Wednesday, June 14, 2006

No Motor Runnin'

I'm not going to take a lot of time to bag on Steeler's quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. I think everyone is just glad the guy is OK, mostly because now they (we?) feel more justified in talking about what an idiot he is for zipping around on a bullet bike without a helmet on.

"Gee, you think you'll wear a helmet now, smart guy?"

The sentiment is intensified by the defiance he showed not too long ago in proclaiming his preference for going "helmetless", an attitude that's pretty frustrating for the rest of us who grew up feeling like idiots for wearing helmets to ride our bicycles, while watching our friends clearly have a funner time without them. Some of us may have worn our helmets because our mothers told us to, but I think everyone knew they were right.

All I think this latest episode does is confirm my growing suspicion that I'll never justifiably join the league of bikers living their "Easy Rider" dreams. Even without Big Ben's poor example, I've got enough harrowing motorcycle experiences in my past to make me feel like I'm getting a clear message from above:

1. When I was about eleven years old, my uncle wiped out on a cruiser bike on a highway, breaking his neck and landing him in a halo. The sight of him in that metal bear-trap, knowing that those rods were lodged directly into his skull, was the kind of warning that doesn't fade easily.

2. On the way to church about a year ago, I was heading east on 400 south right before the road swings south just past 900 east. It's a pretty tight turn, practically 90 degrees, in fact. Anyway, I'm at the 900 east stoplight with a couple of motorcycles, and we all take off at the green. This bullet bike, obviously trying to demonstrate his speed dominance, flys out ahead of the rest of us by about forty, fifty yards...and runs right into the cement median at the turn. Very impressive. Luckily he was only shaken up, and managed to make it the rest of the way to church. Looked like he was going to need a new pair of Dockers, though...

3. Three-odd weeks ago, I'm heading to Layton to meet my family for lunch at the Olive Garden. I-15 gets really jammed up because of some construction going on in the median about a mile shy of the Layton Hills Mall exit. I'm in the fast lane, behind a guy on another cruiser, and we're all slowed down to about 20mph. As we pass the construction, the driver looks over to see what's been slowing us all down, then turns back just in time to see that the SUV in front of him has stopped. He jams his handbrake, the bike skids, falls on him, then pops back up and keeps moving. Either unharmed or just in shock, the guy jumps to his feet and starts chasing the bike, which is making its way through the construction site and towards the traffic heading south on the opposite side of the freeway. Simply one of the funniest things I've ever seen.

4. I don't know that this ever really presented a deterrent to me, since I never planned on leading police on a 125mph freeway chase on a bullet bike, but I would be amiss to leave out the classic shot of the bike broadsiding a city bus in California after trying to escape off a freeway off ramp.

5. Here's the capper, the experience I actually had, rather than just observed. When I was elevenish, I lived across the street from a kid named Phil, who had moved into the neighborhood--a typical Davis County suburban village--from a farm community called Fountain Green. Back on the farm, Phil could drive around the pasture and dirt roads on his little non-street-legal dirt bike all day (he was a year older than me, by the way). But in Bountiful, he was stuck cruising his family's quarter acre yard. One day Phil invites me over and asks me if I want to ride his motorcycle. Sure, I say. So I find myself sitting in his backyard on this bike while Phil points out the clutch, the gas, the brake, and a bunch of stuff that makes no sense to me whatsoever. I just keep nodding like I know what he's talking about. Then I crank the gas, and shoot forward in a high-octane straight line...right towards the family rabbit cages. Fortunately I manage to make a slight left veer, so I just knock the cages over instead of plow directly through them, and as I stagger to my feet in humiliation, I see all these petrified rabbits cowering in their overturned cages. Muttering an apology, I flee Phil's yard, our budding friendship hopelessly crippled.

A year later, I find out the rabbits all died the next day.

And yet, in spite of all of this, I still have this romantic attraction for a Harley and an open road. I'm still waiting for the biker mama of my dreams to drive me off into the sunset on her chopper of love.

I'll just have to make sure to wear a helmet. Even Peter Fonda did that.