It is a funny human trait that people will use their vehicles for everything but what they are intended. They will destroy, modify and joyfully re-invent a use of the vehicle that it was never designed. It’s fun; it’s creative and artful sometimes. I enjoy odd demolition derbies (buses, combines, or station wagons pulling campers or boats) far more than a person should. Power tool races and pumpkin chunking are high on the list also. On the opposite side of that coin, I wonder why motorcycles are not used as a functional form of transportation as they are intended. Every time I commute to work and see traffic, or watch the news and listen to the traffic reports, I wonder why Motorcycling isn’t promoted as a part of a solution to the congestion and parking problems of all major cities. Is it that the motorcycling world does not take commuting as a serious or valid use of a motorcycle? That it may be fun to go on a winter Toy run, but not to bundle up, plug in and commit to using their motorcycle as a commuter vehicle? Motorcycle commuters could be seen by the locals, politicians and future generations of riders as an example of what motorcycling is all about.
I know there are regular commuters out there with the secrets, the tales and the scars to share. I look forward to recognizing the movers, haulers and shakers. Over the years I have seen as many Harleys being used the way Dual Sport and sport touring riders use their bikes that are better set up for commuting. Yet I don’t see gear in Harley based shops aimed at touring or commuting.
It hit me hard a few weeks ago when I was in Bass Pro and saw the deer hunters happily buying gear to deal with the cold and elements of the approaching winter deer season. I wondered if there are more motorcycle riders than hunters and wondered, “Where is my big super-store of gear filled with fellow riders smiling and looking forward to the winter riding season?”
I enjoy looking at vintage photos of early motorcycle riders, the obstacles they faced, smiling, covered in muck, what we refer to as antique or vintage machinery battered and abused used as a utilitarian tool a primary mode of transportation, rutted roads used daily by horses and carts. Now in rural America, people complain about having to share the road with the occasional Amish buggy. Can you imagine when the internal combustion vehicle was the minority? Can you imagine the happiness the early rider felt to be able to transport himself into a completely new world of adventure? It is only now that motorcycle equipment suppliers and manufacturers are coining the term “Adventure motorcycles.” (When before the adventure went without saying!) Websites are now dedicated to riding your street capable motorcycle in places they were never meant to travel and living in a manner much more primitive than an evening in the Playboy Mansion Grotto. The early motorcycle designers and engineers were taught in blacksmith shops and steel mills. The philosophy was: heavy duty meant heavy. It worked and it worked the riders, it truly separated the strong from the weak. It created a world of motorcyclists that trod bravely into unknown parts with confidence and respect for those who trail blazed the roads (goat, buffalo, or cow paths, trails and stagecoach lines) generations before them. No longer were limited time, bad roads and weather an excuse not to explore. Motorcycles were adopted as the chosen conveyance by a new generation of explorers. An adventure to which we are rightful heirs.
Motorcycles bring out the Edmund Hillary/Amelia Earhart/Steve McQueen/J. Peterman in all of us. We travel on the roads that are not the shortest distance between two points, or in some cases, we travel the shortest distance between two points where there is no road. We feel more enlightened more in touch with the elements, more perceptive, and more thankful for the ability to enjoy living. We feel daring, more adventurous, and ready to conquer what ever lies in our paths.
I like to read about the Iron Butt endurance riders, and those who travel high miles on two wheeled vehicles out of their element, be it a Scooter, antique or specialized motorcycle that you wouldn’t imagine in that role. (Gold Wings in the Amazon come to mind.) I have little desire to travel four digit distances in a day or to drag my FXR onto a dugout canoe in South America but I do enjoy hearing from those who do.
I have made a mental list of motorcycle adventuring I want to do before I die, things like ride Deals Gap, stand in awe of the Bessemer Converter on Station Square in Pittsburg, spend a month in Orray Colorado, ride the Lewis and Clark trail, trace Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton’s paths, ride from Cheyenne to Durango, tour the first homestead in Nebraska and the Henry Ford museum. Make a pilgrimage to the original steel mills on the east coast, pay tribute to Ayn Rand, get a map to the stars and find Heidi Fliess, sleep on Hollywood Boulevard…drink a Yuengling at the Holiday Inn in Philly that over looks Ben’s grave. I’d like to blast thru Bruce’s hometown, do a burnout on Red Square and Jeremy Clarkson’s front porch. I’d admire the dust on the bottom of the FXR frame for months after riding to Burning Man (Dressed appropriately of course.) and watch it fall to the carpet in the Dragoncon lobby. I want to live a life that Visa makes commercials about and stay in a hotel maybe once or twice…but if I do none of those things, my adventurous motorcycling worlds starts every morning when my alarm clock goes off.
My adventures happen every day when I commute; dealing with a growing population of deer, school buses and tax payers late for work traveling on barely two lane side roads off of side roads that get the lowest amount of state highway budget. A few weeks ago, there was a large locust tree fallen across the road. I stopped to assess the situation and found the roots still attached and trunk too heavy to move. I plotted a course amongst the branches, dragged my frame across it, and rode on. It was at the very moment that I found a new appreciation for Erik Buell.
I don’t know if Erik Buell and the engineers at Harley Davidson had been watching Road Warrior when the designed the FXR, or they were just out to prove all the motorcycle elitists wrong, who referred to Harley Davidson’s as agricultural. They engineered a modern motorcycle with a light strong frame that handles well due to its stiffness, is comfortable to ride, quick due to its weight and short enough to hop over small logs. Versatile enough to park at bike night, hang with a group of high speed sport tourers, belly crawl thru the Amazon and fend off a group of gas starved anarchists who have set out to ruin your day with knives, clubs, chains and government spending. It was yet another time I was impressed with modern Engineering.
It was at that moment that I realized what an adventure commuting had become for me. It was at that moment I also felt very alone in the motorcycle world. Using my motorcycle as transportation, as a utilitarian vehicle, heck using the tool for its intended purpose. Oh there are a few riders who use their motorcycles like our motorcycling forefathers had, and there are a few who ride to work when the weather permits, but overall, a culture of using your motorcycle as transportation and not just for recreation does not exist. It is a shame too. It is for this reason that the motorcycle lifestyle is not taken seriously. Motorcycles were not eligible for the Cash for Clunkers program, metropolitan areas and shopping centers never offer considerations for safe parking or the fact that motorcycles use less parking area than automobiles in a cityscape. (Luckily, I work for a company that has a dedicated motorcycle parking area close to our locker room, so it is an advantage to ride to work.) Yet, Motorcycles are a more efficient way to commute and you look cool doing it. I know there are a lot of people who cannot commute on a motorcycle, people who have to take their kids to school, some construction workers who have to haul their heavier equipment to a job site…hmmm having trouble thinking of other reasons you can’t commute to work. Weather? Only in extreme cases, but ride reports on Adventure riding websites show people riding in extreme weather all the time…recreationally. Sure there is the danger… and seriously who wants to deal with danger on their morning commute?
Over the years, I have had to quickly diagnose non-running motorcycles on the shoulder as fast moving rush hour morning traffic with no compassion whizzed by, my penance for all the times I’d split lanes through miles of dead stopped evening rush hour traffic with no regard for their predicament. I’ve run over tractor trailer retreads at highway speeds, been cut off by dump trucks full of gravel running at high speeds and latte drinking commuters with cell phones, electric shavers, clip boards, Big Macs, dash mounted DVD players, and make-up mirrors. I have ridden in all kinds of weather, had to store/dry/repair my gear during company time, and left work in the cold driving rain and walked out into the severe heat, worn out and admired co-workers getting into their comfortable autos. I have raced against time clocks and the temptation to keep on riding. I am sure this sounds familiar to many of you, and while I make it sound painful and treacherous, I get the same feeling of adventure every time I ride under the rope gate to get into my compound and step off my bike. . My adventure riding peers may be using a machete to cut the overhead vines while they drag their motorcycles on a bamboo raft in the Amazon, having traveled half way around the globe and paid a local guide to find the most exciting path known only to mountain goats and local kids on road ragged mopeds… when all they had to do was ride to work. Could it be that this is so dangerous, exciting, and treacherous, that only a few dare to really commit to it? I wonder when there is a motorcycle holiday named for it, why more riders do not do it but once a year? Did those original riders wonder why their peers didn’t use their motorcycles as transportation? Was it even an issue?
It has all the elements the adventure rider seeks. Excitement, the need for proper gear, specialized motorcycle modifications, location location, location…it seems all that’s lacking is a section on a popular forum board and a magazine to promote it! If using a motorcycle as transportation was good enough…no not just good enough, preferable as a form of transportation for the original adventurous motorcycle riders, when protection from the elements had to come from the end of a gun barrel, and with modern gear manufacturers, enough heated clothing to melt a hole thru a glacier, aftermarket everything for all climate survival… we should be setting the standard for efficient transportation. Good roads and critical traffic be damned indeed.