When I got my first Harley-Davidson back in the early 1990s, I brought it out to Dover, New Jersey to show to my cousin David. Dave is a lifelong biker, and he was my inspiration to ride in the first place.
After Dave gave my Sportster the once over (“Pretty cool — for a Sporty.”), I pulled him aside for some words of wisdom. Dave thought for a minute, then emitted two words: “Ride solo.”
I’ve thought a lot about Dave’s statement over the years, and I’ve come to understand the brilliance of that advice.
Many of the images we have of motorcyclists put them in groups. We see bikers riding in formation, parking in rows at big rallies, arriving en masse at a local hangout. Motorcycling seems to be a group activity, from the visual evidence.
But every time I get on my bike, I’m riding solo. I alone am responsible for every turn, every stop and every decision along the way.
I ride in many different situations. Sometimes I ride in the company of other motorcyclists; sometimes I ride long distances all alone. Sometimes I carry a passenger.
But in my head, I’m always riding solo.
I don’t count on anyone else to check my bike before I ride — I check my tires, oil and general condition before I start out. I make sure that I have some basic tools and first aid equipment with me, and that my gear is all in good shape. I check the weather, I bring a map, and I charge my cellphone (the urban biker’s toolkit). I don’t assume that my riding partners will take care of the details.
I stay alert in the saddle, paying close attention to my motorcycle, the road conditions and the traffic around me. I am in touch with my own mind and body, making sure that no distractions, mental or physical, will affect my riding.
Even when I ride in a group, I remain an individual. I resist groupthink, and don’t allow myself to get lulled into the false sense of security that a pack of motorcycles can build.
When I carry a passenger, I remain in touch with myself and with my bike. I don’t allow myself to get distracted from the road by my passenger’s actions. I keep focused, keeping us both safe.
In the purest sense, every time I ride, I ride solo.
And I think I’m a safer rider because of it.