It’s hard to express to others your feelings toward something when your passion for it is authentic. If you were to ask me on the very first day I bought my first motorcycle (a rundown 1989 Suzuki GS500), “Why do you ride?” I would’ve been able to list off a thousand reasons: the sound, the speed, how cool riding gear looks, cheap insurance, and probably any other observation I could’ve come up with about simply owning a motorcycle. Those reasons could never truly represent why I started riding motorcycles, though. They’re too superficial and fail to even consider the relationship you form with your motorcycle and the deeper understanding of the world around you that develops the more you ride. Even though I’ve had a few years to ponder this question, I still struggled to write this page. I tried to imagine the first time I rode a motorcycle – or any form of motorized bike for that matter – and I couldn’t. I didn’t have a vivid memory that romanticized my first ride; instead, all I could remember is that I’ve had bikes around me my entire life – bicycles, minibikes, dirtbikes, and, eventually, motorcycles. At every stage of my life, I was always on two wheels and the only way to convey why I started riding motorcycles is to reflect on this.I have always been obsessed by things with two wheels – call me simple, I don’t care. Bikes, whether motorized or people-powered, straddle the line of primitive and sophisticated. Bikes are simple – two wheels, a power source, and a place for the operator; but, it also represents mankind’s ingenuity and ability to harness the forces of nature. Different forces, masses, energy, and other terms that I don’t completely understand work together to keep you upright and moving. As a rider, the ability to use the laws of nature while riding requires a subconscious understanding of your relationship with these forces. While I may not have known this as I was learning to ride a bicycle at the age of 4, or even when I was tearing through the Pennsylvania countryside on my unnecessarily bulky downhill machine as a teenager, I did understand that I loved anything with two wheels and that my interest in bikes would never change.
I have always been obsessed by things with two wheels – call me simple, I don’t care. Bikes, whether motorized or people-powered, straddle the line of primitive and sophisticated. Bikes are simple – two wheels, a power source, and a place for the operator; but, it also represents mankind’s ingenuity and ability to harness the forces of nature. Different forces, masses, energy, and other terms that I don’t completely understand work together to keep you upright and moving. As a rider, the ability to use the laws of nature while riding requires a subconscious understanding of your relationship with these forces. While I may not have known this as I was learning to ride a bicycle at the age of 4, or even when I was tearing through the Pennsylvania countryside on my unnecessarily bulky downhill machine as a teenager, I did understand that I loved anything with two wheels and that my interest in bikes would never change.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. Once I got college I didn’t have the space for my downhill bike anymore, so it stayed home with the rest of my family. When I finally had my own apartment and space for my bike, I was working two jobs just to put myself through college. I didn’t have the time or energy for bikes anymore, so I sold my prized bike for rent money; and even though I don’t have a specific memory that serves as the source of my passion, I will never forget that moment. The moment when I traded my Giant Faith 2, a bike I tore down and rebuilt from almost the frame itself, for a few hundred bucks, I thought my love for all things two-wheeled disappeared.
Then, the big day came. I graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2013 and was beginning law school in the fall. Graduations are always nostalgic events and I think a Harley, with its massive V-Twin and bad-ass attitude, must have rode by just as all the nostalgia hit me. Out of nowhere, I had an irresistible urge for motorcycles. I needed to be on two wheels again. I began researching bikes, insurance, licenses, everything. I enrolled in the local MSF course, scored perfectly on the exam, and drove my motorcycle-less self down to Richmond, VA. I immediately started hunting for a cheap bike and stumbled upon a beauty. His name was Stanley (look, I don’t name them. They come from the factory with these names) and he was a 1989 Suzuki GS 500 with upwards of 38,000 miles. He didn’t run smoothly; I’m lucky he ran at all, actually. I did what any rational person would do, I sold my 1994 Mercedes E-320 station wagon and used some of the cash to buy Stanley.
Veterans always recommend getting a beater bike as your first and that’s exactly what I did. Although I never dropped him in traffic (that didn’t come until this year actually), he was hit while parked, knocked over by drunk VCU students, and disassembled almost to the point of no return. When I decided to write this post and had to look critically at my two-wheeled history; I think Stanley was critical in solidifying my passion. I was in my first year of law school and, I’m not sure if you’ve heard but, law school sucks. For me, it was particularly hard because I was constantly in my mind and working in the abstract. Although I was a political science and philosophy major in college, I also worked two jobs and used my hands frequently. In law school, I could hardly work on the weekends because of the workload; but, Stanley constantly needed work to be done on him and that gave me a real chance to use my brain and hands in a concrete fashion. Even better yet, if he was running I could completely shut my brain off and roll through the countryside outside the city.Stanley became my escape from the stress of day-to-day life. We built a relationship and I started to truly find my individuality through my GS500.
Looking back, bikes have always been my escape. As a kid, I would go out back and act like I was racing BMX bikes; in middle school, my friends had mini-bikes and dirtbikes that we would terrorize neighbors with; then, in high school, downhill and freeride mountain biking gave me the chance to go out into nature, breathe it all in, and just relax. I was able to shut off the cognitive and overly-conscious parts of my brain and just act on instinct. The natural progression just seemed to suggest that motorcycles were always in my future.
I’ve found that the longer you’ve cared for something and the longer that something has been a part of your life, the harder it is for you to explain why and how that passion started. I’ve always looked at motorcycles as a continuation of my love for bicycles, and I still find that to be true. Bicycles absolutely opened the door to the world of motorcycles for me and my passion for motorcycles definitely has its origins in my loves for bicycles; but, the individuality of riding and experience the road in your own way is why I ride. I’m not simply another commuter stuck in traffic with heated seats, radio, and a cage blocking my view of reality; I’m outside, sitting in the rain, breathing in the air of a country road, using my entire body to negotiate a turn and knowing that failure leads to actual consequences beyond insurance paperwork. Riding a motorcycle is knowing that no one has experienced a road the same way I am no matter how many people have driven it before me. It’s knowing that the hands used to make my bike run smoothly are the same hands pushing and pulling me through every turn. Regardless of why I started riding (which is still foggy, if you can’t tell) the relationship I have developed with motorcycles and other two-wheeled machines will continue to grow for the rest of my life and I look forward to growing old with such a consistent friend.