Motorcycle Incompatibility

by Thomas Day

In my forty-something years of motorcycling, I’ve tried to combine just about everything with motorcycles. Some things work and more things don’t.

For instance, computers and motorcycles are mediocre traveling companions. Since 1988 or so, I’ve tried about two dozen combinations. Everything from “luggable” CRT based hardware to sub-notebooks have graced my backpacks, courier bags, and saddlebags. With one very limited exception, a very underpowered NEC MobilePro, every experiment has ended in destruction and disappointment. A few hundred hours rattling around on my bike and another hardware investment is down the tubes. The MobilePro has hung together for nearly nine years, to the point that the keyboard labeling has worn off. The little guy only provides 16 megabytes of RAM, and no other storage capabilities. That was a minor limitation for my writing projects and scheduling requirements, but I’m doing a large number of PowerPoint presentations at work and I need serious storage capacity for those jobs.

The one thing I have not tried is a “ruggedized” laptop, one of those things that is supposed to withstand a direct atomic weapon hit. The reason for that is that I don’t have the carrying capacity for one of those underpowered, trailing-edge-technology behemoths. Or the budget. By the time a manufacturer gets through the standard military testing song and dance, technology has moved so far ahead that the machine is practically obsolete.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks computers and motorcycles are incompatible. I recently pitched an article idea to a couple of motorcycle magazines that involved a few months of normal riding and writing and a couple of non-military-ruggedized computers. The magazines bought into the idea pretty quickly, but the computer companies balked. It’s one thing to have a PC magazine editor push your computer from a table on to a pile of feather pillows, it’s another to give a PC to a whacko who thinks Minnesota riding season extends to December and restarts in March. Maybe they went to my website and took a critical look at my bike, deciding that someone who washes a motorcycle that infrequently might be a poor hardware risk. Whatever. I have a customer for the article, but no suppliers. So, having to spend my own money, I bought a compromise computer (titanium case, shock-mounted drive and LCD, and water-resistant keyboard) and fully expected it to turn to dust in a year or so. It pretty much has. I still resort to the old MobilePro when I care about the text I’m writing and I’m going to be spending serious time on the motorcycle.

Music is an uneasy motorcycling companion. I rarely ride without a song in my head, but I’m unconvinced that carrying actual music on a motorcycle makes sense. I’ve tried phones on my helmet and while I could sort of hear the music, the wind noise wiped out any subtlety. I recently took a ride on a Goldwing with a serious sound system. Sound quality-wise, I’d rate the experience about equal to being in a small car with the windows down. A troubling aspect of trying to listen to music, communications, or anything else on a motorcycle is hearing damage. As a nation, we’re going deaf faster than we ride.

I usually ride with earplugs and any music accompanying the ride was in my head when I got on the bike, or was inspired by being on the bike. I’ve ridden thousands of miles with Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” setting the pace. I’m not fast, but I’m frantic.

For my money, passengers (and, possibly, marriage) are incompatible with motorcycling. For every great sex and drugs and spontaneous sexual combustion story I’ve heard, there are ten “my wife made me sell the bike” stories. Unless the passenger is a motorcyclist, passengers are usually a handicap in every way you can consider. Even when the passenger is a biker, only a couple of disadvantages are semi-neutralized. You still have to wrestle with increased weight and lowered performance. Even on a hippo-bike with a gigantic platform for a guest butt, the reduced comfort level rarely recommends a passenger.

I always suspect the competence of passengers, too. If you can ride, why would you want to be on the “bitch pad?” If you can’t, what criteria do you use for determining who is safe to ride with?

About once every five years, my wife and I take a bike trip. She (an ex-dirt biker) gets bored quickly. I get uncomfortable after a few hundred miles. We both become short-tempered and neither of us can remember why we thought this would be a good idea after so many experiences that established otherwise. In our memories, the trips are all good experiences, though. We usually have fun, see things we wouldn’t see in a cage, go places we wouldn’t go on four wheels, and eat less than we do on car trips. So, five years from now, we’ll do it again.


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