For a while now I’ve wanted to learn to ride a motorcycle. Chalk it up to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, worming its way into my brain at the tender age of 17. A few years ago Deanna sent me a magazine essay written by a guy biking across South America, and the words sounded like a rush of wheels, all Kerouac-meets-Hunter S. And then my friend Dean got a bike, and came back from a long trip with achingly beautiful photos and good stories, and so. I can’t help it if my dreams are unoriginal. I signed up for a motorcycle class.
Here’s what I learned:
-Less blood, crashing and fires than I imagined. No one fell off. Balance was easy.
-Stopping and starting, by contrast, required more coordination than I generally possess. You can’t just turn the key and go. You have to put it in neutral, turn the ignition, pull in the clutch, pull out the choke, and then start the engine using two buttons. Stopping does not just require the application of the brake. There’s two brakes, one for your right hand and one for your right foot. Plus pull in the clutch at the same time, but more gently than you pull in the brake.
-After my fingers numbed out from the cold, I couldn’t hold in one of the controls anymore. So the instructor gave me a different bike that was even more difficult to handle, although that one control was easier to manage. I suddenly understood what it must be like to be the slow kid. You get a little behind, and then a little more behind, and then you start to hate everyone and everything. There was a young couple taking the class together who kept shooting each other cutesy looks of achievement while I was still doddering around, annihilating orange cones. I made gagging sounds at them while revving the engine.
-Your bike will go where you look. It turns when you turn your head, press the handlebars and lean.
-You might have hypothermia, if your lips are blue.
-Riding fast feels like being that kid in the NeverEnding Story who rides on Falcor the luckdragon.