Have you ever wondered why dogs stick their heads out of open windows when riding along in cars? Why they always seem to have flapping ears and a jowly grin? Quite simply, it’s because it is fun. I know: I ride a motorbike.
Coming to motorbike riding later in life meant I could focus on the huge enjoyment of the ride, rather than worrying about road rules; when to indicate, how to navigate traffic and the other quotidian stuff we take for granted after being on the roads for a long time. Being twice the age of the other learners in my first motorbike class showed that what I lacked in sprightliness, I made up for in basic road craft. Some things just take time.
Once I had passed my Learner’s permit, being of advanced age (albeit a sprightly 40-something) meant I could upgrade my bike without the age-power restriction of younger riders. Straight to a 600cc engine meant that instead of hearing a high-pitched whine at 120km/h, my bike would give a satisfied hum, flinching at any change in the wrist, eager to travel the other 50 per cent of the speedometer dial.
I learnt quite a few things with my therapist – sorry, bike – that being zipped up in leather conceals (and constricts) a multitude of sins/kilos; that with the polarising glassware on helmets, it’s quite impossible for other road users to know if I’m 18 or 48 so they duly take precautions; and riding out on the open road clears the mind wonderfully.
The most fun is when a group of us would ride out together in early morning; for a local day trip out of Sydney to the Hunter or Kangaroo Valleys, or for special events, like a “Fat and Forty-Five” or “Fat and Fifty-Five” tours to mid-NSW, Victoria, or Tasmania.
There is a special camaraderie amongst riders. You may have noticed the rider etiquette to nod slightly when passing another riding travelling the opposite direction? Not scooters though. Please, we’ve got some self-respect. And Harley riders never acknowledge anyone – maybe they’re too worried about Queensland’s anti-bikie consorting laws?
Travelling in small groups, some Companions are young and eager, and they will be in group 1, racing off as fast as they can (under legal limits, Constable.) They’ll be on super-sport bikes with large engines and larger exhausts, and may spend a lot of the time on one wheel. The middle group will be the sensible types (us on 600s) who, on our sports bikes, could keep up but don’t need the thrill of the chase as much as the younger ones. Every now and then the ‘red mist’ will appear and the wrist will be twisted ever so slightly down to chase down the fleeing first group, but mostly we’re happy with the wind in our (helmeted) hair. The final group in the sedate rear travel on Tourers, who’ll be noticing the wildflowers or the rainbows. Me, I’m too focused on the road ahead, keeping an alert eye out for potholes, stones, slicks, small animals (Tasmania), bigger animals (Kangaroo Valley) and car drivers (or ‘cagers’ as they’re affectionately known.)
Riding a sport bike in the ‘downward dog’ position gives and takes. Stomachs may be gently rested on petrol tanks which is comfortable, but knees are locked in position for a few hours which, upon stopping, do require a minute or five to straighten. Hobbling when dressed in leathers gives the impression of either old age or the after effects of road trauma. Both are possible.
Riding opened my eyes to fantastic experiences; some quite terrifying, others quite serene, almost placid. So next time you see a motorbike rider, remember he’s having as much fun as that dog with his head out the window.
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