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A Mouth Full of Motorcycle Talk

When you’re a motorcycle obsessive, and let’s face it, you are, there’s only one thing you like to do more than ride your bike; talk about motorcycles.

It’s my job to write about and photograph them as well, and it’s a job I love.

Over the years, there have been precious few writers who have had something interesting to say about what it means to ride and live the Motorcycle Way. The king of them all was one Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson had the bug, and he had it bad. His need for speed was all-consuming and his admiration for the machines that took him right up to the raggedy edge of the limit was demonstrated often in his work.

Thompson was, and is, damn near the final word on the appeal of riding at speed. His was not a death wish, but a form of divine madness in which the unlucky victim takes on a dangerous pursuit not with the intention of self-destruction, but with the intention of avoiding self-destruction while enjoying the thrill of maximum, controlled risk.

That might seem like an oxymoron to some, but one only needs to take a quick look around these days to find various cults with what is essentially that same creed. Base jumpers and parachutists, racers of all stripe, bull riders, mountain climbers and big wave riders are all after the same output – that jolt of chemical goodness that comes with knowing you cheated the reaper for a few precious moments and walked away intact.

While it might take an enormous investment in time, money and commitment to chase waves around the world or make an ascent of the North Face of the Eiger, it takes a whole lot less to strap it on your ancient CB 750 at the stroke of midnight and make a wooly proficiency run down the lakeshore looking for the apex of every turn.  You know the possible outcome is less than optimal, but the payback for taking the chance is so alluring, so  correct, that you make that run without hesitation.

Thompson put it like this:

But when we ride very fast motorcycles, we ride with immaculate sanity. We might abuse a substance here and there, but only when it’s right. The final measure of any rider’s skill is the inverse ratio of his preferred Traveling Speed to the number of bad scars on his body. It is that simple: If you ride fast and crash, you are a bad rider. And if you are a bad rider, you should not ride motorcycles.

Immaculate. Succinct. Brutal. Some would disagree and say that the ultimate destination of anyone who rides fast – and truly at the edge – is a date with the suturing needle and the Steinmann Pin; it’s simply a matter of time and how close you’re willing to come to The Absolute Limit.

Here then are some of the best riders and writers on the subject of riding and riding fast:

Great Motorcycle Quotes

Reporter:  “Barry, what goes through your head when you crash like that?”
Barry Sheene:  “Your ass, if you’re going fast enough…”

People are more violently opposed to fur than leather because it’s safer to harass rich women than motorcycle gangs.
– Alexei Sayle

You see, I don’t know how to ride a motorcycle, actually.
– Henry Winkler

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a Ride!
Hunter S. Thompson

And I to my motorcycle
Parked like the soul of the junkyard
Restored, a bicycle fleshed
With power, and tore off
Up Highway 106, continually
Drunk on the wind in my mouth,
Wringing the handlebar for speed,
Wild to be wreckage forever.

– James Dickey from Cherrylog Road

Driving a motorcycle is like flying. All your senses are alive. When I ride through Beverly Hills in the early morning, and all the sprinklers have turned off, the scents that wash over me are just heavenly. Being House is like flying, too. You’re free of the gravity of what people think.
– Hugh Laurie

Roadracing motorcycles makes heroin addiction look like a vague wish for something salty.
Peter S. Egan

The perfect man?  A poet on a motorcycle.
– Lucinda Williams

I belonged right where I was, with my club.  I didn’t have millions of dollars and wasn’t on the cover of Time Magazine either, but what I did have was respect. Respect from those who counted on me.  After all, I said to myself, I was Sonny Barger. I was a Hells’ Angel.
– Sonny Barger

When you look directly at an insane man all you see is a reflection of your own knowledge that he’s insane, which is not to see him at all.
– Robert M. Pirsig