by Thomas Day

My wife was recently infatuated with a poetic phrase: “Why cover the world with leather when you can wear shoes?” I suspect it’s an argument against excessive consumption. I also suspect her enjoyment of the phrase is a hint regarding some behavior of mine. I’ll wait until it becomes an obvious criticism before I worry about it.

A while back, I heard two old guys in my local hardware store worrying that all of the local budget problems were going to result in some cities cutting back so far on their street maintenance that some streets would return to gravel. I would say to that, “Why cover the world with asphalt when you can ride a dirt bike?”

When we first moved into our current home, I got hit with a $10,000 tax bill for widening and paving the road in front of the house. It was a perfectly good gravel road before the city hosed it up with asphalt, curbs and sidewalks. The old road required a dose of gravel every couple of years, but the new road gets torn up and rebuilt on the same interval at about ten times the cost. Now morons can whip past my house at 40mph, shredding my mailbox at least twice a year, and turning our neighborhood into a Whack-A-Kid amusement park. I miss the skinny gravel road and the ten feet of front yard I had to give up.

I’m not kidding, we’ve given the “pave paradise, put up a parking lot” crowd almost 100 years to prove their point and they have failed miserably. We have allowed “roadway planners” to mindlessly waste energy, mangle communities, turn productive land into polluted wastelands, and, worst of all, pavement allows the mass of “marching morons” access to vehicles they can’t possibly learn to maneuver competently. So, I think it’s time to tear up the parking lots and return the land to an off-road paradise. Any real Libertarian would want the liberty of being able to ride anywhere someone isn’t growing food and the responsibility of knowing that if you can’t ride through the mud, sand, and mangled terrain, you should take the train.

Damn, that rhymes. I should buy a guitar and write a song about it.

When I moved to west Texas, I bought a Kawasaki 350 Big Horn, we rented a house in the country and, when I wasn’t driving the company pickup, I was cross-country on limited access roads, plowing up the back fields of my employer’s property, or following a couple generations of motorcycle trails around that grubby little town. On weekends, there were spontaneous hill climbs, rough scrambles (motocross, later), and some of the best cross-country racing I’ve ever imagined possible.

One of the Texas old guys, Karl the Machinist, told stories of his family of Indian motorcyclists riding all over the countryside off road before the highways and freeways existed. For that matter, these guys were riding to Amarillo when the farm-to-market roads were barely more than cow paths that had been originally cut with wooden wagon wheel traffic. Talk about the good old days of self-reliance and American ingenuity, those kids learned to be garage mechanics and machinists because they didn’t have the hard cash to buy factory repair parts. Karl made a pretty good living from the skills he’d gained forging his own engine components, brazing busted frame parts, and hammering out bodywork from abandoned car sheet metal.

For 40 years, when someone asked me if they should ride a motorcycle, I’ve recommended riding off-road enough that you can earn your way out of some kind of novice class; motocross, supermoto, enduros or trials. Get that far and, if you’re still interested, you have a pretty good chance of surviving public roads on a motorcycle. If you don’t, there is always the bus, light rail, and Amtrak.

The more I think about it, the better I like this kind of austerity. We don’t even have to spend more tax money turning back the clock. Just lay off all those guys-leaning-on-shovels and let the roads deteriorate. While they’re decaying back into the earth (the roads, not the guys or their shovels), rotting roads will be just as much fun to ride as they would be if someone tore them up and plowed them into a decent track surface. It’s not like this isn’t the perfect time to make a change in motorcycling’s direction.

From here on, let’s insist that all motorcycles have at least 10” of suspension travel and if you can’t pick it up and drag it out of the mud when you crash, you better have good friends who will help you do it. Now that’s public policy I can live with.


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