Monday, March 15, 2010

Hell and Leather: The First Five Days

Seven days of moto-centric triumph and defeat came to an end last night when I fell into an exhausted slumber while thinking about the War in Heaven.

On the first day, we gathered for the ubiquitous Sunday Ride. The scene was thick. The Green and Orange Ninjas, the Red Ducati and the Black Buell all put kickstands up on the journey. Some had travelled many miles for this excursion. And while all were more skillful than I was, only I knew the route.

Such a situation is moderately whack. Following a skillful rider is a good way to improve one’s own skills. Their lines of travel are instructive and the entry speeds that they set for their turns indicate all in their wake that, yes, it is possible to take a corner this fast. Not to mention they are the first to come upon and direct attention to road hazards. Yeah, leading is a job for the illest rider. But instead they got me, a cat who enjoyed the paradox of being the man who leads the way but is in no position to find it.

From time to time, I would catch the Green Ninja in my rear view. It would always take me a moment to recognize him, as he was not flying the colors or riding the bike that he normally does. Just the day before, his bike had been party to a moment of freedom for another rider.

Freedom, in our moto vocab, is a bad thing. It is a sudden and unfortunate separation of the rider from his or her machine, a self induced crash. If Macbeth rode a motorbike, he might describe such freedom as being “untimely ripp’d” from one’s wheels. It is not difficult to have such an experience for riders of the Kawasaki ZX-10. It is a bike that, as the magazines say, “doth not suffer fools.”

The Green Ninja’s homeboy learned this the hard way. On a straight stretch of road, he twisted the throttle to the stopper from a standing first gear. The bike reared up like an angry horse and threw him to the ground. Bike and body slid upon the tarmac, leaving plastic, metal, leather and skin along their path. It was a sobering reminder that we could easily put ourselves in situations that far exceeded our control, no matter what the three witches around the cauldron say.

On the Sunday Ride, we avoided Freedom in the way that humanity has always done so: conformity and submission. To the rules of moto riding, not so much the speed limit. Past the disenchanting speed of life, there is no judgement. The staleness of my world, the disappointment of my projects, the disillusion in my heart—none of these can penetrate the erratic echo of the wind outside my helmet. “Until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death!” Forever and ever, Amen.

On the Second Day, I sat with a Green Ninja and speculated as philosophers do on the nature of the moto. He finds God on the throttle. I don’t know about God, but certainly there is something there that I cannot name, something that Marx might call my opiate.

On the Third day, I traveled to the Green Ninja’s broken bike and dissected it, cataloging the parts that it needed for repair. I washed dirt from the metal and ran my fingers over the punctured engine cover. For a moment I sat in the hollow quiet of the garage next to the machine, wondering what it must have been like to unleash all of this bike’s power in single, tragic twist of the wrist. Pandora probably had a better experience opening that Jar of hers. Unlike the rider of the Ninja, she at least got to experience hope in the aftermath.

Hegel teaches us that an idea has not reached its completion until it has been objectified. The rational must be made real, he says. My moto theory had once again reached a point where I needed an environment in which I could test some styles. So on the Forth Day, I got the notion that I should try to go to the racetrack for a track day.

On the Fifth day, I worked out the details of travel with the Black Buell. The Green Ninja agreed to meet us there with his track bike, a Ninja identical to the one that was out of commision but set up specifically for track riding. Once again we would brave the racetrack at absurd speeds. I wondered whether there could be anticipation that was not also fear.

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