"I Should Buy" Poll Results

I think there has been some electronic tampering going on here. Did Diebold design this poll gadget?

First off, I don’t think more than 10 people read my blog. Seriously. If I had an audience of 50 or more people, surely I would have been discovered by some great publisher by now who would have scooped me up and paid me to write my memoir or novel, like has happened recently–or so I heard on NPR’s books podcast–to some young bloggers.

(Yeah, right. Who am I kidding? My blog is too varied in topic and my writing too wandering to ever be considered publishable or interesting by anyone other than my own friends.)

Secondly, I’d like to know who the one–for I’m sure it’s only one–motorcycle-advocate is who has certainly gone to this site via multiple computers to vote such a huge margin for a motorcycle?

So I don’t think this poll is valid.

Not that I don’t appreciate the help in deciding what toy I should buy for myself. Logically, I should buy a motorcycle because it’s more fuel efficient than a car and it offers a lot of the same freedoms and fun that cycling does without all the work. I did enjoy riding a motorcycle in the classes I took in June and I’m happy that I’ve fulfilled my lifelong dream of getting a license.

However, I got to thinking the other day… I’m a pretty fearful cyclist. I’m constantly worried about and anticipating every emergency or situation that could occur as I’m riding. I’m totally and fully aware of my surroundings. Which makes for a great motorcyclist. But a really obvious thought occurred to me as I was soaring down Hines Hill on my OCR during my commute to work on Tuesday:

The chances of me crashing on a motorcycle and a bicycle are about the same. The chances of me surviving said crash is higher on a bicycle.

Most crashes on a bicycle result in a shaken up rider at the least and a trip to the hospital with a concussion, maybe a few broken ribs or other bones, at the most. Okay, sometimes a motorist hits and kills a cyclist. Maybe about as often as a motorist hits and kills a motorcyclist. But dying from a crash on a bicycle is much less likely.

With this week marking the 10 year anniversary of my (doomed) marriage, I remembered something about Mike’s past. His ex-girlfriend from college–whom he was very sure at one point in his life he was going to marry, but obviously never did–lost her brother to a motorcycle crash. I remember him talking about how his girlfriend changed after that accident, how she went through a period of depression that ultimately did end up destroying their relationship. It’s not really the relationship part of this story that I remember most, but Mike’s sadness about the end of this man’s life and how it affected the other people in his life. I have a feeling–but I’m not 100% sure–that Mike would probably have not ridden a motorcycle. And he probably wouldn’t have wanted me to (though he knew he could never stop me from doing something once I had my mind set).

Not that that matters significantly. I mean, we’re also talking about a man who encouraged me to jump out of an airplane with him–multiple times, I might add–so there’s no accounting for sanity here. Maybe he would have ridden a motorcycle with me, maybe he wouldn’t have. It doesn’t matter now, he’s no longer here and this is my life. But that memory serves as a little caution light, winking in the back of my mind, as if it were Mike himself saying, “Be careful, Fritzy. Be aware of the risks.”

I guess just a part of me thinks that if I take to motorcycling, it’s only a matter of time before something happens to me since the statistics seem so high. It seems to me that death on a motorcycle has about the same odds as death from cigarette smoking. And I feel like I’m willfully taking that risk by deciding to ride. I have that same nagging voice in my head about it that I did whenever I lit a cigarette. As a smoker, I never really enjoyed any cigarette because I thought about how each puff might be moving me a step closer to cancer. I feel like I’d feel the same way on a motorcycle each time I’d turn the key in the ignition: Is this the last trip I take? Will I survive this ride?

I don’t have a death wish. And I’m no longer an adrenaline junkie. I’m just trying to live life to the fullest and to experience everything there is for me to experience. I could do it on a motorcycle, for it offers the freedoms that cycling gives me and at faster speeds. I could do it only bicycle which also offers the side benefit of exercise.

Suffice it to say, I’m still undecided about how to spend my money. If I buy one thing now, I may potentially buy the other later on–like next year or something. No doors are closed. I’m just not sure that at this moment it’s the motorcycle calling out to me.

I think of how during the class, I totally went off the track I was supposed to take because I looked up at the instructor instead of the road ahead. The motorcycle, of course, very quickly went in the direction I was looking and I had to brake hard to avoid running into the instructor. That’s when I realized how much of a powerful machine a motorcycle is. If I’m fully aware on my bicycle, I have to be 100x more aware on a motorcycle. Can I do that?

I’m a crappy driver. Just look at my car full of dings and scratches and my dented back bumper. I’m not sure I have the responsibility to ride a motorcycle. On a bicycle, my crappy driving style is more forgiving.

Well, either way, this matter can’t be decided by a simple poll, no matter what I said. I guess, though, it was interesting to learn that my audience thinks I need to get a life other than that of pedaling all around Ohio sans motor…

I’m sure I’ll keep you posted as to what I’ve decided to do. Maybe I’ll just continue being a tight-wad. I could lose my job tomorrow and then I’d kick myself for spending the money. You never know.

Life’s blind corners

When I was riding home from work on Tuesday, I chose to go down Columbia (shown above) over Snowville because there’s less traffic and it’s generally more scenic. However, Columbia does have a rather roaring pitch to the bottom, though it–unlike many of the roads in the valley–does not end abruptly at a stop sign. Technically, I could ride it at speed and enjoy the drop. However, the road twists a few times during the descent and I’m completely uncomfortable with speeding around blind corners. Mainly because I’m afraid I’ll turn the bend and find a deer or something standing in the middle of my lane. It’s weird, too, because the highest speed I’d probably attain would be around 40mph. Fast on a bike, but really kind of slow in a car or on a motorcycle. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I’d be more comfortable taking those turns at 35mph on a motorcycle than on a bike. If a deer did happen to be standing in the middle of the lane around the corner, the end result on a motorcycle and a bicycle would probably be the same:

Crash. Uncoordinated dismount. Pain.

On a motorcycle, though, you can stop on a dime. Stopping on a bicycle is much less precise. The faster you go, the harder it is to stop abruptly. In fact, pulling the brakes hard on a bicycle has the less desirable side effect of pitching you forward (which I think is how I must of fell during the Dog Incident of 2004). And once you stop on a bike, you have less than a second to put your feet down because gravity will begin working again and the bike will tip sideways. It seems that on a motorcycle you have a few more seconds to put your feet down before it will topple. It seems it takes more work to balance a bicycle.

So am I saying that I’d rather be doing speed around a corner on motorcycle than a bicycle? Or that I’m more comfortable? Maybe it’s all an illusion and both activities are equally as dangerous.

I get mad at myself when I don’t let myself get up to speed on my bicycle. So I brake a lot down roads such as Columbia. And while I’m doing that, I worry that I’m wearing out my brakes and that they will give out on me. Yeah, I find something to obsess about constantly. How am I enjoying these activities if my mind is in a constant state of worry?

Some people would say that I should just roll with the punches. Ride safely, but if a danger is encountered, do your best to avoid it. If it is unavoidable, deal with the consequences. It usually turns out all right, especially on a bicycle. You just end up bruised or, in my case with the Dog Incident, bumped up quite a bit with a concussion. But I am still alive. Over the last several weeks, four people in my bike club have tossed it and all of them have ended up in the hospital. But no one died. So the odds are in my favor, right?

I don’t know why I am so deathly afraid of injury. I think my fear is more immediate than everyone else’s. I think people are always aware of the possibility of danger, but they aren’t thinking of it constantly. In my mind, during any given day–during any activity–I’m thinking about every possible scenario in which something could go wrong and I could get injured or die. My head is polluted with these thoughts constantly. It’s very wearing. I just can’t stop focusing on it. And it keeps my fingers gripped on the brakes of my bike on all downhills. When I can tell my speed is accelerating, my heart jumps as though I’d just seen a deer cross my path.

It’s hard to live in a constant state of fear. I guess, I don’t know, I’m obsessed by my mortality. I see all these deaths around me and I always feel like I’ve narrowly escaped something. I worry about getting cancer or MS… I mentally see oncoming traffic crashing into me when I’m in my car. I wonder sometimes if I just won’t wake up in the morning. I know it’s illogical because I’m healthy. But Mike was healthy too. And his death never made sense in my head. Most death makes no sense. It seems that only when someone is old does death make sense in our puny human brains.

At least I don’t let my fears rule me. I live with the fear and I am embrace its warnings. But I don’t let it stop me from doing those things I want to do. I will never let it stop me from doing what I want to do. If you think about it, none of us is going to live forever. I’d rather die having turned my life into a fun, exciting adventure than having sit at home afraid to leave the house. So if I ever do die participating in an activity I love–skiing, cycling, motorcycling, traveling–then at least be comforted with the idea that I did not go down quietly. Be assured that I was having a good time. I know it’s cliche, but I’d rather die doing something I love than the way Mike went, dying in bed on a Saturday morning from a heart that couldn’t handle the intensity of his love.

Motorcycle Endorsement

First, spare me your concern and do not deluge the comments of this blog with platitudes about how dangerous motorcycles are (“Be careful” counts as one of these comments, it’s reminiscent of a worry-wart mother). It drives me nuts how people feel obligated to pipe in their views about the dangers of motorcycles–without provocation–whenever they are mentioned. It is as though I’d lit a cigarette in a room full of non-smokers; suddenly, I’m the one who’s “willfully killing myself” and the do-gooders have to let me know how they know someone who died in a motorcycle accident. There’s three reasons why this won’t work on me:

1) I used to jump of airplanes. I’ve done this seven times (six static line and once tandem free fall). At one point in my life, I actually wanted to take this up as a hobby. Now I know that statistically one has a better chance of getting into a car accident on the way to the drop zone to go parachuting; however, I think most people would agree that motorcycling is a bit more sane than jumping out of an aircraft that is flying perfectly well. So if you want to talk about risk behaviors, let’s talk about that.

2) I don’t think you fully realize how dangerous road bicycling is. Sure, it’s great exercise and it means I lead a very healthy lifestyle. However, down a good hill, that little piece of flimsy metal between my legs is capable of going up to 50mph, if I let it (which I rarely do because I’m coward). But falling off your bike at 35mph is just like falling out of a car at the same speed. Both will hurt very much. Not to mention the fact that motorists enjoy the presence of bicycles on the road even less than than “enjoy” the presence of motorcycles. Furthermore, they are less likely to see bicycles than even motorcycles. For this reason, the average road cyclist drives very defensively. I have the keen ability to judge potential accidents and react to them in a timely manner. I’ve had to do so on more than one occasion.

3) You can die just choosing to leave your house. You can die when you haven’t even left it. I am completely impervious to all sputtering arguments about how closer to one’s death a person brings themselves by their actions. Smoking cigarettes would be a deliberate act of suicide because the outcome is fairly certain since we know cigarette smoking does cause cancer. Riding a motorcycle does not necessarily lead to death. I know many motorcyclists as well as cyclists who have lead long, happy lives. Same with cigarette smokers, but the difference with cigarette smoking is that I chose to be healthy. I can still consider myself healthy on a motorcycle.

Motorcycle riding is something I’ve always wanted to do. Do you have something that you’ve always wanted to do and never done? Have you not seen people doing something and felt deeply within your heart, for years and years, that it was something you wanted to learn to do, but you never brought yourself to try? Well, I’m tired of sitting on the sidelines drooling over other people’s motorcycles and wondering what the freedom of the road feels like as I pound the pavement on some beautiful sunny summer’s day; I wanted to give it a try.

So this weekend I attended the Basic Motorcycle Safety Course given by the State of Ohio. If you take this course, and successfully pass the skills tests at the end of the 12 hours of riding exercises conducted in the safety of a parking lot, then the state waives having to take the motorcycle driver’s test at the BMV and you get your endorsement. Today, I passed.

It was not an easy feat. I spent 12 hours–Saturday and Sunday–busting my butt to learn how to ride what turns out is a complex machine. It reminds me of the time when my parents bought me that pink Schwinn bike with a banana seat–my first bike without training wheels–and they took me to the elementary school parking lot to learn to ride on two wheels. Motorcycling is not like getting behind the wheel of a car–or maybe it was a little, I’ve been driving so long I forgot how hard it must have once been. Learning to ride a motorcycle was just as all-encompassing. It takes every bit of your brain to learn all the motions–pulling the clutch instead of pushing one with your foot, tapping the gears with your foot, braking with one side of your body performing the action. It’s very hard and it took every bit of my concentration constantly. And I’m not even on the road yet!

I guess I was a little disappointed in myself. I am really a slow-learner. I remember getting disgruntled when doing practice scenarios in sky-diving. In my first jump video, Mike had gotten a shot of all of us taking the sky-diving class as we eating lunch on break, and you can see a very disappointed, irate Mars Girl. I was with people who seemed to get everything right away and as soon as that happens, I get even more down on myself, which, of course, makes it even harder to perform. I don’t get things until they are demonstrated to me first. So you can speak directions all you want but I won’t understand them until you show me what you want me to do. I think words get kind of meaningless for me. Maybe I can’t form good mental pictures of events through words, which is kind of sad, when you think about it, for a writer to say.

Anyway, the class was stressful. I was overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to master the controls. It seems like it took me a longer stretch of pavement to change from first gear (down) to second gear (up 1.5 half steps) and I kept getting stuck in neutral (between gears 1 and 2). Which made it extremely hard to get up to speed in the segment of pavement in which they wanted to get up to speed and then do something. At one point, I had mastered gear changes after I’d completed an exercise. I would ride a wide loop back to the end of the line for the exercise and in that loop I would deliberately practice putting the gear from 1 to 2. But I don’t know what happened the second half the day… Well, I think I got a little frustrated because I missed an instruction and the Rider Coach shouted at me, which caused me to start crying (behind my sunglasses so no one could see). I think that ruined my concentration for the day because in the back of my head, I kept calling myself stupid. And I was mad at the guy for shouting at me so when he was monitoring my exercise, I couldn’t focus.

And I’m really, really bad at testing. We practiced three of the four tests right before the actual exam. I nailed all of the tests except U-turns during the practice time. I was stomping out my sudden stops like you wouldn’t believe, getting praises from the Rider Coach who hadn’t shouted at me and even the one who had. I made really good gear changes in approaching the stop. Then, when the evaluation started, I don’t know what the hell happened. In line while waiting my turn for each test, I was taking deep breaths and telling myself, “You can do this. You can do this.” But I failed to impress myself. Typical.

What makes me even more frustrated is that I was nailing long curves during the practice exercises–it was one of the things I did really, really well all day and I attribute it to my experience cycling in the valley. I would get up to speed, approach it by decelerating appropriately, and then taking the turn, accelerating slowly in the middle of it. Well, when I did the curve during the test, I must not have slowed down enough because I ended up braking during the turn–minus 5 points!

Overall, I lost 18 points on the test; 21 is failure. So just like my driving test, I passed by the skin of my teeth. Most people would say that it doesn’t matter what my score was because I passed and now I have the endorsement. But it does matter to me because I don’t want to just pass, I want to be a superstar. I want to be above average. But I never pick up anything like a superstar. I’m just me–the slow poke, the retard, the incapable. It’s so frustrating. It makes me rethink a lot of things, like why I am so afraid to go back to school in the first place. School had a way of making me feel inadequate, even in the things I’m theoretically good at, such as writing. I don’t think I want to put myself through that again; school made me hate myself and feel ashamed a lot. I wish I didn’t have such a low self-esteem.

It’s frustrating, too, when you go to a class with someone who is the complete opposite of you–the superstar. But I’ve been around superstars my whole life. And, as my dad always says, no matter how good you are at anything, there’s always someone better. I get focused on the someone better and it ruins my ability to concentrate on my own performance. Maybe I’m way too competitive. Or, more likely, I use other people to measure myself and intimidate me.

Well, I guess I have some time to improve my skills. I don’t know yet if I will get a motorcycle. I can say that I really, really did taking a shine to it. I love the way the bike humms between your legs and I love the smell of the exhaust sputtering out the back of the exhaust pipe. I loved the way the bike felt at speed and the false sense of comfort I had in its stability. Probably because it is heavier and sturdier than a road bike, I didn’t get the feeling that I could fall easily. I guess that’s a bad thing. I wasn’t sure I’d like the feel of riding it, but I did. I don’t think I ever got about 20mph, but I didn’t really get scared at any point while getting up to speed whereas on my road bike I might (if it was downhill). U-turns made me nervous because they are done very slowly in first gear and you really have to angle turn the handlebars. But what we learned in class is that the bike actually performs more stably at faster speeds. It was way easier to maneuver at a higher speed than at a slower one.

It was definitely a stressful day and now that I’ve mowed my lawn (damn that lawn, it always needs to be mowed now that it’s semi-healthy), I think I am going to relax in my backyard with some wine, try to finish the book I’m reading, U2 by U2. Maybe I’ll start a fire in my pit. Put away all thoughts of barking Road Coaches and evaluations passed by the skin of my teeth. Away go the quandaries of what kind of motorcycle I should buy. I passed, it’s over, time to let it go. At least I can say I did one more thing I always wanted to do. Hopefully, I’ll chin up and give it a go again.

No April Fool’s Trick

This morning I passed the written test for the motorcycle temporary license. Onward and upward! I won’t really know what to think until I’ve actually ridden a motorcycle… But I’m halfway there. Now, if I can find someone with a junker bike to teach me before June… (Who wants to wait for June?? I’ve wanted to learn to ride for at least ten years!)

I just know that somewhere in the Universe, Mike is looking down at me and shaking his head. I am not so sure he’d be too thrilled with me wanting to ride a motorcycle since one of his ex-girlfriends lost a brother in a motorcycle accident. Though, I don’t know, I think that if I had persuaded him about safe riding, maybe he would have tried to learn too. Or maybe he would have just ridden bitch. Maybe one of the reasons I’m learning to ride is because it’s something so far removed from my life with Mike. Though, I’ve always had an attraction to motorcycles…

In other news, Michael and I completed a nice 21 mile ride last night starting at Revere High School (the usual Wednesday night meeting point). We rode Revere to Wheatley, then through that Kincross park (where all the business buildings are) to Broadview Road (?); 303 to Humphrey to the hilly Brush which passes an Akron Metropark and is quite pretty. From Brush, we turned left onto Black and followed Black to Columbia, another scenic road, and then through the valley on Riverview. As we were passing Major Road on Riverview, we saw the ABC’s Tuesday group, including the infamous TDB. We then pushed on to Everett Road. That was quite an experience so early in the season. Several times, I wanted to get off my bike and walk but memories of having successfully made it up this hill multiple times shamed me into pushing onward. It started to drizzle, which also increased my need to hurry up the hill. We both successfully made it to the top but it wasn’t until we were almost to the Revere parking lot before I could talk again. It was a hard ride, but boy do my legs feel great!!

Thankfully, it was a pretty warm night–about 60-62 degrees. I’d forgotten to pack a pair of long pants so I was stuck in just my bike shorts. All the hill climbing we did (for this ride was more climbing than not) kept me warm. Maybe I would have been too hot in pants, anyway; although, I generally do not consider 60 degrees shorts weather, as I am a freeze baby. But I was comfortable throughout the ride.

It started to rain heavier as we drove off so we finished just in time. We went to Rockne’s in Fairlawn and I couldn’t resist having kraut balls with my dinner. I’m so bad. This is why I don’t lose weight cycling. But I can’t go to Rockne’s and not have kraut balls!! Oh well. Ride to eat, right? ;)

Another set of two wheels

For those of you not immediately in my sphere of daily contact, I thought I’d update you on my latest obsession: I’m currently studying for the temporary permit test for a motorcycle endorsement. A friend of mine and her husband (R and J from my recent skiing adventures) and I are signed up for Ohio’s motorcycle safety course on June 18, 20, and 21st, at the end of which, if we “successfully graduate” from the course, we get our permanent motorcycle endorsement. I’ve always wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle–despite vigorous safety warnings from friends and family–and I’ve finally found the right person(s) to motivate me into action. I’ve talked about learning for years. Now with the safety course, I’ll at least get to find out whether or not I would even enjoy riding a motorcycle.

Now, please, I don’t need a hundred people posting to tell me how dangerous motorcycles are. Look, I ride a bicycle on the roads. If you don’t think that’s a dangerous activity–especially in Northeast Ohio with its barrage of angry drivers–then you are sadly mistaken. I’ve known of people getting hit and dying on bicycles and it’s not as rare as you might think. I take the risk when riding my bike on the street and I do it willingly because I love the sport. If I worried about the myriad of ways I could die each day, I’d never leave the house. I don’t let my fears stop me from doing the things I want to do. Life is too short for regret.

I think I have the kind of safety awareness to be a good motorcyclist. My years of riding a bicycle on the street have taught me that drivers don’t see you, so I’m particularly cognizant of cars about to turn into my path. I’m always prepared to stop suddenly or take evasive action as the situation arises. I know how to scan the road for potholes and obstructions because I have to avoid these on a bicycle. I think a motorcycle is going to feel beefy compared to my light-weight and thin-wheeled bicycle. I’m guessing I will feel comfortable on the motorcycle. But I don’t know yet.

I’m actually excited about fulfilling yet another thing on my unofficial list of things I’ve wanted to do before I die. I’ve been slowly checking things off this list my whole life, really, and it’s taken my adulthood to reach these dreams. So please, no nay-saying comments. In each of the activities I do, you could name people who have died doing them (skiing, bicycling) so I don’t need further proclamations of doom. I have noticed that mentioning motorcycles around people produces immediate reactions of either positive or negative with no middle ground. It’s almost as if I took out a cigarette in front of a new group of people or told everyone I’d taken to jumping out of airplanes for a living (I have, in fact, jumped out of airplanes before). Yet my bicycling is seen as healthy, when in all reality I’m at a similar risk (though at lower speeds) riding on the road.

Anyway, this is a bonding activity for me and my dad. He’s always wanted to get back on a motorcycle. He had one in his younger years, I think before I was born. However, when I was much younger, he would borrow a friend’s motorcycle and I’d ride on the back with him. So I guess it’s his fault I have the lust to ride in my blood. He also used to let me take sips of his beer when I was a kid and look where that’s got me. Dad and I bond over beer, motorcycles, and hiking mountains in Colorado. What a cool father-daughter relationship!

And, no, a motorcycle will not replace my cycling. I still like to work hard to get to a destination–endurance sports are in my blood. I’ll just use the motorcycle to get to places I’d normally go by car in the summer. Just think about how much I’m helping save the environment with the high mileage you can get out of a motorcycle! I’m an environmentalist now!