As Summer has recently been subjecting us to its extended death throes (in the form of 105°+ temperatures here in the San Fernando Valley), I’ve been thinking about seasons and how they affect motorcyclists. While people who live in parts of the country/world with real winters may joke about MO’s Southern California headquarters as having no seasons, we can vouch for the existence of seasons here – and not the earthquake, brushfire, riots, and mudslides that people joke about outside of the Golden State. (Really, people, have some dignity and just admit that you’re jealous.)
In fact, we do have seasons, and sometimes we’re able to ride through all of them in a single day – say from spring at the beach through summer in the desert valleys to fall/winter up to and through the snow-covered mountains. Now, you might say that, just because there is snow piled on both sides of the road where the plows pushed it away, we’re not really experiencing true winter. Although I’m willing to stipulate that this weather is nothing like what the folks in the Great White North call winter, you need to remember that any time the thermometer dips below 50° you’re experiencing the brunt of what Mother Nature throws at the coastal Southwest in the wintertime. Those who doubt me need only visit Melrose Boulevard during one of these times to witness how the natives are forced to wear down parkas over their cropped tops, short-shorts and Uggs.
Stepping away from actual seasons to those of a more metaphorical kind, spring, for a motorcyclist, is that heady period when one first begins to ride. Every moment is a first. While the learning curve is steep, the enjoyment factor ramps up equally quickly. Just ask any motorcycle safety instructor about the moment when a new rider suddenly gets a skill he/she was struggling with. The air is electric.
Riding a motorcycle down your first mountain road, feeling the bike respond to your inputs as the pavement undulates beneath you, is excitement of the first-kiss order. You’ll never quite forget it. In fact, over time, it probably looms ever larger in your memory. The feeling keeps you coming back for more. In Disney’s Bambie, Friend Owl’s description of being “twitterpated” feels apt here: “You’re walking along, minding your own business. You’re looking neither to the left, nor to the right, when all of a sudden you run smack into a pretty [motorcycle]. Woo-woo! You begin to get weak in the knees. Your head’s in a whirl. And then you feel light as a feather, and before you know it, you’re walking on air. And then you know what? You’re knocked for a loop, and you completely lose your head!” How else can we explain the way so many new riders get swept up to the point of obsession when first riding a bike?
Spring doesn’t last forever, and what was once young and green and tender grows stronger and more firmly rooted – perhaps beginning to flower or grow fruit. Summer has begun. For motorcyclists, this can take many forms: buying a bigger motorcycle, buying multiple motorcycles, traveling, racing, or (God help you) pursuing a career in motorcycles. The relationship has grown so strong, so intense, that you can’t imagine life without it. Your clothing changes. You acquire new friends – called riding buddies. Your DVR fills with two-wheeled content. You spend your free time on motorcycle-focused websites and forums. You may find yourself staying in – or at least going home early – on Saturday night so that you’ll be sharp for the Sunday morning ride.
For me, summer began with the establishment of my weekend ritual of riding the Angeles Crest in the morning and hitting the Rock Store for lunch. I wrenched on bikes with friends in apartment garages (or the occasionally flea-infested “bike cage” that I shared with several feral cats in my building). I became a motorcycle safety instructor. When my non-riding wife, then my girlfriend, was asked by a friend if she’d ever thought of requesting that I give up motorcycles for her, she said (and I’m paraphrasing) that she probably wouldn’t like my answer to that question. So, she never thought of asking. (She went on to get her motorcycle endorsement and rode for a while before deciding that riding wasn’t really for her.)
Summer continued through years of racing and the endless parade of test bikes traipsing through my garage in front of my poor, cuckquean R6. I’ve managed to escape the effects of life events that all too frequently relegate riders to the ranks of former riders: accidents, illness, children, etc. However, I’m becoming aware that my days of endless summer are probably numbered. Fall looms on the horizon, despite the current heatwave.
But Fall is when we reap the bounty of summer. It’s harvesting season. So, while the only way I’ll ever be faster on the track than I was will be in the retelling, I’ve got the benefit of all my experiences. I’ve got the benefit of motorcycling friends scattered all over the country and even in a couple other countries. Most importantly, I’ve still got a constant jones for motorcycles. When I’m talking with people out on the street and hear a motorcycle, I always stop to look – sometimes to the point of rudeness. I’m constantly telling my family things about my latest ride that they really don’t care about. Well, it makes me happy.
Eventually, if we’re lucky, we arrive at Winter. If I’ve learned anything in all my years riding, it’s that people who are annually denied the pleasure of riding tend to be among the most hard-core of enthusiasts. Where lots of SoCal riders take the car because it’s too cold to ride in the 50s, riders who’ve suffered through a real winter can often be seen risking frostbite from wind chill as soon as the ambient temperature gets above freezing. Similarly, I’ve seen people fall out of the habit of riding for the most trivial of reasons while others have doggedly climbed back in the saddle, repeatedly – despite very real challenges – which warrants the question: Did the folks who stop do so because they got old or did they accelerate the aging process because they stopped riding? At some point we all reach the “use it or lose it” stage of our lives, and I plan to maintain my single-track mind even while my chassis becomes vintage technology.
Other activities that I enjoyed have and will continue to fall by the wayside, but motorcycling has been the focus of my life for too many years to let a little cold weather turn me away.