WG. A Terrible Gift

Posted 1/4/2016

After being absent over the holidays it’s time for a new page. I hope everyone had a swell holiday season.

As some of you may know, my book Racing the Gods was reviewed by Joe Gresh in the Dec/Jan issue of Motorcyclist magazine. It was a very good, sincere review. You can read his comments here: Motorcyclist Book Review.

There was one thing in the review that stuck in my mind. Mr. Gresh wrote “…Racing the Gods should be required reading … to make new motorcyclists realize what a terrible gift we have been given.”

Calling motorcycles “a terrible gift” was striking. I’m sure Joe didn’t mean a terrible gift like the too-large sweater with the bunny rabbit motif you got from Aunt Marg for your 17th birthday. It’s not that kind of terrible.

I’m thinking of motorcyclists. Motorcycles, to a motorcyclist, are a truly wonderful gift.

Motorcycling can be a family sport, especially dirt play bikes. Dad, Mom, and the kids, all go out on a weekend and have fun getting dirty.

People form relationships with their motorcycles. Some give them names, like Strawberry, or Thunder, or Lady Midnight (I’m not making these up; these are actual names of motorcycles I have known).

People have told me their motorcycle named itself, usually in a whisper only the rider could hear, often near the end of some epic ride. To many riders their bikes have character, or perhaps are characters.

Motorcycles can be a door to a different reality. I can still recall feelings, visuals, smells, etc. from certain street rides taken decades ago that simply would never have happened if I had been in an automobile. As for the altered states of consciousness available from racing, well, don’t get me started.

In summary, motorcycles provide their owners/riders a wide variety of Good Things. Why is this terrible?

It’s because people get hurt riding motorcycles, sometime seriously, sometimes fatally. The Ducati family just lost a good friend in a street accident. He was an east-coast rider so I never met him, but the Ducati email list makes it clear he was an active Ducatisti and many people will miss him.

It happens, and it does no good to deny it, or pretend “it won’t happen to me.” Street accidents, race track accidents, they happen. Cook Neilson, back in the 1970s, wrote a full page editorial in Cycle magazine where the first two thirds of the page was a listing of accidents of people he knew personally (including himself). His point back then was a good one, one that still applies 40-some years later: wear proper gear.

But that’s not the point of this short write-up. Motorcycles are a terrible gift because they provide both benefits and risks. As riders we all have to examine the benefits and risks and decide if it’s worth it to ride.

As for me, in spite of the heavy price I paid, it was worth it. Although my main ride now is a wheelchair, I cannot imagine my life without motorcycles. In the balance they have given me so much more than than they have taken.

Laguna Seca now and then. In 2015 talking to Randy Mamola; 1978 AMA Superbikes with Wes Cooley, Steve McLaughlin and me. Wes won, I was 2nd, Steve 3rd.
LagunaNow And Them