Some time in my teenaged years, my father got a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he rode leisurely in the summer months. He never struck me as a “biker dude,” as he almost always wore a full-sleeved leather jacket over his usual attire of blue button-down shirt, navy-blue Red Cap slacks, and brown leather cowboy boots. Up until I saw my father on a Harley, I always imagined the person straddling that machine would be wearing a sleeveless t-shirt promoting some rocker BBQ event from “the good ol’ days,” with a bandana wrapped around his mug to keep the long flowing strands of gray hair from getting caught up on the tip of his Marlboro red.
My dad threw me for a loop.
This was the man who would have a neat stack of newspaper clippings waiting for me at breakfast on Sunday mornings, to prove just how unsavory and dangerous the “late shift” was on Saturday nights. My curfew in high school always fell into the “PM” category, and was seldom extended past 11:00PM. My father referred to the period after this as the “late shift,” where nothing good could possibly happen to me. As such, my pancakes were typically served with a side of drunk-driving accidents and random stabbings as reported in the Sunday paper. “You see, Leesey, nothing good happens in the late shift,” my father would say, peering at me over his glasses as my mom took the opportunity to quietly steal the crossword puzzle from under his nose.
And so it was, my first ride on a motorcycle was with my father—the only man I felt I could trust to show me the joys of the open road without hotdogging about in a way that would land me in some “late shift” tragedy. One afternoon we were cruising down the highway, as another motorcycle came toward us from the opposite direction. His left hand slid off the handle bar, soaring out to the side of the bike in a wave/salute manner to the other motorist, who did the same motion back. I came to understand this as some sort of special motorcyclist salute…a sort of unspoken bond between bikers on the road. It immediately made sense to me, as runners had this same sort of silent cameraderie.
Not only did my dad break the mold as a biker, but he seemed to have something in common with runners. Definitely food for “Things that make you go ‘hmm'” thought.
Over the years I’ve come to understand that bikers, like runners, come in all flavors. My limited views on these matters have changed and while I’m still leery of riding motorcycles, I’ve realized we share a lot of the same hopes and fears.
When I got into cycling, I felt that my father and I shared more common ground than ever before. Being out on the road on two wheels with no protection around you is dangerous. My brother rides a motorcycle, and I ride a bicycle. We probably log the same number of hours on our respective steeds, and face the same types of fears.
Cars turning into you.
Cars running over you.
Cars hitting you head on.
Cars not seeing you.
Cars not caring if they see you.
My father tells my brother and I that we’re playing a “numbers game,” every time we head out on the bike. It seems that this summer, those numbers have not been going well. So many people in the triathlon and cycling community around Central New York have suffered because of motorists who are driving drunk or distracted. It’s an awful thing to head out for a ride—looking for that oasis of “you” time during a day—and never come home. Bikers and cyclists may not look like they have much in common, but just past the leather and Lycra, I’ve found our hearts are in the same place.
We crave the open road, the wind in our hair, the world at our fingertips.
This thought hit home to me last week during a long run. A motorcyclist passed me just as I was hitting my eleventh mile, sliding his hand off the handle bar toward me in a wave/salute-like motion. I hadn’t seen that in years. Since the time I rode with my dad in high school. Maybe it was simply an older man enjoying the view of a runner in a sports bra, but I’d like to think it was a simple conversation between two strangers who were both spending their Sunday just the way they wanted to—marinating in our innermost thoughts for a few hours and embracing life on the open road despite the odds.