~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Wind and the Engine

Since motorcycling began riders have used hand signals to communicate with one another on the road. Pointing to the tank meant you needed to stop for gas, pantomiming a drink meant you needed to stop for a drink, standing up on the pegs briefly meant your butt was tired and you needed a rest or you just farted. A clenched fist or single extended middle digit was sufficient to let car drivers know you were not pleased. Communication -- simple, direct, without encouraging mindless chatter or distracting unnecessarily from the ride. Each rider's lane space and brain space is respected, his thoughts remain his unless it's truly necessary to interrupt.

Over at Mike Werner's "Bikes in the Fast Lane" blog ( I read it daily) Mike has posted some product news pieces over the last few weeks about new crash helmets that are coming from their manufacturers with wireless networking and/or cell phone support built into them. I love gadgets and love technology but I have doubts about the goodness of wireless network enabled helmets except perhaps for rider and passenger to communicate. Even there I suspect some couples enjoy the mutual silence of the ride as a way to be together without feeling like some minimum level of talk was necessary to be polite. How necessary is it to ask someone during a ride "What are you thinnnnking?" or encourage them to "Look at all the cows!"? Worthwhile conversation should be saved up, filtered, and then poured forth at the scenic overlook, rest stop, or at dinner, leaving the joy of the ride itself undiluted.

I've tended to look with disdain upon those folks with long CB antennas curving from the back of their Goldwings and ElectraGlides. I've heard the arguments about safety, sharing ride info, finding each other after getting separated, or whatever. Those are all valid arguments but to me go against the essential nature of motorcycling which I see as an individualistic sport if not a largely solitary sport. Motorcycling over-complicated with gadgets becomes motorhoming. Harley ran an excellent print ad years ago that said "If you think you need all the comforts of home, maybe you should just stay there." The picture was a huge, barge-like "motorcycle" with everything onboard including a fringed floor lamp and an overstuffed chair for a seat. Of course that was before H-D discovered they could but their brand on all that stuff, mark it up to ridiculous prices, and sell it to the R.U.B.s. Let me expand on that and say "If you need every techno-gadget money can by when you ride maybe you have missed the point of the ride." To me, motorcycling is about escaping the digital dialed, luminescent screened crap that clutters our daily lives, not hauling along as much of it as we can and then trying to use it while we ride.

I saw a small rider poll on Sport-Touring.Net recently that indicated that people rode alone and preferred to ride alone about 75% of the time. My number would be more like 99% of the time although a comely pillion passenger would be welcome more often than that and would eliminate the need for the electric back massager. I'm open minded enough to think that I might feel differently about on-bike communications if I rode more with other people. Even in the days when I was married I rarely had company on a ride but today I went out for a ride with the one and only club to which I belong, The Geezers M/C. Ten or fifteen bikes, 200+ miles of riding. No two-ways and only the rarest of hand signals. People who have ridden for a long time don't need to communicate much on the road, they seem to know what needs to be done and when.

A decade ago on a ride from Arizona over to California for the BMW 49er Rally I hooked up a small FM radio so I could listen to SOMETHING while trudging down the interstate for the 500 miles before the good roads began. The usefulness proved to be minimal as the reception of the small Sony radio was weak out away from big cities and adjusting the station with gloves on was impossible. My background music was pretty much limited to mariachi music from just across the border. Mariachi music is fine with a Mexican dinner or a fiesta but piped into your helmet, especially when you don't understand Spanish, gets a little painful. In the areas where the little Sony did function and brought in proper pre-1970 rock & roll I felt it distracted from operating the bike or at least, given the mind numbing flatness of the southwestern desert, intruded on time better spent thinking important thoughts about life, motorcycles, women, and food.

Riding takes more concentration than driving a car, perhaps that's part of the unique fun of motorcycling. Few things in our daily lives demand that we focus our mind and whole body in a coordinated effort a task that is both simple and complex at the same time. Sports like golf or bowling may do that for a moment but a bike demands that kind of focus for hours at a time. Perhaps that's why some of the more philosophical riders talk about getting into a Zen like state of mind when they do long distance rides.

My work days are spent with a phone on my desk and a cell phone on my belt so that anyone and everyone can interrupt my work at their will even when I'm not at my desk. Why, when I am doing what I like best (riding a motorcycle) would I want to set up a scenario where my thoughts and the pure concentration and joy of the ride can be jangled by a ringing phone, warning beeps from a GPS, or a radio commercial? Having a cell phone ring inside your helmet and feeling like you have to answer it via your "Official Bluetooth Voice Activated Mic With Integrated Earpiece" as you bend into a fast sweeper or some great s-curves, is nuts. No thanks. The only noise I want to hear when I ride is the wind and the engine.

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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence



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