by Gary Charpentier
Never, ever let this become routine!” I told myself early one Spring morning as I watched the sun rise over St. Paul from my vantage point on the High Bridge above the mighty Mississippi. I was riding to work, my daily commute, but the route is very special as it takes me through some of the best scenery the Twin Cities have to offer. While easy to appreciate on a clear Spring morning, I find it much more difficult to enjoy when the temperature drops into the 40s and the sky is still dark as I make the same crossing in September. I have not yet begun to dress for the cool weather of Autumn, so the chill reaches deep into my core and I find myself just wanting to get there. This is tragic! I might as well be driving a car for all the joy I derive from riding like this. “Normal” people drive cars when the weather gets cold, why not me?
The way I see it, riding a motorcycle is an activity that should be savored, no matter when you do it or where you’re going. Now, the weekend warrior appreciates this. He has that one special bike which he takes out early on a Saturday or Sunday morning to strafe the twisties with a group of friends, or hits the trails for a bit of dirty fun on a dual-sport or MX bike, or maybe packs up the hard bags on a Gold Wing for a long trip on the Interstate. During the week, he drives his car or truck to work, anticipating the weekend when he can cast off all the trappings of the corporate world and once again taste freedom on two wheels. But those of us who ride to work sometimes lose that appreciation, becoming lost in the daily fight through traffic and thoughts of the work day ahead. Before we know it, we are pulling into the parking lot of our job, having wasted another opportunity to really LIVE THE MOMENT. A proper ride to work should energize the rider. It should provide enough pleasure to sustain him through the dullness of the work shift. A good day is when I spend the morning hours remembering the ride to work, and the afternoon hours anticipating the ride home. How many other hobbies or passions can you practice every day like this?
There are a few things we can do to facilitate this kind of enjoyment. Dressing for the weather is foremost among them. Heat can be dissipated by motion, as soon as you are moving and have airflow going, you can cool down to a tolerable level. But cold can ruin a ride faster than anything else. It’s always a good idea to overdress for the weather, you can always remove layers as necessary and bungie them to the bike.
Also, leaving early or at least on-time means that we can take the time to look around and experience the environment we are riding through. On mornings when I am running late, I tend to concentrate exclusively on the road in front of me, and the traffic around me, with that special sixth sense tuned to the presence of Johnny Law. While this gives an adrenaline rush all its own, it’s really not that pleasant. It’s simply the relief of having survived another attempt to turn my motorcycle into a time machine.
Taking different routes is another way to keep things fresh. This has the added benefit of keeping the people you pissed off the previous day from running you over and it also keeps the highway patrol guessing. But the main reason for riding different routes is that undiscovered coffee house or diner that you may come across in your travels, yet another option for lunch time. We don’t call it Café Racing for nothing, a man’s gotta eat!
Sometimes I ride what I call “The Circuit”. This is set up like a long road course, with twisty bits, freeway dashes, city traffic, and several stops along the way. A typical Circuit ride will consist of nice scenic ride out of town, leading into some rural curves, followed by a stop at a small café for a cup of java and maybe a snack. Then it’s back to the rolling hills and country corners for awhile, followed by a blast down the freeway back to civilization and a big meal of Italian or Mexican fare. For dessert I cruise slowly down city side streets all the way back to my home on Ton-Up Hill. In my drinking days, I would substitute a pub or saloon for the coffee house, but with age and experience has come wisdom and a very bad driving record. So these days I leave bar-hopping to the youngsters.
It takes some trial and error to set up a circuit like this, but that is part of the fun too. Exploring with or without a road map, you can really broaden your horizons with a few hours in the saddle, riding roads you have never seen before. I’ve been known to head out with nothing but a notebook and a coin. When I come to a crossroads, I flip the coin; heads for north or east, tails for south or west. Mark it on the paper and just go, see what lies over that next hill. For these mapping expeditions, I prefer a slow, reliable motorcycle. Ride it first on the slow bike, get to know the roads and the scenery, and then attack it on the fast one. That gives you two completely different rides on the same route. Not knowing what you will encounter along the way is half the fun.
I bought a rain suit this year. Now I can ride in any weather and be reasonably comfortable. Does this mean that I will choose to ride even on cold, rainy Sunday mornings? Not very often, but at least I have that option. I ride to work in the rain, and even on those days my commute is always more pleasant than any of the time I spend on the job. But that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? We cannot allow ourselves to take the ride for granted! Every time I climb aboard, start that engine and roll into the street, I want to feel that special thrill that the timid will never know. Let them go all white-knuckled inside their big metal boxes, safe from harm, insulated from life itself. I am out there living, breathing, and being, RIGHT NOW, conscious of every moment, every heartbeat, and every turn of the wheels beneath me. I am part of my environment, not merely observing it from behind safety glass. This is a very special thing we do, riding motorcycles. We need to appreciate that, and never let anyone take it away from us. And never, ever let this become routine.