I’m sure you’ve seen those sleek, bright two-wheelers roll by on the street and had some opinions about the bikes and the riders sitting on top of them. Crazy, bad-ass, thrill-seeking, stupid; well any and all opinions are fair. In the end, I have to confess that riding a motorcycle is both an exercise in caution and preparation, sandwiched along with some craziness. No one gets on a motorcycle expecting to do stupid things but yet, they do happen to even the most careful of riders. When you’ve got the equivalent horse-power of a high-end sports car at the twist of a wrist, it’s a challenge to control yourself. And why not give her a whirl every now and then?
Out in California where I learned to ride a motorcycle, it’s legal to split lanes. So when traffic comes to a stop, you’re legally able to ride in between all those poor suckers in their stopped cars and move to the front of the pack. Which is SUPER useful on the busy streets of San Francisco. On my Suzuki SV650 I had swapped out my rear-view mirrors and replaced them with small mountain bike mirrors at the ends of my handlebars. So they stuck out about 2 – 3″ beyond the bike but gave me a nice, unobstructed view behind me.
But going back to the motorcycle craziness. At times traffic was so thick that you had to split lanes. And the narrow streets meant that you would have to lean your bike from side to side to avoid getting clipped by car mirrors. Tilt to the left, tilt to the right, swerving just enough to miss the jutting side-view mirrors. Large SUV’s were always a challenge due to their width and big ol’ mirrors! But even with all that, there were times when I would get so close to cars that my tiny little handlebar mirrors would strike the car mirrors. Now that is shaving things REALLY close. And sometimes cars would get so tight together that there was no place to go, so you’d have to maneuver across the lanes when there was a gap, zig-zagging your way through stopped vehicles, like Frogger. Very crazy, if any car switched lanes you were going down and fast!
And the beauty of a motorcycle is the ability to get from point A to point B, stat! I remember one night after hitting a house party, riding back with my friend Gene. We were out near San Ramon and heading back into downtown San Francisco to our office to pick up our work gear. So after hanging out with some beers we hopped on our bikes (I know, bad idea) and started back to the City. This ride typically takes about 37 minutes or so but of course, one thing leads to another. He had his Ducati, I had my Suzuki and the inevitable happens, we start racing. Over to Route 24 which is a long, twisty downhill, we hit speeds of near 100 mph in pretty thick traffic and darkness. This area is dense with cars and the road is grooved for rainfall which makes it tricky for motorcycle tires. From time to time we get past 100mph on highways that are probably limited to 50mph. At these speeds we’re talking about jail time so all I can say is that we better not get caught! We blast across 80, through the Bay Bridge and are at the office in 24 minutes flat. Now it may not sound like much, but slicing 12 or so minutes on a 37 minute ride is IN-sane. And yeah, we were a bit crazy that evening, I’m just thankful we got home ok.
And in one last riding incident, I was running along Bush Street in downtown San Francisco, timing lights. I was trying to make sure I hit all the greens to avoid down-shifting the bike and braking. Everything is going great but as I approach Chinatown at a major intersection, instead of the light turning green, it goes to a double-red ALL around. A heavy pedestrian intersection and here’s their chance to finally cross. I hit my brakes HARD, desperately trying to come to a stop. It’s difficult to get a bike to stop with only two tires so I slide right into the intersection, coming to a screeching halt.
People are staring at me with a WTF expression and as I peer to my left, who do I see? A San Francisco motorcycle cop. He’s just staring at me and I’ve got my head drooped, thinking to myself “shit”, how could I have any worse luck?! I pop my helmet visor open and have a guilty sheepish look. The cop finally addresses me. “You made a mistake, didn’t you?” I shake my head yes. “You’re not going to do it again, are you?” I tell the officer no. He waves me on, I take a deep breath and I am off before he can change his mind. Now maybe he just didn’t want to bust out the ticket book but I was SO glad I wasn’t written up. He understood that I wasn’t trying to do anything illegal but just got caught by surprise, phew!
So yes, those two-wheeled beasties can get you into some serious trouble. Sometimes on purpose, other times just because you make an honest mistake. Or sometimes because somebody else makes a huge mistake… So if you think motorcyle riders are a bit crazy, I’d find it hard to disagree. There’s something about the freedom and power of a motorcycle that has you pushing the limits of the bike and yourself which is hard to resist. So what can I say, riding a motorcycle is NEVER boring…