Though bicycling was my primary outdoor hobby for most of my life, I always flirted with the idea of getting a motorcycle. A lot of my neighbours had dirt bikes when I was growing up, but our family wasn’t that type, apparently. In my thirties I started thinking a bit more about something with a motor on it, but the spouse always discouraged it based on either or both of financial or safety reasons.
Finally, in my early forties, I decided to get a bike. Not knowing yet what type of riding I would like, the bike I chose was based on looks: a Honda VTX cruiser, the old classic style, Harley look-alike. Knowing my limitations and not yet having a license, I had it delivered rather than attempting to ride it home from the dealer. I started slowly by riding it first around the neighbourhood then further and further until I was comfortable, while at the same time taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation class and getting the motorcycle certification on my driver’s license. I bought a helmet together with the bike, and then soon got a jacket, boots, gloves, etc. Safety first.
Every time I told someone that I had bought a motorcycle I got a funny look and a horror stories that they knew someone whose brother-in-law or cousin had been killed on a bike. Yes, I understand, but they also know people who were killed in a car, and they still drive. Admittedly, the statistics are not good for motorcycles; fatalities per mile driven is higher on a bike than in a car, and there’s less protection in the event of an accident. Most motorcycle fatalities are caused by the other vehicle, usually by a driver turning left in front of the rider, but a dead rider is still dead regardless of whose fault it was. But the statistics also show that a rider who has a valid license, who has completed safety training, wears a full helmet and gear, and does not drink and ride is significantly safer than the cumulative accident statistics would suggest. As I do all of the above, and I recognize the dangers, I feel that I am taking an acceptable risk by riding.
And it’s a lot of fun.
I put 7000 miles on the Honda in the year that I owned it, taking long rides most weekends. (Unfortunately the spouse wouldn’t go near it, so I didn’t get to share my enjoyment with her.) But after a year I decided that the VTX was the wrong bike for me; it was a cruiser, built for more sedate, shorter rides, and my style had quickly evolved into faster, longer rides best characterized as sport touring. Plus, when I got together with other people riding the same style of bike I was surrounded by a bunch of Harley wannabes, with the chrome, leather, and tattoos, taking long cigar breaks every twenty miles. None of this was me. I did buy and install a few accessories for the bike, and liked the look, but in the end decided it wasn’t the right bike for me.
I ended up trading in the Honda on a 2004 BMW R1150RT, the best sport touring bike available at the time. It was, and still is, a bit pricey, but it’s a great bike. After a couple of years of tinkering with upgrades such as a better seat, handlebar risers and peg lowers I got it to fit just right. I’ve wired it up for stereo and GPS, and added extra lights for visibility for the people turning left in front of me.
For most of the time that I’ve had the bike I was single, so I had lots of time to ride, and I lived in an area with lots of great roads. Most of my weekends included a ride of at least two or three hundred miles, with five or six hundred not out of the ordinary. The Iron Butt Association has certificates for 1000 miles in 24 hours; I got one certificate then did a couple more rides of that length without submitting to get an additional certificate. I had planned on multiple occasions to get the next level up, 1500 miles in 24 hours, but something always fell through. My longest single day ride has been 1200+ miles, and the longest multi-day rides have been a couple of over 5000 miles, one to the Grand Canyon and Utah, and one a very circular route out to Texas and back. I’ve ridden the Blue Ridge Parkway three or four times, and rode once to Florida. I think that I’ve ridden in about 42 or 43 of the lower 48 states.
Until the last couple years I averaged about 15,000 miles on the bike every year, more than I put on the truck. The cost adds up; while gas mileage is better (mid 40’s mpg), the cost of tires, oil, and annual maintenance is pretty expensive. There are of course more expensive hobbies (think: airplanes or boats), but some cheaper ones as well (think: bicycles).
The last couple of years, though, I haven’t put in too many miles. I was unemployed for a couple of years, which while giving me lots of time also cut into my recreation budget. Then last year I owned a bicycle shop, which cut into my time as well as soaked up whatever money I had left. At least the BMW was paid for, but at about 50,000 miles the vaunted BMW durability and reliability started to look a bit worse for wear, and it’s been costing a lot to keep the bike on the road.
I’m occasionally asked which I prefer most, bicycling or motorcycling, as I’m an avid participant in both. I sometimes joke that I got a motorcycle because I got old and lazy and didn’t want to pedal any more. While it’s a joke there’s also some truth to it as well. If I have a full day I’d rather go out on the motorcycle, put in some miles and see some scenery. If I have just an hour then the bicycle is better. I can ride the motorcycle in a wider range of weather conditions because I’m fully dressed. As far as safety, I feel much safer on the motorcycle because I’m riding *with* traffic rather than on the side; while a bicycle is legally a vehicle most drivers don’t see it that way, while there’s no debate that a motorcycle is a vehicle and allowed on the road. But that doesn’t mean that most drivers look out for them.