Flying on your motorcycle, watching all the ground beneath you drop
I used to commute on my motorcycle to Orange County quite a bit. I loved it. I realized that the time I was on the bike was some of the only time I was “unplugged”. No radio, ipod, etc. Just the sounds of the engine, dry clutch and the air buffeting me.
Riders have a credo of “Ride like you’re invisible”. Solid advice. Battling the “cagers”, a reference to people stuck in their cars, requires focus and punishes assumptions. The average driver is practically oblivious of any vehicle smaller than a Smart Car. This is especially true when traffic builds up (more on this later). When riding I felt hyper-aware. I would settle into a routine of mirror checking, monitoring far ahead in traffic, looking over my shoulder before changing lanes, all good stuff. Being exposed to the elements and large vehicles combined with the knowledge that any sort of misstep is going to really hurt provided the proper incentive to “keep the rubber side down”. Also good advice.
Sounds stressful, right? Why this supposed to be awesome? Counterintuitively, while riding I felt like my mind was free. The hyper-awareness and defensive riding were still there and working but I could almost let them operate in the background. I’d think through thorny work problems, plan for the future, and make mental lists.
Or I could ponder nothing, or everything. The 5 is mostly concrete slab down here. The concrete is grooved to help with runoff. I would lean out over the fairing, so I couldn’t see the bike carrying me an I felt like Superman. I would focus on the groove aligning with the front tire. It would feel like I was the needle on a record player going 75 mph.
I felt like I was an extension of the bike when out on the open road. As my riding improved I could us less effort and ride smoother. Pulling back slightly on the right handgrip caused the bike to lean to the left and turn slightly due to counter-steering. I could get the same result by pushing out on the left grip or pushing on the gas tank with my right knee. Freeway riding has a different skill set from riding a twisty mountain road.
The ride to work took me through Camp Pendleton. From time to time they are training in sight of the freeway. Troop carrier and other helicopters can swoop in right above the freeway. Seeing them prepare was a good reminder of their sacrifices and how good we have it. It is interesting to see what things would look like on the coast if it wasn’t developed. It’s beautiful.
Riding through Pendleton provided additional entertainment. Because it is not heavily patrolled, biker boyz use the stretch to do some wheelies at 80 mph. Various biker gang types would be in transit between LA and San Diego. They’d mostly dismiss any sort of a friendly biker-to-biker wave due to some sort of Harley v. sport bike tribalism. Or maybe flash some sort of gang sign. My favorites were the Marines that were late for work. They would scream across the base, instantly recognizable by their orange safety vests that they must wear on base. Every once in a while a gaggle of them would come zooming through traffic–splitting every lane on their GSX-Rs. More than once tagged along with them. We would weave our way through slugs of traffic and when one of us reached our exit, we’d exchange a nod. Sometimes it meant “Way to keep up, old dude”. From me, sometimes it meant “Thanks”.