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All Things Motorcycle: Part 1

You concentrate totally on riding. It calms you. And because you are so focused, you see everything.

By Novella Carpenter

Occasionally, I receive a letter from a reader of this column that is so compelling that I must address the issue by interviewing the letter writer. I still have the note from Charles Statman that reads as follows: "I am still a gigantic fan of yours; please keep up the writing." (This, kids, is the best way to begin any letter.) "I'd like a favor; well, no, maybe more of an article suggestion? Well, heck, I dunno what it is; thus, I am not a writer." (Self-effacement earns endearment.) "But I am an avid motorhead, if that counts for anything." (Yes, it does, Charles, yes it does.) "I keep twisting around a thought in my mind, of writing an article about motorcycles and how cars could more easily interact with them."

Good advice for motorcyclists and car drivers? Sign me up!

I get a lot of weird email, Charles. Like from that nude beekeeper--that's not you, right? But you're into bikes--motorcycles. What do you ride?

"I currently own seven bikes. Much like shoes, it depends on the occasion. I have dirt bikes, Harleys, road racers, touring bikes, even a vintage British bike with a sidecar. All flavors and sizes--I like motorcycles. I first rode a bike in 1977 when my pal Patrick McConaughey helped me boost his kid brother Matthew's Yamaha DT 250. Pat had a 400; we swiped Matthew's and spent the day riding. I was hooked and have ridden ever since."

What is the sensation of riding a motorcycle into, say, a big city?

"A toggle switch between euphoria and terror. When you drive a car, it's a habit you get in: buckle up, turn on the stereo, roll up the windows, zone out and go from point A to point B, unless you are driving for pleasure, where you may not zone out so much. When you ride a bike, you must spend 100 percent of your concentration on riding and your surroundings so you do not die. As you do this, you forget about work, the broken washing machine you need to fix, any other troubles. You concentrate totally on riding. It calms you. And because you are so focused, you see everything. You look for deer if you are in the country, buildings in town, architecture, people, the sky. You become part of your surroundings. It is wonderful."

Have you ever had a close call?

"My motorcycling mentor, Old Man James from Austin, once told me, 'Charles, when you ride a motorcycle, the phrase is not if you get hit, it is when you get hit." He was right. First time in the hospital, a pizza delivery guy pulled out to make a left in front of me. He told the officers, 'I did not see him.' I broke four bones in my left hand, my left collarbone and my coccyx. My second hospitalization was a two-ton box van turning left in front of my just completed pristine 1969 BSA 250SS Shooting Star restoration. Emergency operation, lost my spleen, broke right collarbone, found out I really like morphine. Driver told the officers, 'I did not see him.'"

Are loud motorcycles protection--like a sonic bubble that makes sure cars 'see' them?

"Ah, the old 'Loud Pipes Save Lives' mentality. No, by the time the driver hears the pipes, the bike has already passed. No matter what anyone tells you, it is to show off. Period. It's really odd, but if I ride my Harley, police will look and look away. If I ride one of my dirt bikes with a loud pipe, not as loud as the Harley, I will get a ticket in a heartbeat. There is something about the Harley mystique that seems to let us get away with it."

More mysteries solved next week, when our spleenless interviewee reveals his five-point plan to mend the misunderstandings between cars and motorcycles.

Email Novella at [email protected]

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From the May 11-18, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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