Before telling you why I risk riding Motorcycles … perhaps it is best if I give you a little history about the various motorcycles that I have owned.
My First Motorized Bike …
The year was 1964-1965; I was about 13 or 14 years of age with a morning paper route. I also worked the afternoons in the summer at a local country club as a golf Caddie. We had a neighbor that was selling an older model Cushman Motor Scooter (about a 1950 model). I took a look at it and wanted it real bad. The asking price was only $30.00. I talked him down to $25.00 than had to convince my dad to let me buy it. I was willing to use my own money I was saving up for a car. I convinced Dad that it would make my paper route in the morning so much better and faster with a motor scooter than with a bicycle that I was using then. Dad was concerned that I’d never ridden a motorized two wheeled vehicle in my life and I tried to suggest that (a) it was not much different than a bicycle which I was so proficient at I could set on the handle bars and ride one backwards and (b) the only way to find out if I could ride it is to try it. Finally, after about a week of convincing he allowed me to purchase it with a caveat. I was only allowed to ride it in the trailer park that we lived in and that I delivered papers in because I was not allowed to drive on public streets yet (under-age) but the trailer park was considered by most to be private streets – even though there were patrolled by the Justice, Illinois Police Department.
Why dad allowed me to purchase that death trap I have no idea … but at the time I really didn’t care. It was a kick start machine (no electric starters back then). The throttle had been broken and to improvise since I did not know where or how to get a new one … my buddy, J.C. Jeffries and I tied a rope to the throttle mechanism on the carburetor. I wrapped the rope around my hand and as I would twist my hand on the handle bar (that did not have grips) the rope would tighten and give it the gas I needed to really get moving.
You have to understand … the speed limit in our trailer park was 10 MPH … and this motor scooter that had a single cylinder 3 HP engine (I think) and a single speed transmission (much like a go cart) that did not require any clutch or shifting. All I had to do was apply the gas and go until I needed to let off the gas and apply the brake. I think the top speed on this thing was about 25 miles per hour … and since it had no speedometer I never knew if I was doing 10 miles per hour or not. I do know that with a mile or more to run I could beat any bicycle in the trailer park … but on a short run they would clean my clock. I also know that while a lot of cops saw me riding in the trailer park, not one of them ever stopped me to ask for a license.
Back in those days we did not have helmet laws so when I talk about the “wind blowing through my hair,” that is exactly what I mean. In fact, I never even thought about wearing a helmet. As a young kid, I would ride all over that trailer park (even down the dead end streets) imagining that I was the leader of a motorcycle gang and was on a big chopper … not a slow motor scooter. I remember I removed the muffler and tail pipe just so it would be a lot louder than normal. Probably a reason I have tinnitus (ringing in my ears today). My favorite movie back then was “The Wild One” starring Marlin Brando as the leader of an outlaw motorcycle gang who rode into a small California town to give them hell and he ended up falling in Love with a waitress at the local café.
The riding only lasted one Spring, Summer and Fall. When Winter set in and the snow started blowing I let the thing set outside (we did not have a garage) and it got even more rusty. By the next spring it would not even start and I did not know enough about mechanics to get it to start. I eventually had the trash man haul it off … I’d gotten my $25 worth out of it — but, the seed had been planted.
My Second Motorcycle…
Fast forward a few years (about 10 to be exact) … 1974 – 1975. I was back from the Army and married with a very young (2 to 3 year old) daughter. My wife was spending so much time working and taking care of our daughter that I decided I had some spare time for myself and should spend it … you guessed it … Riding. It’s always about the Ride Man! (John Travolta in Wild Hogs).
I was able to find an older model Suzuki Motorcycle that one of my wife’s friend’s husband was selling to purchase a new bike. We did not know this couple real well. My wife was a friend of hers when they were younger and worked together in Vietnam (where my wife is from) but we had just met the husband at a party we attended. The bike was not in near as good of shape as is pictured here since this picture came from the internet … it had been dropped a couple of times and was a lot more scratched and dented. It did run good, however.
I paid the man his asking price of about $300 and took it home that very evening while my wife followed me in her car. My wife did not like the idea that I purchased it … but she, at the time, thought she should let me have my way.
I road it, as is, for a couple of weeks, then got a brilliant idea. I was currently enrolled in Chicago Vocational School under the GI Bill and was working to get my Aviation A&P license (Air-frame and Power-plant). I had already passed the test for the Air-frame portion of the license and was in year two … Power-plant (or Engine) repair portion. One of the things we were required to do was to tear down and rebuild a small engine. It did not have to be an airplane engine since most kids in this school could not afford to buy one … so many would use lawnmowers or go-cart engines. I chose to tear down and rebuild my motorcycle engine.
In the rebuild, with a lot of assistance from my instructor … I chose to bore out the cylinders and install larger pistons. This took the bike from 250 CCs to about 350 CCs and added some more horsepower to it. The idea, since it had knobby tires on it was to make it an off-road bike.
After reinstalling the engine I took it out to the parking lot for a test drive. I was intent on taking the bike home that afternoon and had already had a friend drop me off at school since I did not have a trailer to take the bike home on … I’d have to ride it home.
There is an old saying that goes like this. There are two kinds of Motorcycle Riders, “Those that have crashed and those that will crash.” Well, I have had my crash. I was popping gears from second to third in hopes to get one more wheelie I got one in 1st and another in 2nd … so I was going for 3rd. The problem is I was also making a curve in the parking lot. Forgetting I had knobby (off road) tires the rear started to slide out to the right. I panicked and put down my left foot to stand the bike up. I stood it up alright, right into a brick wall on the school building that I managed to run down for about 25 or 30 feet before I could pull the bike off the wall.
Getting it to a stop without going down (though I did go into the wall) I assessed the damage. Right side of handle bar severely bent … right foot peg broken off … right hand severely scraped up from the wall … right ankle throbbing like hell from being turned 180 degrees and drug down the wall … right boot missing a lot of leather on the inside ankle.
I hobbled into the shop … told the instructor what happened and told him I was headed home. Got back out on the bike, lit up a Marlboro and calmed down before attempting to start it. Again, it was a kick start machine and with a bad right ankle I could not kick it hard enough to start it. I called on a classmate to help and together we got it started. I didn’t have to worry about putting a helmet on with my skinned up bad hand since we still did not have helmet laws in America. If I’d worn gloves they could have saved my hand from being so scratched up, but I didn’t even do that.
I headed down the interstate for home. Fortunately for me the speed limit – due to a fuel shortage in America at the time had been dropped from 65 MPH to 55 MPH and the minimum had been dropped from 40 MPH to 35 MPH. I hugged the right lane and went between 35 and 40 most of the way home praying the entire right side of the handlebar would not break off in my hand. I had no place to put my right foot other than the passenger foot peg. It was about 25 miles home so I was cramping pretty bad in that right leg by the time I made it.
I got in the house, laid down on the couch and my wife came over and took off my boots for me. When she pulled that right one off the ankle immediately swollen to three times its normal size. She managed to get me to a clinic down the street for an x-ray and it was determined that it was not broken but was a very bad sprain and I should stay off it for about a week.
Due to the pain killers they gave me for the next few days I was in and out of sleep. When I finally did come to and hobble outside the first question was, “Hey Honey … where in the hell is my bike.” Her answer … “I sold it.”
Seems she was so upset that I almost killed myself that she and my mother (I presume) or one of her friends, contacted a junk yard and sold my bike for about $25.00. Damned someone got a hell of a deal. I was pretty upset. However, I’d told her earlier that if I had an accident she could get rid of the bike.
My Third Motorcycle…
Fast forward many years … about 31 or 32 to be exact. All the kids are grown and out of the house. I told my wife that I had a client that owned a car lot in Meridian, MS and that he had a motorcycle for sale. I’d promised him that I was in the market for one since all the kids were grown and out of the house so I felt obligated to go take a look at it. It was a 2003 Yamaha Road Star … much like the one pictured above … accept for the fact it was purple and black and not all black like the one above. When I told my wife this she said, “Okay, whatever.” Naturally I took that to mean “It’s okay with me if you want to spend more money on a motorcycle.”
The minute I saw the bike – I wanted it. His asking price was $5,500. I had a good friend with me from Brookhaven, Mississippi that road motorcycles (he owned two) and he told me it was a great price. He actually test drove it for me since I was not licensed nor had a helmet.
By now laws had changed drastically for motorcyclist. Not only did you need a license endorsement you also needed a helmet in most states. My friend took it for a spin and when he came back a few minutes later and said, “If your not going to buy it, I may.” Of course we were not discussing any of this in front of the seller.
I walked into my clients office and told him I was prepared to give him $5,000 that day for the bike if he could produce the title. He did and the deal was made. My friend actually had to drive it home for me. When we got home my wife asked, “What did you do?”
“I bought myself a motorcycle,” I responded. “You wanna go for a ride?”
“No way,” she said, and that was about all she said about it, but I could tell she was not real happy.
I decided that before I went to the motorcycle safety course and embarrassed myself I should learn to ride it on my own in the neighborhood (just the opposite of what I suggest people do now). Keep in mind it had been over 30 years since I last road – and as an older person – I did not have near the confidence and courage that I once had as a younger person. I guess you could say I had realized long ago that I was not infallible and could easily end my life. To me this was a big bike (about 1,600 CCs of engine between my legs and about 62 horsepower).
It was not long before the neighborhood got old and I moved up to the Natchez Trace where I could do at least 50 MPH on the motorcycle. After a week or two on the trace … I was ready for the safety course. I passed every exercise we were supposed to do on those little 250 CC motorcycles they had us take the course on. The next step was to take the written exam and get my endorsement which is exactly what I did the Monday following my Friday, Saturday and Sunday Class.
That afternoon I was “on the road again!”
I kept this bike for about a year or so. I remember it was January 2008 and I had to see a client on the Mississippi Gulf Coast about some financial investments he was making – or that I wanted him to make. He agreed to meet me in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Since it was an unusual January in Mississippi I asked him if it would be okay if I wore Jeans and a flannel Shirt because I wanted to ride my motorcycle to meet with him. He agreed and I did just that.
After our meeting I stopped at Hattiesburg Cycle … just to see what they had … and I could not leave without it.
My Fourth Motorcycle…
In January 2008 about a year after purchasing the 2003 Yamaha Road Star, I traded it and about $13,000 for the bike you see below.
To me, at the time, this was the greatest bike of all. I loved the color, the style, the ride. It was a pure joy to straddle this beast and hit the open road.
My First Long Ride …
It was only a few months later – June of 2008 – that my brother invited me to ride with him and a few buddies (about 8 of them) down U.S. Route 66 to The Grand Canyon in Arizona. My brother and his friends live in Nebraska. I had to meet up with them in Joplin, MO. I will never forget this trip. This was going to be a 3,000 mile trip there and back. And, my wife actually agreed that I could go. In addition, it was on this trip that I found out how much 800 pounds really weighs.
I’ll never forget it. I had spent the night in a Hotel just outside of Little Rock Arkansas. I had parked on a slight incline – not knowing any better. While I was asleep, it had rained. I came out the next morning at about 5:00 AM and loaded up the bike with the luggage (T-Bag) and straddled it. I started it and began to back out of the parking lot I was in. Due to wet pavement, my foot slipped and in a flash I was on my back with the bike on top of me looking up at the heavens.
Fortunately, the crash bars on the front and around the saddle bags kept the weight of the bike off me. They did their job. Now I had to do mine. I had to get that bike back up … rubber side down. I looked around and there was no one in the parking lot to lend a hand. I knew the person in the Hotel at the desk was an elderly lady (probably in her 70’s) that was not going to offer much help. It took almost ten minutes and multiple attempts to get that damned thing back up. I knew to lift with my legs and not my back … but that is about it. “Damn it, they should have taught us this in the safety course,” was my thoughts. When I finally did get it back up I had to sit down to give my weak wobbly legs a break. I set there and lit up a Winston (yea I had also changed brands over the years) and tried to think of something positive.
Finally, after gaining the courage I got back on the bike and headed out. I had never ridden in the rain before and by the time I got to Eureka Springs Arkansas on U.S. 65 it came a “gully washer” as they say in the south. It was raining so hard I could barely see. I decided it best to pull over to the side of the road since I was in a mountainous (or hilly) area. Where did I pull over? At an emergency breaking area for 18 wheelers. Smoked another Winston that almost never got lit in the rain and realized where I was at after a trucker came by and blasted his horn and pointed at the sign.
After this I figured … heck with it … rain or shine I need to get on down the road. I did and met up with my brother and his friends right on time. We had a wonderful week going down the Mother Road (US Route 66) all the way to the Grand Canyon.
On the way back, my brother and one of his friends, Dan (who has become a friend of mine) road together to Oklahoma City. There my brother and Dan headed north and I finished the trip back home alone. We’d left Amarillo TX that morning and I road until 2:30 the next morning to get home. I was both tired and very well pleased.
A couple of years later I dropped this bike again … but this time it was a slow speed crash with my wife on the back of it. I was attempting to make a U-Turn at the Port Gibson Military Park in Mississippi to head back home. I went a little too slow and over we went. Since we were on a hill, when the bike started to go over on my left side – the down hill side – and my leg was not long enough to reach the ground – my wife and I road it all the way down to the ground. Again, crash bars did there job and kept us from getting hurt. The helmets did us well also since we both hit our heads on the pavement.
I was also fortunate that I was traveling with a friend and there were a couple of more people in the park. We had the 800 pound machine up in no time … this time. I can remember my wife’s exact words to me in her broken English.
“You go home … you get car … you come back and get me. I never ride with you again. If you make me break my leg or arm … how I play golf?”
My words to her were: “Okay baby I will do that … but please understand that by the time I get home and back it will be dark. The park will be closed. Now I am not sure if there are any ghosts here or not … but in 1863 close to 200 men from the north and south died here in the civil war …”
I could say no more and she yelled … “Okay, I go home with you now but I never ride with you again.” I smiled all the way home … I had a plan.
My Fifth Motorcycle …
This was actually a revised 4th Motorcycle. After the little incident at the Port Gibson Military Park I got my wife to admit that she would like to ride with me again … as long as it has more than two wheels. Here is what happened below in about 2014:
Now that I had three wheels … she was willing to ride with me again. I was so pleased. We have taken many trips and I think she likes it almost as much as I do … just not as often as I do.
While this trike looks nice … there were two problems that I really did not like. First, it was harder than heck to manipulate/drive in mountainous areas. Second, the existing gas take did not get many miles before we were stopping for fuel again. Remember before the trike conversion the poundage of the bike was about 800 wet (with gas). After the conversion … we had added about 1,500 pounds to the bike. Naturally, the gas mileage is going to go down. I decreased from about 160 miles per tank to about 90 miles per tank.
The good news is I took care of that problem by having a 3.5 gallon auxiliary tank installed in the trunk. This gave me about 180 mile range per tank full.
My Sixth Motorcycle …
A few of years ago (I believe 2015/2016) we were getting ready to take a trip to Yellow Stone Park in Wyoming and The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. Only my brother and I had planned this trip – but my oldest son indicated he’d like to travel with us. He did not have a motorcycle but had been through all the safety courses and had gotten his license endorsement in Louisiana. We had decided that perhaps we would rent a bike for him. The cost would have been somewhere between $2,500 and $3,000.
Then I heard about a deal on a 2003 Harley Electra Glide Police Edition that a person in town had that had less than 22,000 miles on it. He was asking about $6,300 for it. I was able to arrange to purchase it for $6,000. He would not come off much on the price. I thought this may make sense to buy this since I was looking for a two-wheeler I could use around town and on rides my wife was not on. It looked very similar to the one pictured below with the exception it had a sissy bar and back seat for a passenger.
After test driving the motorcycle in town I purchased it for the $6,000 mentioned. Once I was able to get it on the highway I found out it did not have near the power of the Yamaha I owned … but the engine was only about 1,450 CC (88 CI) and was solid from everything I’d heard about them. It would serve it’s purpose for this trip and if we decided to I could always sell it for the $6,000 I paid for it or possibly a little more if selective.
What actually happened is that my son not only road this in 2015 to Wyoming and South Dakota … he also road it to Fayetteville Arkansas in 2016 and to Big Bend Texas in 2018. We did not do a ride in 2107 at all. When we were not on trips the bike was either in my garage or under my butt where it really belonged.
My Seventh Motorcycle …
It was Saturday, September 17, 2017 when my wife and I visited a motorcycle dealer in Ridgeland Mississippi. We had been in conversations with our son about Indian Motorcycles and actually went to see if the 2018 Indians were out yet. I had recalled that during our 2016 Ride to Arkansas my son and his friend talked about my potentially changing the back seat on my trike because my wife was not really secure on the one that existed. If you look at the photo again you will see she had nothing really to hold onto except me.
We got to the dealer and the first thing that caught our eye was this:
This is a 2008 Honda Gold Wing 1800 CC. It’s actually a horizontally opposed six cylinder engine that was used in early Honda Civic Automobiles with some modification.
This motorcycle has served me well and its great for riding with my wife. It is not great alone in the city because it is so bulky … but it’s like a Cadillac out on the interstate or open roads. I think I shall keep this one for awhile. I have taken it on some long trips and some short trips. However, I do need to get my wife out on another long trip on it to keep her interest up. I’d like to convince her to learn to ride it alone … but since it is stick shift that is likely not ever going to happen.
Before getting into Why I Risk the Ride … let me tell you about my latest motorcycle.
My Eighth Motorcycle …
I told you that in September 2017 my wife and I went to look at the New Indians. We did not buy one then because of the Honda – and my willingness to meet her needs before mine … but we eventually did purchase one (as seen below):
I have recently come back from a 4,000 mile ride on this Indian Chieftain Ltd. I left Clinton Mississippi on August 17th and rode to Las Vegas and points west (e.g. Death Valley and Mount Whitney) and arrived back at home on August 25th. This motorcycle handled far better than any two wheeled motorcycle I have ever known. Chances are good – at my age – that this will be the last motorcycle I purchase.
It has everything I need since I recently added a sissy bar, backrest for me, and luggage rack. In addition it came with an entertainment center and GPS that is out of this world. I do plan to make a few more trips on this beast and am already planning our 2020 Nix Brothers Annual Motorcycle Adventure as I write this blog.
I am 68 years of age and would like to continue riding for at least the next ten years. I want to ride in every state of the union with the exception of Hawaii. Here is a map showing the states I’ve been in so far (blue dots):
So, why do I Risk the Ride?
I think it may be best to explain it to you this way …
There is nothing in the world, in my opinion, that is better than straddling a machine that is mostly engine and tires and heading down an open road. It’s so nice to feel the wind blowing in your face – or if you lucky enough to be in a non-helmet state – the wind blowing through your hair while you listen to the roar of the pipes as you reduce anxiety and lessen your mental load all while bringing you blood pressure down just a little bit.
In a car we can all see the scenery we are driving through whether we have open or closed windows. And, in today’s car we can maintain an even temperature on the hottest or coldest of days. But, why not be a part of the scenery – not just an observer of the scenery? Why not feel the temperature change as you ride out of the sun and into the shade and back into the sun again? Why not feel the water as it splashes against you and the bike if you should be caught in the rain – and you will be eventually caught in the rain? Better the rain than a hail storm …
In the summer with a car you will have the air conditioner on … which means the windows will likely be up. You will not smell the freshly cut grass along the highway or hear the lawnmowers doing the cutting. You will not smell the cow pastures as you drive through them the way you do when you ride a motorcycle. You will not feel the rocks that bounce off the trucks as they hit your car and crack your windshield. You will feel them if they don’t hit the windshield of the bike … and if they do … it will not crack like that of a car. Yes, you will see a lot of scenes out the car window … but being a part of the scene is left to those who have a desire to ride as compared to those that had rather drive.
So is there a risk to riding a motorcycle?
I just love the stories of the person who says, “I once had a friend who died in a motorcycle accident.” To that I say, “I’ve had several friends over the years who died in car accidents and a couple who died in their beds asleep.” Or the one who had a friend who did not die but rather had his leg cut off in an accident.
Yes, I suppose motorcycles are inherently more dangerous than automobiles since you do not have all that metal around you holding you in that car during an accident when you are praying the car does not go up in flames. You see … the only protection you really have on a motorcycle is your helmet (if you wear one) and your skill. As for the helmet — great in low speed crashes — but just about as worthless in a crash above 70 MPH as a seat belt in an airplane falling out of the sky from 35,000 feet. The one positive on a motorcycle is during a high speed crash you will likely be thrown free of the motorcycle since you do not have a seat belt that is going to keep you in place. This being thrown free could be a blessing and help you live or a detriment and be what causes you to die – depending on how you eventually land.
It is true that there are more car accidents than motorcycle accidents … but there are more cars. One stat tells us that 13 cars out of every 100,000 will be involved in a Fatal Accident … but 72 motorcycles out of every 100,000 will be involved in a Fatal Accident. Therefore the risk of a Fatal Accident on a motorcycle is 35 times greater than the risk of a Fatal Accident in a car.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2013, there were approximately 106,000 motorcycle accidents compared to more than 5,669,000 car accidents. Accounting for 4,668 people dying in motorcycle crashes and 22,383 in car crashes. You can get many more stats to scare you right here:
Here are the top ten reasons motorcyclist have accidents … see how they compare to automobiles:
- SPEEDING … So ride responsibly … do not speed.
- DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE … do not ride when drinking or using drugs.
- LANE SPLITTING … if you would not attempt it in a car why attempt it on a motorcycle.
- SUDDEN STOPS … Quit Tail Gating and always look 3 to 5 seconds in front of you. Motorcycles can stop quick and this can cause you to lose control.
- INEXPERIENCED RIDERS … Don’t get on busy roads until you know what you are doing and know what the motorcycle is capable of. This is why I recommend a safety course or two.
- LEFT TURN ACCIDENTS … Trying to beat the oncoming traffic is never good. When you get in a hurry you get sloppy.
- UNSAFE LANE CHANGES … Always check the blind spot by turning your head before changing lanes … be careful usually where the eyes go the bike follows.
- CAR DOORS … when riding in the city keep a safe distance from cars parallel parked on the street. People will open their doors without looking for you. It hurts to broadside even the interior of a car door.
- DANGEROUS ROAD CONDITIONS … here you have to really look out for yourself because the city, state or Federal Government will not. Roads with pot holes and pea gravel are the worst.
- MOTORCYCLE DEFECTS … be like an airplane pilot and inspect your bike and tires before every ride. This is probably the hardest thing to do but one of the safest.
Let’s not forget the other drivers … the people who feel they must put on make up, comb their hair or text on their phones while speeding down the highway in a 2,000 to 8,000 pound piece of machinery without a care in the world for the person on just two or three wheels.
So if you ride a motorcycle, will you die?
The honest answer is that if you ride a motorcycle, OF COURSE YOU’LL DIE! It just that the probability is that it WON’T be from riding a motorcycle. … Yeah, it’s more dangerous and so you have a higher probability of injury or death. But leaving your house also raises the probability of death. In a paragraph above I told you that 4,668 people died in 2013 from motorcycle crashes and 22,383 died in car crashes. Do you know who many pedestrians were killed in 2013? Check out this chart below from pedbikeinfo.org
Now I have no idea how many were actually pedestrians and how many were bicycle riders in 2013 … but this is what the article tells us for 2017 — “In 2017 there were 5,977 pedestrians and 783 bicyclists killed in crashes with motor vehicles in the United States.”
Folks there were more killed walking than their were riding a motorcycle in all these years. Yes, there are more walkers than riders … but the point is … anything has a little danger that could kill you.
There is an old saying …
“You don’t die riding a motorcycle … you actually live!!!”
I’m sure you heard “A coward dies a thousand deaths … a brave man dies only once.”
And that is why I risk the Ride …
I am going to die someday. It may or may not be on a motorcycle … but regardless when my time is up it is up … I am not going to get out of this world alive … and neither are you.
Have a great day,
Jerry Nix – Freewavemaker, LLC