Two wheels

Thu, 09/03/2020 - 5:30pm

“I’ve had this particular bike going 180 miles an hour. It feels like you’re floating at that speed,” said biker number one.

“A guy ran a red light up in Providence and missed me by an inch. He was on his iPhone because I saw him never look up while nearly running into me,” said biker number two.

“You need to assume that people don’t see you, because it will only take a second where things can go very badly,” said biker number three.

This informative conversation happened at the Point Judith Lighthouse two weeks ago with some bikers I chatted up regarding driving their powerful machines in the year 2020. The consensus was that it’s more dangerous because people are more distracted; especially with on-board and in-hand technology.

Riding a powerful machine with two wheels requires focus and multitasking. It’s presumptuous to think we can hop on a motorcycle such as the ones these men were riding and think we can handle the weight, balance, turning radius and braking distance. We need prior knowledge and practice. My wife’s dad had a Harley Davidson Indian back in the 60s. I remember him as a badass biker with Clint Eastwood good looks who took riding his motorcycle very seriously. He was the real deal. All I had to see was the machine in the driveway to know that this guy was all business when riding. Moreover, my wife’s dad rode his until he was 80 years old. (I wouldn’t even try to sit on his bike; never mind to try and ride one like his, unless I had lots of instruction.) George McDonald had a lifetime of experience riding various motorcycles in a simpler time. He was a biker’s biker with lots of secondary road and highway experience.

In 1985, I bought a 70cc Honda Passport which I needed a license to drive. Up until that time, I’d ridden my neighbor’s Yamaha 350 carefully around the block with a burner dangling from my mouth. (I know, I was cool — or, as dumb as a pound of minnows depending on how you look at it.) Also, I’d ridden my brother’s Yamaha off-road bike a little bit in the 70s. I was fascinated by the Norton Commando 750 a friend drove, but I just knew the power was way out of my league. However, I knew I could handle my little Honda while driving around Point Judith and to my teaching gig up on South Pier Road — I knew the local traffic and secondary roads. Moreover, I could ride the scooter on Block Island because of my bicycle riding days in the early 70s. I remember taking the course for my motorcycle license up at CCRI’s Knight Campus and, after some basic review of laws, rules and regs, I was off to practice driving Honda 250s around cones in a huge parking lot. The instructor stressed over and over to us to be aware of our braking distances and be vigilant while turning. He also stressed that we learn to drive defensively because sometimes people in cars have blind spots and the drivers may not see us. The class took three hours, we got our certificates stamped for the registry, and then we were off to go legally ride our motorcycles.

My 70cc Honda Passport did about 50 miles per hour with a tail wind. It was a fun and practical little motorbike and it got great mileage. I rode it to the ferry dock and school in the wintertime when the weather was not too extreme. I rode it to the University of Rhode Island for my graduate school classes in the summertime evenings. I ventured to Jamestown one time; the old bridge was sketchy and made me nervous. For a couple of summers, I’d take my son Liam out to Block Island and go fishing at Tug Hole Pond. We would also do a loop around the island and visit some friends. I rigged up a milk crate for our fishing gear, food, and bathing suits, and duct taped some blocks for the foot pegs so my son’s feet could reach them for support. Then, I rigged up a bungee cord around my kid and I so he would be safely wedged between the crate and the old man. It was a safe set up and I felt comfortable tooling around the island for a few hours. It was a safe and fun thing to do with my son because I was very familiar with the island’s roads and terrain. Additionally, I was comfortable because of the scarcity of traffic. In the mid-80s there were very few scooters on the island. It’s a different scene out there today as everyone knows.

While talking with the motorcycle riders at the lighthouse, one of the guys told me that his daughter has been riding on the back of his Harley since she was five years old. “These days she’s 16 and when we’re coming home from New Hampshire she refuses to ride on the bike when we cross in to Rhode Island because she’s afraid of the way people drive,” he said, “she’ll get off at the state line and ride in the truck with my wife.” The bikers went on to explain some of the things people will do that are very rude, deliberate and dangerous. For example, some very ignorant people will pull ahead of the bikers and shoot a blast of water to wash their rear window. Of course, the water then hits the rider in the face. “People intentionally cut you off for a cheap laugh,” said biker number two, “it’s a dangerous thing they’re doing and it doesn’t sit well with me.”

Finally, the seasoned bikers I was referring to earlier talked about the power of a bike and, like my instructor at the Knight Campus, they stressed the importance of braking distances. Their machines are heavy, and braking properly is a time, speed, and distance issue. What I took away from talking with these guys is that there are too many variables to list going on at all times while riding a two-wheeled machine, and attention, and total focus is required for your personal safety as well as others.