You say tomato: I say tomahto. You say murdercycle: I say motorcycle.

May 30, 2006

I had this uncle. He was one of this countries most respected doctors. He had done med school at the University of Chicago. After med school, intern, residency, etc. he went to work at Johns Hopkins University for many years before returning to the University of Chicago. He was tops in his field of anesthesiology.

He also was a bit arrogant, as many doctors can be, and he hated motorcycles.

“I hear you purchased a murdercycle,” he once grumbled after my parents told him about my first bike.

“Oh no,” I replied, “It’s a little motorcycle. Nothing special, just something to get me around.”

“Yeah, well it’s still a death machine on two wheels. Do you know how many motorcycle accident victims I see coming through the emergency room every year?”

My uncle then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes giving me a lecture on body trauma injuries, head trauma injuries, and just about any other trauma injuries he could bring up. He concluded with one of my favorite lines. “Do you know what we physicians call a motorcyclist who doesn’t wear a helmet? Organ donors. Because after they’re braindead we can still harvest the organs for someone else.”

Don’t get me wrong. He truly was a great guy. He loved the academia of what he did; he loved the challenge, he loved the problem solving and deep down inside I think he truly loved humanity — he wouldn’t have been a doctor if he didn’t. But I loved the motorcycles and I wasn’t about to give up riding because of his, or anyone else’s opinion on the state of road safety in America.

However I did promise to wear a helmet and I still do to this day.

But I find myself becoming more and more annoyed by all the prognosticators who feel the need to tell me about how dangerous it is on a motorcycle. When I had wiring problems with my first bike, the chopped Honda 350, I took it to a guy in my town who was willing to redo the wiring for me. I purchased a new wiring harness and showed up at his place with harness and bike.

Sometime between our discussion on the phone and my arrival he had experienced some kind of transformation that I can only describe as something on the level of a religious conversion. He began to lecture me on the dangers of riding. Seems he had been in an accident himself (at some point long before we discussed the rewiring, mind you) and he was now having second thoughts about restoring my bike to running condition. He concluded his 15-minute diatribe by informing me that he could no longer bring himself to fixing my bike. He didn’t want the responsibility.

Well gee, he could have called me back before I hauled the vehicle to his house. At the very least, we could have had this discussion before I unloaded the bike from the pickup truck.

For one brief moment I felt as if I was back in Cincinnati where I occasionally encountered the soapbox preachers who stand on the street corners and shout out how all us sinners will burn when the world ends tomorrw. I thanked the reluctant repairman for his time and got out of there fast.

Yep, I know. Riding the motorcycle can be a bit risky. So can driving a car. How many times have you almost been creamed by someone on a cell phone while driving around in their way too big SUV? But come on, seriously, eating red meat involves a certain amount of risk, and the same can be said about fish.

Our love affair with sweets also carries a risk if you constantly overindulge.

My point: I know riding is risky but I become more vigilant on my motorcycle than other vehicles I ride or drive (with the exception of my bicycle). I constantly tell my kids that you always assume that every driver on the road is an idiot — this is my way of prepping them for their diver’s license.

“Even if it’s you?” they ask.

“Even if it’s me,” I reply.

My oldest son once questioned if I wasn’t just overgeneralizing a bit. I explained that not all drivers are truly idiots but if you assume they are then you put yourself into the right frame of mind for defensive driving. Assume they are idiots, watch them like they are idiots and take evasive action when they act like idiots.

Yep, riding comes with risk but we do what we can to reduce the risk while still having some fun.


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.