Why we ride — Part 1

My interest in riding motorcycles began as a child, when I watched my father return from his daily commute on a relatively urbane import bike.  Looking back on it now, I realize it was nothing spectacular, but to me, at that point in time… it was thrilling! He would pull roar into the driveway on two wheels, gun the motor a few times to let us know he was home, and wait for me to run down the stairs so he could rev it a few more times before he shut it down. It was as if he rode in on the dragon he conquered every day.

kawa-z440-ltd-1980My dad was (and is) a practical kind of a guy who spends money only when necessary. He goes to garage sales on the weekend looking for old fishing poles that aren’t too far gone, or maybe a set of well-worn wrenches that don’t have too much rust on them.  Just last weekend instead of putting new shutters on the house, he carefully took the old ones down, sanded them carefully, coated them with several layers of primer, resprayed them into a color of mom’s choosing, and reinstalled them himself.  He is handy, self-reliant, and thrifty to a fault.

The motorcycle was far from a luxury item; on the contrary, it was a practical means to an end. He was a department store manager in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Woolworth’s was a retail company and one of the original pioneers of the five-and-dime store. It was arguably the most successful American and international five-and-dime, setting trends and creating the modern retail model which stores follow worldwide today. These days, I don’t think you could find a Woolworth’s anywhere in the continental us, but at the time, it was a  pretty good gig for dear old dad.

His daily trek to work was anywhere from 30 – 45 minutes on country back roads, and the practical side of dad reckoned that a motorcycle got better gas mileage than a car. So, he saved money by braving the elements to make the ride there and back.  As the manager, he was expected to dress a certain way, slacks and a tie at a minimum, but rather than wear them, he packed them, along with his lunch, in a homemade wooden box bolted to the back of the bike. He was usually gone before I went to school in the morning, but I eagerly anticipated his  triumphant arrival each evening, when I would beg to climb aboard so we could slay the dragons together.

kawasaiUsually, the answer was no; he just wanted to come home and relax after a day at work. However, there were a few times on the weekend that he and I would hit the road. The few times he let me ride on the back of his motorcycle were simultaneously terrifying and thrilling . I was only 10 or 11 years old, and the bike seemed so powerful and beautiful to me.  The burgundy paint was deep and richly layered while the chrome glistened in the sun.  I don’t exactly recall what kind of helmet dad wore, but the one he had for me matched the bike and had a bubble-screen face shield. I vividly recall him weaving the strap through the double D-ring fastener underneath my chin, securing it tight enough to hold the helmet in place, but not so tight that it choked me.

1980-kawasakiHe held the bike steady as I climbed on and got comfortable, then he would swing his leg over and thumb the starter.  When the engine roared to life, the adrenaline rush that hit me was like a drug, powerful and intoxicating. I trusted Dad implicitly, but the worried look on my mother’s face and the protests she made about me being too young to ride on the open road made it all the more exciting. Dad would reassure her calmly that he did this every day, and that of course he would ride slower than he normally did. Of course he would take it slow around the corners, and absolutely, he would be back before dark. She would wring her hands and watch us until we were out of sight, as if her gaze would keep us safe from harm. I know she was just being overprotective, but once we made it around the first corner away from the house, we were off like a rocket!


I couldn’t see very well since I was so small, but I didn’t mind. I was out on the motorcycle!  With my arms wrapped around dad’s waist for security.  we would wind our way through two-lane back roads for hours. I don’t recall ever going anywhere in particular, but we did cruise around the Kerr Scott Reservoir, occasionally stopping so dad could stretch his legs or so that I could use the restrooms at a campground near the lake. But of course, the destination wasn’t why we were riding at all; it was all about the journey to nowhere. Riding just to enjoy the ride, the road and the beautiful weather.

parkwayfall4_0Growing up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains meant we enjoyed all four seasons. Lenoir is a small town; not like one-stop-light small, but small enough that I remember when the first Taco Bell was built. These days it’s best known as a mid-way point for the Bridge-to-Bridge bicycle race leading up to the Tour De France. We lived outside of town, in the Kings Creek area, which had no stop lights, no fast food, and plenty of curvy roads. The summers are hot and humid, but the fall is absolutely stunning. The temperatures start to drop in mid-September, and by mid-October, the trees are in  their full fall regalia. Lush greens make way for brilliant reds, vibrant oranges, and intense yellows. This time of year is pretty much the perfect time to be on two wheels, especially if you have this kind of scenery to appreciate.

The wind chill at 50-60 miles an hour meant I needed multiple layers to keep me warm, but huddled there behind dad was the perfect spot for me. The gentle rise and fall of the miles as they passed never lulled me towards sleep as it might in the back of mom’s station wagon. It was invigorating, I always felt more awake, more in tune, and more alive on the back of that bike than I did anywhere else. It made other aspects of life seem as if they were moving in slow motion, and boring in comparison.  It affected me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and it is why I still ride to this day.

Next time…

A bike of my very own!