Riding a motorcycle has been one of the true joys of my life for over forty years. Old bikes, new bikes, weird bikes, bikes I should never have bought and bikes I wish I still had. Making them rideable…keeping them rideable, fixing what a previous owner had done to the bike and modifying a few myself. Traveling, commuting, racing…it didn’t matter, I was riding. I feel more comfortable on a motorcycle than I do in a car and more comfortable wearing a helmet than a seatbelt.
We all start wearing a helmet because we’re told it’s safe, the smart thing to do and, nowadays, it’s the law in most states here in America. At some time in our motorcycle life, some of us choose to let the wind blow through our hair and some of us decide that ‘helmet hair’ is a good style. I have worn a helmet all my motorcycling life, except once. That once landed me in the emergency room, but that is another story. This story is about what you do inside your helmet. What I call ‘helmet time’.
When you put on your helmet to go for a ride, your brain changes gears. If you are racing it’s pure focus…the start, braking points, your fellow racers…”where can I pass that guy”…or, “how do I keep this other guy from passing me?” and of course, “that trophy is going to look really good in my garage”. Then in my case, racing vintage motorcycles…”come on baby, hang in there, only 3 more laps, don’t fail me now…”. It’s hard to cross yourself while going through Turn 8 at Willow Springs.
When you put on your helmet for the ride to work your focus is a bit divided. You are thinking about your job…”I have to meet my quota today, I hope Woof’s Pet Shop buys a lot of dog food” or…”That new secretary is hot, I wonder if she likes motorcycles?” or,” I’m late, good thing I’m on a motorcycle”.
This is where your focus becomes divided, on top of all the work thoughts, you have to pay attention to riding. Commuting on a motorcycle is a high stress affair here in Southern California. Crowded freeways, clogged surface streets, drivers spending more time on their cell phone than actually watching where they are going…the stresses go on and on. Good thing you have your helmet on.
When you put your helmet on for a ‘ride’, it’s a totally different feeling. Getting together with friends for the “Sunday Ride’ to a favorite breakfast or lunch spot, a solo ride on a road you know like the back of your hand or the trip you have been planning since winter…going for a ‘ride’ is a whole different mindset. And inside your helmet is where that mindset takes over. Yes, we still have to pay attention to the road, other drivers and of course…the law(?)…”good afternoon officer…I was going how fast?”…
Inside your helmet on a ride you have time to get away from work, the ‘honey do’ list, pretty much anything you don’t want to think about. It’s just you, your motorcycle and the road. Sometimes you do think about work but the first mountain road corner you screw up, work goes right out of your helmet and you’re back to riding.
I once posed the question on our motoworld podcast, www.themotoworld.com “what goes on inside your helmet when you’re riding”? The answers that I got were great fun to read. From poems, to song lyrics, modifications you want to make to your bike…what do I want for breakfast?…I wonder if the new secretary at work would go out with me? (nah)…how come Kelly is faster than me today? We all use ‘helmet time’ differently. In your helmet you can be a great singer…because no one can hear you; you can be a stand up comedian…telling yourself the same bad jokes over and over again. Inside your helmet you can be a world traveler seeing things you’ve never seen before or be a champion racer…don’t get carried away on that last one.
For most though, ‘helmet time’ is much more than that. I have friends that will go for a ride specifically to clear out personal problems, another sorts out the junk, puts issues to rest and resets the ‘personal power’ button. My friend Rob of the Bikers Church in Canada creates sermons while he rides…he doesn’t really count in ‘helmet time’ because he doesn’t often wear one, but we love him anyway.
On long trips however, ‘helmet time’ takes on more meaning. The first day starts with a combination of giddiness and anticipation. “Alright, I’m outta here…bye honey”…unless…’honey’ is part of the trip then it’s “Alright, WE’RE outta here…bye doggies!” Down the driveway onto the road and put yard work in the rear view mirror.
The second day into a four day ride your helmet time starts getting serious. You go back over the things you started thinking about yesterday and you come up with new thoughts. You sing the same song over and over again, you know, the one you don’t know all the words to and you tell yourself a few jokes trying to remember the punchline. And it’s not even lunchtime.
After lunch in a small town at the local diner (no fast food on this trip), the reflection period starts. In between picture taking stops and hustling along twisty roads you start thinking about your life. What have I done, what do I want to do and I hope there is a good Italian restaurant near the hotel.
Day three of ‘helmet time’ is the best. You’ve had two good days of riding, you and your bike are flowing together smoothly and more importantly you and your helmet are one. The thoughts of the universe are being channeled right to you through your Arai. You’ve already spent a day on your own life now it’s time to start thinking bigger thoughts, you know like whirrled peas, I mean world peace, yeah that’s it. On my last ride I solved homelessness over the Tioga Pass, world hunger over the Sonora Pass, I cured cancer over Ebbets Pass and came up with a remedy for the common cold on Monitor pass. It was a great day.
Day four is heading home. Your fanny is tired, your brain is tired trying to remember all the grand solutions you came up with yesterday and the doggies you left four days ago are probably starting to get hungry. But it’s also the time that you start putting all those hours of helmet time into perspective and into order. The cure for cancer and world hunger, well, those may have to wait a while. But, if you have done this right, by now you have figured a good cure for your own life, more ‘helmet time’.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a story about bike builder friends in Arizona that had a disastrous fire at their shop…everything was lost…except their spirit. Kelly and Jason are wonderful people and have a great circle of friends. This group of riding friends are circling the wagons to help rebuild Hellcat Customs.
Poker runs are generally really fun…you get to ride with like minded people for a good cause, a little competition…hey wait…the next million dollar idea here…have SpeedTV do a series on competitive Poker Runs!!! Yeah, that’s the ticket…travel around the country, do poker runs, make money, meet people…nah, it’ll never work…we’d all get stuck in Laughlin, Nevada and forget what day it is and where we’re supposed to be…and Speed wouldn’t do it anyway because it’s not NASCRAP…I mean NASCAR…oh well, it was a good thought.
Anyway…if you live somewhere in the Southwest United States or you live in the ‘Frozen North’ United States and need to escape…I have a ride for you. If you can’t make the ride…which is probably going to be much more fun than going to the mall Christmas shopping…you can help Jason and Kelly here…http://motorcycletravelamerica.com/page.php?id=152
Christmas is the time for giving, so instead of buying Sarah Palin’s new book help rebuild a custom bike business…however, I do reccommend Biker Billy’s Cook books…wait…that might be a bit insensitive at this time??
I got news this morning that friends I have not met, Jason and Kelly of HellCat Customs in Mesa Arizona had a disastrous fire yesterday at their shop. As Jason put it, ten years worth of work gone in minutes. The good news is that the only human casualty is Jason got some singed hair.
My friend Rob Dale of Bikers Church has set up a donation program through his site www.robdale.ca
Kelly and Jason have a great custom bike building biz and a wonderful family, they could use everyone’s help and prayers as they rebuild Hellcat Customs.
Every now and then everyone needs our help, if you are part of the biker community, this is the time to step up and help. www.hellcatcustoms.com
What is a ‘Biker’? A good and sometimes confusing question. Is a ‘biker’ a Harley rider with a leather vest and a pudding pot helmet, or is it someone who simply rides a motorcycle?
The other evening, over green chile crab enchiladas and cold beers my friend Rob Dale from Canada and I pondered the question. Rob is spending a month riding around the US visiting friends and taking in the sights. Rob is Senior Pastor at the Bikers Church in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and by his own description, a ‘biker’. Rob does ride a Harley, and yeah he wears a leather vest and a pudding pot helmet, but his description of a biker is quite different than what most people would think.
When I told someone once that I rode motorcycles, the first comment was “So, you’re a biker,” followed by the question, “Do you have a Harley?” My response to both was “No, I do ride motorcycles but I’m not a ‘biker’ and no, I don’t own a Harley, I ride a Honda.” I remember the look on the person’s face as almost disappointment.
Back to the question of what is a biker? Most of us equate ‘biker’ with the Marlon Brando character in the ‘Wild One’, or Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in ‘Easy Rider’, the guy…or gal, that rides past you on a very loud Harley Davidson scaring the bejeebers out of you. Big boots, lots of leather, tattoos and attitude…that’s a biker. Well, maybe not.
Years back, I was riding a little Triumph Daytona 500 up in the Los Padres National Forrest and wouldn’t you know it, just as I was about ready to turn around and head home..it quit. English hunk o’ junk. There I was on the side of the road with a dead bike, wonderful, just freakin’ wonderful. Now this was in the days before cell phones; hell…this was still in the days of rotary dial phones..so I am stranded. Then the road started to rumble.
Earthquake? Well, sort of… a group of riders heading up the road on big bikes and wearing jackets that I recognized from a rather well known and not necessarily well liked motorcycle club. A few went by then a couple stopped a ways ahead of me and then a few more and I was surrounded. As you can imagine, I was a little more than nervous. One rather large guy came up and asked if I was Ok and what was the problem? I wasn’t sure of the problem. Another equally large guy came up and said he worked on Triumph. To make a long story short, within about twenty minutes my little Triumph was running great, I mean better than it had for a long time. After thank you’s were said and well wishes for a good ride the ‘bikers’ headed on and I headed home.
Rob and I talked about ‘bikers’ for quite a while. He called me a ‘biker.’ Me? I ride an old BMW, a kind of old Triumph and a little old Honda 350. Marlon Brando or Peter Fonda I’m not. I’m not even Rob..but in his eyes, I’m a biker. But why? Well, we came to the conclusion that the motorcycling community is a big family if you want it to be. I was helped on the side of the road by motorcyclists I didn’t know. I invited a fellow rider I didn’t really know into my home for the night. Riders often wave at each other on the road and non riders ask why? My answer is, well, we’re a small part of society and we have a unique bond.
So, if waving at each other on the road, helping some poor guy stuck on the side of the road or inviting a fellow rider over for supper makes me or you a ‘biker’..I’m proud to be a ‘biker’.