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Moondust & why we ride


(from the Travels with Guido series #349, updated July 2020)

by Guy 'Guido' Allen  

Does life behind bars change us forever?

There’s no shortage of evidence that our physical and mental make-up is significantly altered by the things we do. Just ask any long-term cook, coal miner or surgeon. Each occupation has its practical and psychological risks that inevitably go a long way towards shaping that person. But what about motorcycling, given most of us do it for leisure rather than a living?

We may not spend most of our waking hours in the saddle, but the dangers and the level of engagement mean that they must shape us in some way – that’s assuming we make it through that initial period where some people – perhaps wisely - drop it like the proverbial hot brick after a bad scare.

You sometimes forget the extent to which a motorcycle can terrify its would-be user. I was reminded of this several years ago when an ab-initio rider would physically tremble every time he got near the device. He desperately wanted to do it, but something deeper in the psyche just said no.

This whole idea has its extremes, none more so than for the select few astronauts who walked on the moon - literally another planet. Andrew Smith, the author of the book Moondust (a great read) tracked down most and observed all shared one thing in common – they had been irrevocably ‘touched’ in some way by the experience.

Given how joyous and traumatic a good motorcycle ride can be, is there something similar going on with us?

Psychologist Mark Barnes thinks so and unwraps this in Why We Ride.

The result of a semi formal study of riders, it looks at the whole question from a very different perspective to any that I’ve previously seen. It helps considerably that he’s a rider himself and therefore on some level gets it. Is being a rider necessary to study them? Maybe not, but like studying Italian without visiting Italy, I suspect you miss a lot of nuance.

Here’s a bit of a sample of his findings.

“Many who got into motorcycling for other reasons stayed in it because of these sensuous delights. The relentless rush of acceleration g-forces as a big-bore inline four screams towards redline, the placid yet intimidating rumble of a heavyweight V-twin as it quakes and shakes at walking pace, the suddenly silky-smooth flight off a jump after the chronically cacophonous jarring of joints on a rocky trail – this is the stuff of dreams come true.

“And it’s not just these dramatic examples, it’s also the refinement of a gentle dipping swoop along the river, the wisps of clearing fog caressing a bare throat during a near-silent descent into a gorge, and those surprisingly distinct shifts temperature and humidity that accompany ten-foot elevation changes at dusk in pasturelands. You don’t get those in a car. (Convertible drivers who insist otherwise haven’t ridden a motorcycle; they mistake a tree for the forest.)”

And yes, he searches far more broadly than sensations and their effect. How do these experiences change you?

“I’ve written in the past about the metaphorical value of motorcycling experiences; ways in which people can translate and generalize lessons learned on two wheels into other areas of life. For example, the fact that a bike actually holds a line better in a rough corner with a light touch – rather than a death grip – at the bars is an important thing to know as a rider. But the same principle has broad applications to the human condition: excessive control is often counter-productive.”

And here’s another thing: I wonder how many astronauts ride?


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