SPRING APPROACHES and the mind wanders to dreams of travel - warm, pungent travel through the blossoming countryside. freedom. In a word, motorcycles.
If you've never hunkered down over a vibrating gas cap, straightened curves as butterfiles and fresh spring bugs whiz by, smelled the rich odor of cow manure from fields nearby, felt the chill blast of damp air as you roared through a hollow, you haven't lived, the motorman will tell you.
But there's a world of thought that precedes that first step into the land ot two-wheeled motor transport.
How big a bike do you need? What will it cost? How do you get a motorcycle fixed if it breaks down on the road? What are the dangers and how do you avoid them? Can you make a bike theft-proof?
In the next four weeks we'll go over some of the basics of motorcycling. For starters let's talk about size and safety.
I have owned and ridden motorcycles for 15 years, from a tiny 50 cc Ducati to the grand king of the road, the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide.
I've had my share of crashes, some of them bad enough to still give me shivers. I've escaped with no worse than bruises, although twice my riders smashed bones.
But the fact is I've never wrecked on a big bike. Every crash, and there must have been eight or so, has been at the helm of a little machine.
My theory is that bigger is safer, for two reasons.
Fist, a big bike is noticed. Through the years the mystique of big bikes has led to a positive phobia among proper citizens. Big-bike riders are supposed to be tough, arrogant and given to bursts of uncontrolled fury. Automobile drivers do not want to mess with the man on the big bike, and they don't.
Second, big bikes are generally more stable. They have bigger wheels, which increase the gyroscopic effect that keeps a bike on course. They can take bumps, ridges, potholes and the dreaded trolley tracks. They have the power to pull away from potential accidents. So go as big as you can.
The most dangerous time to ride a bike is the first two months you own it. You don't know the bike and its limitations, you are tempted to test it for power and top-end speed. You don't know who has adjusted what and where the weak spots are.
Learning to ride is simple. All you have to do is find a spot where you can fall off three of four times without killing yourself.
Anyone who understands the basics of driving a shift car can learn to ride a bike. It's the same thing, except the clutch is a lever in your left hand, the gear shift is a pedal on your left foot and the throttle is right handle-bar grip. Nothing to it.
The first three times you try it, though, you'll find youself coming into a turn and notifying your hands and feet: "Ease throttle, pull in clutch, downshift with left foot, give a little gas, let out clutch, lean right".
Then you will probably jam on the brake, upshift, pop the clutch and roar off into the bushes. I did and we all do; so make sure there are some bushes around.
The most dangerous thing to do when you're a novice driver is take a rider. Riders never know how to lean properly. The average rider takes on the characteristics of a 200-pound bag of jelly on the back of you bike. If you don't know what you're doing, he will put you into a light pole quicker than you can say "Honda Four".
That happened to Judy Chewning. who thought she looked real cool on her husband's 600 cc BMW. She picked up a hitchhiker on Canal Road and they spent the next three weeks in intensive care.
Once you've completed you learning-to-ride primer - i.e. at least five serious sessions in a parking lot or field - you're ready for the road.
The first thing to remember about riding on the road is that automobile drivers are the enemy. They are armed with tanks and you're prancing around in your birthday suit.
To be a safe motorcycle rider you must be a psychologist. One of my favorite riders once told me he could run a personality profile on a driver by looking at the back of this head through the rear window from 50 yards away.
Learn cars. Never challenge a Mustang or a Camaro. Never trust a Cadillac. Vans and some trucks have blind spots to the right rear; never pass them on the right.
Use you voice, rather than your horn, if you're in a jam. Car drivers hear horns all day; they are immune to them. They're not used to hearing somebody screaming WATCH IT! through the side vent. When they hear it, they watch it.
Rain is treacherous, and manhole covers in the rain are certain disaster. They are slick as a duck's back. The law says you have to have eye protectors (glasses, windscreen or face mask) at all times. I never wear them except in the rain. Get a spatter of rain in your eyes at 50 m.p.h. and you're in deep trouble.
If you've ever been stuck in traffic school you know what defensive driving is. It is the only way to ride a motorcycle. Passive personalities are more successful bike riders because they go with the flow. If you try to cut your own line on a bike you're going to get cut down.
Eight accidents I've had, and I guarantee every one of them was the fault of an automobile driver. They are like kids gone wrong - never to be trusted.
Next week: What kind of bike is right for you?