Two-wheeled Jihad

August 24, 2006

The following entry was written as a guest blogitorial.

How I became a bicycle terrorist

Globalguy asked me to write a guest blogitorial – that’s my cross between a guest blog entry and the traditional guest editorial submitted to mainstream media publications. Globalguy writes the blog Bicycle Diaries. He sent me an email invitation to send my thoughts and I responded with a lightening quick yes.

Wow what an honor, I thought, here I am a budding writer and journalist with my own fledgling blog and now I’m being asked to write for someone else. As quickly as the euphoria had set in, so too did the fear of having to produce something that might be interesting to bicyclists reading the blog.

As an avid bicyclist and a self-taught mechanic I thought I would be able to pull plenty of ideas out my brain and create an entry on any given subject. How about the changing of the flat tire that resulted in a complete brake overall – naw, every bicyclist has had that experience. Maybe the long hot summer ride through the cornfields of Ohio after a job layoff – yeah, like that’s a unique experience. Or an in-depth look at Rails-to-Trails – *yawn* I love the organization but the thought is making me sleepy.

Then anxiety began to take control. Sure, I have fond memories of numerous rides throughout my riding career, but nothing I would identify as interesting to anyone other than myself. Hell, for many years I had the best of bike commuting situations – I rode five miles to my office and the office had a locker room with shower. I biked almost every day from March to November. The facilities were great; the job sucked.

And still no inspiration.

Then I read the August entries of the Bicycle Diaries. If one isn’t too careful, one can become a bit depressed and give up bicycling all together. Too many deaths have occurred as the result of bicycle/car confrontations. Where I live, close to Cleveland, Ohio, Charles Barr, a young man in his early thirties, and a well-respected bassist with the Cleveland Orchestra, lost his life when he lost control of his bike and swerved into the path of a pickup truck. In this case, Mr. Barr was at fault.

Regardless of the fault, in this country there exist very little safe space between auto and bicycle. On too many occasions, when tensions run high between the two, it is usually the motorist who is unwilling to share the road and the bicyclist who suffers.

Then I got my inspiration.

In my younger days I was, what one might call, a bicycle terrorist. I rode the streets and sidewalks like they were paved just for me. I’d weave in and out of traffic, I’d cut off drivers and I’d insult them in a variety of ways. I was hell-on-two-wheels and hell-bent on doing things my way, despite the consequences.

My entry into bicycle terrorism was typical of anyone who eventually winds up in a terrorist organization. As a young man I was a law-abiding citizen; as I grew older I became disillusioned over the inequalities existing between motorist and bicyclist. I turned to the dark side and became a soldier, no a leader, in the jihad against the internal combustion engine.

I wonder if 72 virgins will be waiting for me in heaven if I die while taking the life of an infidel motorist.

Just as a sidebar, I like writing terrorism and jihad into this article. I have this fantasy that it will send Homeland Security and the Bush Administration into a tizzy trying to figure out my hidden message.

Okay, back to reality. If someone offended me in traffic I hunted them down and left my mark on their car; if there was a hood ornament I took it a as trophy. I was particularly fond of carrying a piece of brick with me, then if a motorist cut me off I’d mark them right then and there on the spot. My own version of brick-a-hick – a game involving throwing a brick at drunken hicks at small town bars. It was developed by a couple of high school students I met during my teaching days.

However, I eventually bought a motorcycle and then a car and soon I was commuting on a regular basis. In time my family came along and that resulted in the addition of a minivan (although I still respect bicyclist and will stop a line of traffic behind me to give the right-of-way to a bicycle). It seemed as if my will to tilt against the cars and trucks in America had been sucked from me.

As I got older ( particularly after I became a father) I grew less reactionary – but no less vocal while riding my bicycle. I had put all my bicycle terrorist activities behind me. Bricks are no longer an accessory on my bike but a decoration around the gardens at my house.

Then I read Globalguy’s bicycle tragedy entries and the memories of my evildoer ways  came flooding back to me. America was still cold and heartless to bicycle riders. That was when I realized the jihadist still burned bright and deep inside me. In The Godfather 3 Michael Corleone says, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” I’m beginning to feel that way. The motorists are dragging me back to my jihadist ways, and who knows what event will transpire and become the catalyst for another bicycle holy war…


Baseball and Biking

July 20, 2006

So, you’re wondering, how does baseball and motorcycling transect? I don’t know exactly. Maybe it’s because motorcycling, like baseball, can be long stretches of mundane routine punctuated by moments of absolute terror. The routine of riding the same route everday can lull you into a lack of diligence until someone pulls out and takes the lane. Playing baseball can be the same until someone hits a grounder that passes between your legs and into the outfield. Both require alertness and diligence to keep disaster at bay.

But this rambling isn’t about motorcycling, it’s about baseball. On the ride in this particular morning baseball was just about all I had on my mind. The previous night my youngest son’s little league team was eliminated from their hunt for the championship. It was somewhat of a bittersweet ending; the season had dragged on a little too long (for little league) yet many of us left the dugout that night with the feeling that we won’t really be back to the ball diamond until next year. The ballfield was were I was most at peace. As I was fond of saying all season long: a bad day on a baseball diamond is always better than a good day at work.

Baseball has many attritbutes that make it in many respects the perfect life-teaching tool, as well as the perfect sport. In his Nine Principles of Baseball and Life, Raymond Angelo Belliotti writes, “Baseball is passing down an American legacy, reinforcing family love, teaching values and a way of life, sharing joy and triumph, sorrow and defeat.” It is all that and more. Baseball is a team sport that requires individual performance. Every member has to work hard together; lose focus for a moment and it can lead to disasterous results. What baseball really teaches is that everybody has a purpose in life but it’s pulling together and working as a team that really gives the purpose some meaning.

I came to baseball late in life — my father preferred basketball to any other sport, which has always surprised me because his father a semi-pro catcher for the Ariel Athletic Club out of Jamestown, NY, one of the many regional ball clubs that cropped up at the turn of the last century. Those clubs were a little like the travel teams of today — they went around town to town and play games almost purely for the entertainment of the game and the camaraderie of the team. In some small way I wish my grandfather could have been there to watch my sons play the sport. I know he would have been very pleased.

But, as I said, I came to the sport late in life. I played a little softball in my early years but the bulk of my experience has been helping with my son’s little league teams. I’m reluctant to say that I’m “a coach” because the coaches I’ve worked with know far more about the sport and the mechanics of playing the game than I do. I know that by working with some very fine guys who know how to teach, coach and work with kids that I’ve gained a far better appreciation for the game than I would have just sitting in the stands and watching. And by working with the little leaguers I’ve gained a far better understanding of my sons and of being a parent.

My youngest son grounded into the final out that ended the season. As we congratulated the winning team and walked back to our dugout I noticed my son was missing. I figured he was off grumbling about losing so I thought it best to let him go and work it out, and turn my attention to the remaining ballplayers sitting dejectedly on the bench. One of the hardest things to teach kids at this level, 5th and 6th graders, is to encourage and cheer on your teammates instead of assessing blame for missed plays and strikeouts.

What I saw in the dugout last night were players who were upset at the loss — not because of someone else making a mistake, but because of the plays they missed and the outs made against them. I saw young kids taking responsibility for their actions — wouldn’t it be grand if the world’s leaders, and the rest of us adults would do the same a little more often?

My son had disappeared to the backseat of the car where he laid until we reached home. He grumbled a little bit and I worried that he’d start up the blame game but by the time we reached the house he was very upset over how the game ended and kept saying it was his fault and that he should have waited for a better pitch — and this coming from a kid who played with two sprained fingers on his left hand and a bandaged right forearm from a bicycle accident the day before.

The second hardest thing to teach ballplayers at this level is that the loss isn’t your fault; it’s the culmination of many things on the field, and that both winning and losing is a team effort.

Baseball teaches us a lot of things. I know I learned a little more that night. I learned a little more about my sons, my family and the ballplayers I spent the summer with — and it all reinforced the notion that baseball is indeed life.


The motorcycle is still the same but the direction may change

July 18, 2006

It has been an extremely long time since I posted anything and I apologize for that. Between work, life on an old farm and little league ballgames (of which my son talked me into coaching) I seem to find time not to write. But that’s changed for the moment.

When I started out this blog I thought I would approach it from the viewpoint of life on the seat of a motorcycle. Being one who is inclined to social and political commentary I thought I would try to keep it focused on the social and away from the political. However, as time marches on I realize that won’t always be the case — I’m afraid the politics in me will come out. You see when one rides a motorcycle one has a great deal of time for thinking. Now-a-days with the introduction of MP3 players I could don a pair of earbuds and tune into my favorite podcast or listen to music via radio or ripping. In fact, some of the fancier motorcycles come with radio/CD players installed. One friend had a BMW motorcycle that featured a 5 CD player. But all those devices are an annoyance in my opinion. I have to play my MP3/radio so loud to get over the road noise that it hurts my ears. So I go without.

As a result, the only audio stimulation I get is the road noise, the growl of the engine and the wind rushing by. This lack of “outside interference” gives one a great deal of space to think. That’s where the primordial soup of my social and political commentaries begins to bubble.

Now let it be know that, in the interest of full disclosure, I tend to be more liberal in my thinking. But that doesn’t mean that I adhere to all things liberal, I’m still very pragmatic in my approach to life and politics. And when it comes to social commentary, well let’s just say that nobody and nothing is sacred — if it bears worth commentary, I will usually have an opinion. Oh, in the further interest of full disclosure, I don’t really care if you disagree with my opinion — that’s why it’s called an opinion. However, as a budding, online blogging journalist, I do try to maintain a high degree of integrity. I will honestly not report something that I can’t verify through facts. That’s how it should be in journalism. Read into this, if you want, I won’t be imitating a Fox News broadcast or some of the muckraking, yellow journalists they employ. And it won’t be Air America either.

So where does that leave me politically and socially? I try to be fair to both sides of an issue, although when it comes to stupid people doing stupid things I will tend to be more sardonic then not.


Don’t Worry About That Weather Report…

June 23, 2006

Every rider experiences it. A rainstorm. You just realize you’re going to get wet, put your head down and go.

However, it’s sometimes smart to pay attention to the weather reports — or at least tune in.

When I called my wife to find out about the status of the rain 30 minutes north of where I parked she said, “It’s pouring up here. It has been for the last half-hour. Why did you ride your bike today, didn’t you see the weather report this morning?”

I replied no and proceeded to curse the sky for dumping copious amounts of water onto my ride home. I should have suspected the day was going to be a washout after I stopped for coffee that morning. The police officer and the auto mechanic, both at the local Starbucks for their morning jolt, asked the same question as my wife. The officer went onto explain that it was expected to rain all day. And not just a gentle summer rain but periods of torrential downpours interrupted by moments of driving rain and violent thunderstorms.

I rode on pooh-poohing them. It was dry, after all, and the sun was shining — somewhat.

“Where are you?” my wife asked.

“Right now I’m parked under the overhang above the side doors of a middle school,” I replied.

“Do you want me to come get you?”

“Naw, I’ll wait it out for a bit and try to run home when it lets up.”

A few minutes later the rain had all but stopped and I saw my chance to head north with the hopes of outrunning any further bursts of thunderatic activity. I probably rode a half-mile before the heavens opened up again so I turned around and made my way back to the overhang above the front doors of the same middle school.

I dismounted from my bike and hung my helmet, gloves and jacket over anything I could find to give them a chance to dry out. The intensity of the rainstorm increased, I pulled out some articles and sat down on the concrete to wait it out. Within minutes I heard the familiar tune Chava Nagila, the ring tone I have set on my cell phone, coming from the bag on my bike. I answered it.

“Are you still at the side doors of the middle school?” My wife asked.

“No,” I replied, “I made it around to the front doors.”

“Well I just checked the weather map and it shows a solid block of thunderstorms from here to the Indiana border (three hours to the west). Do you want me to come get you in a dry car?”

“But what do I do with the bike?”

“Leave it there with a note explaining. I’ll drive you back in the morning to get it.”

But I kept thinking, It’s just a little rain, I can handle this. Sure I’ll get wet, no soaked, before I get home but I’ll be fine — I’m not some sissy. Then the sky lit up with a lightening and thunder show reminiscent of the homerun fireworks at a major league ballpark.

“Okay come get me,” I conceded.

The rain showed no signs of easing by the time my family arrived 45 minutes later — of course both sons had to come so they could witness my soaking status. In the interim I called a friend in town and arranged to leave my bike at his place. I thought it wouldn’t be wise to leave it parked by the middle school front doors. Even with a note explaining my predicament, I worried the police and school officials wouldn’t find it terribly amusing that I rode right up the sidewalks to the front doors.

After a brief explanation of the change in plans, which somehow managed to include both boys running to the front doors to share in the experience, we took off for the friend’s house. At one point, while waiting for a light to turn green, I turned to my family in the car behind me and smiled. They all laughed. I would later find out that at that approximate moment the song Crazy by Aerosmith had come onto the radio and my family was laughing back at the appropriateness of it.

Into every motorcyclist’s life a little rain must fall, but this was ridiculous. As we drove home I began to realize how dangerous it would have been for me to continue, particularly in the low road areas that were flooded. These weren’t just puddles on the road that I would have to negotiate, these were rivers of runoff that I would literally have to ford. At one spot a truck blew through a low point and sent up a wave that would have surely knocked me off my bike.

Finally back home safe and dry, and a little less for wear from all the ribbing I took, I sat down to look at the weather maps. Nearly every county in the state was under a flood warning or watch. Several communities near the lake were dealing with the Venice Effect — streets of water with boaters ferrying people around; those living close to rivers were warned to remain vigilant throughout the night.

By 5:30 the next morning the rain had stopped. I made some coffee, read the newspaper and watched the weather on T.V. At 7 a.m. I woke my wife and said, “Come on, you’ve got to get me to the bike so I can get to work before the morning rainstorms start.”


The Brotherhood of the Bike

June 9, 2006

It’s something you don’t really notice unless you’re a motorcyclist. Next time you’re driving along behind a biker and they pass one coming from the other direction, watch their left hands. In most cases you will see one salute and the other return the salute. It’s what I call “The Brotherhood of the Bike.”

My wife finds it very amusing any time we’re riding and we pass a bike approaching from the opposite direction. I salute, they return; my wife gets a kick out of the culture. Occassionally you’ll see truck drivers salute. Sometimes drivers of distinct foreign cars, hot rods and antigue autos will salute each other but mostly it’s bikers who salute and return the salute.

Now some bikers won’t salute or return one and I’m not sure why but I suspect one of four reasons: 1. they don’t want to remove their hands from the handlebars, either for safety reasons or fear; 2. they haven’t been riding long enough to understand the salute; 3. you’re on the wrong bike or; 4. it’s somehow beneath them.

Before I go too much further I should explain what I call the salute. First it’s not really a salute in the terms of a salute one might see between members of the military, it’s more like a wave. But it really isn’t a wave either. It’s more like sports figures sticking their hands out for a “low five.” It’s an acknowledgement of the other bikers — that’s why I call it The Brotherhood of the Bike.

But in truth it’s unfair to call it strictly a brotherhood because female motorcyclists will salute as well. Brother/Sisterhood of the Bike doesn’t flow well and Personhood of the Bike just isn’t right. So for now please allow me a little latitude to call it a brotherhood and maybe we can create something new later.

I don’t really know how the salute got started. I suspect it’s because as motorcyclists we all feel the need to stick together and acknowledge each other. When I started to write this post I did a quick Google search and found one article called, “The Wave:” Protocol or Endangered Species written by John Cerilli. John’s article goes into the protocol of the wave (what I call the salute) with interesting comments like, “Harley riders tend to wave only to other Harley riders,” and “The sport bike crowd tend to wave to their own kind,” or some riders who, “Only wave if the other rider waves first.” In my own experience I haven’t really seen a breakdown by bike brand or style.

When I started riding over 30 years ago the salute was a raised clenched fist, a little like the black power salute of the sixties and seventies. I remember one of my buddies, who started riding with his dad when he was very young, told me that it was proper to salute and return a salute between motorcylcists. He went so far as to suggest that not doing so was a serious motorcycling faux pas. Okay I don’t think he said faux pas, but I have a vivid memory of him implying that it was on the level of a grave insult.

So there we were, riding along and raising our fists in salutes to other members of our exclusive organization.

Now we do a salute that, as I mentioned earlier, is a little more like a low five between sports figures, and I do salute whenever I pass another cyclists — except if I’m shifting, turning or coming to a stop. In those instances I usually nod in response. But I’m not insulted if the other rider does not return the salute. Sometimes I get a Harley rider (and I stress they are few and far between) who don’t return a salute; on occassion the sports bike rider won’t either. For those times I do get turned down on return salutes, I just figure the other riders don’t understand The Brotherhood of the Bike.

If you want to read John Cerilli’s article, “The Wave:” Protocol or Endangered Species, you can access it at http://www.motorcycleshopper.com/articles/the-wave.htm


Send Lawyers, CEOs and Accountants

May 27, 2006

No matter how hard I try, those words just won’t match up with the late Warren Zevon’s song Lawyers Guns and Money. But in the post-modern era of motorcycling, lawyers, CEOs and accountants – along with some of the other yuppie professionals – are out hitting the road and living the “freedom” lifestyle more than ever before.

These guys all seem to fall into the same demographic: they have reached their mid-fifties, are balding, have a spreading midsection, and now feel the need to relive their fading childhood, and possibly try to impress college-aged woman with their road warrior prowess.

Now don’t take this wrong, there are plenty of real road warriors out there, along with seasoned riders, who came up through the ranks of the first ride on a mini-bike or a dirt bike, then graduated to something a little bigger before finally achieving the goal of owning a road hog. These are the guys, and I put myself in that class, who earned their wings by learning to control the little bikes before hurling themselves down the road in a 1,000 pound mechanical hunk of metal, motor and muscle. We mastered the machines before setting ourselves lose on the general population.

Enter the lawyers, CEOs and accountants. These guys purchase a motorcycle as a fashion statement.

Okay, I admit some of them actually have worked their ways up through the cc’s, but most of the “neavou riders” I’ve encountered simply woke up one morning and decided, “I need a motorcycle to make me look good – and the bigger the better.”

Yep you guessed it, these are the guys who drive fancy expensive cars and take up two parking spaces so nobody comes close to their baby. They figure they can handle the big bike because it isn’t any different than handling the SUV. You know the type; they’re wearing dress chinos, expensive Italian shoes, a French blue shirt, and the tie is flapping over their shoulder as they fly down the road at an excessive rate of speed. And of course they don’t wear a helmet because, well, helmet laws suck, dammit.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, lots of riders don’t wear helmets. Many of them are seasoned and experienced and, quite frankly, know how to handle the machine and what to expect from themselves and other drivers. But if there’s one thing I firmly believe in, it’s a good brain cage. I strongly urge every rider to wear a helmet.

And don’t get me started on the guys who scream down the road with the helmet strapped to the seat – hey bonehead, it doesn’t do you any good hanging on the sissy bar.

But the lawyers, CEOs and accountants are the only class of little boys with little wieners wanting something big and powerful between their legs; enter the young stud who has to own an overpowered crotch-rocket because it makes him look hot to the ladies. These are the guys you see (now I must qualify, not all of them fit this category, but most do) who ride wearing flimsy sports shoes, shorts, a t-shirt, if any shirt at all. The girlfriends on the back are usually dressed the same except they do wear a shirt and open-toed sandals instead of sneakers.

And, of course, neither is wearing a helmet. We usually call these riders “organ donors” – but that’s a discussion for another day.

There was a time when cycling got a bad name from the gangs, now it’s the yuppies and teen studs who are over-compensating for their shortcomings.


Men vs. Women: Who’s the worse driver?

May 25, 2006

This is the classic question asked by any driver on the road; who’s the worse driver, men or women.

If we strictly follow the insurance companies research then men are the worse. However I was recently informed that women are beginning to catch up to men, although no attribution has been applied as to why there is an increase in bad driving by women.
Historically, we men always claimed women were the bad drivers because they were a little too cautious and they didn’t take the chances we men would take. Go figure. We call them bad drivers because they’re in the way of our bad driving. Anecdotally I can only offer up my experiences since I’ve gone back to commuting by motorcycle again.

Before I go into my experiences I suppose I should give a little backstory.

I purchased my first motorcycle when I was a sophomore in college. It was an early 70’s Honda 350 that was “chopped” to make it look tougher. The bike sported an extended front fork, ape-hanger handlebars, highway pegs, a king/queen seat with a trident atop of the backrest and a Nazi iron cross taillight. Yep, look at me, Joe College actin’ tough. In all honesty, the bike rode smooth and it was fun.

I held onto the old chopper until I moved back home and decided to finish college at the local institution. I sold the chopper, banked the money and a year later purchased a 1968 Honda CA77E, otherwise know as the Honda Dream. It was a great old bike at 305 cc’s and slightly smaller than the chopper. I held onto that bike for another couple of years until my wife noted that I wasn’t riding it anymore. I sold it to a fellow who planned to restore it and put it on display in his basement rec. room – something I’m sure didn’t thrill his wife. But hey, what did I care, I sold if for more than I paid.

Jump ahead 18 years and two kids later and I’m wanting to ride again. For some reason I had the silly impression that my wife didn’t want a motorcycle around because of the boys but she set me straight and soon I brought home a 1981 Honda CMT200, otherwise known as the Honda Twinstar. I got it for $200; I couldn’t pass it up. I justified the purchase of the little bike in two ways: 1. If I didn’t like riding anymore I could sell it for what I had in it and be done. And 2. If I did like it, and the boys wanted to learn, a 200 cc motorcycle is perfect for learning.

Now I buzz around my community, and back and forth to work, in my little Twinstar 200. For all the laughing one might expect I’m surprised at the number of people who asked me to sell it. And for those who do laugh I point at the gas prices and tell them I’m getting 70 miles to the gallon.

So, how does all this get me to the argument over men and women drivers? I thought for sure drivers now would be worse than drivers 20 years ago. Pleasantly, and thankfully, I was wrong. I actually believe today’s drivers are more aware of us motorcyclists than back when I started riding.

Well, that is except for three I’ve encountered in the last 12 months.

Bad Driver #1 was a woman who blew through a stop sign in front of me. Apparently her cell phone conversation was more important than paying attention to the road. She gave me such a surprised look when I chewed her out. Fortunately for me, I was half expecting her actions so I had begun to take evasive action as I approached her.

Bad Driver #2 is the bonehead guy who passes my house every morning on his way to Starbucks. I pulled out one morning just before he appeared from the blind curve north of my driveway. He blew around and proceeded to cross a double yellow line to pass me. Fortunately for both of us no gravel trucks coming from the other direction. This guy is the kind of person who thinks he’s more important than anyone else. He probably achieved his position in life because daddy bought if for him. Oh yeah, he was on a cell phone too. So I caught up to him at the Starbucks and informed him (in case he didn’t know) that he was a bonehead. For some odd reason he disagreed with me, but I expected that.

Bad Driver #3, my last, and latest encounter happened riding into work one morning. A young university student just wasn’t happy that I was driving only 5mph over the speed limit. She nearly rear-ended me twice then passed over a double yellow line to speed through a school zone. She was probably late for a final, that makes it okay I guess. What surprised me was her anger towards me; like it was my fault she was a bad driver.

The score to date is women 2, men 1. I hate to say it but so far in my motorcycling experiences the women winning at being the worse. However, there is still a lot of time to go and the numbers can change.