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The Reluctant Novice

MOTORCYCLING : Uneasy Rider : If something is this much fun, it's only natural that your mom disapprove.

August 29, 1991|HUGO MARTIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Friends learn that you have just bought your first motorcycle and suddenly they all have opinions to share.

Everyone has either owned one, ridden one or known someone who has been killed or injured on one.

Anyone who has survived a motorcycle crash wants to, for God-knows-what reason, share every gory detail.

"I was riding about 35 m.p.h. and this woman just pulled out in front of me," a friend of a friend tells you. "Man, I was in traction for four weeks and had to have 14 blood transfusions."

As if he can read your mind, he adds: "And I'm not some moron who doesn't know how to ride."

A guy in your office feels obliged to tell you about the time he dismounted a motorcycle the hard way. "It literally tore the skin off one side of my body from head to toe."

Talk like this is enough to shake even Arnold Schwarzenegger's confidence.

Some friends, of course, are supportive. They're the ones who have owned a motorcycle and come out of the experience with nothing worse than a hairdo mussed by the wind. They think owning a motorcycle is, as one friend put it, "studly."

But everyone--whether encouraging or not--asks the obvious question: "What in heaven's name made you buy a motorcycle?"

To that, there really is no rational answer.

You can't say it's because you loved the movie "Easy Rider," or because you look good in leather. Maybe you are going through an early midlife crisis.

You decide you really don't need a reason.

It's just one of those things you just had to do, like paying to see all the "Rocky" movies.

You decide to wear a helmet, because unlike Gary Busey and Billy Idol, you value what brains you have. Woody Allen put it best when he said: "My brain is my second most favorite organ."

Now it is time to actually get on the thing.

People who have ridden motorcycles for years tell you that if you can ride a bicycle, you can ride a motorcycle. Right.

With your left hand you control the clutch. With your right you work the accelerator and the brake for the front tire. You use your left foot to shift gears and your right foot to brake the back tire.

No Schwinn of yours was ever this complicated.

To avoid hurting anybody or embarrassing yourself on a public street, you practice in an empty parking lot.

A friend who is an experienced motorcyclist is there to yell out such things as "Lean into the turns" and "Brake with the back tire first."

The first thing you realize is the accelerator on a motorcycle is more responsive than the gas pedal in your beat-up, old four-cylinder import.

A muscle spasm in your wrist could send you sailing through an intersection or into someone's bumper.

But you find it exciting to control that kind of power. It's much like playing with cherry bombs, you recall.

Granted, both activities can suddenly go very wrong and they elicit the same response from your mother: "What are you trying to do? Kill yourself?"

Braking and accelerating are easy enough. The tricky part is coordinating the clutch and the gear shifting between your left hand and left foot.

A couple of times you accidentally shift into neutral when you mean to shift from first to second.

This causes the engine to rev up while the motorcycle slows down--a major faux pas in the motorcycling community.

After about an hour of circling an empty lot, you feel ready for the open road.

But when you get to your first intersection, you panic, pop the clutch and stall. Waiting behind you are about a dozen motorists.

After a few embarrassing false starts, you get through the intersection and begin rolling along in a fairly smooth fashion.

But you are still ill at ease riding the motorcycle--something you can tell by the way your hands are cramping up from gripping too tightly.

Once you summon enough courage to speed up to about 45 m.p.h. you begin to experience the effects of wind. At that speed the wind tends to rap against your helmet like a snare drum, making you a bit lightheaded.

For your first ride you decide to take the motorcycle on some back roads around Lake Casitas and Ojai. The skies are clear, the traffic is minimal and you have the whole day off.

After a few miles you find a stretch of road with few curves and no traffic. You decide to gradually increase your speed to 55 m.p.h. to see what it would feel like to take the motorcycle on a freeway.

The wind rushing into your helmet is almost deafening and the motorcycle skips with every contour and seam in the road. After a few seconds you are ignoring the urge to leap from the motorcycle to the grassy shoulder of the road.

Now you are humming along at 55. You shake your hands loose of the cramps, one at a time, and take a deep breath.

Soon you stop worrying about the motorcycle and start wondering if anyone makes a helmet with a built-in stereo.

It sure would be great to hear "Born to Be Wild."

* THE PREMISE

There are plenty of things you have never tried. Fun things, dangerous things, character building things. The Reluctant Novice tries them for you and reports the results. After all, the Novice gets paid to do them--and has no choice in the matter. If you want to tell the Novice where to go, please call us at 658-5547. If we use your idea, we'll send you a present.

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