Apr 1, 2006

Vic Barnes: The Way We Are

Click the link above to see the full article please. I don't want to run against a few thousand IPR issues, but that article was the very first one I ever read about well, the way we (motorcyclists) are. At that time, a chap called Ben Lovejoy (with a cherry maroon ZX-11, think) was with the East London Advanced Motorcyclists. His site carried Barnes' article and I still have a faded printout I return to now and then. Because it says most of what I need to hear.

It's a great article. I recommend it highly.

Here's the link again, just in case: SORRY THE LINK DOES NOT WORK. I HAVE POSTED THE
Do be so kind as to leave a comment in case the link is broken, please

On a sadder note, Ben Lovejoy, (www.benlovejoy.com) has evolved into a Nurburgring junkie but has left the motorcyclist fold saying, it's too much risk (link here). Godspeed, then.


SID said...

Was going thru ur blog and found the link missing. Do update if you find the correct link.
Let me also take this opportunity to say that you have a wonderful blog.

rearset said...

Hi, It seems they reformatted the website and the article's either gone into their member's only archive, or has been taken offline. It's a big loss... I found it in Google's archives and I am pasting it below. I hope all the copyright owners will forgive/allow me. If not, please post up, I'll remove it instantamente

The Way We Are
When I was a kid we had an expression that implied it was good to be alive; we'd say it was 'a great day for the race' -- meaning the human race. Today, there's a general feeling that modern life is something of a rat race and I know I'm not the only one who thinks the rats are winning. Personal liberties are gradually being eroded and riding a motorcycle represents one of life's few remaining 'freedoms'. It's also another way of expressing individuality.

The reasons for buying a bike often have little connection with a frequently developed addiction and dedication that persists into middle age (and beyond). Irrespective of practical considerations there are aways two underlying motives -- a desire for independence and the need to be in control of personal movement. 'Selfish' or 'dangerous' are sometimes words which spring from the mouths of critics and the uninformed, but they know and understand little of what motorcycling represents.

For example, how do you explain that motorcycles are not actually dangerous? Vulnerable perhaps, but never dangerous. In an accident with a Volvo, the motorcyclist would do well to finish second. But what many critics don't realise is that motorcyclists have a greater chance of avoiding that situation than drivers of other types of vehicle. Two-wheeled machines generally have better all-round visibility, especially in the rain. Higher ride-height and lack of frontal obstruction allow an unrestricted field of clear vision. If a rider turns his head to look to the side, or behind, he again has an advantage. Motorcycles don't have blind spots.

It is not simply clarity and field of vision which makes a motorcycle safe, other advantages such as better slow-speed manoeuvrability, vastly superior acceleration, smaller size and narrow width all help to slay the myth of 'dangerous'. A bike's greatest asset though, is its rider.

I once interviewed rock singer, Suzi Quatro who made the observation that good riders hardly ever get noticed -- only the bad ones! She was right of course, because a bad motorcyclist sticks out like a sore. Conversely, there is no better reader of the road and its surface than an experienced rider, and no one assesses or assimilates traffic conditions and patterns quicker, or better. Psychologists and anthropologists could learn much about the behavioural inconsistency of Homo Sapiens from any experienced motorcyclist!

Practicalities are only peripheral reasons for riding. Superbike riders have one of the lowest accident conviction rates of any category of road user, though the reason has little to do with vehicle type, but more with the attitude and temperament of the riders. Unlike a majority of road users, motorcyclists often develop and hone their skills to a much higher level. Only professional drivers care as much about the control and mastery of their vehicles as the committed motorcyclist. I'm not saying every rider practices this, but the majority certainly do. The motivation is not simply the need to survive, but personal pride in the attainment of skill and a desire to improve self-esteem. Almost every experienced rider I know analyses each trip and is acutely aware of any slight errors of judgement. The next ride is always going to be better!

Acquiring skill is important and in itself may be enough for most, but it is what follows that creates and makes a lifetime motorcyclist.

Savoring, smelling, feeling and becoming a part of the environment cannot be experienced in a car, or any other enclosed vehicle. Tasting the heady tang from a copse of pine after a sudden Spring shower; the smell of freshly mown grass on a balmy Summer's day; listening to the soft rumble of an exhaust reverberating from the sheer rock face of an Alpine pass, and feeling the rush of chilled air from a mountain waterfall are experiences car drivers rarely share. We live in a world of three dimensions, not two, or two-and-a-half. We don't look through windshields resembling television screens. We're not distracted by nodding dogs, 100 watts per channel CDs, or back-seat drivers. We don't get so bored that we have to play I Spy. We don't travel hopefully and necessarily because we have to get somewhere. We travel 'somewhere' because we love to travel. Anticipation, but not knowing, what is around the next corner is true adventure.

To a dedicated motorcyclist, the ride is the thing. The distance between two points is more important than the two points. Truly, it is better to travel than to arrive.

Loneliness may be a problem for the long-distance runner, but it isn't a consideration for the touring motorcyclist. Five hundred mile journeys are special treats, like birthdays and Christmas. Anticipation is heightened by deducting each day from a mental calendar. Like a child on Christmas Eve, sleep is fitful and the rider wakes five minutes before the alarm explodes. He is on the road quickly, happy to enjoy that special magic only dawn light can provide.

It doesn't matter how badly other people drive, or how dense the traffic, they are never more than minor dangers to an experienced rider. The clogging and misuse of our highways are temporary irritations that provide a continuous challenge; more hazards to overcome and lessons to learn. Telepathy is added to the armour of potential and future invulnerability. Each incident either underlines the red section in a rider's 'book of learning', or adds a new chapter. The road and all its hazards come with the territory. They are the real deal.

Perhaps more than most, an experienced motorcyclist possesses that elusive and much misunderstood 'sixth-sense'. It often seems that a good rider will know the car in front is going to turn right, even before the driver of the vehicle. An obvious example I suppose, but one that other road users are able to identify with. But there is another and less frequent example; acquisition of which is bestowed only on the few who live to ride, and ride to live. How else can the following incident be explained?

A friend who has been riding bikes all his life travels to work 15 miles each day across the city. To beat traffic jams and arrive on time he follows a well-worn route. At one stage, this journey takes him around a tight crescent in a quiet residential area. However, the crescent is not without hazards and my friend habitually follows the centre line to give him maximum visibility. The worst part of this short section is a point about half-way round where visibility is restricted because of a large camper regularly parked in the same spot each day. Usually, my friend gives it as wide a berth as possible and travels at a speed of approximately 25mph. On one particular journey, while riding home in wet weather, he suddenly found himself slowing almost to a standstill on the approach to where the camper was parked. Just before he reached it, a car suddenly pulled out of a resident's driveway, from behind the camper, and turned across his path. Without doubt, if my friend had followed his regular routine he would have hit the car. He can't explain why he was prepared for the unexpected but insists that despite the lack of real discernible clues, or conscious reason, something made him slow down for the first and only time in hundreds of trips.

A sixth-sense is not the only state of mind which is difficult to explain. More than most, an experienced rider is able to evoke 'autopilot' mode, though it is not something which can be switched on or off in a practical, or obvious sense. It works in a completely different way.

After hours of intense concentration, control of the machine, effect of the elements and patterns of traffic gradually become irrelevant. Every decision and operation is so instictive and instantaneous that the rider is mentally removed from his task. He appears to float somewhere over his own shoulder, looking down on himself, and his hands, which are in total control of the machine. His riding is so perfect and precise he instinctively knows he could never ride better. He watches hands that do not seem to belong to him carry out each operation without conscious thought, or hesitation. The ride becomes ethereal. It is an experience better than any drug, and a state of mind only few experience. Top sportsmen who produce once-in-a-lifetime, perfect performances are among the exceptions.

The late, great tennis player Arthur Ashe said of the performance he produced when winning his Wimbledon title against Stan Smith, that once the game had started, he realised it was a match he could never lose. He believed that everything he tried would work. He felt invulnerable, invincible, but completely divorced from what he was doing. The subconscious had taken over and compiled every perfect shot he had pre-visualised, and every thought he had ever had about tennis, into the ultimate program. He didn't even have to press a button.

It takes neither hours, weeks, or years, but often decades of experience to perform at the same, extreme height of perfection that Arthur Ashe achieved. An experienced and highly capable motorcyclist has the necessary love of his pursuit, true dedication, and intense concentration to reach this rare and sublime level. Many riders have tried to describe the mental progression which achieves this particular state of mind and all have agreed that it takes years to acquire. Equally, they have affirmed that it only happens infrequently, mostly in rare circumstances such as extreme weather conditions, or when already exceptional concentration levels are on ultimate alert.

It's an old cliche, but to some, motorcycling is a religion! Ecclesiastics have much in common with motorcyclists. At times of crisis they will turn to their church and their God for solace -- and a motorcyclist will turn to his bike! Of course, this is a complete over-simplification, although most people do need some sort of emotional crutch to lean on at times of crisis -- something to help them navigate through life's perpetual minefield. (Or is it mind-field?)

Motorcyclists have access to instant therapy and immediate relief from the continual stress of the rat race and the material problems of an urban jungle. The 'open-road' is much easier and quicker to reach by motorcycle, though it is not just riding or the therapy of humming metal which salves the mind and calms the breast. Motorcycling concentrates the mind totally. It demands the rider's full commitment and gradually cultivates an ability to shut-out extraneous thoughts and problems. This helps to shape, balance and create an even-temperament, characteristic of the majority of experienced riders. It is rarely possible to think of anything but the demanding technique of riding. Continuous focus for long periods is a mental detergent which cleanses stressful contamination, and removes intellectual and emotional irritation. At the conclusion of many hours riding, the mind is deep-clean and stain-free!

I agree that all the above might be just 'toothpaste' because when it is down to the real reasons, perhaps a motorcyclist simply rides because he loves riding. Nothing beats the thrill of a super-rapid, 0-60mph in a few seconds, or powering a superbike through a bend at 45 degrees, in perfect control.

Hasn't it something to do with being a free spirit, a maverick, or a bit of a rebel? Of course it has, and we all like to be different in some way especially when we live such similar lives. After all, we are born and we experience childhood, adolescence, marriage (perhaps), middle-age, old age, and we die. There must be something else; something in between, something to set us apart, something to lift us onto a different plane, and even something that will take us closer to the brink. If our collective journeys through life are much the same, can't we choose our preferred mode of transport to give the whole thing a bit of an edge?

But we motorcyclists know all that. We've taken the trouble to answer the questions and make the choice. Because they're unable to appreciate our reasons, people who don't understand the questions (never mind the answers) seek to restrict our freedom and impose conditions on our choice. But that's OK, we are used to it. It is part of our heritage.

There is an obvious response. We must continue to do what we have chosen to do. We must not be affected by distractions in our elected pursuit of life, or by people who are frightened of our independance and individuality. They should not be allowed to affect the way we live, or ride. Perhaps we must be single-minded. Even selfish. The reasons don't actually matter, only the solution.

And the solution is to ride on. But ride safe and ride well.

Copyright © Vic Barnes 1998

Richard said...

Thanks for pointing out that this article has gone from the public area of our, the TVAM, website. This happened when we re-did our site using a different content management system.

When I next do some serious work on the website I'll see if I can reinstate it. I do still have the original website, along with its ofiginal contents, but thanks for reproducing it here.

webmaster for/at tvam dot org