Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Riding a motorcycle is not about the pursuit of speed, it is about the pursuit of a moment of perfect beauty

This thought struck me as I rode my bike through the beautiful Somerset countryside, on a day where the sky was blue and the air cool. The road tearing past below my wheels was dry and my tyres were sticking perfectly in every corner. Yet as I blasted along, I thought not about the road ahead or the country side around me, but rather about why I did this peculiar thing for fun?

Why do I enjoy riding Sylvie, my precious motorcycle?

My life is grey, a flat tyre on the trailer of existence.
Because it is fun would be the simple answer, but why is it fun? What is it about riding a motorcycle along the road that fills the heart with joy?

Now, before you vanish to think about this and also because I am both thinking about and  writing this, I am going to try to answer my own question. Firstly let’s break this down, is riding my motorcycle to work fun? For me, yes it is because it is a way of relaxing before the stresses of the day. Riding home is a way of removing that very same stress once I leave. Is riding in the rain fun? Again for me, it can be and it requires a very different skill set depending type of rain or how long it was since it last rained. OK, so when is it not fun?

It is not fun when I do not enjoy the riding experience and those times are when I have a migraine because the impairment to my functioning makes it too dangerous to enjoy the bike, also throwing up in my helmet every time I see a bright light or hit a bump really can be horribly irritating. I don’t like riding when I am afraid, on those moments of fear when I have made a mistake, misjudged a corner or some one else has impacted on my experience by being dangerous on the road.

Riding when cold is no fun and riding when tired can be just plain dangerous; combine these and you are in for one bad ride. I rode in snow after a hard day at work once and this is something I never intend to repeat. Heavy traffic can really spoil a ride too, if you hit standing traffic and have to spend an hour threading through it all can be fun, until you get stuck or hit a dog lead from the idiot who thought that they can walk their dog on the hard shoulder from their car while stopped!

So there is an inherent quality to the experience that we are looking for here, the difference between a good ride and a bad ride. Now if you want to read a book that talks about quality and its use in motorcycling as a hobby, go and read Zen and the art of Motorcyclemaintenance by Robert M. Pirsig (which I shall add, that although I read it over ten years ago, remains a fantastic read). I however am not going to discuss the definition of quality here, save for this. I am looking for the delicate qualities that make a good ride great.

So when do all of the factors that come together give a quality ride that makes my heart soar with exhilaration? Now I know that it is not just speed, but maybe speed (as in motion, not amphetamine!)  helps? Think about it, do you enjoy riding fast, I mean ride really, really fast? For a thought experiment, imagine an empty road through the countryside. This road has no speed restriction, it is long and wide and has sweeping curves that can be taken at terrific speed. It has the grip of a racetrack and the surface is perfect. In this experiment, you my dear reader, stand at the start and no matter how fast you ride, it is going to take an hour to reach the end. So what ever speed you go, you have an hour of riding ahead of you to reach the café at the other end that serves the best cuppa in the known universe!

You and I set out on this journey, you have your bike and I have my precious Sylvie on this mythical road, together we are blasting along the perfect tarmac, fully maxed out, sixth gear, just below the redline, engine screaming and reaching the top speed of the bikes. Is this Great fun? Undoubtedly, riding fast with a friend is always fun

The next day, you stand at the start once more, alone his time and set out once again, hitting that silky smooth sixth gear and hold her steady at eighty miles per hour again through the sweeping bends, is it as much fun at eighty miles per hour as it is at one hundred and eighty?

Well, if that mythical road were to exist and if I rode it every day, in the end I would get bored of it and it's perfectly smooth curves. That road would not be the same amount of fun anymore, having lost many of the good qualities that it once had.

Now imagine a different road. A road that is twisty and turny, it has you constantly shifting up and down the gear box, moving your weight around the bike as you guide her through the curves, this is a road of total involvement that will always require your concentration because if you stop thinking about it, you risk coming off of it. There are small dips and rises and this road will have changeable conditions, every day will have you going along it subtly differently in style. Now this is the perfect type of road

So what makes a quality ride? It is those collections of moments where I as the rider am in perfect harmonious synchronicity with my bike, those beautiful seconds where I don’t feel my hands on the bars or my feet on the pegs, but I feel the road under my wheels the pull of gyroscopic effect on my motion. It is those beautiful moments where the border between bike and rider shift. In short, it is those moments when I feel connected to my bike and these moments are the ones that are truly the most beautiful.

So that is now my aim when I am riding my bike, it is not the speed, it is not the prefect road and it is not the café at the end. My aim is to find those moments of perfect beauty, they come for fractions of a second and last in the memory for ever. I ask you dear reader, can you think about a moment when you truly enjoyed riding your bike? Was it like mine, a moment of beauty?

OK, so this is a penny farthing, but it still has that momentary beauty.


  1. I agree to that line on your title. Motorcycle riding for me is a great adventure. I am most concern about the total experience that is why I wanted to improve my skills and to learn how to ride a motorcycle properly.

  2. I agree, primarily because the pursuit of speed is only advisable for professional riders who can handle reaching their motorcycle's top speeds. But for most of us who just enjoy going along the ride, it would be just right to slow down and appreciate the sights and people we can see and meet along the way. :)

    Clare Westby