There was an automotive machine shop next to the place where I used to have my two-stroke crankshafts rebuilt. One day I was hanging around outside waiting for the crank guy to come back from lunch, and I started talking to a man who was having some work done on his car’s engine.
The car was a Funny Car, a nitro-burning drag racer with an enclosed body. Back then Funny Cars were pretty new on the scene, and they were still working out the bugs. As in, how can we make this car run a complete quarter-mile without exploding in a huge ball of flame and showering pieces of itself and its driver all over the area code?
I listened, slack-jawed, as the man told me what it was like to race a Funny Car. Then he asked what I was doing there. I told him I was picking up the crankshaft of my race bike, a Yamaha TD2B roadracer.
“You roadrace motorcycles?” he said, his eyes wide. “You guys are crazy!”
Just in case you didn't get the full import of that, here's a guy whose idea of racing is basically two guys, each sitting on an open barrel of gunpowder and smoking a cigar, seeing which one can blow himself up the highest.
And I'm the crazy one.
Today, however, is my 57th birthday, and I’m starting to wonder whether he was right after all.
If you don’t count riding motorcycles, I’m a pretty cautious guy. I like my skin and intend to keep it intact for as long as I can. There have been a couple of occasions where the stuff inside my skin took a real beating, which is why I walk a bit off-kilter, and my handwriting sucks, and I sound like "Flight of the Bumblebee" played on cracking knuckles when I get out of bed first thing in the morning.
I don’t race any more. My worst racetrack crash happened in 1986, and it was a bad one; I spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, went through a couple of surgeries, and spent months recuperating.
The day I finally got back on a bike, I still had a stainless-steel pin holding my collarbone together; the end of the pin was sticking out of a hole in my shoulder.
I still live with the after-effects of that crash. The only good thing that came out of it was the instant and complete annihilation of the burning desire to go really fast on a bike at all times. That alone probably added years to my life.
But I still ride on the street, and as many street riders who have raced will attest, the street is by far the more dangerous place to ride.
In January of 2006 I was driving my car when a pick-up truck came around a blind corner, veered across the double yellow, and hit me head on. (My buddy Paul was in the passenger seat.) That bought me another six days on hospital food, two more operations, a bone graft, a titanium plate in my wrist, five months of healing and rehab before I could ride again, and another set of permanent reminders of my mortality.
So if even I think it's not entirely sane to keep riding motorcycles given what might happen the next time I fall off of one, you can understand why. At my age you just don’t heal up as fast as you used to. Sometimes you don’t heal up at all.
And yet...and yet...
Give me a sunny day, and a full tank of gas, and a halfway decent coffee shop to ride to, and I’ll be out in the garage and on the bike as fast as my gimpy knees will allow.
Because you just never know what’s going to happen. Could be good, could be bad. Flip a coin. And maybe that’s why we ride—the unexpected, the adventure. We ride even though we could get hurt, or killed. Some of us ride because we love to ride, others because we just have to, for reasons we can’t explain and don’t want to think about in case that leads to a reason not to.
So happy birthday to me, and if there’s a break in this crappy weather this afternoon, I’m going to ride the V-Strom to my favorite coffee shop and think about what that Funny Car driver said, and how prescient he was.
Because he was right. I am crazy.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.