6 Things Nobody Tells You About Owning a Motorcycle
Due to recent financial hardships, I had to trade in my beloved old truck. In its stead, I got myself a motorcycle. Fuel efficient, fun, low insurance -- all great things. But in having a bike as my primary mode of transport, I've learned a lot of terrible things about motorcycles. Not just the fact that any given ride can end with your organs flung across four lanes of traffic. Everyone knows that. Things like:
Go to craigslist and search for motorcycles. You'll see people advertising their bikes as "garage kept." It makes sense: Less weather, less random molestation, better bike. Right? This is a lie. What you are seeing is a front perpetrated by motorcycle owners. People that have ridden before know what is really being said here: No spiders.
Due to necessity, I have to park my bike outside. Often under a tree. For seven months of the year. In Austin, Texas.
This means rain, heat, sun and humidity. These four elements combine together like a horrific Voltron to produce billions of giant, inexplicably hostile bugs. Not the cute, harmless kind; the kind that appear to be sporting prison tattoos. And their yard -- the place where they mingle, fight, maneuver and plot -- is my motorcycle. All the little nooks and crannies are like a pre-built insect metropolis, just waiting to be populated by creepy little pedestrians. My general morning ritual consists of a quick dusting for the visible spider webs, egg sacks and booby traps placed by the crawling terrors that -- but you can never get them all. If there's one thing spiders know, it is patience: They hide in their hidden crevices, waiting for you to get on the street when they can emerge and feast upon your jiggly bits unimpeded.
Like all rational beings, I once had a fear of spiders. But the first time one dangles in front of your face from the inside of your helmet, you make a decision: Overcome your fear, kill the part of your brain that feels emotions, and calmly guide your bike to the side of the road, or obey literally every instinct in your body to swat, scream and flail, and become modern art on the highway.
But for the real excitement, you turn to wasps. Wasps that nest in your exhaust, building the equivalent of an Apocrita daycare in the middle of an active volcano, just so they can fester in hatred when you start your bike up and proceed to barbecue their young. Because that's how wasps work. They only build as an excuse for murder, and they have the uncanny ability to find any opening in your clothing to accomplish it. This is such a problem, people have even patented a quick release helmet ... for the select few steely individuals capable of working a release catch with one hand while maneuvering a street-bike at high speeds through heavy traffic with the other, and all while simultaneously being stung by wasps on the fucking face.
You Can't Trigger Lights
Most red lights work one of two ways: They're timed or they're triggered. The triggered lights usually work on an induction loop, which is basically a bit of coiled wire that completes a full circuit when the weight of a vehicle squishes it together. This is a problem, because unless you're Lord Humungus out riding your massive 800-pound armor-plated tank-bike, you aren't triggering any lights. You're just sitting. Sitting, impotent, while Mad Max escapes with all your precious oil.
So you have a choice: You can sit, potentially for hours, waiting until a "real" motorist pulls up behind you to trigger it, or you can just throw caution to the wind and run the light. You'll wait the first few times it happens -- and it will happen -- but even if you have the patience of a saint, you're eventually going to run a lot of lights. Luckily, this is such a common problem that Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Georgia, Virginia and others have all passed laws allowing motorcycles to run reds. Not in a gesturing-maniacally-at-panicking-cross-traffic-as-you-tear-through-major-intersections-on-your-iron-steed kind of way, but by allowing motorcycles to treat the lights more like stop signs. So as long as you pull up at an intersection, slow to a stop and check both ways for traffic, you can just blow right on through there. It is totally allowed. I mean, you'll collect hatred from other drivers like condensation on a frosty glass, sure, but it'll be legal hatred. And that's the sweetest hatred of all.
You Join a Club
When you get a motorcycle, you join a club. Enrollment is automatic, and you cannot opt out. It's a club that you will always be in, right up until you get kissed by an amorous semi, or wise up and sell the bike to invest in a safer, more practical mode of transportation. Heroin, for example. But until you sign up for one of those two inevitable fates, you are part of the club. And there's only one simple rule: Motorcyclists wave at each other. No big deal. Right? Well, until you consider that:
1) It seems like every time another bike passes you and waves, you are in the middle of a shift. This leaves you fumbling to expedite the shift and get an arm out there, which will either lead you to stall, or else weave around the street like a drunken toddler experimenting with mom's high heels. Either way, by the time you've managed to get your hand up in return, they're long gone, and completely despising you and your rudeness. Oh yeah, and you're probably also sliding your bike through the median. But it's the dislike that really smarts.
2) If you do manage to see an oncoming bike with enough time to get an appropriate wave up, you better make sure it isn't a scooter. Unwritten bike rules make it a crime punishable by exile or death to wave at a scooter. And damn if it isn't hard to tell when you two are approaching each other at a combined 100 mph. If you do catch yourself mid-wave to a Vespa, however, it is acceptable to slowly turn it into an upraised middle finger. It's like the handshake-psyche of the two-wheeled world, and the look of dejection on their face will redeem any momentary awkwardness.
3) Like any club that has grown too large, it has become mired in vacuous debates and split into a thousand splinter factions. Older riders hate squids; cruisers hate sport riders; Harley riders hate everyone, including themselves. The social labyrinth is like navigating a high school prom, except you're sprinting through it at about 75 mph, on one leg, while programming a remote control and probably being attacked by bees.
You Become Filthy
I ride to work, which means I ride through exhaust, swarms of bugs, and whatever joy the elements bring me that day. If I wear protective clothing, well, you can't wash that stuff too often, so it ends up smelling pretty funky, and that transfers straight to your body. And then there's rain. Has anybody ever told you what it's like to feel rain against your body at 65 mph? If you want to simulate this experience for yourself, that's easy: Just go stand in the yard in the middle of a Category One hurricane.
But hey, sometimes you ride in the sun, and that's great! The open road, the warm summer air, and the heat ... oh God, the heat. A great deal of bikes, like mine, are air cooled. No radiator. So they're only really cooling down while you're in motion. When you're stopped (say, at one of those lights that doesn't recognize your existence) they're just radiating that heat upward, which happens to be right where your genitals are trapped. Aside from sterility and ball-burns, this also creates a nice pool of junk sweat. But don't worry: It will eventually evaporate ... into the rest of your clothing and skin, leaving you smelling like the floor of a teenager's bedroom for the rest of the day.
Finally, if you're commuting through a city, there's bus exhaust. If you don't think that's an issue, try this: Next time you're out walking the streets and a bus comes up to a red light, just step right in there behind it and wait. Then when it pulls away, go ahead and jog with it for a few miles. You'll show up to work smelling like you just went down on a Transformer.
You Cease to Exist
Motorcycles are straight up invisible. But not in the awesome, you get to sneak into the girl's locker room kind of way (they do tend to notice naked-save-for-a-helmet men idling motorcycles in the shower stalls. Weird, right?). The number one cause of motorcyclist death is people taking an ordinary left hand turn, right in front of the bike. They check their mirrors, they flick on their turn signals, and then they calmly and deliberately proceed to murder you.
I know. I've experienced it.
On one particularly blood-thirsty afternoon, while on a two-mile long trip, three people did their best to kill me. One took a left turn across my lane of traffic right in front of me, which ended with him driving through the landscaping of an apartment building. The second pulled across all lanes of traffic into mine, in an attempt to occupy the same space at the same time as myself -- they lost their axle on a curb in a last minute bid to not commit vehicular manslaughter (that was nice of them). The last I only avoided by swerving into the bike lane and flying out of traffic. It's like playing a game of Grand Theft Auto ... as the pedestrians.
It Turns You into a Moron.
Riding a motorcycle is dangerous, and it's compounded by the fact that you basically have to do dangerous things like run red lights while you ride it. That doesn't get better with experience. In fact, as you get better at riding, you'll become more and more functionally retarded. You'll pull maneuvers you would never attempt in a car, where you're surrounded by steel and airbags and seat belts -- like lane splitting, a practice that's straight up legal in California and more or less tolerated in most other states. If you're not familiar with the idea, lane splitting is when you ride between cars on the passing line. The thought process goes something like this: Traffic is stopped (perhaps for one of those silly little red lights that I can just ride through) and cars are ahead in both lanes, but nobody is actively straddling the center line. Bam! New, bonus lane! What are you guys, stupid? Look at all this unused space!
In the places where it is tolerated, there are a myriad of laws and regulations about how to do it safely. Every last one of them ignores a simple, fundamental fact: This cannot be done safely. The entire practice is insane and stupid. I know this. It puts me in a permanent blind spot; an unannounced lane change will guaranteed kill me; I essentially volunteer to become the meat in a crushing steel sandwich. And yet, if it will save even one second of commute, I will somehow consider it totally justifiable at the time.
There is no legitimate reason to ride without a helmet. Ever. But you probably will. I do. I have a thousand excuses for it -- it's low traffic, I'm just going to the store, I don't want to deny the world the objective, artistic beauty of my face and so on. In my mind -- in that basic, functioning part that allows me to use a fork or breathe independently -- I know that I am taking active steps to shorten my own lifespan, but I'll still do it. Because it go fast! Wind in hair!
Every time you set your ass on a bike, you're playing a game of Russian Roulette between yourself and your own stupidity. You live and die by the odds, and if given enough time, they will always catch up to you. Which is truly unfortunate, because I know a lot of people that ride motorcycles, and I don't know anyone that has ever quit. Every single person that's ridden for a few years has laid down their bike, and they now know, intimately, exactly how cheese feels when you grate it. Many have suffered serious injuries, and everyone has at least one friend they've lost in an accident. We stink, we stupidly risk our lives just to exchange platitudes, people try to murder us constantly (and that's only when we're not trying to do it ourselves by riding between cars and running lights) and all while constantly, constantly covered in screaming spiders -- and we all still ride.
There's only one possible explanation for it:
It's just really, really cool. You guys, seriously. They make this noise that's like BRAAMM and they go superfast and did you see that James Dean movie, where he was all like-
Motorcycle owners aren't the only ones with issues, check out 5 Bizarre Pitfalls of Owning a Classic Car. Or find out about some crazier means of transportation in 6 Transportation Innovations More Baffling Than The Segway.