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But you seem so intelligent, why would you ride a motorcycle?
Recently, I met a member of the wife's family for the first time. Names and the relationship are not important. Suffice to say they are lovely, very generous and clearly intelligent and yet, when it came around to the part of the conversation where you talk about what you do for a living, their demeanour changed.
As the words "I ride and write about motorcycles" left my mouth, I could see the individual visibly drain of colour. I knew where the conversation was headed.
Relative: So, you're in a gang?
Alex: No, I'm not in a gang. Sometimes I go riding with my wife and friends but that hardly makes us an outlaw gang.
Relative: But isn't it dangerous?
Alex: Not really. I like to practice safe riding. Car drivers are my biggest concern because they don't often see motorcyclists, they're on the phone, and rarely look where they're going.
Relative: But you seem so intelligent, why would you ride a motorcycle?
No, I'm not in a motorcycle gang
Let me tell you, in polite company, there is no answer to that question. It's deaply insulting to have to think about it.
It's a familiar theme heard again and again. My favourite one is along the lines of ...
"My uncle Gerald used to have a motorcycle when he was young. He crashed it and had to have 64 metal pins inserted into his brain and his arms were found in the next field. He's OK now though but speaks with a limp."
Why is it always someone who crashed? And why are injuries described akin to scenes from zombie movies? I can only assume they're trying to scare me "straight". Or more likely that it scares the crap out of them.
I think that's the reason I ride a motorcycle. It's one of the few things in my life I can do so that I don't end up like them, the person that asked me that question.
They may be content to sit in traffic, mouth stuffed with donuts while their head is stuffed with talk radio or inane soft-rock. They may think they're safe sitting alone in a two-ton steel roll cage with the windows up and icy cold air keeping the sweat off their brow. They might even think they're cool, driving the Ford Crappola or Volkswagen Isolation because they've got the limited edition that only 18 million other people got. But in reality, they're scared of living.
It doesn't help that any time you hear the word motorcycle in the media, it's accompanied by the word "outlaw" or "gang" or "accident" or "crime". Shows like Son's of Anarchy, good as they are, do little to help that image.
Some say, I used to own a motorcycle
Occasionally, I'll run into people, usually older. When I tell them what I do, I get a different response. A smile breaks across their face and they confess "I used to own a motorcycle".
They'll tell me stories of cross-country adventures or that time they raced their brother and won. It doesn't matter. Press them and they'll express regret they gave it up when they got married or had kids, or any number of excuses. And they are excuses.
I know who this person is because I wrestled with the same choice when I had kids. Even today I sometimes have to be that person trapped in a cage. When I drive the kids to school, or run an errand (try buying a closet on a motorcycle) I'm the one at the stop lights drinking my coffee and playing bad music.
When I'm that person, I don't get out of my car and say: "we should do that drive again". It's rare to see me smiling when I get out of my car, but do the same on a bike? There are no mundane journeys on a bike. At least, not in my experience.
You'll meet the best people on a motorcycle
The other great part about riding is meeting people like you. If you've read this far, you understand precisely what I'm saying. I've met so many people on the road and for the most part, they're the coolest people I know.
You've given me advice, aid, laughs and camaraderie.
I've also met my share of grizzled bikers who would easily scare my in-laws. They are, for the most part, just like you and me. Today, bikers are just as likely to give you tax advice as chain whip you. Respect other riders, respect the road and you'll understand.
When I ride, my motorcycle takes me to places I wouldn't otherwise go. Somedays, it means the road less travelled. Other days, it just means I can take time to empty my thoughts and truly relax.
Whatever it is, when I arrive, my grin is just a little bit wider, my heartrate a little bit slower and a feeling of freedom that can't be described. I know that means I'm alive.
OK ready for a ride? Check out the Tail of the Dragon
Here's one of my favorite motorcycle roads in the United States, The Tail of the Dragon