On any given Saturday in July bikers congregate by the dozens at favourite southern Alberta hangouts like The Stop or the Black Diamond Hotel, The Navajo Mug in Longview, Rumors in Nanton, and Chain Lakes Provincial Park. At these stops they say they might share a coffee or a beer, exchange comments on each other’s bikes, or just nod in silent affirmation – I get you buddy.
They grin like Cheshire cats guarding the secret to eternal merriment. They laugh nervously when I ask – isn’t it dangerous? Aren’t you afraid? They shake their heads and scoff when I persist… No really, don’t you feel vulnerable and exposed?
The motorcycle enthusiasts I spoke with say they feel quite safe and are among the most conscientious and astute drivers on the road, highly attuned to everything and everyone around them. They aren’t fiddling with their iPods, answering their cell phones, arguing with kids, or sipping hot coffee. They are present in the moment, mind and senses fully engaged, spirits soaring.
“You don’t think about the danger, you just do all you can to mitigate it,” says Ron from Okotoks. Rick, a 30-year rider from Calgary outlines the safeguards that are second nature to most riders, such as scanning the ditches for wildlife, looking for debris on the road, making eye contact with other drivers to be sure you are seen. Cori from High River, younger than the others by a few decades, says risk is all part of the rush.
It’s obvious that none of them want to linger on this topic for long, as if to do so might invite bad karma. Suffice to say they all agree they don’t bet on the skills of other drivers to bring them home safely from a ride, they trust and depend mainly on their own competencies. They might live to ride but they (the mature ones) ride safely to live.
What bikers do want to talk about is something akin to sensory overload. The thrill of slicing through fresh country air – cold giving way to pockets of warm. The bizarre medley of scents: fresh cut hay, muggy manure, sweet new lilacs, ripe canola, pungent diesel. The rush of adrenaline when they hit an open road with an unobstructed view of mountain and sky.
Pure elation melts across the faces of every single bike enthusiast I talk to and for a moment I get caught up in this crazy-hazy biker buzz, forgetting that I am terrified to travel anywhere at road speed without a seatbelt, airbags and a roof.
Comradeship is another common theme among the dozen or so riders I engage in conversation. Even those who prefer to ride solo hit the road knowing they belong to this fellowship, no need for name association in the club of bikers. “It’s a huge community where you can talk to anyone from any walk of life. Everyone is there (on the road) to enjoy freedom and lifestyle,” says Bill from High River.
A few share with me some of the common practices that one might call motorcycle etiquette. For instance, the biker-to-biker wave, left hand down low, opens palm or peace sign. Or the impromptu meetings under highway overpasses when rain or hail come on suddenly. Some have what they call ‘biker bells’ attached to the underside of their bike frames to keep road gremlins at bay. Some give up nothing at all about bike club idiosyncrasies; I am a non-rider, clearly an outsider, bordering on pesky.
“For me the whole thing around riding is a sacred ritual,” says 70-some-year-old Lenora from Millarville area. “Pulling on the boots and chaps, taking a ride on the trail you love, pulling in for coffee with 10 or 15 other bikers, shining up the chrome before you put her away. It’s all part of the experience.”
For me, the non-participating spouse of a bike enthusiast, there is one part of the ritual that I too relish… the rumble of the bike rolling into the garage, rider safe and in particularly good spirits. – by Pat Fream