Friday, 2 April 2021

Finding Meaning on Two Wheels: a philosophy of motorcycling

My professional life is kicking the shit out of me this year, so when the never ending winter of COVID finally ended and the roads cleared so that I could ride again it felt like coming up for air after a winter underwater.  It isn't too far a reach to say that riding feels like breathing to me.

I'm in the process of buying another bike, one big enough for my son and I to go on rides again with, and the current owner said he'd never ride again.  I can't imagine a situation where I'd ever say that.  You sometimes hear stories of elderly senior citizens who still ride.  That'll be me, or I won't be a senior citizen.

In the professional reflections blog I've been thinking about full commitment and how a job that encourages it can make you your best self.  It's a lasting sadness that so many people see work as purgatory rather than an opportunity to find their better selves.

The Japanese are much better at this than westerners are.  They don't wish each other good luck when doing something difficult, they simply say, "gambate!" or 'do your best!'  And that effort is what is respected regardless of outcome.  They make effort a socially appreciated thing where western cultures tend to fixate on winning.  There is a great scene in the Tokyo Ghoul anime where the bad guy is dying after a vicious fight.  He's an evil, cannibal ghoul so there aren't many redeeming features there, but everyone stops to listen respectfully to his last words because he put up such an epic fight.  We're all too busy trying to win to care about anything like that.  We'd vilify and belittle him rather than respect the effort.  This makes us remarkably unhappy because the problem with competition is that there is always a loser.

When you're approaching an activity that makes full use of your facilities you get lost in it.  It doesn't limit you, it expands you, makes you better.  Motorcycling is a technically complex, physically and mentally demanding activity that asks a lot of you, but the rewards are worth the risks.

If you're Simon Pavey or Guy Martin or Valentino Rossi, you race because that's where you have to get to in order to find the edge of your skills and give you that sense of complete immersion.  The leading edge of my own motorcycling has also moved on.  Where I'd once be happy with commuting on a small bike, I'm now working my way through ownership of different kinds of bikes and wish to expand further.  The limits I'm seeking in motorcycling aren't just in riding, but also in mechanics.  It's for that reason that I find events like the Dakar, especially when someone like Lyndon Poskitt does it in the malle moto class, so fascinating.  They're combining that technical skill with riding ability in a way that most racers can't or won't.

My work is usually able to give me enough latitude to fully immerse myself, but this year COVID has made it a broken thing unable to do anything well.  It has changed from an opportunity to seek excellence to never ending triage in mediocrity.  This has me asking hard questions about what I'd do if I didn't need the money it provides.  These are questions you should ask yourself before retirement, but they're also questions you should ask yourself when you're in danger of getting mired in work that doesn't let you find your best self.

Watching Ride With Norman Reedus last week, he was on the South Island of New Zealand where he had a chat with a young man from Canada who had opened up a business there.  One of his reasons for living where he does was that there had to be good riding roads easily accessible nearby.  This means he can explore riding in challenging circumstances, which seems like enlightenment to me.

In my final years of teaching I hope I can rediscover that sense of energizing peak performance that improves rather than limits me, and if not there then in another job that gives me the latitude I need to chase excellence while supporting my family.  Should I ever get to the point where I don't need to spend my days working for someone else, then it'll be time to move to a place where I can explore riding more fully.

That somewhere would have easy to access track days that let me explore riding dynamics at the edge of road riding, complex local roads that make me a better rider and off road opportunities that let me explore riding in a variety of unpaved situations.  Where I am now offers none of these things.  I'd also have the means to develop my mechanical skills to the limit.  I'm fortunate in that I have such a rich hobby and sport to explore.  I feel sorry for those that don't.