by Bill Mullis
As a kid, I always looked forward to our annual visit with Aunt Etta, mainly because her grandsons next door were pretty much of an age with me. And they had horses, and untold acres of fields and forest to ride on.
One summer, though, the horse had been, not supplanted, but supplemented by the latest rage to hit Marshville: motorcycles.
While the cousins checked the tanks and poked mysterious oddments and did other esoteric motorcycley stuff, I danced around nervously and tried to not lose face.
"OK," Randy said. "This handle controls the gas. Turn it this way to go."
I looked at the foot rests. Brakes?
"Uh-uh. This lever up here’s the brake."
What's the other lever?
"So you can change gears."
"Like on a ten-speed."
"A ten-speed bike. The foot switch down here’s the gear shifter."
I hadn't started learning to drive yet, but I'd watched Grandma drive the Rambler, and I knew that clutch, brake, and gas were all foot pedals, and the gear shift was up on the steering wheel. Besides, my bike had one speed: as fast as I could pedal it. And whoever heard of a hand brake? You pedaled one way to go, the other way to stop.
This was just plain wrong.
In mortal, hidden, fear, I listened intently and tried to take it in. Finally they put me on a motorcycle and let me crank it up. I can do this, I told myself. I can ride a bike. Same thing, right?
"OK, now put her in gear."
I put her in gear.
"Crank her back up, and hold the clutch in when you put her in gear."
I gained confidence with a few circles in the barnyard, getting a feel for the steering. Just like a bicycle. I was good to go.
There was a dirt trail that went straight for maybe half a mile before making a sharp turn to the right and winding off into the woods. We eased around the barn at a safe and reasonable speed and gathered at its head, revving our engines. I can do this, I thought. I can ride a motorcycle.
The cousins gunned their engines and took off ahead of me. I was a bit slower off the mark, but I eased up to speed pretty quickly, and when they made the turn I was ready to overtake them.
These are the lessons I learned in the next three seconds:
1. The difference between going straight and turning is not a matter of degree.
2. An accelerating motorcycle is not the place to start wondering how bicycle handlebars
work in terms of real-world physics.
3. Letting go of a throttle is not the same as applying a brake.
4. Braking a motorcycle by pedaling backwards is the same as breaking a motorcycle by pedaling backwards.
5. Always wear a helmet. It's not just the law. It's a good idea.
I was actually airborne for just a second, long enough to travel twenty or thirty yards into the forest. And the fallen tree only broke because it was rotten. There was no serious or permanent damage. The physical pain was minimal, though my pride suffered considerably.
After that I stuck to the horses, and followed the motorcycles as best I could. After all, a horse knows how to turn itself around. And that’s what it’s all about.
Bill Mullis, who writes from an urbanized area in the South Carolina Upstate, hopes the Harley Davidson Company forgives him for not being interested in purchasing one of their fine machines. You can keep up with him on The Captain's Log at www.mindovermullis.com.