In one of my favorite lines from the movie The Big Chill, Jeff Goldblum’s character uttered what summed up something I’ve always suspected about myself – and all other humans:
Michael: I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.
Sam: Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.
Michael: Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?
We use rationalizations to tell ourselves what we want to hear. In other words, we lie to ourselves – often knowingly. Riding motorcycles is a visceral undertaking, an activity that frequently defies logic. Why would we want to ride around exposed to the elements and hazards when we could comfortably recline in a climate-controlled cocoon with surround sound and a holder for a hot cup of coffee? Simple, because motorcycling has grabbed on to something deep inside us and won’t let go. Now, explain what it is in 50 words or less.
Consequently, when we get the itch to ride, nothing is going to thwart or even delay us. We’ll come up with all kinds of cockamamy reasons to ride or keep on riding. Come on, fess up. You know you’re guilty of this. The great thing about hanging out with riders is that we get to tell each other our stories of amazing adventures we had on bikes. Often, these adventures were preceded by a rationalization.
What follows is a list of the Top 10 Lies Motorcyclists Tell Themselves. Don’t hesitate to include yours in the comments section.
10. I can wait until the next gas station
When I’m in the thick of a good ride, I hate to stop – even if it’s just to refuel. Unfortunately, motorcycles seem to double in weight when their tanks are empty and you’re pushing them alongside of a highway…in the summer…in full riding gear…with the gas station shimmering in the distance like a desert mirage – offering fuel, cold water, and air-conditioning. Don’t ask me how I know this.
However, I will say that, when I moved from the Southeast to the Southwest, I had to recalibrate the percentage of tank I’d go through before I’d start considering a gas stop. Why? Because I’ve spent far too many miles trying to make myself as small as physically possible behind the windscreen or tucked up close to a tractor-trailer’s bumper, milking that last little bit of mileage out of a tank as I prayed I’d make it to the next gas station. For example, in 1998, while riding the first Kawasaki Nomad cross-country from its introduction at Daytona Bike Week, a headwind (and a heavy right wrist) decimated my gas mileage in West Texas. After 37.2 miles on reserve, my Nomad sputtered to a halt as I pulled into the station. I put 4.23 gallons of fuel into a 4.2 gallon tank.
9. I’ll be home before dark
Tinted visors are great – during the day. What happens when you have that super cool, dark tinted visor at night? Well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Since carrying capacity is always an issue on a motorcycle, many riders mount a tank bag to their bike for pretty much the sole purpose of keeping a clear visor available. What about those folks who don’t have tank bags or saddlebags? Well, you can carry a backpack or put the spare shield inside a sock and carry it inside your jacket around the side of your waist, but that can be a real drag. Or you can simply tell yourself you won’t need a clear visor because you’ll be home long before dark. What could go wrong?
8. Just one more track session
The punchline to the joke about most crashes taking place during the last session of the track day is that it’s the crash that turns it into the last session for the rider. Track days are fun. Where else can we get our ya-yas out without worrying about police or unknown road conditions around the blind corner just ahead. Still, there is such a thing as too much fun. Remember how sick you felt as a kid when you came home on Halloween and ate five pounds of candy before bedtime? Well, late sessions at a track day – particularly if the temperature is high – call for a little self-reflection about your physical state before you slide into your sweaty leathers for another stint. How tired are you? Were you riding well during the previous session or were you beginning to get sloppy? How many more track days can you ride for the cost of replacement bodywork and controls?
7. That tire’s still got some life in it
We’ve all heard variations of the old warning that 90% of tire failure takes place in the last 20% of tire wear. I’m not here to argue with the truthiness of that statement since catastrophic tire failure is still relatively rare – even with a mostly used up tread. Instead, let’s consider all the other things that tires do to keep your bike shiny side up. Obviously, the deeper the grooves in the tread, the better the tires can channel water away and prevent hydroplaning. Folks who live in areas where it doesn’t rain much don’t get off scott-free, however. The grooves also help the tread to maintain contact with the pavement in dirty or sandy conditions.
Tire manufacturers expend a ton of effort in designing tire profiles. Since a tire’s shape affects a bike’s turn-in characteristics and its willingness to change lines in a corner, if a front tire is worn on the sides, it can become less willing to hold a line different from the one that fits the worn profile. Similarly, applying the front brake while leaned over on a worn tire can cause an abrupt change in attitude, like standing up and sending you wide at the worst possible time. Also, a rear tire worn flat in the middle will tend to self-center as the bike transitions from leaned over to upright, rather than letting you control the transition.
Don’t cheap out. It could get expensive. Also, new tires add a great smell to your garage when you first walk in to it.
6. It’s not gonna rain
If your riding gear isn’t waterproof, you’re going to be faced with the decision of whether or not to carry your rain gear with you at some point. Yes, weather apps on our phone now give us more granular information about the forecast and where the storm cells are moving. Still, riding in the rain without proper gear can deliver a special kind of misery – even in warm weather. Then again, arriving at your destination and being able to pour the water out of your boots takes a little of the sting out of hypothermia, and it makes for a good story.
5. Traction Control is for people who don’t know how to ride
When I started racing, I became friends with a guy I met in the new racer’s school. We had our first races on the same weekend: me on my EX500 and him on his ZX-10. He couldn’t understand why I’d want to race my little Twin instead of a bigger bike. He scoffed when I said I wanted to learn to ride my bike at a race pace – not have my bike ride me. Guess what happened? By the end of the first season, he’d high-sided himself into the hospital twice and into the crash truck a few more times. He wasn’t back the next year. The thing is, he was a really good rider, who was nudging right up to the limits of the tires. Unfortunately for him, there was very little margin for error between a squirm and a toss. Traction Control, which wasn’t available at the time, probably could’ve helped him learn to finesse the razor’s edge.
With the stakes so high as you apply throttle while cranked over in a corner, TC gives the rider just a little room to make a mistake and not have it bite him in the ass. As TC becomes more advanced, riders have increased ability to tune it to match their skill level, allowing them to progress in their technique.
4. I don’t need gear to ride a couple blocks
Unless your neighborhood is paved with padded asphalt, you’ll feel the impact and abrasion just as much whether you crash a block or 20 miles from home. The laws of physics don’t change just because you’re a local. What does change is our familiarity with the area which leads us into a false sense of confidence. Yes, we’ve ridden these roads hundreds – maybe thousands – of times without incident, but that may not be true of the people with whom we’re sharing the road.
3. The cagers are always at fault
Yeah, car drivers don’t understand us, and they certainly can’t fathom the differences between driving and riding. However, the us-versus-them mentality is only true to a point. The infamous left-turning car is responsible for far too many accidents, particularly in the busy visual environment of urban roadways. However, far too many accident reports read something like this: “The motorcyclist crossed the center line on State Road 29, and his Harley-Davidson hit a sport utility vehicle head on” or “The motorcyclist was riding his sports bike west on the Inner Loop Expressway at a high rate of speed when he lost control and crashed into a concrete divider.” Clearly these riders had an inflated sense of their ability. Try to be reality based when you ride.
2. It’s only one more motorcycle
Motorcyclists often straddle a fine line between passion and affliction. For many, they cross the line when they decide to buy a second motorcycle. Somehow, only owning one bike is easy to maintain, but once you put the second one in your garage, the third (or fourth or fifth) becomes a much easier acquisition. You’ll know you need intervention when you have to move a bike or two out of your garage to wrench on one. Or maybe you’re thinking about moving farther out of town where you could get a house with a much bigger garage for the same price. After all, the longer commute will give you more riding time…
1. I’m okay to ride
While most of the lies we tell ourselves as motorcyclists may lead to entertaining stories outlining our foibles as human beings, some have all-too-frequently tragic results. Riding under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is one of those things. I hate to get all serious on you in what is intended to be a (mostly) comical look at motorcycling, but intoxicated riding kills motorcyclists. And there’s no way to be funny about it.
Riding is a way to live life more fully. To me, having a full life involves sticking around for a while to enjoy it. Oh, and the people who care about you will lead happier lives, too.