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More Alike

The article “More Alike” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 3/27/17.

“We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” —”Human Family” by Maya Angelou

There are times when the deadline to finish this chronicle sneaks up on me. I am by nature a procrastinator and work better under pressure. As it happens, I’m writing this one from a hospital waiting room as my mother undergoes a biopsy. She’s been in remission for 16 years now but her doctor recently discovered a mass that has us all concerned. I, of course, rode the motorcycle here.

My mother has been an example to me that being kind and compassionate is more important than being right. She, more than any other person in my life, is the reason I am so concerned with riding safely; so that the woman who taught me love and kindness never need hear that I’ve been injured. I have no interest whatsoever in causing her pain.

I’ve taken a bit of a step back from social media of late and feel relieved to have done so. Kindness, at least online, seems to have taken a back seat to contention, argument, judgment, and sadly, the reposting of fake news. It’s something I see and hear little of among the motorcycle community, at least those I ride and trade emails with. The previous RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend was completely devoid of that kind of tension, even in the midst of a politically polarized year. Motorcyclists usually leave such things at home and simply enjoy each other’s company.

We tend to lean toward the good, toward positivity and open-mindedness. Whether that is true of all motorcyclists or just true of those I call friends is of little consequence. The important and lasting thing is that the vehicle itself, and its transformative nature, seems to promote positivity rather than the negativity it can be so easy to fall victim to. When in each other’s company, we discuss our children, our spouses or significant others, our travels, our trials, our griefs, and joys, and not our political or religious affiliations or our resentments and social grievances.

So, as I sit here and wait to talk to my mother’s doctor, the silliness of carrying around angst of any kind seems to melt away much as it does when riding. My only concern today, right now, is smiling toward and sharing a kind word with others in the waiting room. Sometimes hardness hides hurt; sometimes we’re just so guarded we need the other person to smile first, and I kind of like being that person.

I have a friend, Quinn, who I’ve seen disarm complete strangers with kind compliments and a wide smile. It’s funny how such small gestures can lighten someone’s load and bring them joy. I’ve seen her do it on several occasions. That Quinn is 10 years old serves as a lesson to me that our perceived differences are learned; we aren’t born with them. We could all stand to be a bit more like her, a bit more concerned with smiles and seeing commonality than in identifying difference.

I’ve always disliked labels; they are an all too easy way to define someone, and too often we allow them to stop us from connecting with others. Everyone has a mother and no one wants to sit where I’m sitting now, having just sent her, fearful and fragile, to undergo a procedure with such hateful potential. As sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, we all share the desire for our loved ones to be home, healthy and happy. As motorcyclists, we just want to share the road and the experience with each other. We’re lucky—we have the bike as a commonality. I can’t help but think though that it shouldn’t take a sport to connect with people whom we may not otherwise agree with ideologically. Maya Angelou’s “Human Family” says what motorcyclists, in my experience, feel and exhibit innately. “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

When I see mom in recovery I’m going to read it to her. She’ll love it, because she lives it, and is the kindest person I will ever know. Ride safe, my friends.

 

MCrider Training Videos episode 3

How To Be Smooth On Your Motorcycle

My friend Kevin Morris at Ridergroups.com has produced a series of quality training videos every rider should see. It’s all too easy to convince yourself that you’ve ridden enough to be completely competent and believe that you need no further instruction. However, all of us, no matter our level of experience can benefit from the videos Kevin has produced. I urge you to take a look. I learn something new from every episode and I’m sure you will too. Here is episode #3.

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New Machining Marketplace

New Machining Marketplace Allows Cheaper Access to Custom Motorcycle Parts

Have you ever been customizing or restoring your motorcycle and been unable to source a part? This new online marketplace might be just what you are looking for.

Machining-4u is an online marketplace where motorcyclists can post their requirements for custom-machined parts, and receive multiple offers from machinists to select from. While the service is not specifically focused on motorcycle parts, it is particularly popular among motorcyclists.

The key advantage provided by Machining-4u is that it allows riders to source custom parts much cheaper than before. While you would previously have had to purchase parts from large, well-established companies, and pay a substantial premium, Machining-4u helps you to find much more reasonable prices. By increasing competition, the service takes power away from the large companies that dominate the industry.

Some examples of the custom-machined parts made by machinists at Machining-4u include bar ends, headlight brackets, wheel axle spacers, and braking adapters.

How It Works

A job is posted by uploading full information about the need, including blueprints and a description. Machinists can then start to submit their bids for the job. Once enough bids are in, the customer can take their pick based on various factors, including price, and the machinists’ experience and reputation on the site. When the customer selects a machinist, funds are stored in a secure account while the work is underway. Upon successful completion and approval of quality, the funds are released to the machinist.

How it started

Machining-4u was conceived when founders Simon Latour, Stephanie Brian and Stephane Gomez became frustrated with the availability and cost of custom-machined parts for cars, motorcycles and machinery. “Machining companies either rejected our requests as too small to bother with or quoted us ludicrous prices for such small production runs,” Stephane says. The solution? The innovative trio would set up a new online marketplace that would connect people directly with individual machinists. Since launch, Machining-4u has become increasingly popular as more and more motorcyclists are learning about the benefits provided by the service. With so many machinists ready and waiting to take on jobs, there’s no faster way for you to source affordable, custom machined parts.

MCrider Training Videos episode 2

Can You See Me Now?

My friend Kevin Morris at Ridergroups.com has produced a series of quality training videos every rider should see. It’s all too easy to convince yourself that you’ve ridden enough to be completely competent and believe that you need no further instruction. However, all of us, no matter our level of experience can benefit from the videos Kevin has produced. I urge you to take a look. I learn something new from every episode and I’m sure you will too. Here is episode #2.

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MCrider Training Videos episode 1

My friend Kevin Morris at Ridergroups.com has produced a series of quality training videos every rider should see. It’s all too easy to convince yourself that you’ve ridden enough to be completely competent and believe that you need no further instruction. However, all of us, no matter our level of experience can benefit from the videos Kevin has produced. I urge you to take a look. I learn something new from every episode and I’m sure you will too. Here is episode #1.

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Parallel Lives

“I have no criminal record and I don’t do drugs”, J said emphatically, nipping any fore-drawn conclusions in the bud. His outburst would find its context as we spoke, and I got the feeling this issue has arisen  before. “But I didn’t assume” I could have said, truthfully. Instead I just let him speak.  J has been a dedicated biker since leaving school; he’s now in his 50s. I have to ask how his passion for motorcycles started. “I was 16 and wanted to be mobile”, he reveals. Rather than wait another year for a provisional car license and the associated expense of lessons; he took the short-cut to mobility and started out on two wheels instead. Although chosen from a standpoint of convenience, biking soon won him over and he became a lifelong convert, well, so far at least.

“I just loved it”, he says, so much so that he was an all-weather, year-round biker until the age of 30. That’s dedication, especially during the extremes of the UK’s often miserable climate. Eventually the novelty wore off and for the last 2 decades J has switched to his car for the dire winter months. Yes, ultimately the weather always wins.  “It makes you a better car driver”, he says of his life on two wheels. That makes sense, viewing the road from the exposed perspective of a biker must certainly highlight the hazards of the daily commute. Not only that but the awareness of other bikers is elevated. So many are killed, or injured by car drivers who somehow ‘didn’t see’ the two wheeled road user in front, or to the side, of them.

So, whilst dedicated to his bikes, his biker friends, and a good portion of the life that is part of the package, J also moves effortlessly and carefully through the civilian world. He maintains a home, a job, a family, normality by any other name. It takes a little care, but J is well practiced through necessity. Certain behaviors engender associated consequences, usually delivered on the expectations of others, while J is merely minding his own business. “When you pull up (on a bike) alongside people at traffic lights they think you are trouble”, he reveals, admitting a conscious effort to redress the balance when not on the road. “I don’t look like a biker and it’s not on my resume.” The latter point came from a conversation with a former boss, who advised him never to mention it on a resume. Doing so would automatically render him a liability, akin to an “extreme sports” enthusiast in the eyes of prospective employers. He continues: “I hide the tattoos on my arms, even though they are not ‘biker’ tattoos.”  Nonetheless, all the elements contribute to a certain image that could work against him when he wants it least: in the context of a paying job for instance. In some respects J’s care amounts to hiding his true self, by his own admission.

Our society is not yet ready to accept J’s (or anyone’s) parallel, biker life on equal terms, though interestingly and perhaps more accurately, he doesn’t see any separation: “It’s all part of the same world”, he emphasizes. Social media is an ongoing, homogenizing force: the profiles of bikers, civvies, work colleagues, and more all co-exist on J’s Facebook page, side-by-side, each with equal weight and status. The lives behind them glide past each other like ships in the night whilst J’s path crosses them all.

The common, media-fueled perception of bikers, however, is the only consideration to most outsiders unwilling to think beyond prejudice. However like most myths, at the heart of it, there is a rare nugget of truth that most of us have no business with. The world is large enough to contain many rarities, all waiting to be found if you are prepared to search hard enough. Sometimes it’s wiser not to look.

Through a difficult time, a mid-life crisis that saw uncertainty and a change of relationships, J sought the company and perhaps the validation of a biker fraternity unashamedly nonchalant about their reputation among the often fearful mainstream: a “1%er” patch-wearing bike gang. The self-appointed “1%er” label originated in 1947 following a statement issued by the American Motorcyclist Association during the media frenzy that followed the Hollister (California) bike rally, aka “The Hollister Riot”. In attempts to counter the negative press, the A.M.A declared that 99% of motorcyclists are in fact law-abiding citizens. This inspired the hardened clubs of the period to blatantly declare that they were therefore the “other 1%”, choosing to value their own codes above the rule of law and thereby setting their reputation in stone.

After two years as a “prospect” (a would-be member tested for his obedience, respect and dedication), J became a full member although subsequent events were not set to follow his initial plan. He describes his adoptive organization in terms of “family”, but with a dedication over and above any biological equivalent. So much so that he could envisage his own flesh and blood family usurped and sidelined until only his biker brothers remained. This was only the start of his concerns. They saw him as intelligent and useful, even dangerously so. He could potentially be called upon to participate in risky, hazardous endeavors and remain the least likely suspect, such was his ability to blend with everyday “normality”. His clean record meant that any future legal transgressions would be met with relative leniency by the system, should he “take the rap” of course, something that he quickly realized he would be obliged to do. Any legal ‘difficulties’ would also have serious repercussions for his livelihood, such was the nature of his work. The far-reaching consequences of his membership were coming into grim focus: “Until you’re in it; you don’t realize”, he admits.

Usually there is no way back or out, but occasionally there are tales of those who have managed to extricate themselves. With his inevitable future becoming more apparent, J realized he must free himself or be trapped by events that could not be undone. Fortunately his mainstream job involving technical systems would provide the perfect leverage. Work would take him abroad for extended periods, forcing an absence from his biker life and its increasing commitments, much to the irritation of his internal and external families. With stress at home and the demands of work to contend with something had to give. On presenting his case to his gang superiors, it became apparent that he could no longer do his membership justice, and it was with some relief on J’s part that with due consideration they allowed him to step down and also to leave on good terms. “They’re less harsh than in the USA”, he tells me.

Today, nearly two decades later, he still remains good friends with some of his original bike chapter, but as a welcome outsider, a rare breed. His former life, although relatively brief, still follows him as an ex-member of a particular gang. There are places and events that he can’t visit, all territories marked by rival organizations that cannot be crossed now that he is indelibly stained for life by association with the enemy. Some shadows cannot be brushed aside, a cautionary tale.

Meanwhile, we may pass him in the street, and suspect nothing. After all: he still doesn’t look like a biker.

Innovv K1

Below is a bit of raw footage from the Innov K1 I have mounted on my 2012 V-Strom. 1 minute from work I was cut off by a cager who neither looked nor signaled a lane change. It’s for these specific incidents that I am happy to have the K1 system. A review of the unit appeared in RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring and Travel and can be read here. A longer example appears below.

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Better Shared

The article “Better Shared” by Bud Miller/Zen Motorcyclist was originally published on the “RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel” magazine website on 1/30/17.

To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with. —Mark Twain

 

As I sit down to write this, summer is over and we’re well into autumn. I try to ride all year here in eastern Pennsylvania, but from late fall until spring I have very little company on the road. Fall is a time when, on solo rides, you recall the trips of the past year. Today I was thinking about riding at the RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend this past August, and of one route in particular.

It had been a while since I’d attended the Touring Weekend and I was happy to be back helping out, meeting new people, and catching up with Christa, Florian, and the rest of the staff. I loved the journey across my home state to Bolivar, PA, although it was smoldering hot with temperatures near 100. No matter, I had four days to do nothing but ride, have fun, and talk motorcycles.

On the second day of the event I had the opportunity to ride with Yuval Naveh, who writes RoadRUNNER’s “Motorcyclist’s Guide to the Galaxy” series. Yuval is a software engineer, avid rider, and friend to everyone he meets. We were also roommates for the duration of the weekend. On this particular day we ended up in a group with three other riders and the five of us set off in the blazing sun to do the Flight 93 memorial tour. If you’ve visited the memorial in Shanksville, PA, I’m sure you found it as moving as I did. I didn’t expect to be as affected as I was; but walking on the path the plane took and reaching the viewing platform I was struck by the beauty of the place. It was hillier than I had imagined, breezy, and beautiful. I could smell summer in the air, and the wildflower scent carried on the wind.

That such obscene and inhumane ugliness could happen in such a place really affected me and I felt nothing but sadness. I heard my friend Yuval say quietly, “beautiful, very respectful,” and we spoke about the tragedy that took place there as well as others he had lived through in his native Israel, where, sadly, such things had happened more often.

 

Out on that platform overlooking the crash site I had a sense that everyone felt a similar sadness and so the smiles among strangers came easily. Everyone spoke softly, respectfully, conscious that this was a place to share and process grief for people none of us had known but whom we nonetheless hurt for. Sometimes just being in the presence of others feeling the same confusing rush of emotions is a great comfort. That’s certainly how it was for me.

When we rolled out on that bright, cloudless day, I was happy to be with our group but also thankful to have the silence inside my helmet for a while to make the transition from sadness back to the joy of the ride. I was glad to have visited the memorial and rode away moved but grateful for the day, the weather, the trip, that evening’s dinner with new friends. I felt eager to experience whatever came my way. Visiting a scene of such tragedy has a way of inviting joy, or at least making you appreciate life in a way few other things can.

A few hours later we passed an idyllic, calm lake, so we stopped for a break. It didn’t take long for us to agree that a swim was in order, so (with consent from our female companion whom we didn’t wish to offend) we stripped down and jumped in to cool off, scaring away a pair of fishermen in the process. After a few photos and some time to dry off we hit the road again.

Miles later and with a storm closing in on us, our GPS systems failed one by one. One failed to charge and the others routed us in circles. As the storm engulfed us we took refuge under a bridge for the 10 minutes it took to pass and for the sun to return. Then we were off again to find our way back home. What made this ride memorable was the range of situations and emotions the five of us (who for the most part had never met each other until that day) experienced together. We went from the excited anticipation of a day of riding, to sadness at the memorial, to quiet reflection, to the childlike joy of jumping into a lake, to getting lost and caught in a storm.

The ride reminded me of why we do this; why we ride firstly and why we seek out others to ride with secondly. It occurred to me that two things are most certainly better when shared: sadness and joy. One is to be divided, and the other to be multiplied.

 

You can never prepare for what may come your way during any ride, but that’s part of the fun. On some you find out more about yourself, on others more about those you’re riding with. Mr. Twain was right, but his sentiment can be extended. Whatever you experience in life, be it sadness or joy, is always better when shared.