Riding A Motorcycle - Exhaust Notes

Like Father, Like Daughter

When I was old enough to drive, I asked my folks for permission to get a motorcycle. Their answer, taken from page one of the Parent's Guide to Disappointing Children, was an emphatic "No!" I was lectured that bikes were too dangerous and I wasn't mature enough. They would not put into my hands a tool that would allow me to kill myself. Of course, they let me drive the family car, as if it was safer to put a 4000-pound vehicle into my hands so I could kill not only myself but several others as well.

When I went off to college, I did what most other kids did: exactly what I wanted to. Convinced of my own infallibility and invulnerability, I completely disregarded my parents' advice, not only about motorcycles but about marriage, and bought a bike and married my girlfriend.

While married, I was blessed with some great kids. My first-born, Megan, was a daddy's girl from the start. She was an early passenger and liked to help me tinker with my bikes. As a college student, she was always a willing passenger when I came to visit, wanting me to go faster on that old V-65 Sabre. As we roared through the night at a brisk pace, she'd beg me to go faster while wrapping her arms tightly around me and howling with delight.

Looking for travel and adventure, she left college and joined the Air Force. As a mechanic working on KC-10 aerial refueling tankers, she's been deployed four times to the Gulf. The bad news is I worry about her safety; the good news is that she's now able to help me isolate and fix those pesky electrical gremlins on that old Sabre and the other decrepit mechanical steeds in my stable.

I guess I should have suspected it was only a matter of time until she'd want her own motorcycle. The first clue was when she got serious with a guy who happened to be a Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor. Then, came the questions about insurance, helmets, gloves, seat heights, etc. Finally, she called to say she had passed the MSF course, gotten her license and was looking for a bike.

I was hardly in a position to dissuade her from riding. Her mother (unsuccessfully) took on that quixotic challenge, complete with tears and gnashing of teeth. I gave her my best advice, honed from more than 30 years and a half million miles of riding experience. I told Megan not to spend too money much on her first bike until she knew what kind of riding she liked, not to buy a sport bike, and to buy a standard. It's been my experience that a standard, which did everything well if nothing great, was a great bike on which to learn how to ride. As I should have suspected, she completely disregarded my advice and bought a nearly new sportbike, influenced by her boyfriend's insanely fast Honda RC-51.

On the positive side, she began calling weekly to assure me she was still alive and to report her progress as a rider-her first 50-mile trip, her first ride on the interstate (which in New Jersey is an accomplishment!), her first group ride, etc.

It was only a matter of time until we took our first ride together. I had ridden up to New Jersey to visit my mom, who hounds me to this day about riding motorcycles (and my moustache, but that's a different story). I dropped by Megan's airbase and accompanied her and her boyfriend, Chris, on a short ride on some scenic back roads.

Chris led, Megan rode second, and I followed. Megan worked hard to incorporate the MSF guidelines into her ride. Her head scanned constantly, she used her signals, and she generally completed her braking before she turned. All in all, she did well for a beginner. Further, I was pleased to see she was wearing good safety equipment.

Nevertheless, throughout the ride, I was forced to confront a horrible thought: I might witness some disaster that could maim, cripple or even kill the love of my life. Riding behind a new rider, especially a loved one, can be terrifying. I noticed every error, every lapse in concentration, excessive speed into some curves and tentative acceleration out of others, and an occasional failure to maintain good spacing. I was frantic! Unlike her egging me on to ride faster when she was my passenger, I found myself trying to communicate telepathically with her to slow down, keep her head up and properly execute myriad other elements of proficient riding. At times, however, I thought we were on different frequencies.

We survived that ride, and, I confess, Megan's becoming a good rider. She rides every day and has put more than 4,000 miles on the odometer in three months. She loves the sport and is happily buying gear, planning trips and scouring motorcycle magazines from cover to cover. I still call her regularly to give her advice about riding, but I don't think she listens.

Megan's growing independence and her insistence on making her own decisions, and even mistakes, has been a painful but necessary reminder of a parent's eventual need to let go of a child. There's a lot at stake here! I have been reminded that I cannot protect my daughter by limiting her activities to the parking lot of life. She needs to get out there onto its real roads, and not just as a motorcyclist. She must face and overcome their dangers if she wants to experience the joys of riding...and of life. All I can do is make sure she's had good training, try to serve as a good example and say my prayers.