The Hittman Chronicle

Risky Business

Nothing compares to the rich sensory overload of speeding down the road on a fine motorcycle, the smell of the wind slapping at you, the roar and warmth of the engine just inches away, the asphalt blurring under your feet and the knowledge that an unseen rock or a moment of distraction can send you hurtling through the air with seconds left to live. In a car you watch the scenery, on a motorcycle you're part of it. It makes you feel alive.

This is all based on old memories. I haven't ridden a motorcycle in 25 years.

I never did ride them much, even though I thought they were just about the coolest form of transportation in the world. I considered getting one, but always felt hesitant. That hesitation became a decision to avoid them when Rusty Jones was killed on the way home from work.

I was a salesman at a now defunct audio chain and Rusty installed car stereos in the garage. I remember everything about him except his real name. We called him Rusty Jones because he looked like the cartoon character used to advertise Rusty Jones undercoating, which is also defunct. We all liked Rusty. He was friendly and personable and really lousy at his job.

One day a customer brought in his new car, directly from the dealer, to have a kick-ass sound system installed. I sold him a system that included door mounted speakers. Rusty carefully marked the places for drill holes, put a really long bit in his drill, and drilled straight through the outside of the door. This made the customer, shall we say, a little cranky.

Rusty rode a Yamaha back and forth to work, until one night he became defunct at the hands of a drunk who crossed the middle line and plowed into him head first. He left behind a wife and a freshly born kid. That confirmed my fears about motorcycles, and I decided to stick with four wheels from then on.

Realizing my decision was an emotional one, I decided to take an honest look at the real risk. This was before the Internet, so I was only able to find a few pages of junk science and bogus numbers, but they were enough to convince myself that it was an entirely rational decision. Really. Look, I've got these numbers.

If You Can Read This, My Wife Fell OffI also know a bit about physics and a bit about myself. I'm large, clumsy, and easily distracted. It would be perfectly natural for me to be zooming down the road, thinking about, say, the next Hittman Chronicle article, and never notice a carelessly discarded bottle in my path. And then it would be perfectly natural for 280 pounds of me to be flying through the air at 60 MPH toward a tree or a rock wall. And then it would be perfectly natural to be as dead as David Caruso's movie career, and have my remains sent home in a Tupperware bowl. A very large Tupperware bowl.

I have friends who have ridden bikes for years and have survived to be as old as me. They get to enjoy the adrenaline rush of ripping down the road with the wind in their ears and death lurking at every slippery curve. I follow them in my Honda Accord, securely belted in behind carefully engineered crumple zones. It's just old enough that it doesn't have air bags, which makes it even safer.

Often, when I'm tooling along in my safe, comfortable car, I'm smoking a cigar. I'm sure that some of the bikers who pass me wonder why anyone would do anything as horribly risky as cigar smoking. But cigar smoking is far safer than riding a motorcycle. I'm sure of it, and given enough time I could prove it with some real sounding numbers.

I used to want to try skydiving, but never got around to it before the idea started to seem more stupid than thrilling. Bungie jumping never appealed to me. Hang gliding looks like fun, but few hang gliders are designed to carry my weight, so I can sit back and admire it from afar, pretending that I'd give it a try if I could.

We all decide for ourselves which risks we're willing to take. At least, we used to. If someone wanted to do something we considered too risky we laughed at their stupidity or marveled at their ability, but we didn't try to get laws passed against them. Sometime in the past decade that live and let live (or die) attitude disappeared. It started with seat belts and motorcycle helmets, moved on through tobacco, picked up with dangerous music (it must be dangerous, Tipper said so!), and is now moving on to meat and fat and alcohol. It's no longer acceptable to be a racist, but it's fine to be a nanny, hating people and interfering with their lives if we disagree with their decisions on risky behavior. Every where we turn we're told, by people who imagine that they're smarter than we are, that whatever we're doing is somehow causing them some horrible harm. Often that harm is as trivial as a tiny increase in their insurance, or as completely imaginary as the danger of second-hand smoke. They demand we stop it. Now. No compromise is allowed. If necessary they'll follow us into our homes to force us to comply with their demands

I'd like to propose a very simple, very obvious solution. You let me eat my steak and smoke my cigar without interference, and I won't say anything about your motorcycle riding or bungie jumping or whatever risks you choose to enjoy. We'll leave each other alone, and as an added bonus you can call me an idiot and I can return the favor without either of us taking it too seriously. Deal?

Other Links

Hunter S. Thompson wrote the best line about motorcycles: "Faster, faster until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death." Here's one of his articles on the subject

Richard Thompson wrote the best motorcycle song: "1952 Vincent Black Lightening."

You can put some Mickey Thompson tires on your bike after you buy it at Thompson's Honda and Motorsports.


© 1999 Dave Hitt

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