I think the trick to riding these motorcycles is really finding a way to manage my terror. Today it’s tough. The bike is a growly beast of a Kawasaki, the KZ 1000, a retired police bike with a reassuringly steady engine. I love the police bikes, they make me feel like I am in that bowie hit “blue jean”. I have a police bike and a turned up nose so I am 2 for 2 in that song. Motorcycle cops are amazing riders and their bikes are a reflection of that. This one is no exception.

The Kawasaki has a gorgeous retro look and white police paint and a lot of horsepower and it seems like it wants to go fast, as far as I can tell. I don’t know bikes at all, but I can feel it pulling between my legs as I ease out the clutch like there’s a situation – there’s an urgency there, a need to be what it is and just fucking be let go. It’s late for something and I am holding it up. Other police bikes are calling for backup and mine is trying to answer the call, but my fingers are clutching – I am serious – CLUTCHING – and the thing ain’t going nowhere. I am controlling this great machine and it is making the inside of my helmet hot and humid like my head is in the rainforest, with the exception of my mouth which is bone dry, tongue rolling onto itself and sticky, in absolute animal-style fear.

My fancy silk scarf is soaked with flop sweat and French perfume and the adrenaline pumps through my system like the gasoline pumping through the engine and the symmetry is not lost on me. In my squeaky new gear, I feel like Elizabeth Taylor trying to keep up with Malcolm Forbes in her stiff purple designer chaps. I wonder if she wore her diamonds on her bike and I don’t think would do this. I make a note to get a bandanna. I am both proud of myself and my ability to learn new things and sick and afraid of the bike and my hands lock up in fear and leather and I have to change gloves because I can’t feel the controls through my vice grip and protective padding.

This motorcycle is much bigger than the Buell Blast I learned on and got (somewhat) comfortable with, and the height is a concern. I can’t put both feet completely on the ground, or if I can, it’s just on my toes, and so the already present fear of tipping over becomes a reality every time I try to stop. Fortunately the bike never leans over far enough to fall. There’s a magic there that’s keeping me up. the miracle of the motorcycle, when the wheels are in motion, it works.

The parking lot is strewn with broken palm fronds and branches blown about by the Santa Anas and glittering tarry asphalt that looks like it will hurt to go down on, so I stay up, my bike groaning and complaining and stamping its feet that I am keeping it in first gear the whole time. I’m learning how to go around in a circle, mostly imperfect ones, sometimes ovals, sometimes full on squares. I don’t how to do this, but I don’t judge myself, and I take to new hobbies and interests and pick up abilities quickly because I don’t care about doing things badly. I allow myself to get better, and then I do, gradually, painfully, slowly – I do. but motorcycling is different. There’s not a lot of margin for error. Mistakes are costly. It’s better to just not make them.

Going in circle is really hard. It might not be as challenging in a car, but on a bike, you have to go fast enough that you are not falling down but slow enough to control the bike in the tight space. There are many factors at play, and there’s no space to let in the fear, because you let the fear in, it takes over and everything you learned in your head that you are trying to teach your hands and feet to do gets forgotten in the fear. Fear is too big to let into the school. Fear is not a good student.

I think of the police, when they are circling slow, turning tightly and returning, their glossy helmeted and empowered heads whipping around to face the direction they are going. Your head is part of the steering, and I keep looking at the ground because I am so scared of the ground and when you do that you go right down and what you were scared of happening happens. I think of the police and I turn my head and the whole bike turns and then I am making smooth circles 30 feet around and I’m doing well and suddenly I am scared again and overbrake and almost fall. When I think of the police it helps me stay upright. When I think of the police I am less afraid.

I am exhausted after my motorcycle lessons and I am driving home in my Mini Cooper with my hair completely wet with sweat and sticking to my face. I am hot but I leave my jacket on because I am proud to have my shiny but damp inside Arai helmet in the seat next to me like a passenger and I am listening to Aimee Mann’s wonderful song, “Save Me” and there’s no traffic on the freeway because it’s still technically the holidays and I see motorcycles whiz past me and I feel good because I know a little bit of what they know and I am going to learn more soon and the downtown LA skyline looks magnificent and familiar and safe and homey to me as I drive into it yet once again and I think about how maybe someday I will get that as a tattoo as well as my first motorcycle and everything is nice and better than alright and it’s not yet 1 and I have already had a spectacular day and then I fucking get pulled over by a motorcycle cop who gives me a fix it ticket for having tinted windows.

8 thoughts on “Clutching

  1. Before you know it you’ll be zipping around the roads like a pro in no time.

    If you and your bike make it to Austin I know some great roads to take, out of the city and away from the hipsters and their CB175’s and mopeds.

    Take a trip down the Devil’s Backbone to Luckenbach…

  2. Be patient; you’ll get it. In time you’ll be tearing up and down the highway, which I’m not entirely comfortable with. Wish you would have asked me before you bought that thing. What would have been wrong with a nice Vespa?

  3. You can do it! I learnt pretty much the same way, took the riders course, bought myself a buell afterwards. I took a couple of spills first one into tall grass, second one into gravel. I wasnt doing anything fancy, infact i was going less than twenty on both. My lessons learnt – love your armor. Other lesson learnt – once you commit to an action, follow through. You waffle on a bile and the bike waffles you. But its worth it. I learnt from those falls, and gotten better because of them. I can now take turns that scrape pegs, and have become a daily rider. The fear is always there, but its not a fear of the bike. I respect the bike, if i commit to what i do on it, the bike will carry me through. And the empowerment and freedom that you get when you build “trust” with your bike; i dont think words can appropriately describe the Zen yet intense feeling of it. I can only say ” enjoy, it only gets better!”

  4. Another great job of writing. I really felt like I was on that motorcycle with you! You did a great job of describing the fear. I am also freaked out by not being able to reach the ground with my feet. But I think you will be able to get it down (wait!! bad choice of words), you will keep it up!!

  5. The knack of riding a motorcycle is the same as sex. Grasp tightly with thighs and and enjoy the ride. Rode happily for 16 yrs. Gave it up to care for my Mom and Dad. Maybe I’ll ride again.

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