Motorcycle Dreaming

Therapy for a motorcyclist.

Riding a motorcycle is all about perspective; when you’re off the bike it can feel a long way off.
Riding a motorcycle is all about perspective; when you’re off the bike it can feel a long way off.©Drew Ruiz

Health issues over the summer kept me off a motorcycle for a month. It sucked. Naturally, I’ve been sidelined by crashes and some minor orthopedic surgery, and, playing to type, I’d usually rush back well before my doctors recommended. What did they know? I was younger and unstoppable.

This time was different, especially because opioid painkillers were involved. Even as my body healed, I knew my mind wasn’t where it needed to be. Motorcycling is many things—forgiving is not one of them. I let what little maturity I’ve accumulated convince me to hang up the boots for the short term.

Thinking like an inhabitant of the snowbelt, I decided that working on a motorcycle was as good as riding one, at least for a while. And that approach started out fine as I began the 23,000-mile service on my own KTM 990 Supermoto T. I thought I would revel in the relaxed pace afforded to me by the time out of the office, so I started slowly and took an extra moment to perform every task. At first, it was glorious. I could spend an hour wiping down the KTM's bright-orange frame or finally getting all the gunk from the inside of the U-shaped wheel spokes. (At least the U's face backward relative to the wheel rotation, but it's amazing how much road grime gets into there.)

I got about halfway through when, without warning, I lost interest in the project. What I really wanted to do was ride, to be on some road with the KTM under me. Not home recovering, not spinning wrenches, not wondering when I could ride again when I didn’t have a bankable answer. In some ways, I was a little shocked. I generally ride every day, or at least five of the seven in a week, and some part of me assumed I’d just taken it for granted. Part of the routine. Like making coffee or taking out the trash.

The answer is actually simple: Riding is part of my therapy. Like meditation for some and yoga for my wife. Riding never fails to put me back at center and place daily life into a sort of moving perspective.

“Riding never fails to put me back at center and place daily life into a sort of moving perspective.”

I know what you guys living in the snowbelt are thinking: Yeah, yeah, welcome to my world. We don’t ride for months out of the year so stop complaining. You’re right: I’ve lived there, too, and it’s different. You winterize the bike after the first serious snowfall and hunker down until spring. For me, the big difference was possibility. When the weather precludes riding, it just does—there’s nothing you can do about it. But when it’s sunny and 70, and you’re the limitation…well, that’s harder.

By the fourth week out of the saddle, I’d had enough. With a few light errands to run, I could have jumped in the wife’s car. It was there, leather seats and air conditioning beckoning. But I just had to ride, even though the voice of reason in my head questioned if it was too soon. Is my head on straight? Have I lost too much strength to manage the bike?

I confess the first 300 feet gave me concern. It felt odd not only to be in my usually familiar Aerostich and Shoei RF-1200 but to even be astride my BMW long-term bike. I have too many years and miles on bikes to lose the muscle memory this quickly, so it was more a mental game.

I got to the end of my block without crashing, turned right, and goosed the XR just a little, jabbing it into second with the quickshifter, and got a little bark from the exhaust. A sense of calmness ran through me. In a moment or two, my traffic scan unfroze and my sense of balance returned. Certainly a 700-mile day isn’t in my immediate future, but my first short ride back felt almost effortless, a familiar comfort. The last month just got really small in the rearview.