Backroad Ramblings: The Disappearing Bike

August 26, 2011
Jason Giacchino
Jason Giacchino
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

A freelancer and published novelist Jason is currently the editor in chief of Mountain Bike Tales digital magazine and holds a State University of New York degree in applied science with a minor in journalism. When not hunched over a computer monitor, he can be found playing outside in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York.

Sport Ride
The rambling man goes zen, pondering the words of a wise moto journalist to become one with the bike.

Years ago when I was but a meager magazine intern attempting to master the art of writing decent bike tests, I recall receiving a bit of advice from a grizzly veteran journalist (who was probably only slightly older than I am now). He told me that the mark of a really superior motorcycle was one that disappeared beneath its rider in operation. Of course, to my overzealous way of reasoning at the time this didn’t sit well, and even now I find myself a bit conflicted with the logic.

I suppose the gist of the lesson was that any bike that displayed manners so refined that they drew no attention to themselves while cruising down the road was worthy of praise. After all, teeth-chattering vibration, headshake, inadequate brakes or parts dislodging themselves from the chassis are all fine examples of things a rider could find distracting at highway speeds. Looking at it that way, bikes that seem to vanish from the collective conscious entirely and allow the rider complete focus on the world around him would be ideal. The trouble is, or so I would conclude after many years pondering such things, many people like the bike being a part of the world around them while riding.

Think about it, if all we really sought was the experience of the ride itself, wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to prefer being a passenger rather than operating the motorcycle ourselves? The view would be the same (in some cases better), the sounds and smells the same, the feel of the bike’s power and handling characteristics would be there and best of all it would free us from all of the ‘distractions’ such as having to apply the throttle, downshift for twisties or decide just how much lean angle we could get away with. Or better still, why ride at all? Video games are getting better and better at recreating the motorcycling experience with each hardware generation. In that line of reasoning it will only be a matter of time before virtual reality arrives and experiencing a ride where the bike disappears beneath you will be literal.

The trouble with the original lesson here is that, in certain situations, a bike’s traits can be welcome distractions from the monotony of travel. Bikes that handle incredibly, exhaust systems that sound every bit as throaty as the catalog promised, engines that hum in triple-digit territory, soft leather seats that wrap around your back while pumping your iPod play-list in surround sound – these could be traits that we never wish to disappear. In fact, we likely paid good money to ensure that they do not.

Of course, I haven’t even scratched the surface of the idea that our own mental image of how we look to others on the bike is a major factor. If ever there was a distraction many of us would welcome into our routine, it’s this. It was the American sociologist Charles Cooley who told us that we are what we think others think we are. And while I would love to discuss the intricacies of the ‘looking-glass self’ as they pertain to motorcycling culture, I fear that in doing so you might judge me as being a geek, and hence I would be one.

2011 Kawasaki Ninja 1000
The bike sits on the showroom floor, eagar to lure you into 60 months of payments. But will it be the one that makes your cares disappear with a twist of the throttle?

But I digress. The point to all of this rhetoric (and I’m pretty sure I have one) is that the young me could never come to terms with the idea that I could obsess over, read about and hang pictures of something that would disappear beneath me so that I could focus only on the road ahead.

For years I worked to disprove the cracked theory once and for all. I come closest when lusting over a bike as it sits on the dealership floor, when setting the machine into motion could be well worth parting with $197.40 for the next 60 months. The trouble is these experiences are followed by the ride. You know the type, where the weather is perfect, the visibility excellent, the air swirling around you like tepid bath water and the only scent tickling your nostrils is from some unseen grill wafting plumes of stomach-rumbling smoke into the atmosphere. In that instant, as the canyon you’ve been waiting to carve all week comes into focus, all distractions, concerns, deadlines – heck even the bike below you seem to disappear.

I can accept it disappearing, so long as it reappears just in time for me to step it down a gear, lean it as far over as gravity will allow and throttle smoothly into the first twisty.