Friday, March 23, 2012

Uneasy rider

s, Two news bulletins most mothers don't want to hear are "I'm having a baby," from an unwed teenage daughter, or  "I just bought a motorcycle," from a son, probably of any age.

When you think of bikers, sober-looking CPAs or Episcopal ministers don't come to mind. Bikers are more like Hell's Angels and other greasy n'er-do-wells, with beefy mamas tagging along. Worse, cycles evoke images of horrific accidents, even if the bike in question is just a pansy Vespa for going back and forth to school.

After much delay and consultation with anyone we thought could be an expert, last week Stew and I bought a Suzuki 200cc mountain bike. It's not a roaring, fire-breathing dragon, but fast enough to get us around the country roads surrounding our ranch, and farther afield as we get more used to riding.

Stew and our dog Gladys who
 says: "Get me off this thing."
Our moms are long gone so we haven't had to deal with their tut-tutting or their faces wracked with worry as either one of us vrooms off on the bike in a could of dust, albeit that's fanciful image given the modest size of our machine.

Yet our friends haven't hesitated to assume the loco parentis mantle and shower us with horror stories about the cousin twice-removed who was riding his bike and got run over by a semi loaded with broccoli, or the poor neighbor who literally lost his head in a brain-splattering horror worthy of a Mexico City tabloid.

Truth is that Stew and I--and particularly me--are a couple of old chickens unlikely to recreate any Evel Knievel jumps or embark in a pot-smoking cross-country road trip. Indeed, unless I become way more comfortable and relaxed on the Suzuki, I don't think my back or my butt could take those kinds of feats.

So far getting on the bike early in the morning and riding around on the country roads near our ranch, with no particular destination or schedule in mind, has turned out to be a lot of fun. Warnings and horror stories aside, I highly recommend it.

The origin of our motorbike venture probably goes back to a case of sibling envy on Stew's part. His brother Knute has been riding bikes for so long I'm beginning to think he slid off his baby crib right onto a 750cc Kawasaki. A couple of years ago Knute rode a Honda Gold Wing, with I don't know how big an engine except it was really big, from Minnesota to San Miguel and back, a feat that seems as awesome as wind surfing across the Gulf of Mexico.

For my part I went along for the ride because I believe learning something new--a new piece of software, an  unknown bit of history or how to ride a motorcycle--keeps your mind and body functional, or at least a bit more so than sitting in front of the TV watching Martina Navratilova doing a cameo on Dancing With The Stars.

The learning curve has been a bit steeper for me because Stew had some motorcycle experience. At first the array of controls, which keep both of your hands and feet engaged in something or other, can be a bit daunting. Consistently getting into first gear without stalling is still a work in progress for me, even though I can drive a manual car. Perhaps it's time to deflower the Owner's Manual and look for some helpful tips.

But I've only been at it for a week or so. The sight of hundreds of motorbikes in San Miguel, at the hands of all types of people, many of them not too swift-looking, fuels my optimism. "If some of those fools can ride a motorcycle, we certainly can too," I whispered to Félix the gardener, who's discreetly lobbying for some lessons.

A few days after the Suzuki arrived Stew triumphantly blurted out he might like to try a bigger bike later on. How much bigger isn't clear.

For the time being, I'm going to keep on practicing on this bike every day and begin looking in for books on how to build a chicken coop. That sounds interesting and productive, and a bit less nerve-wracking than a bigger motorcycle as long as I follow a friend's advice: Don't name the chickens in case you need to turn them into chicken soup.
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