Keep Yourself Alive
by Thomas Day
Instead of indulging one of my many grievances against the universe, I want to actually try to babble about something I’ve learned in the last year. This is really obvious, in retrospect, but it’s something that practically escaped me for too long.
It’s April 3, 2001 and I rode my bike to work for the first time this year. The world is a much nicer place than it was last week, or has been for the last five months. I’ve lost much of the urge to squish the life out of the first living thing that irritates me. I even skipped coffee this morning and I’m not falling asleep while I write this. A buddy came by and said he could see the Disney bluebirds circling my cube. But doing my first 2001 ride to work isn’t the point of this non-rant, as nice an event as that was.
A year and a half ago, at the end of the 1999 riding season, I had whipped past a half-century of life and thirty-five years of motorcycling. I was beginning to feel someone else’s age, someone disgustingly old and, practically, feeble. As you might have figured by my generally bad attitude, I am an office drone. For the last nine years, I’ve spent my working days at a desk, surrounded by cube walls, doing mindless repetitive tasks that could be taught to a marginally intelligent, boredom-tolerant chimp. While that brilliant career plan has allowed me the time and motivation to develop all sorts of attitude, it hasn’t done much for my physical condition. In fact, it’s nearly crippled me.
Until I moved to Minnesota five years ago, I’d been able to justify the hazards of my motorcycling habit by burning up fifteen to twenty thousand miles a year, commuting and touring, on my bikes. Minnesota winters, a new grandson, a house that needed more work than it will ever be worth, and general purpose laziness cut those miles in half for three years and, in the summer of 1998, I began to think that I might be getting too old to ride a bike.
I’d get up in the morning, look at my way-too-tall-for-my-28″-inseam Yamaha TDM 850 and my way-too-much-like-a-desk-chair SUV, and ride to work in the gas-guzzling desk chair. When I did ride, I made myself nervous. I was not the rider I used to be. I wasn’t aggressive when I needed to be aggressive. I wasn’t strong enough to deal with the bike when I got into trouble. I had my first-ever street bike accident early that spring. I started thinking about buying a cruiser, to
compensate for being too fat and stiff to swing my leg over a real motorcycle. I was starting to see the point that other geezer bikers make when they claim that helmets limit visibility and loud pipes began to seem like a useful defensive maneuver. Too often, I couldn’t see who was beside me, in heavy traffic, let alone what was behind me. The problem was not that I’m getting old. It’s that I was out of shape. You can’t do anything about being old, but you can usually fix being out of shape.
Somewhere, years ago, I read that good luck isn’t something that’s happening all the time, it comes when it’s important. That’s why it’s called luck. In my case, my desire to hang on to motorcycling coincided with my need to get back a chunk of my life before it was too late. I love motorcycling so much that the idea of quitting, selling my bike, and doing all of my traveling and commuting in a four-wheeled birdcage scared the snot out of me. That nasty prospect convinced me to look for some kind of conditioning routine that would help me regain enough flexibility and strength to stay on two wheels. I’m lucky to have had motorcycling for motivation.
For me, the activity turned out to be cranking up a regular yoga routine. I started light and short, fifteen minutes a day, and have worked up to forty-five minutes to an hour, five or six days a week, in the last year. At my last physical, my doc called me an owl when he saw how far I could swivel my head and torso. Last I heard, he was starting his own workout routine. I have rediscovered the joys and rewards of being able to bend over to pick up dropped stuff, without screaming in pain. My balance is better than it’s ever been. I lost 25 pounds and gained strength and stamina.
This isn’t a yoga promotion. This isn’t a for-geezers-only column. Riding a motorcycle is physically demanding, somewhat hazardous, and more fun than anything you can do on four wheels (except sex, which is nearly impossible on a moving motorcycle). Motorcycling is a sort of double-edged sword. It’s dangerous, but living is dangerous. Living without a little danger, an edge, something to crank up your juices, is almost pointless. That’s why we love motorcycles.
Just owning a motorcycle isn’t enough to keep yourself alive on a bike. Doing the MSF Experienced Rider class every year or two is nothing more than a survival tactic. The things you learn in a racing class or off-road on a dirt bike may be the difference between riding tomorrow or getting to know your doctor really well. But that’s not enough. Every racer has some kind of cross-training routine to keep sharp and fit. They don’t just do those things to win races. They do them to stay alive and uninjured. Strength, flexibility, balance, and response time are all physical characteristics that can be improved. You can cover your pickup with “Start Seeing Motorcycles” stickers, but the only person watching out for you on the road is you. If you can’t do the job, you’re screwed.
Since this anti-rant is a complete failure at my life’s purpose in ticking off all six of the Geezer column fans, here’s a web-link that ought to do the job for you: www.dennisjsullivan.com/loudpipe.htm. Enjoy.