Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey
The wind blows stiff and cold. The skies are leaden, casting the world in a sort of gloomy semi-darkness. The warm days of summer, and even the sparkling days of fall seem distant. I, like millions of other motorcyclists, stand mute and sad in the garage, having come face to face with that depressing reality. It’s time to put the bike away.
I’ve lived in many places, the last one in Missouri. Winters there mimic the ones here in Pennsylvania temperature-wise, but get far less snowfall. But around here, that first accumulating snow can come as early as mid-October. And once the road crews lay that thick layer of sand, salt, and cinders on the roadways, riding season is officially done. Even on those rare days when the sun shines and the temperatures flirt with the upper 40’s, all that stuff on the pavement renders riding a hazardous undertaking. One of the worst feelings for a rider is to be leaned into a curve and hear that tell-tale zetz as the back wheel slides out from underneath, sending you and the bike skidding wildly across the oncoming lane and into a culvert.
With those dangers in mind, the prudent ones among us go through this annual ritual of hibernating the bike, and the first taste of separation anxiety.
The first step is to give the bike a good cleaning. This removes any remaining substances that over winter could degrade the paint and chrome. In-season, this is a task done swiftly, so as to maximize the time spent riding. But for this one last time, the pace is slowed dramatically. It’s not just maintenance; it’s an exercise of true love. Carefully, the cleaner is applied and wiped off. Once more, the paint sparkles and the chrome shines flawlessly. Even the rims and spokes get a good polish. I stand up and step back, admiring the work. The bike shines quiessently, but still beckons the restless nature within my heart, utilizing all it’s charms as it tries to seduce me into one last ride.
Manfully, I resist and turn to the next step. Opening up the gas tank, I pour in a can of gas stabilizer. I watch carefully as the fluid rises to the top of the fill cap. If the tank stays full, it won’t rust. And the stabilizer ensures that the gas will fire the engine next spring. The fuel injection system doesn’t require draining, so I move onto the next step, carefully hoisting the bike onto frame blocks. This will keep the tires off the cold cement floor, preventing flat spots from developing. A pair of old socks and a newspaper bag go over the exhaust pipes, preventing any field mice from taking up residence.
Finally, I’m ready for the final step. I pop off the seat, and with a regretful air of finality, I remove the battery. It goes on the floor and I connect the trickle charger, which will keep the battery alive and well for the next several months. I step back, sad. The bike is now an inert mass of steel. Without a battery, even the most powerful engine can only slumber in hibernation. I cover the bike, not so much for protection, but to keep the bike from torturing me all winter long.
My wife does not understand this affair I have with my machine, although she does tolerate it admirably. For her, it’s just transportation; less costly and more efficient during the summer. But for me…well, I’ve spent 17 years riding and my passion can best be summed up in this passage from my blogpost “Why Do We Ride?”
“To those of us who ride, a motorcycle will never be just a machine.
It will always be that ticket to adventure, a way of leaving the mundane and passing through the musty wardrobe into a world of beauty and adventure;
a place where possibilities are as limitless as the universe that surrounds us.
A ride clears the mind and recharges the soul.
More importantly, your soul, however bruised and battered, is made whole again.”
In the crazy swirl that many times defines my life, it is in that seat where I regain my sanity. My mind is cleared, my soul centered. I find my peace.
I don’t expect others to understand this fully. After all, this is a very personal experience. But the next time you see a lone rider gliding down a road, look carefully at their face.
You will see the exhilaration of a human being at the center of the universe.