I recently did something on a motorcycle that I hadn’t done in a preposterously long time. I rode with no intended purpose, traveling nowhere in particular.

A motojournalist’s brain is always working while riding: Is the XYZ750 better than the XYZ700 it replaces and the new Yamizuka 750? Is this helmet shape a medium-oval or a long-oval? Do my coworkers think I’m a dick? How many button pushes does it take to reset this farking tripmeter?!!!

I had almost forgotten how soothing it is just gliding through the air on a motorcycle, simply enjoying this elemental yet oddly profound feeling that got us all hooked on the moto experience in the first place. There are incredible feelings that only motorcyclists get as they pass through their environments with no roof or doors that mute sensory stimuli. Switching off my mind from wheelbases, MSRPs and market penetration returned my brain to a place it hadn’t been in months – maybe years.

Because I had no destination in mind, I wasn’t in a hurry, as is my typical situation. The air gliding past my body gave me a fairly precise idea of my speed, so I wasn’t bothering to check the speedo to see how many mph I was exceeding the limit, as is often the case. More than a few cars went past me, which almost always is not the case when I ride. I was just enjoying the ride at a comfortable pace.

My sensory perceptions seemed tuned higher than normal. As I cruised through the atmosphere, I could feel the air swirl around my body, almost to the point that I could imagine seeing it slide past me. Vibration I felt from the engine wasn’t judged by an analytical mind as good or bad, but rather as a basic connection to a machine that was living and breathing beneath me. Even my sense of smell heightened, my nose able to detect rich carburetion from the Corvette several cars ahead of me.

When I’m behind the bars of a motorcycle, calm and relaxed are feelings atypical for me, especially when in traffic. Yet there they were, beaming back at me in quiet pacification. It was like I was snuggled up to something warm and cozy, dropping my blood pressure as if a bottle of lisinopril was fused with an orgasm’s afterglow.

I was luxuriating in the calm feeling for several miles, wondering why more of my rides couldn’t be like this. Then the driver of the car in front of me needlessly applied her brakes as we approached a green light, spurring me to evade the makeup-checking zombie. My brain reverted back to its default mode and made me speed up to the upper percentile of traffic speed. I began to slide my way into holes in traffic, actively searching for the most efficient route ahead. No longer was I savoring a peaceful easy feeling. My mind was calm and serene minutes prior, but my brain was now simultaneously processing dozens of inputs – clutch bite, shift points, car drivers, upcoming signal lights, mirrors – while trying to stay ahead of traffic.


It was disappointing to realize my mindset had all-too-swiftly drifted from its peaceful lull into its frenetic alter ego. Perhaps it would be impossible for me to feel relaxed while riding a motorcycle. However, I was able to make another mental shift and return to deeper breathing and less stress, which made me feel a bit chuffed to be able to modify my way of thinking so consciously. Master of my own domain, so to speak.

Not long after, some yob in his Audi A4 ran through the tail end of a yellow light and into the pathway of my green light. In my seemingly enlightened state, I quickly granted forgiveness and remained calm. Then, as I rolled up alongside, he began drifting into my lane. I glanced over and noticed the stupid eyes in his stupid head were looking down at his stupid phone – perhaps the most dangerous development of the 21st century – and the red mist dripped over my stupid eyes.

No longer calm, and no longer enlightened, I reverted back to my default programming, getting on the gas and keeping ahead of as much traffic as possible. Gaps in traffic that minutes earlier seemed small were now open gates with invitations. Car velocities that previously seemed fast became minimum speeds. I was filtering through stopped traffic, then jamming on the throttle as I bolted away off the line. If there was a traffic contest, I was definitely winning!

I was doing so well, in fact, that I drew the attention of a fellow rider who was trying to keep up with me as I scythed through traffic. His bike wasn’t as narrow as the Ducati Monster I was riding, but the Honda ST1300 he was riding had a magical way of parting traffic. Mostly because of the red and blue lights flashing as he closed the gap to me.

After having a discussion about the best ways for a motorcycle to ride within traffic, I was issued a citation for traveling 60 mph in a 45-mph zone. The motor officer was actually quite pleasant, all things considered, and he left me with advice to ride a little more conservatively.

I’m trying, dude!

Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment. —Zig Ziglar

  • Sayyed Bashir

    The only way to relax is to be out on a country or farm road in the late morning or early afternoon, with meadows, fields and cows or horses on both sides and very little traffic. It is easy to see far on flat land and not be surprised by unexpected traffic or animals on the road. And with no particular destination in mind. Just enjoying the view and the breeze. And looking forward to a nice lunch.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    I’ve found that there is no real way to force myself into certain state of mind. Sometimes riding faster than usual makes me excited and happy, sometimes – angry or anxious. Same thing with riding slow. Sometimes I even can’t feel the pleasure of riding at all, just wanting to get somewhere ASAP.
    I guess it all is a part of great Cycle: for anything to be good you need something to compare it to.

  • JMDonald

    My goal is to always find the road less traveled. I started riding with this goal although I lost it a time or two. I now use this goal as my foundation for all of my rides. It allows me to find total consciousness like no other activity does. It becomes more than a task it becomes meditative. When I ride in traffic it is a different dynamic. On a road by myself I am better able to get to the right place. Last year I rode some of the old roads of my youth. Two lane twisty country roads with elevation changes that go on for miles. No traffic. These roads are getting harder to find. For me anyway. The search is part of the fun. Having no particular place to go helps tremendously in getting to that correct and comfortable place.

  • Chris

    Sorry, but, yes, you’re a dick…Ha! I’ve slowed my riding waaaaaay down the last few years. I sold all my performance bikes (which I’ve been riding almost exclusively for decades) and now have a garage full of useful, versatile, moderate, comfortable, efficient (many would call weenie, boring, or beginner) bikes. My attitude change, along w/the bikes, has been an eye-opening joy. I now ride much more relaxed and enjoy the experience. When I do wick it up, it’s very moderate, not too far off legal (relatively speaking, of course), and it’s more me and my thing, than it is the bike. Very nice, actually, and much less expensive…in so many ways. Maturity? Or just getting old(er)? Both? Neither? I’m not sure and I don’t really care. I just know I’m likin’ it.

  • Chris

    Good article, BTW. Much enjoyed.

  • Old MOron

    So being a moto journo makes it tough to enjoy a simple ride?
    Cheer up, Duke. At least you’re not a gynecologist!

    • Kevin Duke

      Feel my pain, OM!

  • John B.

    Great article Kevin, but you got one thing backward. “No longer calm, and no longer enlightened, I reverted back to my default programming.” Our default programming is calm and enlightened. Buddhists clear their minds of all thought during meditation to return to this default mode and achieve serenity and enlightenment. Only after decades of ceaseless thinking and frenetic activity do we forget our true nature. To clear one’s mind of all thought is very difficult for us westerners. With practice it gets easier however. Perhaps more serenity rides are in order?

    • Kevin Duke

      Serenity now!

    • Old MOron

      Nicely put, John. Here’s another perspective: as we evolved we faced constant stress looking for food and shelter, escaping predators and enemies, etc. Our default programming probably was, and is, active and stressed.

      For the record, I appreciate the few Buddhist principles and perspectives I’ve been exposed to. I wish we could all be Buddhist, or at least drive like Buddhist :-)

  • SteveSweetz

    CA cops use ST1300s? That’s really cool. PA moto cops all use lame HDs that look like they’re from the 50s.

    • Larry

      They also ride R1200RTs in some departments in CA. Both make way more sense than the HDs. Even crazier than the Harley’s, I went through a very hilly town recently and passed a motor cop on a Goldwing. That was a real head scratcher.

    • Kevin Duke

      This wasn’t a CHiP but rather a Huntington Beach PD motor officer. Fun fact: Of all the ST1300-Ps in use across the country, about 80% of them originated at Huntington Beach Honda, according to its GM I spoke to a few weeks ago.

      • JMDonald

        I got a ticket in Huntington Beach riding my bicycle. The danger I put the general public in while recklessly guiding my Fuji Gran Fondo helter skelter down the PCH running a red light is the stuff of legend. I should have tried to outrun them. The police state is alive and well there.

        • Old MOron

          Ha ha, I got a similar bicycle ticket about 20 years ago. I was indignant about it, but it wasn’t a points violation, so I got over it. I hope it’s still not a points violation.

          • JMDonald

            It wasn’t a points violation for me either. Just a revenue generator for the City. The police state is worse here in Texas. They have roads that will easily support a 50mph speed threshold but post them at 30. They are better able to shakedown the local citizenry that way.

    • pcontiman

      Those lame HD’s are built in the USA. Why not use taxpayer dollars to sustain jobs here ? If you need a pursuit motorcycle, HD is not the way to go but do you need a pursuit motorcycle ? sorry to inflict the negativity but had to.

  • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin
    • fastfreddie

      Or accept the ticket and move on…;)

      • http://www.motou.info Gabe Ets-Hokin

        Yes, because traffic enforcement is so fairly and evenly applied! The yuppie in the A4 was breaking the law–and at a higher risk of crashing–than Duke, but he’ll likely never get a ticket for his infraction. Always, always, always fight your ticket. It is your Constitutional right.

        • fastfreddie

          One is also allowed to choose ones battles…If it’s an unfair ticket,I’m all for fighting,but to fight just for the battle,it sounds like a tedious battle arena.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            You have a 50-50 chance of getting a ticket dismissed. If you only fight the unfair ones, your chances of winning will be 25-75. By fighting all tickets, you even out the chances of winning.

          • fastfreddie

            Really?Here in norway that statistic is abit more balanced towards the authorities.Still possible to get out of it,but much less chance than 50/50.More like 10/90.

            Still stand by my reply,but am speaking from a different cultural stand point (somewhat)

  • Craig Hoffman

    I admit it, I am a weekend warrior. The FZ1 only gets pulled out and taken to the mountains, usually on weekends and during good weather. No city riding, as little traffic as possible, leave early and wail in the canyons, before the cruiser guys and minivans wake up to clog the roads. It is a pretty zen like experience, but it is not perfect, as there is always a worry about the authorities taking exception and charging me a “fun fee” for my early morning reverie…

    Dirt bike riding is really the answer to the motorcycle zen you seek. No cops, no makeup applying chicks or other idiot car drivers. Go fast and thrill yourself, or just cruise and enjoy jaw dropping scenery. A little photographic evidence then, to prove my point. Does this pic not not just say adventure and relaxation? Of course it does :)