Whether it was a delayed streak of rebelliousness that I never got over with in my prepubescent phase, or a sudden urge to put life and limb on the line just for the sort of end-of-the-world hedonism that general wisdom advises against, I’ve suited up, drained the bank, taken the plunge, and gotten myself a motorcycle.
Yes, goodbye to the creature comforts, convenience, and safety, it is time to see if there is any truth behind what many riders would describe as “the purest form of motoring”. And by riders I mean that odd friend who shows up at every get together bathed in sweat and wrapped up to the neck in a flamboyant leather suit decked out in sporty pretentiousness, but laughs every time someone complains about the traffic or parking.
Skip the daily grind of the gridlock and freeing yourself from spending an eternal purgatory circling parking lots in hopes of a place to park, while saving loads of money? That sounds good enough to trade my excessive car for what essentially is, a motorised bicycle. Unfortunately, over here in Australia, at least, things aren’t as advantageous for riders as they seem.
For starters you can’t just park anywhere. Depending on where you are you have free parking in designated motorcycle parking lots, which isn’t all that convenient nor plentiful. Park in a normal parking bay and you have to pay the full rate as cars do for parking, so what is the point in that?
Secondly, filtering through traffic isn’t legal in certain states, and also you can only filter through at traffic light intersections. So most of time you will find yourself stuck behind a car, sucking on its tailpipe excretions as you long for the wonders of air-conditioning.
Lastly, the cost of owning one isn’t as cheap as you would imagine either, relatively speaking. I paid AUD5,500 for a second-hand 2015 Kawasaki ER6n-L, while my 2009 Honda Jazz costs AUD4,500. And since the great green Kawa has a 650cc motor onboard, it costs around AUD700 a year in road tax, which is around AUD200 cheaper than what I shell out for my Honda Jazz. Not to mention even though my bike weighs 200kg with a 650cc and the Jazz tips in at just over a tonne with a 1.5-litre engine, the difference in fuel consumption between the two is a mere 1.5L/100km.
Yes, you could pay a lot less by buying a smaller bike, but in relative terms, for the price of a motorcycle here you can buy a decent second hand car with all the amenities such as full-weather protection, comfort, and boot space. I could for instance, pick up a third generation Subaru Legacy for the price of a new 300cc motorcycle.
Mind you, that isn’t counting the cost of getting protective gear, which can easily run into the thousands for the good stuff. Stuff that you can’t store in the motorcycle, because it doesn’t have a luggage compartment, which leaves you having to lug it around wherever you go like a big sign that says “I take my hobbies too seriously and spent all my money on it instead of getting a decent car like a normal human being”.
And before you know it, you have become that odd friend who had spent thousands for a less comfortable, and not too convenient or cheap, method of getting around.
Do I regret throwing away money that would have been better spent in getting something more useful, like a second hand Mazda Miata? No. Not one bit.
Despite the leather overalls that acts like an oven, or the helmet that keeps the air from flowing through your hair and blowing off the heat, there is a freedom to be had in riding that cars can’t quite deliver. You are no longer bound to a cage of glass, sheet metal, and plastic that you get from behind the dashboard and wheel of a car. You don’t feel like you are in your are traveling in your own personal space, separate from the world outside. On a bike, you are part of the world, as much as you are an integral part of the bike.
When you are behind the wheel it is easy to separate your thoughts, mind, and body. Leave your arms to the steering, your feet to dictate the pace, while your mind can wonder about whether you should kick the annoying radio DJ’s teeth in for his poor music choices. On a bike however, you have to be engaged, to steer you need your body to lean it into a corner, you need your hands and feet to dictate the speed and trim your lines where necessary. It brings a whole new meaning to the ‘steered by intuition’ cliche. The level of commitment, and engagement on a motorcycle makes even a Lotus Elise feel like, well like a literal aluminium bathtub on wheels.
It heightens every quality that driving enthusiasts enjoy, the speed, the intensity, the involvement. Before you know it you are hooked and you begin to crave the open roads. Just as long as you don’t have to come to a halt, because stopping is more tricky than I thought.
One of my initial fears of riding was falling off the bike at speed, which turns out to be the least of my problems when riding. At speed, motorcycles are inherently stable, so much so you can take your hands of the handlebars and the bike will just track a straight line effortlessly.
What’s more, riding down a single lane road at 100kph feels more like doing 50kph in a car, because of its relative size to the width of the lane. It is the same principle of how the width of Sepang Circuit’s main straight makes 300kph feel like a pedestrian 100kph on a two-lane road. It is no wonder you see sportsbikes flying way over the speed limit through every road. It isn’t as though the rider has balls of steel, it is just that the perception of speed on a motorcycle is far different.
Subtract the speed however and that crotch rocket will quickly assume its natural state of rest, which is on its side - with you preferably underneath it. This is particularly troublesome when mixed with some habits which you have picked up from driving.
Come to a standstill with the wheels angled in anything but straight and be prepared to tip yourself over onto the road. Accidentally slip on a small incline while backing up the bike and you can easily tumble over. Even braking hard to a full stop can be quite unnerving as you aren’t sure at what point should you deploy your legs.
Then there is business of balancing the clutch. On a car is just coordinating between your right and left foot. On a bike, you need to gradually release your left fingers off the clutch lever, ease off the rear brake with your right foot, steadily feeding in the throttle with a twist of your right hand, while keeping the bike steady with your left foot on the ground. It is the proverbial patting your head with one hand, while circling your stomach with the other, and hopping on your left leg. Get it wrong and the result is less dignifying than demonstrating the pat-circle test while high as a kite on police video.
Not to mention, dropping your bike is the most heartbreaking feeling for any biker. Fairings get scuffed and cracked, mirrors can get bent, and that image of being a headstrong rebel in your head gets shattered as you frantically try to get 200kg worth of metal and fluids back on its tyres while motorists behind you all mutter “what a twat”.
And yet. For all its inconvenience, its faults, the ever-present danger that every ride could potentially be your last, and the general discomfort of being bounced around on the road in the searing heat and miserable cold, I can see why riders find it hard to give it up.
It is immensely addictive in ways that is impossible to adequately explain in words. Something that you have to experience for yourself to grasp the experience it delivers. It is the sense of adventure, awe, excitement, fun, with a touch of transcendental zen as all the cares of the world dissolves into the blur of the passing scenery, all rolled into one.
And bikers know this, which is why there is a great deal of mutual respect shown. No lines are drawn on what you ride, as long as you ride for the love of it, you are one of them, because at the end of the day, it isn’t the bike that defines you but yourself who defines it. I’ve gotten salutes from bikers going the other way, riding all forms of bikes, it doesn’t matter. Supersports riders geared in full racing overalls, chopper riders with beards as big as the noise their rides make, adventure bike riders covered in mud and smashed insects, and even the odd postman sitting sideways on his Honda Supercub. You won’t get that sort of camaraderie with drivers. Heck, not even if you were driving the same type of car.
So if you excuse me, there isn’t a place I need to be right now, but you can find me on the open road, seeing where it takes me. Living life, this time, for the ride.