Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rider on the Storm

While on the way home last week, I took shelter from this storm under the awning of a used car dealership on Highway 60 east of Louisville. I glimpsed the radar prior to leaving work and knew that a break in the front would allow me access to the northeast corridor of Interstate 71. Assessing that I had fair chance of making it to the house relatively dry, I pulled over to don the yellow crossing-guard-of-doom rain gear and wait on the nastiness to grind it's way southeast.

One of the maxims that I've come to appreciate in motorcycling regards expecting the unexpected. In general, this philosophy keeps a rider alive and is epitomized in such statements as "cover your controls" and "ride as if you're invisible". Being prepared for and riding in adverse weather exemplifies this practice. I haven't traveled without some form of rain gear on the bike in over a decade; the lesson came hard-learned. In my early twenties, I rode out of Owensboro, KY for a trip of about a hundred miles or so. When I left my apartment, the sun was shining, a light breeze blew the scent of drying tobacco through the woods and fields of southern Indiana, and the temperature barely crested 70. By the day's end, a storm system moved into the area and it started to rain. With only my leathers, I soaked to my skin quickly. The temperature dropped into the lower 60's. I discovered that the body can go hypothermic when wet in as comfortable a temperature as 60 degrees. Add in the wind chill factor and I'd slapped together a receipe for a near-death experience. The resulting pneumonia could have been prevented, in all likelyhood, by a thin layer of plastic.

During a lull in the storm last week, I decided to make a break for the interstate and try to stay ahead of the next wave of thunderstorms. What I hadn't counted on, indeed, what no one factors into the equation, was an accident blocking the north bound lanes of I-71. Before I could ride to the shelter of the rest area and nearest exit, the rain poured down. By the time I climbed off the bike and slouched in under the overhang of the area's vending pavilion, I could not longer see through the sheets of water and blinding lightning. The thunder beat my chest like a drum.

But I was dry, thanks to the thin, plastic rind of my rain suit. And reasonably safe under the roof of the shelter housing the vending machines. Motorcycling fosters patience. Ride long enough and far enough and the weather will turn against the rider, no matter how righteous his karma. The other lessen I learned during that sodden ride years ago was to listen to my gut. If my head busied itself with figuring routes around the storm and my heart stroked my ego with how tough I would be for motoring through a tempest to the far side, then heed the voice of caution, located somewhere between my lungs and my balls, and pull over. Prop myself up between some vending machines among the stray cigarette butts, close my eyes, and bask in the soft spray of hard rain.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Twist of the Wrist

I've recently realized that I'm not well connected to any form of motorcycle community. When I examine my own riding history and style, I find I've been that way most of my riding life. I usually ride alone. A benefit to solo travel includes being able to stack on as many miles as my skinny butt can handle without having to worry about my fellow riders stopping 300 miles before I'm ready. I've always written off some of the drawbacks to my anti-social tendencies. I'm talking about the loneliness that only a lone rider feels standing at 5,000 ft. on the Cherohala Skyway in March watching the clouds sift through the skeletal trees. Cheery, ain't it. Truth be told, I've never much cared for the company of other human beings, even my own kind. Riding the Ninja 650 doesn't exactly attract those motorcyclists in whose company I'd genuinely feel welcome. Most riders mistake it for a sport bike when it's really a standard with some plastic for show. As a result, I frequently draw the attention of the squids, whose vacant heads annoy me, who can not exercise restraint in spinning that yarn about how they crashed their precious GSXR-750 on the interstate while pulling a wheelie at 90 mph and can't wait to try the stunt again next week.

"Just as soon as I get another bike," they say, eyeing my 650 in a way that always makes my heart drop a little.

Another disadvantage to my lack of communion with the motorcycling general populace is that I often miss events like the one night only opening of Twist of the Wrist: Louisville Art on Motorcycle Culture. It just so happens that while screwing off....err....surfing the net at work last Thursday, I came across an article in the cyber version of the Louisville Eccentric Observer detailing the opening of the show and the lives of some of the artists exhibiting. The motorcyclists and artists interviewed for the piece described their love of vintage machines in particular. Having owned several quirky old bikes myself and cultivated a wallflower's interest in two-wheeled culture, I decided that this was something that I had to check out.

Now, I'm not going to wax poetic on the virtues of modern art or the reflection of society such art provides. I just don't have it in me and, frankly, I really don't care. Vintage bike society intrigues me while vintage bike artist society I find somewhat aloof and unreachable. While I'm not one of those riders to sit around and discuss the shaping effects of motorcycles on rebellion in our modern culture, I can appreciate a stunning photograph of a laced wheel strung with cobwebs as the machine to which it's attached slowly rusts into the forgotten ground of a motorcycle salvage yard. It appeals to the lonewolf in me. Sarah Lyon, a female rider, mechanic, and photographer, contributed the most stunning piece in the show, her bronzed pair of leather motorcycle harness boots, which witnessed 30,000 miles of Sarah's travels on two wheels. All of the small imperfections immortalized in those boots spoke to me in a way that reached past my intellect and kicked me somewhere in my gut.

And even this anti-social got a chance to practice his communication skills a little bit. Here's a few photos from outside the show that capture one of those rare moments when my keepers let me out from under the stairs.

Here I am discussing a Honda C350 project with another attendee

Gives new meaning to the term Iron Butt

Assorted scooter trash discussing the shaping effects of motorcycles on rebellion in our modern culture

In the end, for me, it's always about the bikes