December 5, 2008

First Person:

Ride it like you stole it

By Al Carlos Hernandez

I make it a point to schedule a three-hour time block during the day, once a week, to ride my motorcycle, usually down the coast. I call this process my “Cycle Therapy.”

It is truly liberating to virtually soar like a bird down a windy two-lane road, perched high on a hill, with the green-gray ocean off to the right, white-capped waves crashing onto the rusty tan sand below. The stings of the salty air, brisk breeze and wind currents nudge you back and forth. Pillowly fog blankets, flashing swords of crisp sunlight illuminate a blue sky ceiling, feeling the hum of the warm engine below.

The trip is always perilous and thrilling, like riding a remote controlled two- wheeled roller coaster. Time out-of-mind indeed; it’s an exuberant experience that causes your mind, body and soul to re-boot and defragment.

There is something about riding a motorcycle that allows you to be a participant in the environment you are passing through, rather than being a glass-enclosed observer. On a bike you can smell the scents and feel the temperature changes, all the while knowing that you control your own fate. Biking gives you a cocky rebellious-type demeanor, and whether you maintain a Harley style, you pilot a “rice rocket”, or even sport a BMW, most people who do not ride think that you do not have both oars in the water.

Live to ride, ride to live. You never see a motorcycle parked in front of a psychiatrist’s office.

Motorcycling nowadays is dangerous with folks amped up on Starbucks, jaw jacking on cell phones while driving with their knees. Two- wheeling has become increasing more perilous. The operation of a motorcycle — particularly a high powered one — requires multitasking. You have to balance speed with gravity, sound and sight, while maintaining a Zen-like focus on the road. Anything less and you are a potential organ donor.

A word of caution: Do not ride when angry or emotionally upset. If the stock market is taking your IRA for a ride, don’t go on one.

Motorcycling, like politics, gives you a false illusion of power and road superiority. All you have to do is take a turn a little too fast, causing the back wheel to slide out just a little, and... it’s a sobering experience.

Bikers are literally run off the road. People open the doors while you are splitting lanes. Hitting the ground at any speed hurts. That is why people were leather. Riders are encouraged to wear what you want to be wearing if you fall off. A thick jacket, strong boots, two pairs of jeans, (instead of leathers), gloves, a good helmet, and eyewear are necessary.

Come to think of it, this attire also comes in handy if you are a contemporary Latino columnist with a proclivity to insult attorneys and write Whack TOP Ten lists.

There are two major adages when it comes to motorcycling. The first is that there are two kinds of riders: Those who have fallen off and those who will fall off. The other is that there are two kinds of police officers: bike cops, and those who want to be bike cops.

I ride what is called a sport bike street fighter, a lightweight, high powered 1000cc Japanese bike that causes one to slightly stoop over the gas tank. The riding posture is very much like the one adopted when riding old-fashioned ten speed bicycles with the handlebars that curved down.

These types of bikes are capable of producing incredible horsepower. Some can do three times the speed limit, but if you need to go that fast you need psychotherapy. There should be a law here like in Europe that licenses people to motorcycles based on the bike’s size and one’s level of riding experience.

Although these Ninja-styled bikes are in vogue and can walk any car on the street, I am finding that after a long ride and being bent forward for miles at a time, my neck, back and wrists cause me some serious pain. I end up walking around the house like Fred Sanford, having a hard time straightening out. My Highway 1 therapy, albeit good for the soul, has wreaked havoc on my Baby Boomer body.

During my quiet times of canyon carving, I have come to a realization that I no longer need to own the fastest, baddest bike on the block. At this point in my life, it’s more practical to be comfortable then cool.

I do however still have my fat baggers, Harley full dress bike that I use during the days I feel like mean mugging people and setting off a few Volvo car alarms downtown.

Motorcycling is simple: Keep the rubber side down and the painted side up. Not riding — or writing — for me, is not an option.

Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.

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