Monday, March 29, 2010

Motorcycles and Religion

mexican hat utahI never thought of myself as being religious, but in fact I do have my beliefs about the Universe and the afterlife.

Growing up in the United States, I've been subjected to the notion that God watches everything I do, and knows everything I do, and even knows my intentions. And this is always on my mind, mostly because I'm so used to hearing this I can't escape from it.

But I've also grown up listening to my mother talk about Shinto, the predominant religion of Japan. It's actually not a religion, but more of a philosophy on life and an understanding about the Earth. In Shinto everything contains a spirit whether living or inanimate, whether natural or man-made. These spirits interact with each other to create a harmony.

There are some geographical places in Japan where certain powerful spirits combine to create such profound harmonies that people have erected shrines to act as an interface. Through these shrines, people cleanse themselves of impurities.

Motorcycle riders often describe achieving a certain peace while cruising down a country road. The sound of the engine, the wind blowing against you, the grandeur of the mountains, trees, and skies, all combining together to into some harmonious form that somehow seems to cleanse ourselves of the rat race of civilization and resets our mind, body and soul for another week of work.

I've never come across a Shinto shrine here in the United States, but if we have anything that comes close, it might be a viewpoint along the highway, perhaps at 9,000 feet up, where you can see how the world comes together. We may not see it as interfacing with the spirits, but we might feel inspired to say a few words or snap a few photos. It's all the same thing I think.

But I don't think I'm a better human being for riding a motorcycle. I haven't achieved any kind of spiritual closeness to God, and I don't think I've cleansed myself of any impurities. I still don't even believe in God, at least not what the western world suggests I should believe.

With me it's like East versus West pitting one dominant philosophy over another. I'm just standing in between the two, observing people as they defend their faiths.

Where will we go when we die? Perhaps we're better off asking where we will go for a ride. Maybe somewhere along the way, if you keep your eyes open, you'll find the answer.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Riding a Motorcycle in Hawaii

Everyone seems to know that Hawaii is just a different society altogether in comparison to the other 49 united states. Why that is, is not totally understood by me, though I'm sure it's remote location and tropical beauty has a lot to do with it.

Hawaii doesn't have a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, and in Hawaii most riders don't seem to want to wear one considering they still have the choice. And in fact, they don't want to wear any protective gear either.

When I visited Oahu this past week, I saw riders wearing only t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. I even saw them ride with only bathing suits, such as the photo I took below. Some of them wear swimsuits while riding down the freeway (Yeah, Honolulu actually has freeways).

motorcycle riding in Hawaii
I'd say that 20% of the riders wear helmets, but of that 20% half of them still wear only t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops.

In California, even the motorcycle riders shit bricks when they see stuff like this. But there was a time in California, as late as the 1980s, when t-shirts-shorts-flip-flops was how many of us rode. The helmet law that came in 1992, along with a relentless media campaign on the dangers of motorcycling, caused everyone to change their attitude about riding.

Maybe you have to come from a place like California, where people demand other people to live their lives a certain way, to understand how refreshing a place like Hawaii is. It's not that Hawaiian riders don't care about their own safety, it's that they believe their number one piece of safety gear is their brain.

I think that the dense population and heavy traffic of Honolulu causes motorcyclists and scooterists to ride more cautiously. And because there are more motorcycles and scooters per capita on Honolulu than in most US cities, I think the cagers are more aware of them too.

But again, it must also be the pastoral lifestyle of the tropics that makes residents there more relaxed. Folks there don't seem to get their panties in a bunch over motorcycle safety (or lack thereof), the way they do so in other states.

Meanwhile in California, people are telling other people how to live their lives. In California, people get pissed off when someone does whatever they want to do. In California, each person takes it upon themselves to right what they perceive to be a wrong. It never dawns on anyone in California that there's more than one point of view.

Of course I'm generalizing, but then again, that's how it generally is.

I don't know what the accident statistics are with motorcycles and scooters in Hawaii, I could be totally off base on this, but it seems like Hawaii has created a society that automatically lends itself to safety. Just by having people more relaxed, more aware, more friendly, it seems that such a place as Hawaii can get by without helmets.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Why Fat Bikers Are Better

Losing weight is a good thing if you look at it from the standpoint of health, but from the standpoint of riding a motorcycle I'm not so sure.

I went from a high of 240 pounds down to 150 pounds, which is my normal weight if you consider Body Mass Index as being a good metric. I finally reached that 150 pounds just last November.

Since then, I can't seem to keep warm.

Most of the fat is now gone. Whereas before I could ride with just a t-shirt and jeans, I can't seem to do that anymore. Albeit we're riding in the winter time, Southern California still gets into the 60s and 70s during the afternoon. And in years past I've ridden with just a t-shirt and jeans in those temperatures.

Now days, I can't even sit inside a restaurant without a sweatshirt over a t-shirt.

I used to poke fun at people for bundling up with four layers of clothing when saddling up for a ride. But recently I've found myself riding with a t-shirt, with a sweatshirt over that, a leather jacket over that, and my vest over that. That's four layers.

Losing weight has also made my butt sore after a hundred miles of riding. My tailbone keeps digging into the seat, and that just makes me shift around all the time.

However, I can say with some satisfaction that after buying this Honda ST1300, I'm sitting in a little bit more leaned-forward position which seem to help. Also, having my feet below me instead of in front of me, shifts more of my body weight to my feet.

And of course, losing weight means buying smaller clothes. So far, I've purchased three leather jackets in three years, with the most recent purchase coming last weekend. Suffice it to say, I'm limiting my purchases to jackets $200.00 or less.

The last jacket I had was sized "Medium", which felt perfect when I bought it. But I've lost another 25 pounds since then.

For awhile, I figured I could just wear it anyways, even though it was a little loose. But a loose jacket is part of what makes you cold while riding. If the wind can fill up your jacket like a balloon, then the jacket can't keep you warm. It's gotta fit snug to keep you warm.

But I'd still rather be at my slender college weight than my portly biker weight, so I don't plan on going back. Yet, there is indeed an advantage to being chunky if you ride a motorcycle.

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About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)