Spare Parts: One more ride

By Ernie Copper

I’d bet 80 percent of my riding is done solo, with the other 20 percent being 100-percent dedicated to my wife riding on the pillion. Until a couple weeks ago. A friend/ retired coworker came up to me about a year ago to ask me “a favor.” I figured I was about to be moving a refrigerator, welding something or loaning my pickup truck. Nope. Not this time. What my coworker, we’ll call him “Jim,” wanted was one more ride on a motorcycle and I was the guy he picked to give it to him. He’s been retired for several years and I wouldn’t want to wager a guess at how old he is, but I’d never seen him ride as long as I’ve known him. We worked together for five years and it’s been at least five years since he retired and we stay in touch. So, it’s safe to say it’s been a while. Certainly, there are some of you reading this who are Jim’s age or older and still riding, but knowing your limits is a virtue and he wanted to go for a ride, not commit suicide!

We missed the weather window for a pleasant ride last fall and now it was time for the leaves to change again. It had taken a full year before our schedules and the weather all synched up. It was a perfect day for a ride when we finally got together. It was the kind of day that makes you smile just because the sun feels so good when it shines on your face. Aside from donning our helmets, there was little-to-no preparation. I’d texted him earlier in the week to see if Saturday would be a good day for the ride and he said yes.

His wife took a photo of us before we rolled off to parts unknown. That’s how much forethought went into this; we hadn’t even discussed where to go. Turns out “parts unknown” was western Pennsylvania Amish country, dotted with small towns featuring wineries, craft stores and antique shops; quaint little villages interspersed with college towns, just hitting full swing after the kids came back for the fall semester. It was a real Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah kind of day.

I think you should be respectful of people who are at your mercy as a passenger. They are literally putting their life in your hands. With that in mind, there was no pretense of an unwanted thrill ride, so we started off nice and easy. No crazy acceleration or breakneck curves right away. After we both got settled in, I told him I was going to give her a little throttle, if he’d like, on a long straight. The old Harley leaned right into it when I asked her to and provided a nice bark as well. Jim didn’t look panic stricken, in fact, he looked kind of happy!

We picked up the pace a little after that. The weather and the western Pennsylvania topography were perfect for a pleasure ride. After a while, I asked Jim if he wanted to go to a school parking lot and have a go at it himself. His conservative nature didn’t allow him to say yes, but he is considering my offer of starting off with one of my smaller dirt bikes or an enduro and working his way up to the Harley next year. If he decides not to, that’s OK too. He has some ankle injuries and holding up a near-800-pound bike may not be in his best interest.

I’ve given a few people rides over the years, moms and dads, aunts and uncles and a few kids, but I can’t remember any of them asking me for a ride. There’s an unspoken obligation to give them a good ride when they take the time and energy to specifically ask you for a ride.

I hope I gave Jim a good ride and I’m pretty sure it was all he remembered it being and maybe even just a little more. He was a good passenger, not a wiggler like some. I’d kind of forgotten the sense of vulnerability that sets in when you haven’t been on a bike in a while and that ride reminded me of that through him. Not in a pure terror way, just in a take-it-easy-we-aren’t-here-to-impress-anyone way. It’s good to keep your head screwed on.

It was a fantastic day and a great ride. Nothing fell off the bike, we didn’t run out of gas, and we came back in one piece. That’s a good way to finish any ride!

And so it is that I’ve concluded we still have time to find the next generation of riders, or not, but what we do for those who rode before us may be just as important and easier to do something about. Let’s give them one more ride. They’ve earned it. It doesn’t have to be a trip from coast to coast. Just an hour on some nice afternoon will do. It’s good for you, it’s good for them and it’s good for motorcycling.

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