a day and second, how had I let myself get this out of shape?

Because I used to bike a lot as a kid. And as a kid, I was able to go on my bike forever. It isn’t until you revisit things in adulthood that you loved in childhood that you realize how much slower and heavier adult bodies are if you don’t keep them in working order.

After that humbling experience, I spent a week building up my stamina. I took a long ride to get some miles under my belt. I tested the commute itself on a day off, reasoning that if I collapsed in a heap on the road somewhere, at least I wouldn’t have to call in.

The commute itself is lovely. I’m really lucky. Around 7 miles of it are on a dedicated, bike-only path that runs the length of a dry river, because in Tucson, rivers don’t need to have water in them to be considered rivers. Even the few miles I do spend on the streets are mostly well designed with generous bike lanes. I only hit three stop lights in ten miles. It’s amazing.

Today is my second day biking to work. I make sure to give myself an hour and a half, even though the commute itself is just about an hour. I have accepted the fact that I’m basically the slowest person on the entire bike trail. Senior citizens zip by me at roughly 1 million miles per hour and politely do choose not to mock me.

But I’m getting better. I’ve improved my commute time by almost ten minutes from the first time I rode it until today. I didn’t need to stop and catch my breath at any point.

I still feel bad when I see how much faster everyone else is. But it makes me really happy to feel the improvements already. I’m getting better. I don’t think I’ll ever be as fast as the senior citizens on their carbon-fiber super bikes, but you know what? That’s okay. Because I’m doing this for me. I’m getting healthier again. I like that.

Thoughts On The 2013 Z1000

Last week, I brought this lovely little lady home with me. Meet Zoey, my new 2013 Kawasaki Z1000:Image

I thought about writing a post about my new ride as soon as I received it, but I realized that I wouldn’t have much to say with only a single ride home from the dealer under my belt. Well, now that I’ve had this motorcycle for over a week and I’ve already put over 400 miles on it, I think I can talk more about it.

My previous ride was a 2005 Ninja 500, so this jump from a 500 cc engine to a 1000 cc engine (actually 1043 cc, if we’re being picky) is a pretty big one. The Z is quick; really, really quick. It’s quick off the throttle, it’s quick to get up to speed. Everything about it is just that fast. It’s awesome.

I went with the 2013 model over the new 2014 Z1000 for two reasons. First, I wasn’t crazy about the price increase; the 2013 Z’s MSRP was $10,500, while the 2014 is about $2000 more. Since this was last year’s model, I was able to pick it up at a really, really nice price, which was a big bonus. Furthermore, I really don’t like the look of the 2014. I think the gun-metal grey with the green accents just isn’t as striking as the 2013’s full metallic blazed green paint job. Seriously, this thing sparkles in the sunlight. It’s very striking.

My favorite thing about the Z1000 is the upright riding position. I’d already gotten used to sitting upright on a bike since the Ninja 500 has a very upright posture considering its sport bike class. I’ve been on a few other sport bikes with more aggressive, over-the-tank postures and I didn’t care for it. The Z’s seat is really comfortable and it’s nice to sit upright on the thing. It certainly makes tooling around town more comfortable.

The puny windshield means that the wind above about 80 mph gets pretty intense. To be honest, I didn’t realize that the little windshield on the Ninja 500 was doing that much to deflect wind, but the difference is noticeable. I don’t mind the wind, honestly, although it’s a bit of an upper arm workout to hold on at speed, it’s not unbearable. Also, it really adds to the feeling of going Warp Nine when you’re really moving.

Really, I love everything about this bike. Whenever I think about it or someone asks me about my new ride, I get an absolutely ridiculous grin on my face. Riders will often talk about “smiles per mile” as a metric for value when it comes to their rides. In that regard, I think I’m getting my money’s worth, many times over.

Riders, It’s Time To Start Waving At Scooters

They’ll cover it in the MSF beginning rider course, even though it really has nothing to do with safety. Or you’ll learn its importance from the friend or family member who taught you how to rider (even though, seriously, go take an MSF course). Or you might just pick up on its importance after you’ve noticed your fellow riders flashing it at you as you pass each other like screaming chrome ships in the night.

That’s right, we’re talking about the motorcycle wave.

When you buy a motorcycle, you’re enrolled in a club. Enrollment is automatic and opting out is frowned upon. Like any good club, there are various traditions and disagreements about what behavior is proper and acceptable, but the bottom line is this: motorcyclists wave at one another.

For the non-riders out there, here’s how it works. If you’re on your bike and a fellow rider is coming towards you in the opposite lane, you stick your hand out in some fashion to that rider. Exceptions are made for circumstances such as when one’s left hand is busy with a shift or turn (in those instances, a head nod is acceptable if one can manage it).

There’s a lot of flexibility in what gesture you can make, as long as it’s not the raised middle finger, because that’s both rude to your brother or sister rider and also because we need to save that special gesture for, well, every single brain dead SUV, pickup and minivan driver that’s trying to kill us.

Me? I like a simple raised index and middle finger V (basically a peace sign) held out at a low angle towards the road. “Living the two wheeled life” is what it means to me. I have no idea if others interpret it that way. It doesn’t matter. It’s my wave and I like it.

Even with this tradition of waving to one another, there’s a lot of tribalism in motorcycle culture and that’s without even getting into the topic of motorcycle clubs or gangs.

You’re judged by what you ride, how you ride it, and what you’re wearing while riding it. Generally speaking, cruisers don’t like sport bike riders, and vice versa. Sport riders especially hate squids who tend to make sport riders as a whole look bad. And Harley riders hate everyone aside from themselves. They might even hate themselves. I don’t know any Harley riders, so I can’t verify.

I kid, I kid. You can’t take my opinion on Harleys seriously. I’m a Kawasaki rider.

The only thing all riders can agree on is a unanimous hatred of scooters.

Scooters don’t get the wave. At best, they get ignored. At worst, an icy glare and a feeling of smug superiority as one thinks of all the various ways scooters are doing it wrong and how we motorcycle riders are just so much better

Confession: I’ve been guilty of this.

“I don’t get scooter riders,” I’ve said. “I almost never see a scooter rider wearing a decent helmet, much less gloves, boots, or a jacket. Do they think that riding a scooter means the road will be somehow more forgiving when they go down on it because they fell off a scooter?”

Worst of all? “Scooter riders don’t even know about the wave. I can count the number of scooters who have waved at me on one hand and have five fingers left over.”

You know what I’ve begun to realize, though? This animosity between motorcycles and scooters is  ridiculous at best and pernicious at worst.

Let’s go back to the wave and why we do it.

I’ve tried to get a general sense of what rider culture is like with regards to the wave, so I’ve paid close attention to who initiates waves to me or who reciprocates waves that I initiate. My evidence is purely anecdotal, of course, since I don’t take the time to write down my findings while riding.

But what I’ve noticed is that Harley riders are the most responsive when it comes to waves in terms of both initiating and reciprocating, and that’s even coming from someone who is very clearly neither a Harley nor a cruiser rider.

Other cruiser brands are more hit-or-miss; I have to assume some of it is due to cruiser vs. sport bike rivalry. Sport riders are generally good about waving at me if and only if they’re a rider like me: full face helmet, jacket, gloves, etc. If the sport rider is in sandals and shorts i. e. a squid, I tend to get fewer waves than from any other group.

My feeling for this is based on the general rider profile. Harley riders, in general, tend to have a larger percentage of “the old guard” in their ranks and among the old guard, it seems that a rider is worthy of a wave no matter what he or she is riding. Other groups have less adherence to tradition, so there is correspondingly less waving.

How does this pertain to scooters?

My thought is this: maybe scooters don’t know about waving because so few motorcyclists take the time to wave to them. We haven’t invited them into our club. And why haven’t we?

It can’t be a gear thing, because many riders go without jackets, boots, or a brain bucket of any kind.

It can’t be a matter of engine size. We don’t judge a rider who putters by on a Honda Rebel 250. We think “there goes another new member of the tribe,” because a 250 is a fine bike to learn how to ride on, so we accept them as a member of the tribe or because it’s a cheap bike to buy and maintain and a cheap bike is always better than no bike.

Scooters tend to be cheaper than even little bikes like the 250. But regardless of the reason for why a scooter rider has chosen such a mount, the fact is they’re out there on two wheels, the same as us. They’re in it, just as we are, even if they don’t look as cool.

But that’s what the wave is all about, isn’t it? We wave at other riders to acknowledge that we’re all out here facing the same risks. We’re 37 times more likely to be killed than a cager and that breeds a certain solidarity, no matter what one is riding. Scooters are facing those same risks. They’re enjoying the same freedoms. I think that’s worthy of membership in the “wave club.”

And that’s why I wave at everyone now. Scooter, cruiser, Harley, tourer, it doesn’t matter. The wave is about solidarity. It’s about showing that we’re all in this together, that we’re all facing down the Grim Reaper when we swing our legs over our mounts. We’re all out there living life on two wheels. We’re all family in that regard.

. . .

Motorcycles just happen to be the cooler uncles and more awesome cousins of that particular family. 

To Pass Or Not To Pass: That Was My (Neurotic) Question

I turn the corner and accelerate onto the interstate. This is one of my favorite parts of riding. I like the feeling of getting up to speed. I like the way the engine growls as I push the RPMs. I like the rush of acceleration.

I glance over my shoulder and check that my lane is clear to merge. My lane is, but the lane next to mine isn’t.

There are two riders occupying that lane, riding in a side-by-side formation. Both are on big, black cruisers. I can’t tell the make from here, but they’re loud, even through my helmet and headphones I can hear the roar, and they’re both modded up; ape-hanger handlebars and all. Both riders are bearded and helmetless.

And both are wearing cut-off black leather vests.

I pull into my lane just as they zip past me, which gives me an opportunity to see the backs of those cuts. Classic one-percenters, right down to the patch, the top rocker, and so on. It’s not a club name that I’m familiar with (although later research indicates that my hesitation was justified, as the club in question is classified as an outlaw motorcycle club according to law enforcement).

My initial feeling is to give them a wide berth, until traffic works itself in such a way that I end up riding in their wake. They’re dominating their lane, going an easy 80 mph in the left lane. Speed limit is 75 mph.

Most people do 90+ if they can get away with it.

And now the dilemma. I’m behind them, riding in their wake. They can see me. They can see my bike. I’m riding a sport bike, long the enemy of the cruiser crowd. My blue Kawasaki isn’t going to win me friends here. We’re members of completely different tribes, even though we’re all sharing in the same potentially lethal two-wheeled experience.

I know that a big part of OMC culture is the idea of respect, something that’s shared with most gang or gang-like groups. When I worked in a south-side library in a tough part of town, one of my tasks was asking gang members in the library to put away their colors while in the library. It was frequently a terrifying experience; you try to handle the issue respectfully but you never know how the other guy is going to react. Fortunately, I never had a bad reaction.

What counts as disrespect when you’re sharing the highway with a pair of outlaw bikers? Passing them in the right lane seems disrespectful, because it frequently is exactly that, at least when I do it. “Go fucking faster” is what my bike is saying whenever that happens.

I really, really don’t want to communicate that particular message.

But do I follow along? Maybe that seems like I’m trying to edge into their business. Bikers are varied like that. I’ve found some people absolutely love the impromptu riding groups that sometimes pop up. You get into a group of riders, you follow them for a while because you’re all going the same way, it’s pretty fun.

But a sport rider trying to group up with a pair of one-percenters? Who knows what that looks like?

Since my only options were follow or pass, I decided ultimately the ambiguity of following in their wake was more respectful than a “fuck-you-right-lane-pass.” So I kept a good distance, focused on my commute, and wondered what, if anything, these guys were thinking about the blue rider on their tail in the full face helmet.

“Keep your distance, Chewie, but don’t look like you’re keeping your distance . . . I don’t know. Fly casual.”

If You’ve Ever Wanted To Feel Like Iron Man

Think about how much stuff Tony Stark needs in order to be Iron Man. He needs to have access to the different suits of armor in different places. He needs all the different pieces and the infrastructure to service those pieces. It takes a lot of work to be Iron Man, far moreso than it does to be Superman or Spider-Man, both of whom just have to worry about someone seeing them while they’re doing the laundry.

If you’d like to get an idea of the logistics that Tony Stark would have to go through each day (assuming he wasn’t a fictional character, of course), consider riding a motorcycle as your primary means of transportation.

The logistical consideration that goes into this process is rather intricate. I have to plan out which pieces of gear I’m going to need, where I can store it if I don’t need it at that moment, and how I’m going to carry it all. Here’s what a typical day looks like:

  1. Since I started wearing riding boots and armored pants, I need to bring a pair of jeans and comfortable shoes with me to work. Into the backpack they go, with the shoes wrapped in a plastic bag so they don’t get anything else dirty.
  2. I wear a smoke-tinted visor for the morning ride, but it’s still a little too dark by the time I leave in the evening, so I pack the clear visor and swap them out for the ride home.
  3. Since it’s still chilly out in the mornings (that 85+ mph freeway commute doesn’t help), I wear an extra layer over my riding pants. They’re snowboarding pants, which are great for being wind resistance, warm, and waterproof, but they’re bulky as hell and don’t provide any protection so I can’t wear them in lieu of riding pants.
  4. The wind chill also means wearing something under my riding jacket. Since I bought my jacket used and the guy had lost the warm insert lining, this ends up being a hoodie on chilly days (and on really cold days, a snowboarding jacket).
  5. What about gloves? I actually have three different pairs of gloves and can layer them in different ways, depending on the level of windchill. These are actually the least space-consuming part of my gear, since I can shove the unused gloves in my backpack’s external mesh net.
  6. Here’s where things get tricky: this setup works for the morning ride, when it’s about 40 degrees before factoring in windchill. But on the ride home in the evening, it’s too hot to wear the warm layers. So now the hoodie and the warm pants have to get crammed into my backpack along with the shoes, the jeans, the unused visor . . . and, you know, whatever things I might have needed to take to work with me that day, like my laptop or books or whatever.
  7. As a fun aside, I tried wearing the warm layers home once in the afternoon even though it was 80 degrees. I nearly passed out after an extended pause at a long stoplight.

That’s a brief look at how I’m handling the logistical side of clothing now that I’m living life on two wheels 100% of the time. I’m considering buying an extra pair of shoes just to leave at work so I don’t have to haul my sneakers back and forth every day.

One thing that’s nice is that the amount of gear I need to be able to haul in my pack is very temporary. In cold months, I wear my warm layers both to and from work and in the summer, I don’t need the warm layers at all. It’s only this weird time of year when we have chilly mornings and hot afternoons that I have to work around the space considerations. The longer summer days will also remove the need to swap visors, making that one less piece I need to carry.

So, yes, there’s a lot of gear and logistics that go into motorcycle commuting, especially if all the gear, all the time is your MO. I could make things easier on myself by not bothering with so much gear, but then I run the risk of one day knowing exactly what cheese feels like after meeting a cheese grater should I go down without that stuff. So I’ll keep wearing it and just work through the logistics with a smile, because the alternative is cheese graters except on my legs and feet. Yeah, no.

A Cold Ride: A Short Story That Actually Happened

It was a cold December morning when I rode my motorcycle onto the interstate. My hands began to freeze beneath my two layers of gloves before I reached the five mile mark.

At the 20 mile mark, I started talking to myself.

How long does it take before frostbite starts to set in? I asked myself as the world blew past me at ninety miles an hour. I think this wind is giving me frostbite. The only thing I can feel under my gloves is pain.

Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t get frostbite if there’s no frost, I replied. It’s not called windbite. 

It’s thirty-four degrees and there’s a windchill factor involved, I argued. It might be frostbite. And look! There’s frost right over there! 

On either side of the highway, long rows of planted crops were sporting a very festive shade of white.

Well, shit I thought. I guess it could be frostbite.

Epilogue: When I arrived at my destination, I went inside and ran hot water over my hands for ten minutes and felt better. No fingers were lost. For a while, I was worried about my toes, but they’re still attached as well.

Riding In The Rain

This post is about riding motorcycles.

You can feel the raindrops breaking against you despite the leather jacket. Each one stings but doesn’t hurt. It feels good. Your hands are wet despite the gloves, which you wonder about until you remember that you’re wearing the gloves with perforations in them because it’s summer.  You know, to keep your hands cool. The soaked leather of your gloves feels good too.

Your focus is on the road in front of you. The oily puddles of rainwater and various coolant, oil, and other sundry liquids make you alert but not nervous. There’s a sense of daring as you ride around some and through others. Any one of them could be too much and then you’ll be on the side of the road, hopefully alive and unhurt, but no guarantees.

Even though you’ve ridden faster before, this is where you feel the edge most keenly. It’s a good feeling. The thrill of pushing right up to that precipice is a good one.

The crack of thunder is louder than your engine. You know it’s not safe to do this, it’s not recommended, but the idea of not doing it seems even worse.

It feels as though this moment was made for you. All of the choices of your life have led up to this time, this place, this road, this storm. You’re riding on the edge of the storm like a surfer riding the crest of a wave.

The sound and the rain and the engine and the road are your entire world at this moment. There is nothing else to think about. Nothing else matters right now. Later, it will, but not right now.

You don’t do this because you believe a lie about invulnerability. You don’t do this because of some fascination with death. No, this is all about life; this is about holding your life in your hands and savoring it and experiencing it with the full realization that it is a fleeting and precious thing. It slips by even faster than the road beneath you, even faster than the rain around you.

You ride the edge of the storm because you are alive and glad of it and when the lightning arcs across the sky in front of you, so brightly that it’s like a newborn sun even through your darkened visor, you don’t feel fear. You feel good. You feel alive and quick and full of promise.

You realize that this moment, this summer storm out on a desert road is a rare moment and you realize that there are too few moments like these and that they are rare and special things.

This one is yours; yours, and no one else’s.