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In Praise of Two Wheels

How do you get around? I’d assume most would answer “by car, SUV, or truck.” Depending on where you live you might say “public transportation, aka the bus or train.” And maybe a few would respond, “I walk everywhere” or “by bicycle.”

As a fan of just about anything with wheels, I could honestly answer “all of the above” to my own question. I am fortunate to have access to a car, an SUV, a truck and a bicycle. But my favorite mode of conveyance is none of the above. Because when I get around, I prefer a motorcycle. And I have for over 30 years.

It’s been a love affair that started naturally enough. Growing up on an acreage, complete with authentic “cow trails,” provided me a place to ride. Likewise, several friends also had family farms with space to roam. We were kids at the cusp of the huge Japanese motorcycle invasion in the late 60’s, and the perfect candidates to get caught up in the two-wheel frenzy that followed. I got the fever and never looked back.

Fast forward to now: there’s never been a better time to be a “biker.” According to webBikeWorld®, 2014 marks the fourth consecutive year of increased motorcycle sales in the US. And premium bike brands like Ducati, BMW and Husqvarna reported record sales last year.

Why is that? Why are motorcycles enjoying a resurgence, yet again? I chalk up this latest improvement to an industry that recognized a need for some serious reform. For too many years, it rolled along on the passion and support of baby boomers like me, who fueled it and sustained it for several decades. Then, as the demographic aged and interest declined, so did bike sales. So the industry did what every motivated business and marketer does in times of strife — it innovated and changed.

They began introducing new models that appealed to different demographics. Suddenly there were bikes for beginners and bikes for women and bikes that could serve a variety of uses instead of just one. There were cheaper bikes and more comfortable bikes and bikes that appealed to nostalgia and yesteryear.

Along with better motorcycles came much better accessories and riding gear. There appeared all manner of cool stuff to choose from, in stylish colors and flattering fits that were a far cry from the “good old days” when you rode in repurposed all-weather gear — or worse. And technology kept pace, with on-board capabilities that bordered on the futuristic, like navigation and GoPro video and heated clothing plug-ins and hands-free intercoms between riders and on and on.

Then, at the same time, the Motorcycle Safety Institute began making it easier to join the sport, by offering and promoting more safety classes. And some states, like Texas, tied a new motorcycle operator’s license to the class, requiring you to graduate before being licensed. Smart, eh? Safer is always better.

Now some things haven’t changed. Riding a motorcycle is still dangerous. Cars and trucks present a very real threat to comparably small, two-wheeled vehicles that share their road. Likewise, speed, carelessness, stupidity and poor decision-making lead to accidents, carnage or mayhem. And if the motorcycle rider — new or otherwise — thinks he or she is “too cool” to wear a helmet? Well that’s an entirely different argument — and one you’ll only win if you’re smart enough to wear one.

But I digress. Why does one ride motorcycles in the first place? I think it boils down to a single word: freedom. No mode of transport — save for a fighter jet, perhaps — can offer the feeling of sheer, unbridled freedom that a motorcycle can. The wind in your face, the head-long rush along a road that puts you in close proximity to everything — it all combines into a crazy mash-up of both physical and mental stimulus that’s intoxicating. No other form of getting around is as liberating. Or as fun!

So here’s to celebrating the resurgence of motorcycles. No, they’re not for everyone. But for the lucky few who screw up the courage to give them a try, they can be a life changer. Just ask the kid who gave it a try, 30 long years ago.

*Photo: http://www.ducati.com/bikes/diavel/diavel/index.do

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