I am a biker. It is 2016. I thumb my starter and go. I can cross a continent for the price of a few tanks of gas. Effortless, —–relatively. My phone tells me how to suit up for weather I’ve not stepped foot in. My GPS tells me where to turn and where there’s traffic, road construction, and gas stations. Before my driveway ends my bike tells me my ‘smart phone’ has “paired” with my infotainment system. Putting The Beatles, Howard Stern, and my favorite books at my fingertips and into my ear bud equipped helmet, wirelessly. When it is cold I switch the heated seat and handgrips on. Very cold, and on with the heated suit. In the heat I flip the air vents circulating fresh wind into the ‘cockpit space’. Antilock brakes ensure my quick stops are safe, radial tires stick me to smooth fresh pavement and ‘fly by wire’ acceleration is smooth, fast and dependable. Thoughts of breaking down do not enter my mind and if they did my dashboard has provisions to direct me to the nearest Harley dealer or alert my tow service in the miniscule chance there is mechanical (or electronic) failure. The list could go on about halogen this and LED that, waterproof this and lightweight that, but why? You get my point. We are wimps. Pampered with modernity and convenience. Who amongst us has not scoffed at the Gold Wing guy pulling a trailer and queried: –‘why not just buy a car?’ – All the while that our electronic ignition fires perfect millisecond pulses to our platinum spark plugs. Don’t judge. It is the way of the world. 2016. Imagine 50 years from now. Internal combustion will be obsolete. Electromagnetic? Organically regenerating power plants? Fusion? Who knows? The suck, bang, blow paradigm of our beloved internal combustion will be a thing of the past. Though you will have lived through it. If you are a young biker, you will usher in the new dimension. If you are old, or even middle aged like me, chances are, you’ll not see it, but you’ll be told of its coming. The combustion principles that have propelled us forward have not really changed in 120 years. Explode a fuel in a small space, force a piston down a hole, turn a crank, spin some cogs connected to a belt or shaft and propel forward. All that changes are the details of motion and time. We are bikers of a new millennia but we are the descendants of our not too distant biker forbearers. The suck bank blow dynamic has changed little, but it will soon. A bit more dependable, a bit more powerful, WAY more complicated. Progress? It remains to be seen.
I sit in my office and look at the rusted hulk of the 1936 knucklehead hanging on my wall. It is Friday on a holiday weekend and we cut everyone loose half day from my Law Office. It is quite. My Road Glide sits outside waiting to usher me home cloaked in the modern convenience aforementioned. I look up at the old bike on the wall and while unrestored I know its form and its function when new. The ghosts of the men who piloted this bike speak to me. Theirs was not an easy lot to blaze trails on gravel roads, sans cell phones and AAA. Here is what sets those souls who have passed to the afterlife apart from us. If the clock were turned back 80 years when the bike in my officer was new, things would be different. A lot different. My rusted ‘wall-art’ bike, if I were lucky, would have been hand built on a good day, by one of the company’s superior mechanics, a human, not a robot. It would have bias ply tube tires, cast heads with copper gaskets, real leather on her seat and hand made bits and pieces. Not much imported sans perhaps the cork used in some of the gaskets and maybe the rubber grips and floorboard inserts. Oh how things have changed.
I know what its like to pilot a modern bike down a modern highway. Almost anyone can do it. I remember a time a few years ago out in the American West on my old panhead. I stopped roadside in awe of the great bison filled plains around me. I listened to nothing but the tinking and pinking of the thick metal parts cool off and contracting. The hiss perhaps of sweat splashing on a rusted header pipe. I rubbed my eyes and imagined for a moment that it was 1948. The war over, thousands of returning GI’s looking for adventure they had feasted on, if they survived, on the beaches of Normandy and in the hedge rows of French farms and in the ruined cities of Germany. They turned to the bikes churned out by Harley and Indian and Triumph amongst others. No biker gangs yet, no extra police scrutiny yet, no bad image to overcome or prejudice or overbearing government regulation. Just freedom on the open road. Yes, an occasional stop to adjust points and perhaps tighten rattling parts or swap tires roadside. But that is what made the adventure. Not a super duper Quickie-Mart gas station at every exit. Just mom and pop fill ups few and far between with a gallon milk jug in a saddlebag to bridge the gap. I wonder if it will ever be like that again? I doubt it. That time has past. License endorsements, tag stickers, registration cards, insurance policies, emission stamps and a plethora of government requirements and restrictions designed to either extract money or to control behavior. I miss my last life, if I had one. Don’t get me wrong, this biker life is a good one. Being a biker nowadays is effortless and carefree. Almost anyone can do it. But then again, that may be part of my dilemma. We’ll see what the next biker life holds. Maybe I’ll ride with you there?
Well, signing off for now. Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home.