The Journey

Why you (and everyone you know) should ride a motorcycle

“[M]otorcycles are awesome… they deserve a larger place in the world and… more people should ride them.”
My apologies for the Buzzfeed-esque headline; I was inspired to write this post after reading the above quote by Wes Siler (a) and he’s the sort of person who always uses Buzzfeedy headlines. Meanwhile, my reading the quote comes in conjunction with someone contacting me via Twitter recently to say The Motorcycle Obsession had helped inspire him to start riding.

I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. There were a number of things that inspired me to finally get riding, 18 years after actually earning my motorcycle license, and every day I am thankful to have found them. Motorcycling has dramatically improved my life and my outlook upon said life. The idea that this blog might encourage someone else to be a part of this silly two-wheeled world is pretty kick-ass. It’s also inspiring; I feel newly encouraged in blogging about bikes.

But beyond the ego boost, the best thing about finding out I’ve played a tiny part in getting someone on two wheels is the knowledge that there will be one more rider on the road. Motorcycling is awesome, y’all, and it becomes even more awesome each time someone new decides to take the plunge.

To that end, I’ve decided to write down as many reasons as I can think why a person should ride a motorcycle. If you can think of any others, feel free to add them in comments, then send the link to this post to someone you know who doesn’t (yet) ride.

Motorcycles are good for the environment.
Take a look at this picture. Know where that was taken? On the planet Earth; the place where you live. We’re pushing too hard, mis amigos. We’re taking too much. And we are causing serious problems. But fixing those problems is not easy. I have a few wearily cynical friends who believe it to be impossible.

I get why they feel that way. There are certain things that people will never give up. In Western and westernised societies, one of the most essential of those things is freedom of movement. This is especially true in the United States; we are the nation of Manifest Destiny, after all. God told us to push West. He imbued us with the need to wander and explore.

That doesn’t mean we have to wander and explore by car, though. Motorcycles are, by and large, more fuel efficient than cars. A KTM 390 will deliver roughly 83 miles per gallon. Compare that to my mom’s Toyota Prius, which gets roughly 57 mpg. Never mind that the KTM is immeasurably cooler and more fun. A plodding 125cc scooter (also more fun than a Prius) will deliver an mpg in the hundreds. And even a thundering Harley-Davidson Street Glide (50 mpg) is fuel efficient compared to its four-wheeled spiritual equivalent of a Ford F250 (17.3 mpg).

Fuel efficiency means less crap being pulled from the ground and, by extension, less crap being put into the air. This is especially true of modern motorcycles. whose engines generally have to comply with the same emissions standards as cars.

If you live in a part of the world that allows filtering (also known as the right-thinking part of the world), the environmental benefits of motorcycles increase even more because engines that are making progress and arriving at their destinations in reasonable time are, by nature, polluting less than those engines that sit and idle and idle and idle in traffic.

Meanwhile, electric motorcycle technology is leaping forward at an astonishing pace. In a recent interview with Motorcycle.com, Zero’s senior battery specialist, Luke Workman, said he believes it will be possible “within a few years” to ride 1,000 miles on a single charge. We know there are environmentally friendly ways to generate electricity; if these can be paired with useful electric motorcycles there may be actual hope for us.

Motorcycles are ideal for commuting.
If you live in the right-thinking parts of the world where filtering is allowed I honestly cannot understand why you would choose to get to work in a car. Seriously, what’s wrong with you? Unless someone got you a load of Rosetta Stone CDs for Christmas and you’re using the time to teach yourself Spanish (Me gustan las motos) it makes no sense for you to spend so much of your life trapped inside a car.

This truth is so wholly acknowledged in London that celebrities frequently hire professional motorcyclists to ferry them, rather than be put in limos and miss appointments.

For those living in the backward places where filtering isn’t allowed, a motorcycle is still a good idea if not simply for the aforementioned fuel efficiency. With all the money you save on fuel you can buy stamps and send letters to your political representatives asking them to pull their heads from their rear ends and allow filtering.

Beyond that, you’ll find you have more space in which to manoeuvre, more space in which to park and an increased ability to see and hear what’s happening around you (even when you’re wearing a full-face helmet).

OK, you may find commuting year-round to be a challenge if you live somewhere that snows during winter. Fair enough. You may need a car (or a Can-Am Spyder). But I put it to you that a car driven only half the year will last twice as long. So, get a bike for May-October.

Motorcycles make life easier for others.
Even stupidly heavily machines like a Honda Goldwing weigh less than a car. This means you are putting less stress on the road surface, which means the road will last longer. And that means less taxpayer money is used to keep it maintained. You’re welcome, fellow citizen.

Meanwhile, if you’re taking up less physical space, that creates more room for other road users. Such as other motorcyclists. In most places around the world it is legal for two motorcyclists to share a lane, meaning you can fit at least two people in the space a single car would normally occupy.

Normally you can fit more. I remember once sitting at a set of lights after leaving a motorcycle show and noticing that six bikes had managed to fill the same amount of space as the Jaguar XE in the lane next to us (the motorcycles were two rows, three abreast). That’s efficiency, yo.

Six people with six different intended destinations, taking up only the space of one car. And when we moved away from the lights and into traffic up ahead, we all filtered through, which meant we effectively disappeared. Where six cars would be taking up six spaces, filtering allowed us to carry on and get out of other road users’ way.

In this fashion, motorcyclists help to ease traffic congestion, thereby improving the quality of life for everyone we pass. Again, you’re welcome, fellow citizen.

Motorcycles cost (nominally) less than cars.
The “motorcycles cost less” argument is a common one used by husbands who think their wives aren’t clever enough to figure out the claim’s flaws. It is true that a motorcycle generally costs less than a car, especially in the used market; a 2-year-old motorcycle will almost always cost less than a 2-year-old car. Equally, motorcycles generally cost less to insure. They cost less to register/tax. They cost less to fuel up. They cost less to maintain.

The problem, of course, is that unless you are an utter bonehead you will also want to have motorcycling gear. And depending on how desperately you feel the need to display your wealth, you could easily spend the equivalent of an additional motorcycle on helmets, gloves, jackets, trousers, boots and so on (b). And sometimes that gear won’t last terribly long if you’re a year-round rider. The zipper on my jacket seems close to breaking; I’ll be surprised if my winter gloves make it through another season.

But these are one-off purchases that you can save up for, or perhaps convince family members to buy you for Christmas (thanks, Mom and Dad for the boots you got me a few years ago, they’re still holding up well). Buy good gear and keep it maintained, and it’ll last longer. The stuff that I bought on the cheap is the stuff that’s now breaking on me. Things I spent actual money on are holding up fine. And I don’t feel the pinch of these costs as much because they are not everyday expenditures.

Ultimately, I find I am not bothered by the cost of gear. Indeed, I find it’s another thing to like about motorcycling: the opportunity to walk around feeling like an astronaut – all zippered up and protected against the elements. Yes, I do want an Aerostitch R-3 suit. Don’t judge me.

Motorcyclists tend to be incredibly friendly.
I assume there must be some real drink boxes (c) out there who ride motorcycles – such is the nature of drink boxes that they are inescapable in all facets of life – but so far I’ve had the good fortune not to meet any of them. In fact, most of the riders with whom I’ve interacted have been awesome.

I suppose the reason for that is basically the same reason behind this blog post: they’ve found something they love and want to share it with you. If you want to spend an afternoon getting to know someone, all you need do is walk up to a motorcyclist and ask him or her what they think of whichever bike you saw them riding. Instant conversation.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the real highlights of last winter’s Motorcycle Live show was chatting with a guy who had parked his Honda Pan-European next to my bike. When I rode to the Ace Cafe last month (post on that still forthcoming), the best part was losing an hour talking to a Harley rider. In June, I’ll be meeting up with several other riders to celebrate the spirit of a motorcyclist none of us ever met in person.

I’m with Steve Johnson in that I don’t quite buy the whole “brotherhood” nonsense, but there is something shared among motorcyclists. A common ground. And in the modern world, where we’ve become so obsessed in parsing our society, in turning ourselves into tribes, in only paying attention to our own opinions and the opinions of those exactly like us, it is nice to be able to find commonality that isn’t political/religious/ethnic/socio-economic. And through that commonality you can often find other things to remind you that we are all human and that most humans are basically good. 

Because freedom.
The word “freedom” gets thrown around a lot when people explain why they are attracted to motorcycling. A little too much, in my opinion. Harley-Davidson are almost meta in their use of the word in advertising, It’s silly (e.g., Kid Rock growling: “I can’t hear you over the rumble of my freedom“).

But part of the reason “freedom” gets used so much is because it is a word that is applicable in numerous senses. To me, there is the aforementioned freedom of movement. I am able to go where I want, when I want. I can go even when I have no destination.

It’s true that a car can provide similar freedom, especially in countries that aren’t as ridiculously gridlocked as Her Majesty’s United Kingdom, but you feel that freedom more on a motorcycle – the wind rushes past you, the vehicle responds to your input almost as if by thought, rather than physical action. And if you do live in a gridlocked area, a motorcycle affords the freedom to keep moving. During the morning commute times it can take more than an hour to travel by car from my home in Penarth to the centre of Cardiff; on a motorcycle (assuming you take advantage of your right to filter) it will take roughly 15 minutes.

Additionally there is a feeling of freedom from the pressures of the world. It’s just you on that bike. You’re the only one in control. Your spouse, your kids, your in-laws, your friends, your co-workers are not there to distract you. In a car, a passenger might criticise your driving and in as much make you feel uncomfortable, anxious and self doubting. True, some motorcycles have space for a passenger, but you can’t see their body language; if they’re whining about the way you ride you probably won’t hear them through helmets, wind and engine noise. 

Motorcycling delivers a liberating feeling of independence and self-reliance. Every time I go for a ride, I come back feeling more in control of my life, better able to handle and fulfil my obligations, responsibilities, dreams and ambitions.

The feeling of freedom is enhanced if you don’t plug earphones/Bluetooth/etc. into your helmet. If you can avoid that temptation it means the outside world can’t get to you. It’s just you and your thoughts in that helmet. Holistic freaks pay ridiculous amounts of money to be placed in isolation tanks because we’ve reached a stage in modern life where we’re seemingly incapable of having just our own thoughts. In a motorcycle helmet you get this for free. 

Additionally, inside your helmet and gear there is freedom from judgement (to a certain extent). If you’re fully geared up, an onlooker may not be able to tell your age, race, or gender; they likely can’t guess your religion or politics, probably not even your socio-economic status. To car-only road users you’re just one of “them” – a damned, dirty biker – but by and large you are anonymous, and in that you are free.

Motorcycles are good for your mental health.
All of that freedom and independence and feeling of self-sufficiency mix with the endorphins and occasional adrenaline that are part and parcel of riding, and it’s very good for your brain box. I have struggled with mental health most of my life and thus far I’ve found few things to be quite so therapeutic as riding. It doesn’t fix me 100 percent – it’s not a magic pill – but it helps me get into the mental and emotional space where I can begin to address things. And it does this relatively quickly, too. A three-hour ride through the Brecon Beacons can have the same putting-my-ducks-in-a-row effect as a three-day hike in the woods.

Since I’ve started riding I’ve found myself to be a little more sociable, a little more willing to interact. I believe in myself a little more. I’m better able to tolerate the things that annoy me, and slowly (very slowly) I am getting better at figuring out how to be the person I want to be.

I’m not the only one. Not too long ago Harley-Davidson commissioned a study that found women who ride motorcycles are happier and feel more fulfilled than those who do not.

Beyond that, I find riding helps to improve my focus and mental sharpness, as a result of seeing, processing and responding to all the things that happen around me when I’m riding.

Motorcycles are good for your physical health.
This is another argument that motorcycle proponents often use which, like the financial savings thing, is somewhat misleading. I mean, the phrases “biker rally” and “svelte individuals” are very rarely seen together. Riding a motorcycle will not in and of itself turn you into a smokin’ hottie. But it is true that riding a motorcycle burns more calories than sitting in a car.

If you ride in a sport sense – on a track or doing off-road – you’ll burn quite a lot of calories. But even if you’re a basic street rider you’ll develop a better sense of balance, improved core muscles and other minor physical benefits. All of this will be good for your heart and lungs and other internal bits, especially when accompanied by the positive mental effects of riding.

And I can attest to the fact that you will feel physically healthier. The simple act of being outside, rather than trapped in a controlled-environment box, will give you a sense of vibrancy. This, no doubt, is why so many motorcyclists don’t really act their age. 

Motorcycles will help you learn to grow where you’re planted.
Under the right conditions, I’ve found myself over the last year or so occasionally – only very occasionally – using the pronoun “we” when referring to the Welsh. That’s kind of a big thing. Because for quite a while there I was carrying a whole hell of animosity toward this little part of Britain. If you don’t know my personal story, the short version is this: I moved to Wales thinking it would be awesome; it wasn’t, at all, and that created a lot of bitterness in me.

That bitterness was starting to get out of control and damaging my everyday life when I came up with the idea for the Great Welsh Tea Towel Adventure. It’s an excuse to ride, but also an opportunity to explore the area around me, which inevitably helps me connect with it.

The picture at the very top of this post is one of my own. I took it while riding through Brecon Beacons National Park last weekend and, honestly, that view was probably only the fourth best that I saw that day. Riding a motorcycle has been the catalyst for my finding these places and re-developing an appreciation for Wales. And not carrying a burning hatred for this country obviously makes life easier.

Although a motorcycle will make you want to wander, I suspect that in that wandering you will find a greater appreciation for those places that are within a day’s ride of wherever you are. The modern world too often has us keyed to the idea that the grass is always greener some place else. Sometimes maybe it is, but owning a motorcycle will help you see that the grass in your patch isn’t as brown as you thought.

Motorcycles make you cooler.
This is scientific fact. Owning a motorcycle will increase your level of coolness by at least 10 percent.

Certain motorcycles will make you cooler than others, of course, but all motorcycles will have some effect. As my wife once told me when I was feeling self-conscious about riding a bog-standard Honda: “When you see someone on a motorcycle, it doesn’t matter what kind, you think: ‘Oh, that person is on an adventure. I wonder where they’re going.’ You don’t think that about someone in a car. You just think: ‘That person is stuck in traffic and he’s probably a dick.'”

So, as I’ve said many times before: if you’re not already on a motorcycle, please join us. You’ll find a welcome, you’ll be happier, healthier, wealthier, freer, greener and so much cooler.

(a) He’s the guy who created the once-awesome Hell For Leather website, then accidentally ruined it by turning it into RideApart. He eventually left that site and now occasionally writes articles lamenting the fact that no one’s creating anything like Hell For Leather anymore. I lament that, too; Hell For Leather was one of the things that inspired me to ride.

(b) You’ll have spotted that I’ve started attempting to try to work Amazon links into my posts. I hope you won’t think this is cheap. I pride myself on the fact my blog has no advertising, but, you know, I’m not morally opposed to making money. I’m not endorsing any particular products here, just creating a link. If you buy something, a tiny portion of money kicks back to me. If you think my doing this cheapens my blog or in some way damages the content please let me know and I’ll consider dropping the practice.

(c) Think of another phrase, starting with the letters “D” and “B,” that describes an unlikeable person. That’s the phrase I mean when I describe someone as a “drink box.”