Two Wheels is Two Wheels
by Thomas Day
Last year, I had the displeasure of test riding a Korean chopper clone. If you’ve read anything I’ve written in the past, you probably know that I have no idea why anyone would want a motorcycle that is designed and suited for riding short distances between bars. I can walk more comfortably than I can ride with my hands in the air and my feet sticking out like I’m sliding on my butt toward oblivion (or a gynecologist). It was an uncomfortable, boring, embarrassing experience (like every other time I’ve suffered that kind of motorcycle) and I said so in my review. In fact, I said I’d rather ride a mountain bike than put myself through the silliness of riding a cruiser.
That is, by the way, no exaggeration.
I like my bicycle. I usually put in at least five hundred miles a year on my mountain bike and when I was really pounding out the motorcycle miles, I was also pedaling long distances almost every day. The Korean marketing rep thought he was banishing me to some terrible punishment by shrieking “Your tester states that he would rather ride a mountain bike than our GV or any other cruiser? I would just as soon see him do the same..permanently. it certainly would serve your readers better if he did.” [The weird punctuation and grammar belongs to the genius marketeer. I just cut-and-pasted his more benign comments into this column.]
I’m not sure what being banned to a bicycle “permanently” would entail. It wouldn’t be a terrible problem for me, as long as I can fall back on the bus for Minnesota’s really cold days, and sneak a ride on my motorcycle when I cross the country. Bicycles are great transportation, wonderful exercise, and a little enforced motivation might generate the discipline I need to make me ride mine more often. Maybe Marketing Boy would like to sign on as my personal trainer?
Just like my choices in motorcycles, I have the same prejudices for the bicycles I ride. When I was a kid, all we had were Western Auto’s Airline and our local bicycle shop’s Schwinn coaster brake bikes. No 10-speeds, no BMX bikes, no stunt bikes, no mountain bikes, and nothing resembling observed trials bikes. From when I was 9 until age 12, I pedaled a 10-mile long paper route on a 40-pound, 26” steel-wheeled bike that today’s bicycle dealers would call a “beach cruiser.” Schwinn’s Stingrays didn’t appear in western Kansas until after I had graduated to motorcycles. When I was a teenager, a few cheap, Schwinn 10-speed “racers” started appearing among the town’s rich kids. I didn’t own a multi-geared bicycle until I was almost 30 years old. My kids had bikes with gears before I did. When I moved to California, I alternated my commute between my motorcycle and my bicycle. I experimented with mountain bike racing along the coast, until I began to bang myself up as often on the bicycle as I had on my dirt bikes.
After bending up dozens of skinny, 27” wheels, I saw an ad for a mountain bike in a sports magazine and I bought one. For the first two years I owned that bike, I wore out a pair of tires every few months. I hung on to my habit of hopping curbs and getting air on speed bumps, but mountain bike wheels and tires take that punishment without much damage. I’m on my second mountain bike and my fourth bicycle odometer. I think this bike has collected almost 10,000 miles since it was new.
Contrary to cruiser and biker newbie fairy tales, bicycling and motorcycling require a lot of the same skills; especially off-road and high speed bicycling. Traction control and momentum shifts from simply twisting a throttle to pedal power and cornering speed judgment. If the concept of matching engine speed to road speed is complicated on a motorcycle, that is magnified on a bicycle when the “engine” is you. Braking is exactly the same; without the advantage of large, sticky tires or a traction-smoothing suspension. I swap the traditional front/rear brake positions on my bicycles to the motorcycle configuration. Many of the best motocross, enduro, trials, and MotoGP competitors began racing on bicycles. Some of those world-class motorcyclists still ride bicycles recreationally and competitively.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, riding a bicycle in urban traffic will reinforce your understanding of how incredibly incompetent and careless the majority of cagers really are. When you are whizzing along beside these fools at highway speeds, it’s useful to know that many of them are unable to make a competent, 2-mph turn from a standing start. They are so busy fooling with their makeup, cell phones, coffee cups, and other mentally-handicapping paraphernalia, that the highway, and other highway users, are the furthest thing from their tiny minds. If you aren’t constantly looking for escape routes, you are among the rolling dead.
When I’m teaching a Basic Rider Course (BRC) for the MSF, I always ask students if they ride a bicycle. If they don’t, they will need special attention to even begin to grasp motorcycling concepts. Really good bicyclists catch on almost immediately and rip through the BRC program the way it was intended to be ripped. When folks fail the BRC, I recommend that they spend a week putting miles on a bicycle before they go back to testing their skills on a motorcycle. Often, I get a disgusted look and the suggestion is dismissed as if it were total insanity.
It wouldn’t be the first time my ideas have been exposed to disdain and disbelief. It won’t be the last. I still think bicycling and motorcycling are similar skills. A motorcycle is a motorized bicycle; at the back (and safest to learn) end of two-wheeled technology and technique. If you aren’t up to the demands of riding a bicycle, you probably aren’t in good enough shape to be a skilled and safe motorcyclist. If none of that were true, I’d still miss my bicycle as much as my motorcycles, if I couldn’t occasionally take to the road on petal power. Bicycles are fun, practical, efficient transportation and cops don’t even give me a glance when I’m pretending to be a racer on my bicycle.