Why we ride: Two-wheeled salve for the psyche

Dennis Johnson
Publish Date: 
Apr 2, 2012
By Dennis Johnson

The Internet is like the ultimate Wayback Machine — or perhaps it’s more like the Re-Animator’s Herbert West. Once something goes online it never dies, living always to be either revisited or regretted.

Recently a fantastic bit of narrative by Dave Karlotski has been making the rounds for revisiting, mostly through Likes and Shares on Facebook. The piece, “Season of the Bike,” originally appeared as a story Karlotski did back around 2000 on the now-defunct public radio show, The Savvy Traveler. It pops up now and again as a reminder of all that is good about motorcycling. In 724 words Karlotski — whose incredible travel prose can be found at www.the751.com — encapsulates the whole of the motorcycle-riding experience, starting with this epic line: “There is cold, and there is cold on a motorcycle. Cold on a motorcycle is like being beaten with cold hammers while being kicked with cold boots, a bone-bruising cold.” He then goes on to nail nearly every aspect of the sensory overload and deep-felt satisfaction that accompanies motorcycling.

I’m thinking that even if a person has never before ridden a motorcycle, by reading Karlotski’s piece he or she can easily grasp that sublime something one feels when operating a motorcycle. Yes, you have to do it to get it, but his words fairly ooze the fact that riding is salve for the psyche.

The essay is a simple reminder of the joy and freedom and exhilaration that can be found somewhere in the netherworld between points A and B. Thanks to the Internet for this bit of escapism.

His words are comforting for times like these, when weather and circumstance conspire to keep many away from two wheels. For myself it’s been mostly circumstance that’s kept me stuck. Stuck behind a desk, trapped by deadlines and projects and preparation for Dealer Expo. Stuck in a four-wheeled box, bound to school-age carpooling duties and the responsibilities of parenthood. Not even commuting — often the only riding I can fit in during the week — has been an escape.

Sure, whine away here in Southern California where the weather is never really an issue or an excuse. But this is my reality, the results of a confluence of circumstance. And yeah, I’m whining.

So it’s Karlotski’s words and the coming spring’s promise of daylight hours that give me relief. This, and a certain something sitting in my garage.

In late 2011, I completed a restoration of a 1970s-ish Vespa 150 Sprint Veloce. For those who care about such things, it’s a VLB frame/front end with a P200E motor. It was an 8.5-year project finished only through the patience and perseverance of my friend Greg Nicolle who babysat and worked on the mostly unfinished bike through most of the restoration.

Say what you want about scooters, but this bike is like time travel. Getting on it and smelling the two-stroke and hearing the motor’s ring-a-ding-ping is my Wayback Machine trip to a mostly misspent youth riding 10-inch wheels across vast expanses of So Cal under too little supervision.

Through dirtbikes first, and scooters next, did I truly develop my love for two wheels — no matter what size they are.

I’ve never been able to nail it down but, unlike the two motorcycles it sits next to, the Vespa offers a somewhat different experience. This is something I’ve noticed about scooters in general. Perhaps it’s the size of the bike or the ease of operation. Maybe it’s two-stroke smoke diluting my oxygen supply. Or, could it be that first scooter ride many years ago is when I discovered that only while riding am I truly at peace in my head. It’s a place I go back to often, either in spirit or reality.

As Karlotski explains his thoughts about motorcycles, “Transportation is only a secondary function. A motorcycle is a joy machine.”

Sometimes, when life, work or whatever slogs us down, we need these reminders.

Dennis Johnson
Editor in Chief