Present

On the rented bike, a magnificent and majestic Harley-Davidson Sportster Low, with only three miles on it so far and the brand new shiny chrome catching the sunlight and beaming it back into the world in hard, blindingly brilliant rays, my emotions and opinions about motorcycling vary wildly from second to second.

When I am up in third gear, flying down an industrial street with few cars or pedestrians, just two other riders, one, the adept and skillfully sensitive teacher Luis, the other, the avid and keenly aware student Ryan, I scan my field of vision and I think 3 things -

1) What is happening in the street 12 to 1 seconds in front of me?

2) This is the best thing I have ever done.

3) I love the heads in the helmets in front and behind my gaze.

Whenever I have to stop, downshift and clutch and brake and put my boots, left then right on the ground and wait at the intersection, holding the heavy bike between my skinny legs, I think -

1) My hands and feet are inadequate.

2) This is the worst thing I have ever done.

3) I still love these hot bikers I am riding with and their straight backs and faces held high and looking where they are going – their bodies and bikes as one perfect and very fast being – and I love all motorcyclists I have seen and met thus far, and rejoice saying hi to them as we pass in the street and will gladly talk to any one person in possession of 2 or 3 wheels and an engine for hours about nothing else – yes I love all y’all, but I am never doing this again.

It gets even more extreme in the hills, cornering and leaning into the black diamond turns and curves that make up Griffith park, which reminds me ever of James Dean, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood in “Rebel Without a Cause”. They shot that film up there, can you believe it? Right up on the top at the observatory. Yeah I know. Amazing. I think about how incredible they all are and also how dead they all are even though they should be alive right now and getting lifetime achievement awards and Kennedy Center honors and presenting at the Oscars, maybe even doing one arm pushups, being the face of what to look forward to with age and legend that lives on. Sadly they are not any of these. They each disappeared way too early in a hot flare of mystery and tragedy. But the bike didn’t claim them. It was respectively – car, knife and water. I’m gonna try to stay away from those three. I am gonna stay up, on this bike. No, I am not. At the next horse crossing, I am going to park this hog and hijack an old circus mare and clop home.

When I ride, I am in my body, which is rare. I am never in my body, having been chased out at an early age, but here, as part of this glorious mechanism and gyroscopic wonder, I am the proverbial ghost in the machine, and if I don’t stay in my body I will be separated from it, seriously. so I stay. I have to stay. I have to lean into this turn. I have to pull my not inconsiderable weight over to the side like a real racer, like steve mcqueen – who rode the best, who is also dead, however again, not by the bike, but from cancer.

I have to apply all the knowledge that I have in me and trust that its real and good and lives in my brain and my hands and feet and I don’t even need to think about it, I will just do it. The wisdom is there to catch me as sure as the wind is on my back. I am part of this thing, a big part, and I daresay I am not sure if I have ever been a part of anything this urgent, this important. I am this ride, and I have to be this ride only. No going nowhere. I am used to giving up, but here I can’t give up the ghost because if I do then I will be a ghost literally, so I stay here. I am here. I think this is the solution to a lifetime of ignoring the moment and what is in front of me. I think this is what I will do forever. Then I think there is no such thing as forever. There is only right now. I am riding right now. And now. And now. It’s always now on the bike. It has to be. Or else, you will become a then. How zen.  It even rhymes.

What I noticed most about riding in the street is how many people who are driving cars actually aren’t there.

I look into their darkly tinted windows and I can see them texting, or possibly sexting, as they seem super involved in the tiny type of their conversation. If they aren’t texting/sexting, they are looking for deeply buried songs that aren’t in any particular playlist on their ipods or googling the name of a movie/medicine/shoe/diet that someone said was good.

They stare unbelieving at their GPS and look for addresses that seemingly don’t exist and not looking at you, who is existing leathery, loud and glinting in front of them.

There are weary moms turning around from the steering wheels of their fearsome SUVs and I see the backs of their heads yelling at children and they are holding the steering wheel with an elbow while the other hand goes in back presumably to break up a fight between siblings or to give a crying child something to really cry about.

There are people talking on the phone, laughing and negotiating and sharing good news and bad news and they are with their friend on the other end of the line probably in another car somewhere and neither are nowhere near where you are right now, in their path of travel. There are people applying makeup (even mascara!!) and emptying big coffee cups into their mouths and eating fast food, balancing fries and burgers on dashboards.

I have seen motherfuckers flossing. Their fucking back teeth. Molars and shit.

There are drivers doing infinite combinations of these activities and might be engaged in all of them at once, I have no idea. People are limitless in their ability to multitask and I can only give them each a fraction of a second because my eyes have to continue their search for dangers assessing everyone out here with me and I can’t dwell on just one.

Even if they are guilty of none of these crimes against automotive awareness, there are many just kind of dully and blankly staring forward with no life in their eyes. They are looking right at me as I am trying to assess whether they will turn left suddenly without signaling or not fully stop at the stop sign and they don’t see me at all. I am used to being invisible, which I have always fought, and so I am used to making myself seen and heard, sometimes forcing it, and this is essential when you are on the road on two wheels trying to navigate amongst four wheel vehicles which are exponentially larger than you and no one is paying attention.

I get scared because I feel like on the bike I am present and no one else is. I feel alone and without my tiny motorcycle club here with me I would actually be alone. Thank goodness for them.

All my gratitude to the Rider’s Edge and Harley-Davidson and Luis ‘tico’ Chacon, my fantastic teacher. you save lives. Mine and everyone else’s. Also great thanks to my fellow student and rider Ryan Kwanten. You look right handsome on that bike. Be careful everyone. Stay up.

Mcho Harley class


22 Comments. Add To The Mix…

  1. That really gives me an idea of how it feels to ride a motorcycle. I have been on the back of a motorcycle a few times and it was exhilirating, of course all I had to do was enjoy the ride. I also worried about my skinny leg getting crushed under all that weight. I was reminded of stories I read about Elvis buying all his guys motorcycles and they rode in a pack down Hwy 1, back in the mid sixties. Interestingly, I just got through writing about Dean, Wood, and Mineo. It amazes me how you can find the energy to do such good writing, considering all the other stuff you have going. And such detail!! That’s the thing! Detail. the key to good writing. I have been suffering writer’s block lately. My posts are too short. I love how you immerse the reader into your experience. You should put out a book, call it “Everything Cho”.

  2. I felt the same way about car drivers when I recently bought & started riding my first motorcycle [of sorts]. Became so keenly aware of their lack of attention– but I’ll admit it’s made me that much more aware of riders when I’m behind the wheel.
    I have an older 150cc Vespa (electric blue 1968 Vespa Sprint 150); heavy steel body, awkward [for my smaller build] kickstart, and hand-twist clutch. I love this old school Vespa, but when having to push/hold her up.. I feel a bit inadequate. :/ Drivers make me nervous enough, I prefer to take backroads through the country here in Belgium/France. It’s only the memory of loving that unbelievable feeling of freedom, riding through beautiful open space, that keeps me riding. Oh, and I feel pretty hot being a girl rider ;]

  3. I love this blog!!! I am a 45 year old woman who has taken up riding in the last two years. I am working on a way to incorporate riding, cooking and laughter as my job, and have a brilliant plan! Harley Davidson 2008 street bob is my love of my life…sorry hubby, love you too! Alive! Awake! Aware!!! Please keep writing, as you have described it perfectly! Ps…my husband’s term for them is sheeple! Lol, so true…

  4. Getting hit, at a stoplight, by an inattentive old bitch is no fun. A broken collarbone and a screwed Sportster is no fun. But I wouldn’t give it up due to those moments and the months (okay years) of aches in that shoulder because for every moment that was not fun…I have a million that have been a fucking blast on my bikes (now a Dyna Lowrider), thanks to a great lawyer and an inattentive driver. Love those moments Girl…and hey, ANY moment you are around a prime piece of Aussie real estate like Ryan…should be a great fucking moment!

  5. Awesome blog, felt like I was with you on that bike. I too feel absent at times, in need of a bit of focus and then I get on my bike and just ride. I don’t want to sound clichèd but when I ride, it really does focus the mind and help repair the soul. Love my Harley, love that sound.

  6. I was recently robbed at gunpoint near the West Oakland BART on my way home. I never really liked driving a car and a motorcycle was out of the question for me as I always felt it was too risky.

    But at 43 I decided I didn’t want to take public transit anymore and since I hated driving in a car a motorcycle started looking like a sound, fuel-efficient alternative. I finally made the decision to buy a 2012 Harley Davidson Iron 883 Sportster (a very cool and snazzy looking bike).

    That was about 5 months ago. I’ve since put about 2600 miles on it and I absolutely LOVE it. I only wish I had done it sooner. It’s been one of those life enriching experiences that you just have to do to fully appreciate how awesome it is.

    You really do see how careless and disengaged from the driving experience people are on the road these days when you’re riding a motorcycle. If it were up to me, everyone who wants to drive a car should be required to spend a year on a motorcycle before they can get a class M license.

    Being an engaged and present human being is important to me…a motorcycle just seems like the perfect mode of transportation for me as it really requires me to participate, be aware, be engaged, etc. It’s not automatic…you have to put some skin in the game to make it work. You feel the bumps…you feel the curves. It’s the best. It also helps you see how badly we need to rebuild our infrastructure as a nation (especially in Oakland…it’s freakin’ pot hole central here).

    Anyway…congrats. I too took the Rider’s Edge course and it was really helpful. Maybe I’ll see you out there on the road some day. Well…enough of my yackin’. Be safe and have fun. : )

  7. That was a great description of how it feels to ride – especially in LA! Riding for me is like meditation, just me being present and my bike…well and all those retards in cages that for some reason can’t see us! Girl riders rock and queer grrl riders are the best so if you decide to get a bike (Glendale Harley is the best!) and wanna ride… ;p

  8. YES! Idiots in cages.

    You go girl, keep the shiny side up!

    Sonya (3 years on 2 wheels, Hertiage Softail)

  9. I enjoyed the description of your riding experience on the sportster.I bought my first Harley a few years ago,a 2004 Electra Glide and anytime I get to fire up that V-twin engine and go cruising is like noting else.

  10. Welcome to the wonderful world of 2 wheels! I LOVED how you put into words everything that we as riders have to look out for and how we are one with our bikes. I always say my Jezebel (2008 HD Fatbob) is just an extension of me when we ride. She and I are one and you can feel that when you ride. I said one day on a particular frustrating ride, (I just couldn’t turn, take a curve, and anything over a straight line was foreign to me) that she and I were not in sync and I never should have ridden that day. I’ve been riding my own for over a year, but ridden bitch for many years, it’s in my blood and I’ll probably never give it up unless for some reason I can never ride again. Until then, I hope I’m in my 80′s and still tooling down the road in leathers with bugs in my teeth. Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down!

  11. I’m a new rider myself. I graduated from my basic motorcycle course back in August and the day I finished the course, I bought myself a similar bike you have now, a 2011 Superlow in merlot. It was a good bike and I was scared shitless to lay it down because of all the chrome it had. Luckily I didn’t. At first I was so afraid to ride, especially when I rode by myself. Downshifting was for some reason my biggest issue. I just couldn’t remember what gear I was on. But eventually with more practice and with some riding time with friends, I got more proficient and more importantly, more confident. I looooooveeee to ride! I ride as much as I can. I live on the East Coast which means perfect riding weather is at a premium. But if the road is dry, has no snow and temperature is above 50 degrees, I’m riding baby! There’s just no feeling that comes close to it. The freedom, the feeling of danger, exhiliration….. and the fact that you know the passengers of the cars you pass by are looking at you with envy. Love it! And the best part is the camaraderie of fellow riders. No matter what you’re riding, every rider acknowledges each other when they pass each other. What other community does that? BTW, last November, I traded my superlow in for a Forty Eight and my smile grew even bigger. Thanks for sharing and hope to see you out on the road one of these days!

  12. Riding makes us better drivers. Riding makes us STRONG Women – we will not take any crap – from anyone.

    I carry a titanium collapsable police baton to slap the crap of any cager who decides to brush up against me. My old man uses his steel toed boots, but he rides a Street Glide – me, I’m on a little 883 Hugger, quick and agile, but provides a small profile.

    I am a mother, a wife and a war veteran, riding has healed me like nothing else.

    Stay Strong Sister!

  13. Loved your blog… thanks Ms. Cho!! Last June, I started riding again with a guy I had just met. He had two bikes and let me get re-accustomed to riding after a 30 year period where I hadn’t ridden (raising a family, then a divorce and becoming a single mom, riding wasn’t in the cards). This March, I’ll turn 62, and I ended up buying one of the motorcycles from my new friend. I don’t ride a Harley, but I do appreciate their sound. I’ve always been a good driver, and now I find myself an even BETTER driver….. more aware of everything around me, whether in my truck or on my Honda Magna 750. I’m not in the best of health, but when I get on my bike, I’m just like everyone else! Being in charge of that power under me, is very much the equalizer!!! I loved reading all the comments here….. thanks! Can’t wait for the weather here in Oregon to improve, so I can get back out there…. in the wind!!

  14. OMG YES! I can’t leave a longer comment since I must go but I whole-heartedly agree with you on your distracted driver musings. Everyone is so distracted nowadays that whenever I see someone on a motorbike I hope I don’t see an accident. As much as I would love to learn how to ride one of them, it never fails that one or two people die in my area because of a distracted driver in a car. AND I live in a farming community in California where the roads aren’t ever that congested. On that note, if you ever do ride again be careful. And definitely keep on writing :D

  15. Well put, Margaret! As a new rider myself, I can relate to both your fears and your joys of riding. I have been (and sometimes still am) that inattentive cage driver, but strive to do better. Its true, riding a motorcycle makes you one with the bike and totally “present”. Glad you took the leap and joined the growing community of women motorcyclists! I haven’t met a biker I didn’t like! You, me, Sturgis, and lotsa handsome bikers – whaddya say?

  16. As a Harley rider for 25 plus years I have to say… Margaret gets it…This is perfect and a must read for anyone that rides and for those just starting the adventure…very cool and spot on!

  17. Your writing takes me on an adventure. Thank you so much for being such an inspiration, especially for Asian Americans.

  18. When I ride, I am in my body, which is rare. I am never in my body, having been chased out at an early age, but here, as part of this glorious mechanism and gyroscopic wonder, I am the proverbial ghost in the machine, and if I don’t stay in my body I will be separated from it, seriously. so I stay. I have to stay.

    What a beautiful set of sentences; gorgeous writing.

    I spent the better part of 40 years not in my body which I have reclaimed with vigor in hiking, cycling, and dancing in the aisles at TJs. I have not yet mastered body awareness, so I think a motorized bike may be out of the question for the time being.

    Have fun and be safe.

  19. Contemplating getting a bike this summer. What scares me the most are other idiot drivers. You blog is echoing in my head that I have to just jump in. Thanks.

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