I was watching the new American documentary Why We Ride the other day. You should watch it. Although the film is not easy to get in India â€“ I had to use some credit I had left over in my US iTunes Store account to purchase it. The alternative is to order a physical disc from amazon.com or something.
I would say the effort is worth it because it is a great afternoon’s worth of film, based on a very simple idea. For the hour and half that it runs, it talks to motorcyclists. People who build motorcycles. People who race them. People who ride them. Kids who race and ride them. The only thing common to all the interviews is that they all, without exception, love them.
The only things I would do different is the staged footage. For example, one of the subjects says, “It’s a brotherhood. We stop to help our brothers.” Or something to that effect. And on cue we get a terrifically lit shot of a chap looking mystified by his motorcycle. Then a second rider parks up, takes over the tools and starts to fix the stricken bike. It struck me as contrived in the middle of an otherwise spontaneous and heartfelt film.
But at the end of the film, a few images remained with me. Towards the end, for example, a whole extended family is out in their RVs in the middle of some sand dunes. There’s a montage of people riding that touched me. There are kids learning their first lessons on two wheels and people riding over the dunes followed by a cheerful family scene over a fire with beers in hand.
It was powerful enough to make me want to be able to do the same thing. To head out somewhere with family and bikes and then make the most of both for a couple of days before heading back home with a head full of memories and sensations. And the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve been part of the process of getting other family members, especially the kids, hooked to what is surely amongst the most life-changing, rewarding pursuits of them all.
As I discovered later, the film also made me re-examine why I ride motorcycles. Did all the of the usual cliches apply to me? You know, the ones about the freedom, the brotherhood and the wind in my hair.
The answer surprised me with its simplicity and also with how profoundly layered the answer is. I ride because it makes me happy. Deeply, inevitably, unequivocally happy. No matter what is going on in the world. When I am on a motorcycle, my world is perfect.
There are, of course, many joys and many strong emotions in there. There is fear and the thudding heart of an imminent incident. The unbridled joy of surviving a tough ride without a scratch. Or the surprise of accomplishing a complex repair on the side of a road with a minimum of tools and a maximum of common sense.
These are the rewards of motorcycling. And as long as you have the money to buy a bike and the cash for gas, the rewards are free and abundant. They are also intensely personal. Your sense of reward is different from mine and that difference powers bench racing, discussions and all the amazing conversation you have over a fire or after a ride.
But the one thing that I always seem to return to is that motorcycles put you, the rider, in control and I enjoy the sense of being in control greatly. The human universe wants you to not hurt yourself. Elevators, buses, cars, houses and appliances are all covered today in signs that aim to prevent you from getting hurt. The signs on the motorcycle usually don’t. There’s usually one sign that says read the manual and wear a helmet but the rest are use instructions â€“ what fuel and how much air to fill. And this is despite the well understood fact that if you get on a bike, chances are that at some point, you are going to fall off and hurt yourself. Motorcycles offer you that as a real choice.
I like this a lot. I thoroughly relish the sense that the motorcycle maker allows me to make my choices unimpeded. That I’m free, for example, to hurt myself. I do work very hard not to hurt myself, though. I wear all the gear all the time and I work hard at riding the motorcycle better and better, in the interest of both speed and safety.
But I like the idea that I am, when I’m on my bike, in control of my life. That my heart and my brain decide whether I live or die. At a more immediate, less philosophical level, I get to choose a gap that will lead to a hazard or to have the patience to wait for another opportunity.
Motorcycles enable me to be who I am to the fullest of my faculties. To the outside world, I could be the risk-taker or the organ-donor. To the motorcycle, I’m just the guy who makes all the decisions. And we deal with the consequences together.
That is why I ride. Because it puts me in middle of and in control of my immediate universe.