Saturday, September 03, 2005

Fair-Weather Riders

Today was absolutely beautiful in greater Tyvek—sunny, clear blue skies, warm but not humid; a picture-perfect late summer, early fall day. Because of that, there were more asshole motorcyclists on the road than you could shake several sticks at.

The emphasis falls on the first part of that phrase; the percentage of motorcyclists who were assholes was significantly higher than it usually is. Nice weather does that—it brings out the riders with attitude, who own a motorcycle as some kind of rabid, inarticulate statement of incoherent rage and rebellion.

One was a sportbiker on a yamakawsuzonda 750 who split lanes between two cars who had each stopped because the vehicle in front of them was turning. Somebody honked, and the sportbiker turned around in full high dudgeon and raised a single enraged finger in defiance...of something...while riding 40 miles an traffic...facing backwards and screaming.

At a polar extreme stylistically or tribally or however you'd care to break them down, was the Chopper Dude. Man, if there is a dress code for chopper riders, this guy has it memorized. Bedpan helmet, chains, trucker wallet, leather vest, engineer boots, tats—every piece of the individualist's uniform spit-and-polished, so to speak.

The bike itself was another piece of work. Hardtail, forks extended dramatically, tiny little unicycle-style front wheel coupled with a rear tire that looked like a lawn roller, ape-hanger bars—with obligatory tassels, natch. (Come on. Some conformists put their tassels on their loafers; other on their handlebars. What's the difference?) Everything chromed to a fare-the-well. But the best part was Chopper Dude's riding 'style.'

He comes screaming (...well, blatting, technically...) into the intersection, and just before he starts to make the turn, he pulls out his...cellphone. Yes, he is talking on the phone as he enters the turn. But the bike doesn't like being neglected, so it fights back. Chopper Dude now takes the phone in his teeth while he completes the turn, then resumes his phone conversation.

All I could do was laugh. Imagine being on the other end of that conversation. Wind noise, exhaust noise, then the sound of saliva, clattering teeth. Wish I had been there. "...Can you hear me now?"

Meanwhile, because he's paying attention to everything else but his riding, he overlooks the fact that the road is suddenly narrowing from two lanes to one. Oh yeah, and there's two minivans in that one lane where he wants to be. So of course, he almost runs into the curb, grabs a big fistful of throttle—but because his ride is tuned for maximum noise, in return he get a lot of fractured air molecules but precious little accelleration.

At the last possible instant, he squeaks past the horrified drivers who have to swerve into the oncoming lane to let him pass safely on their right. He thanks them for their kindly accomodation of his folly with the same single-digit salute and attempts to speed off. But again, his bike is built for...what, show? I don't know.

The chrome-ballasted chopper was so awkward and flatulent that it couldn't get out of it's own way; I very handily caught up to him at the next light on my dainty little 650 single, obviously annoying him by my very presence on the perky yellow enduro—a bike that radiates exactly zero attitude.

When the light changed, I watched him ride away, the chopper barely negotiating a wide right-hand turn with its primitive suspension. He wobbled and bobbled and farted down the road and it looked like a whole lot of effort for not very much fun.

Both of these doofuses made me feel kind of embarassed for motorcyclists in general, though I really feel absolutely no kinship with—or responsibility for—either of them whatsoever.

I thought about how much I enjoy riding in the "offseason" for lack of a better term—nighttime, rain, winter, anything that weeds out the riffraff one way or another. (You know, there's an interesting corrolary to this weeding-out phenomenon: the vast majority of motorcycle accidents occur during clear, sunny conditions in the warmer months, not when conditions are bad. That's because those are the only conditions that the vast majority of motorcyclists ever ride under.)

In those off-season times when I ride, I instinctively like the other riders I see because I know we share a common experience. I sure wasn't sharing anything with those angry, humorless, joyless riders today. For all their attitude and belligerence, they were clearly missing the point. They seemed frightened by it all, and desperate that no one find them out.

They will join the legions of former riders who live their lives to tell that same sad, tedious story time and again to anyone who can still bear to hear them out. Spare me, please.

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