I’m not a morning person, and I’ve got witnesses to back me up on that. But there is one morning ritual I hope to never give up: the donning of the gear. Riding trousers, boots, motorcycle jacket. The helmet, and optimistically, the sunglasses. And finally, outside now, as the bike warms at idle, the donning of the gloves: the final signal of intention. We’re going riding now.
I do this twice a day, every work day, and as often as I can on the weekends.
Recently, there’s one final step that’s been added to the ritual. As I pull slowly away into traffic, I find myself saying a little mantra, quietly, but as mindfully as possible: “Not today”. I make sure every part of myself has heard it, listened to it, and acknowledged it. Only then do I get going.
Not today. We will not be coming down today. I do make mistakes sometimes: misreading the road surface, or coming in way too fast for a corner, or just not being fully present in the monotony of rush hour traffic. Not today reminds me to stay sharp. (I don’t want to come down tomorrow, either – I don’t want to ever come down, let alone get into a bad situation with another vehicle – but a daily commitment is more effective than some vague, perpetual intention).
One ride at a time, as it were.
It’s not all within my control. Probably not even mostly. But being mindful allows me to influence that small sphere of fate which is within my control. I get so much pleasure from riding this bike, going ever faster, pushing her, pushing myself, especially with these tires.
These tires are special. Fitting these Metzler Z8′s was like a visit to a southern Baptist church. The bike is transformed. What was heavy and cumbersome is now a glorious ballet of lightness and surefootedness. She has found a new spiritual direction, leading me to hitherto unknown states of near rapture.
This is, obviously, a dangerous turn of events. It’s become more important than ever that I remember the mantra: not today.
My ride to work and back is mostly B-roads. I can take the motorway if I like, but I don’t. The back roads are better. Hills and farms. Rises and dips and blind corners. A jump into a counter-banked corner, followed by a 1st gear peg-scraper, exhaust burbling on the downshift, and then a short-shift into second as I swing her back the other way, braking again for another first-gear corner. It’s sheer satisfaction. It’s intense.
Most of these back roads – and there are many options between work and home – have very little traffic. But there are tractors and sheep and cow-shit. And even the occasional young woman on a horse, all decked out in her riding kit, seriously sexy but very annoyed at my racing engine.
So I drive hard but restrained. If I can’t see over this next rise then I’m certainly not going to be nailing it. I drive for the sight-lines, the general road conditions, and the likely presence of human or non-human road-kill.
There are ways to increase one’s chances of survival. I’ve got more than a few defensive driving tricks up my sleeve, which I may explore in another post. Yet some would say the most effective way to stay out trouble is to just not ride at all. I could crack my head slipping in the bathtub instead of on a greasy roundabout.
When I talk to my wife about bikes she says she’d rather me take the train. Fair enough, but surely trains are just an unfortunate but necessary way to get home after a night out? They lack a certain satisfaction.
Or I could just drive slower, though that’s not the first thing that comes into my overly-motorcycled head. Driving slower on two wheels is downright dangerous. Higher revs and blurring scenery increases my awareness. Cranking that throttle a little gets me paying proper attention.
But it’s always back to the ritual. Not today, I say to myself, as I pull into traffic. We may ride hard today, but we’re not coming down. Not today.