Indy sauntered to the bike lift at the front of the room, feeling every mile of his 26 years on the road. He looked at the small group gathered in the dimly lit garage, cleared his pipes, and began the meeting.
“Okay folks, let’s settle back to idle. Are we all here? Good. Let’s go ahead and recite the oath together …” The group looked up at Indy and, almost reverently, spoke with one voice:
I am a motorcycle. I live on back roads and highways, race tracks and trails. My only purpose is to give my Rider the freedom and joy of the Ride. Through the curves and dangers of the road, the long nights, the storms, and the long hot days, I will not fail my Rider. I will protect my Rider with my life.
“I guess I’ll let someone else start tonight,” said Indy. “Anyone want to come on up?”
A newer model Japanese bike rolled forward, and turned toward the group.
“Hi, I’m Suzie,” she began.
“Hi Suzie,” responded the bikes, as tradition dictated at these meetings.
“I’m pretty new off the line,” she said hesitantly, “ … my Rider picked me up about two months ago.” She gained in confidence as she continued on with her story.
“Vickie rides me almost every day, except in the rain. Mostly local miles, like forest preserve runs after work or down to that burger joint half a day south of here. It’s been just great for us!
“Now, I’ve also had a few close calls with the four-wheel crowd. Hard stops and quick turns have kept us safe, and Vickie rides in full leathers with a full-faced SNELL helmet. She learned how to ride at an MSF safety course, and practices hard turns in a local parking lot once a week. She checks me up and down before every Ride, from lights to tires. I am tuned up, gassed up, and ready to rocket!”
As Suzie returned to the group, the older bikes couldn’t help but stifle a weary but indulgent sigh. Let the rookie have her days. There could be precious few of those, they all knew, and even the best Riders could fall victim to the Crash.
The Crash. Never talked about even in these meetings, but something on everyone’s mind. Fault simply didn’t enter into it for the bikes. It was that split second when joy can turn to terror, when endless Rides can become long-term storage, and when a motorcycle’s entire purpose is laid bare in an instant.
It had happened to most of them, as they’d given witness to over the years in this very garage. Close calls or wrecks, miracles or sad truths. The gas and oil scent of the air bore mute witness to all the bikes had been through and survived.
A few others said their piece over the next hour. Kam (pronounced kam-mu, meaning flower dream), another Japanese import, with the story of his Ride to Alaska with George, who eventually quit Riding in favor of a wife and kids. The big full dresser was gathering dust, and had recently been put up for sale. “New owner,” a few of the bikes softly groaned, as Kam returned to his place.
Indy himself said a few words about his owner Joe, who was Riding a lot more frequently since losing his job. Sadly, though, Joe was having more than a few beers every afternoon, and had Ridden twice late at night afterward. On one Ride last month, Joe had dropped Indy at a red light. He’d lost his balance and down he went, unable to stop the tipping machine. Luckily, Joe got back up and headed home before he was arrested. Most thought it couldn’t last, but none said a word.
The meeting was drawing to a close as Indy finished his sad story and looked out on the group. “Let’s have someone who hasn’t been up here in a while. Harvey?”
The bikes turned around and watched as another older cycle made his way up to the front and stood on the lift. Harvey, the big American classic. Indy moved aside as Harvey began.
“Hi, I’m Harvey.”
“Hi Harvey,” responded the room.
“Well, I haven’t been ridden in 6 years. My rider was Fred. He, ummm..” Harvey paused for a moment. “He loved the Ride. When the weather broke in April or May, he had me tuned up and out we’d go. Mostly day rides, you know. Friday after work, almost all day Saturday; but then we’d have a week or two of longer rides, out of state, over the summers. Man, we’d just blast. I thought it’d never end.
“Winters, you know, they got long sometimes for Fred. He’d sneak out to the garage and just sit, looking at me like he wanted to just Ride through the snow until we hit Florida or something. He’d start me up and just sit, itching to go, listening to his iPod and dreaming of the road.”
Harvey took another long pause. “We were up on the high plains one summer evening, near the mountains, when the car pulled out of the rest stop without seeing us. Fred didn’t have much of a chance to swerve, and my front wheel caught the left rear bumper of the car. Fred did a high side vault over my bars at 75 m.p.h.”
The silence in the room was complete as Harvey continued. “He survived, but … well, he doesn’t Ride anymore. Fred didn’t believe in brain buckets, and hit his head pretty hard. He can walk, mostly, but just isn’t the same guy. They had me fixed up: something about Fred needing a reason to keep going. But I stay in the back of his garage now.”
As he slowly came down off the lift, the other bikes watched in respectful admiration of the old timer. Most had heard his story before, but all understood it. They were motorcycles.
It wasn’t about safety, or the moral of any of the stories. Like their owners, they lived for the Ride. No one thought less of Fred. Many of their own Riders were the same, and for these bikes it simply did not matter how they were Ridden. Such things, in the end, were beyond them.
Philosophy was likewise beyond this group of simple souls. They got together to share stories of the road for the memories and joys, hardships and pains. It kept them going. And for better or worse, in lean times and happy times, they would keep going. For their Riders.
They rose again, and solemnly recited their oath:
I am a motorcycle. I live …
– Pete Murphy June 2014