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Photo by Genghis

ON THE SHOVEL: Wishing I could ride every minute.

It happens every time I'm riding my Shovelhead Stroker, "Mabel." I think, "I've gotta write about this, man. This feels so great, so therapeutic! I'm gonna hit the keyboard as soon as I get home!" Yet, we've heard it all before, read it all before---perhaps a thousand times: "Riding my motorcycle is therapeutic." Yada, yada, yada. "Riding is therapeutic" might be up there with "If you have to ask..." in terms of repetitive tedium. This of course, belies the overwhelming feeling of well-being that riding the Harley engenders. Every single biker reading this knows what I'm talking about. Every single biker worth his 60 weight, knows how hard it is to convey this knowledge in mere words to others. Non-bikers wonder why we keep riding our bikes, well into our senior years. We don't wonder why. We know why. The trouble starts, when we try to lucidly express why, without seeming foolish or Pollyanna-ish.

Pollyanna-ish: noun: (pejorative) irrepressibly or excessively optimistic.

Yet, there it is. Hey! If ya wanna call me Hayley Mills, go ahead. This feeling of well-being is so effusively comprehensive as you wind out the Harley mill, knowing that the 'ole girl is running right, tight, upright and outright outstandingly, that you want to shout to the world, "Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow, you're only a ride away..." in a Little Orphan Annie-ish way. There's no way around it, man. If you want everybody within earshot to know what you're feeling as you aim the front 21 toward the horizon, fueled by the ecstasy that your Harley is feeding your head---you're going to sound a bit foolish. So be it, man. I've been doing this gig for 45 years years, and I still sound like a little girl with her PollyannaLittleOrphanAnnie-ish hair on fire, every time I'm on my Harley 74. This is the type of feeling that inspires bikers to get Harley-related tattoos. No other way to say it. However, there is scientific evidence to back up what bikers know instinctively. This, from the Kawashima Study:


"Most people don't realize that riding a bike can actually improve your health and well-being...Ryuta Kawashima, developer of the Brain Training an avid motorcycle rider....Kawashima credits his bike riding for helping his brain functioning at a peak level...Kawashima's study randomly divided men into two group began riding motorcycles...the other continued to drive cars, trucks and bicycles....At the end of the trial period, cognitive tests were given...the motorcycle riders scored higher than the non-riding participants"

Trouble is, the feeling I get when I'm riding is that I wish I could ride every minute of every day. The stark contrast between the feeling of well-being that comes from being on the bike, and the rest of my life with it's peaks and valleys of undulating happiness, is somewhat depressing. Problems come up when not on the bike, which weigh as heavily as 70 weight on the mind. This heavy-duty oil of worry dissipates once the bike's throttle is crackin'---but that doesn't last forever, man. Sooner or later, the bike's gotta be parked, the chain and padlock have to be slapped on the 'ole girl---and then the worry and stress begin all over again. There is a grace period though, a transitory time after riding when the endorphins are still kickin' in, and there is residual riding ecstasy. One relives the feel of the bike. The way she vibrates. The way she sounds. The moments of delight before the ignition switch is rotated to the off position.

I had such a moment in my ride today, which I relived with relish (but hold the pickles and lettuce) throughout the day after I got home. I was stopped at a red light, when there was an older guy (although these days, these "older guys" are probably my age or even younger than me) in an expensive Audi next to Mabel and me. Mabel was doing her semi-loud "clippity-clop" idle deal (she has baffles in her straight pipes now), and the Audi guy was eyeing us suspiciously. You know the look. The disdainful, yet fearful look that all greasy bikers get on a routine basis. There is such a mixture of revulsion and fascination in these looks, a dichotomy of xenophobic fear and blossoming desire. Somewhere deep in the back of the minds of these people who throw such looks, is planted a seedling of jealousy and barely-realized whimsical hope that says, "Yes, I too, could do this---if I only had the guts."

I unexpectedly flashed a thumbs-up to the Audi guy with a happy smile on my mug---for I was feeling magnanimous because Mabel was running so great---and the guy smiled the most surprised, genuine smile you'd ever seen. His frown was instantly transformed into glee. The Audi guy spontaneously returned the thumbs up to me and Mabel---and looked surprised that he did it. No kidding man, he was like a kid at Christmas under the tree, seeing Santa Claus for the first time. That made my day, that a simple gesture of friendliness from your local greasy biker, could elicit a warm human response. Outstanding! The thought of this frozen moment on the blacktop, buoyed me through most of the day. Perhaps it is the seeking of this "perfection" that consists of our moments on the bike, that keeps bikers riding. Check out this testimonial from a female rider:

"I am proud to be a member of this small, albeit growing, group of motorcyclists. Yet, I wonder if other women ride their motorcycles for the same reasons I do. Yesterday, while riding on a rural road---the temperature perfect---blue skies, no clouds---I thought about just ideal the conditions were for motorcycling. Just perfect. I was comfortable, the motorcycle was behaving exactly as it should, and the most overwhelming sense of well-being came over me. It was more than a sense of well-being---it was a feeling of complete awareness of the perfection of the moment."

Whatever the reason given, let's just say that riding the bike just plain feels good. We all know this from time immemorial---well, at least for me---since 1968. Man's intellect, sparked by his curiosity, causes him through his life to seek rational explanations for what man does and feels. And this includes motorcycle riding. The theories in the blogoverse are varied and far-reaching on emotional and psychological spectrums. Academia is littered with the spent bodies of eggheads who've exhausted 'emselves in the attempt to explain away bikers' urges---usually with the agenda of denigrating bikers as phallically-challenged, ne'er-do wells, who are determined to go out in a blaze of suicidism. Here for example, is an internet post from an amateur egghead named Sherry:

"The number of guys with motorcycle pictures is staggering, especially in the over 40 age bracket. Is this some kind of 'between the legs' macho thing? You would think they were holding up a trophy of their manhood."

Perhaps someone could do Sherry a favor, and pack her on the p-pad for a few miles. She could then discern for herself, what the attraction of riding a bike truly is. This brings up another question, though: Does the motorcycle passenger derive the same type of, and degree of the sense of well-being, that the biker does? Actually, I doubt it. Much of the sense of well-being isn't a direct result of merely being on the bike, and experiencing the feel of the vehicle. A major portion of the sense of well-being a biker derives from riding is, from the feelings of control and competency that operating a motorcycle generates. I've often compared the mundane operation of a bike, to what racecar drivers do. The coordination required to competently operate a bike, is in line for what Formula One and sports car racers need to function with speed and efficiency. There is a real sense of accomplishment for bikers during riding. All of these factors I've mentioned, demonstrate a direct causal relationship between completing the mechanical tasks in riding, and the sense of satisfaction and well-being that bikers derive.In other words, if you have to ask...yada, yada, yada.

Ya-da: noun: empty or boring talk---often used interjectionally especially in recounting words regarded as too dull or predictable to be worth repeating.