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Header: Jess Anderson in Madison Wisconsin
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Motorcycles
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I had wanted to ride motorcycles since I was 12, but it wasn't until I was 59 that the great day finally came. Riding has made me very happy, more so than I imagined it could: it's really true that there's an open, free feeling to winding up and down country roads without a car around you.

Though I was raised with an unusual amount of independence, my folks were (understandably, perhaps) not keen about my having a cycle, and doubtless wouldn't have been even if the money had been readily available. Later, my life headed other directions. So this particular dream took a long time to come true.

In the fall of 1994 I bought an '81 Honda CX500 Deluxe for $550, a great price for a low-mileage motorcycle in spotless condition. It's sort of clunky and truck-like, but real fun to ride. I finally sold it in the summer of 2003.

The motorcycle to have, of course, is a BMW. (This remark may be disloyal as an American and as a transplanted Wisconsinite, since Harley-Davidsons are made here, but I can deal with that.)

In June, 1995 I bought a '92 BMW K75. I got a good deal, and worth every penny. This bike is really fine: quiet, powerful, rock-solid, smooth as silk on the road, and a sort of red-orange color.

I've already learned a couple important lessons from my experiences with motorcycles. In most locales you can take a course (about 20 hours long) in motorcycle safety. Doing so boosted my confidence a surprising amount. Perhaps more important than having greater confidence, the course alerted me to aspects of cycle driving that are not intuitively obvious, for example counter-steering. Also, the actual driving practice in the class was really helpful in teaching me (for instance) how to make a panic stop without losing control of the machine, which is very heavy and very hot and will more than likely hurt me if I fall off it or it falls on me!

The course costs about $50 or so -- prices vary widely in other parts of the country -- and was one of the best investments I ever made. Since by any objective standard motorcycle driving is dangerous, I now think a person would have be more than a little nuts to drive one without having had the safety course.

Another very important matter is visibility, that is, doing everything you can to make sure other people can see you. Among riders there is constant controversy about whether one should wear a helmet or not (I do, always) or be dressed in tough protective clothing, no matter how hot it may be in the summer (I am not).

But everyone seems to agree that being seen is an important key to survival. Even if I'm only wearing a t-shirt and jeans (garb that would horrify many bikers), I always wear a blaze orange vest with yellow reflecting stripes (the kind of vest highway construction workers wear).

What I really like about riding out in the country is that it aprovides a strong sense of contact with the landscape, which is particularly attractive in the southwest quadrant of Wisconsin. I like going fast, but speed on the cycle is much less important to me than being able to gawk at things in relative safety (assuming there's little or no other traffic).

I had initially planned to make one or two long trips on the bike during the summer of 1995, but for various reasons that didn't happen. However, I did spend a weekend at my first rally, together with about 1,400 other BMW owners, at a campground about 50 miles north of Madison. It was a lot of fun, somewhat to my surprise. As rallies go, this was not a very big one, but it impressed the hell out of me anyway.

By chance I found myself sharing the campsite with very unusual and interesting people. I think I'm fairly good at doing almost everything, but I am unsurpassed at doing nothing, and that's mostly how I passed the days and nights of this rally, lightly interspersed with meals, walking around staring at people and machines, and sitting around a roaring campfire at night, arguing politics with my camp mates (all fairly conservative, in my estimation).

By the way, if motorcycling is your thing, you will probably want to take a look at Ronnie Cramer's Motorcycle Web Index, which contains over 1,000 cycle-related links!

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