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The Wave By Tom Ruttan The bike's passenger seat swept up just enough that I could see over my father's shoulders. That seat was my throne. My dad and I traveled many back roads, searching for the ones we had never found before. Traveling these roads just to see where they went. Never in a rush. Just be home for supper. I remember wandering down a back road with my father, sitting on my throne watching the trees whiz by, feeling the rumble of our bike beneath us like a contented giant cat. A motorcycle came over a hill toward us and as it went by, my father threw up his gloved clutch hand and gave a little wave. The other biker waved back with the same friendly swing of his left wrist. I tapped my father on his shoulder, which was our signal that I wanted to say something. He cocked his helmeted ear back slightly while keeping his eyes ahead. I yelled, "Do we know him?" "What?" he shouted. "You waved to him. Who was it?" "I don't know. Just another guy on a bike. So I waved." "How come?" "You just do. It's important." Later, when we had stopped for chocolate ice cream, I asked why it was important to wave to other bikers. My father tried to explain how the wave demonstrated comradeship and a mutual understanding of what it was to enjoy riding a motorcycle. He looked for the words to describe how almost all bikers struggled with the same things like cold, rain, heat, car drivers who did not see them, but how riding remained an almost pure pleasure. I was young then and I am not sure that I really understood what he was trying to get across, but . It was a beginning. Afterward, I always waved along with my father when we passed other bikers. I remember one cold October morning when the clouds were heavy and dark, giving us another clue that winter was rolling in from just over the horizon. My father and I were warm inside our car as we headed to a friend's home. Rounding a comer, we saw a motorcycle parked on the shoulder of the road. Past the bike, we saw the rider walking through the ditch, scouring the long grasses crowned with a touch of frost. We pulled over and backed up to where the bike stood. I asked Dad, "Who's that?" "Don't know," he replied. "But he seems to have lost something. Maybe we can give him a hand." We left the car and wandered through the tall grass of the ditch to the biker. He said that he had been pulling on his gloves as he rode and he had lost one. The three of us spent some time combing the ditch, but all we found were two empty cans and a plastic water bottle. My father turned and headed back to our car and I followed him. He opened the trunk and threw the cans and the water bottle into a small cardboard box that we kept for garbage. He rummaged through various tools, oil containers and windshield washer fluid until he found an old crumpled pair of brown leather gloves. Dad straightened them out and handed them to me to hold. He continued looking until he located an old catalogue. I understood why my dad had grabbed the gloves. I had no idea what he was going to do with the catalogue. We headed back to the biker who was still walking the ditch. My dad said, "Here's some gloves for you. And I brought you a catalogue as well." "Thanks," he replied. I really appreciate it." He reached into his hip pocket and withdrew a worn black wallet. "Let me give you some money for the gloves," he said as he slid some bills out. "No thanks," my dad replied as I handed the rider the gloves. "They're old and not worth anything anyway." The biker smiled. "Thanks a lot." He pulled on the old gloves and then he unzipped his jacket. I watched as my father handed him the catalogue and the biker slipped it inside his coat. He jostled his jacket around to get the catalogue sitting high and centered under his coat and zipped it up. I remember nodding my head at the time, finally making sense of why my dad had given him the catalogue. It would keep him bit warmer. After wishing the biker well, my father and I left him warming up his bike. Two weeks later, the biker came to our home and returned my father's gloves. He had found our address on the catalogue. Neither my father nor the biker seemed to think that my father stopping at the side of the road for a stranger and giving him a pair of gloves, and that stranger making sure that the gloves were returned, were events at all out of the ordinary for people who rode motorcycles. For me, it was another subtle lesson. It was spring the next year when I was sitting high on my throne, watching the farm fields slip by when I saw two bikes coming towards us. As they rumbled past, both my father and I waved, but the other bikers kept their sunglasses locked straight ahead and did not acknowledge us. I remember thinking that they must have seen us because our waves were too obvious to miss. Why hadn't they waved back? I thought all bikers waved to one another. I patted my father on his shoulder and yelled, "How come they didn't wave to us?" "Don't know. Sometimes they don't." I remember feeling very puzzled. Why wouldn't someone wave back? Later that summer, I turned 12 and learned how to ride a bike with a clutch. I spent many afternoons on a country laneway beside our home, kicking and kicking to start my father's '55 BSA. When it would finally sputter to a start, my concentration would grow to a sharp focus as I tried to let out the clutch slowly while marrying it with just enough throttle to bring me to a smooth takeoff. More often, I lurched and stumbled forward while trying to keep the front wheel straight and remember to pick my feet up. A few feet farther down the lane, I would sigh and begin kicking again. A couple of years later, my older brother began road racing, and I became a racetrack rat. We spent many weekends wandering to several tracks in Ontario-Harewood, Mosport and eventually Shannonville. These were the early years of two-stroke domination, of Kawasaki green and 750 two-stroke triples, of Yvon Duhamel's cat-and-mouse games and the artistry of Steve Baker. Eventually, I started to pursue interests other than the race track. I got my motorcycle license and began wandering the back roads on my own. I found myself stopping along side roads if I saw a rider sitting alone, just checking to see if I could be of help. And I continued to wave to each biker I saw. But I remained confused as to why some riders never waved back. It left me with almost a feeling of rejection, as if I were reaching to shake someone's hand but they kept their arm hanging by their side. I began to canvass my friends about waving. I talked with people I met at bike events, asking what they thought. Most of the riders told me they waved to other motorcyclists and often initiated the friendly air handshake as they passed one another. I did meet some riders, though, who told me that they did not wave to other riders because they felt that they were different from other bikers. They felt that they were "a breed apart." One guy told me in colorful language that he did not "wave to no wusses.'' He went on to say that his kind of bikers were tough, independent, and they did not require or want the help of anyone, whether they rode a bike or not. I suspected that there were some people who bought a bike because they wanted to purchase an image of being tougher, more independent, a not-putting-up-with-anyone's-crap kind of person, but I did not think that this was typical of most riders. People buy bikes for different reasons. Some will be quick to tell you what make it is, how much they paid for it, or how fast it will go. Brand loyalty is going to be strong for some people whether they have a Harley, Ford, Sony, Nike or whatever. Some people want to buy an image and try to purchase another person's perception of them. But it can't be done. They hope that it can, but it can't. Still, there is a group of people who ride bikes who truly are a "breed apart." They appreciate both the engineering and the artistry in the machines they ride. Their bikes become part of who they are and how they define themselves to themselves alone. They don't care what other people think. They don't care if anyone knows how much they paid for their bike or how fast it will go. The bike means something to them that nothing else does. They ride for themselves and not for anyone else. They don't care whether anyone knows they have a bike. They may not be able to find words to describe what it means to ride, but they still know. They might not be able to explain what it means to feel the smooth acceleration and the strength beneath them. But they understand. These are the riders who park their bikes, begin to walk away and then stop. They turn and took back. They see something when they look at their bikes that you might not. Something more complex, something that is almost secret, sensed rather than known. They see their passion. They see a part of themselves. These are the riders who understand why they wave to other motorcyclists. They savor the wave. It symbolizes the connection between riders, and if they saw you and your bike on the side of the road, they would stop to help and might not ask your name. They understand what you are up against every time you take your bike on the road-the drivers that do not see you, the ones that cut you off or tailgate you, the potholes that hide in wait. The rain. The cold. I have been shivering and sweating on a bike for more than 40 years. Most of the riders that pass give me a supportive wave. I love it when I see a younger rider on a "crotch rocket" scream past me and wave. New riders carrying on traditions. And I will continue in my attempts to get every biker just a little closer to one another with a simple wave of my gloved clutch hand. And if they do not wave back when I extend my hand into the breeze as I pass them, I will smile a little more. They may be a little mistaken about just who is a "breed apart."
Midnight bugs taste best. Saddlebags can never hold everything you want, but they can hold everything you need. Never try to race an old man, he may have one more gear than you. You'll get farther down the road if you learn to use more than two fingers on the front brake. Routine maintenance should never be neglected It takes more love to share the saddle than it does to share the bed. The only good view of a thunderstorm is in your rearview mirror. Never be afraid to slow down. Only bikers understand why dogs love to stick their heads out car windows. Never ask a biker for directions if you're in a hurry to get there. Don't ride so late into the night that you sleep through the sunrise. Pie and coffee are as important as gasoline. Sometimes it takes a whole tank full of gas before you can think straight. Riding faster than everyone else only guarantees you'll ride alone. Never hesitate to ride past the last street light at the edge of town. Never mistake horsepower for staying power. A cold hamburger can be reheated quite nicely by strapping it to an exhaust pipe and riding forty miles. Never do less then forty miles before breakfast. If you don't ride in the rain-you don't ride. A bike on the road is worth 2 in the shop. Respect the person who has seen the dark side of motorcycling and lived. Young riders pick a destination and go... Old riders pick a direction and go. A good wrench will let you watch without charging you for it. Sometimes the fastest way to get there is to stop for the night. Always back your scoot into the curb-and sit where you can see it. Whatever it is, it's better in the wind. When you look down the road, it seems to never end-but you better believe it does. Winter is Natures way of telling you to polish. A motorcycle can't sing on the streets of a city. Keep your bike in good repair: motorcycle boots are not comfortable for walking. People are like motorcycles: each is customized a bit differently. If the bike isn’t braking properly, don't start by rebuilding the engine. Remember to pay as much attention to your partner as you do your carburetor. Sometimes the best communication happens when you're on separate bikes. Well-trained reflexes are quicker than luck. Good coffee should be indistinguishable from 50 weight motor oil. The best alarm clock is sunshine on chrome. Learn to do counterintuitive things that may someday save your butt. If you really want to know what's going on watch what's happening at least 5 cars ahead. If the person in the next lane at the stoplight rolls up the window and locks the door, support their view of life by snarling at them. A friend is someone who'll get out of bed at 2am to drive his pickup to the middle of nowhere to get you when you're broken down. Catching a June bug at 70 mph can double your vocabulary. There's something ugly about a new bike on a trailer. Hunger can make even road kill taste good. Sleep with one arm through the spokes and keep your pants on. Practice wrenching on your own bike. Everyone crashes. Some get back on. Some don't. Some can't. Beware the biker who says the bike never breaks down. Some bikes run on 99-octane ego. Owning 2 bikes is useful because at least one can be raided for parts at any given time. You'll know she loves you if she offers to let you ride her bike. Don't do it and she'll love you even more. Never argue with an 18-wheeler. Never be ashamed to unlearn an old habit. Maintenance is as much art as it is science. A good long ride can clear your mind, restore your faith, and use up a lot of gasoline. If the countryside seems boring, stop, get off your bike, and go sit in the ditch long enough to appreciate what was here before the asphalt came. If you can't get it going with bungee cords and electricians tape, it's serious. Gray-haired bikers don't get that way from pure luck. There are drunk bikers. There are old bikers. There are no old, drunk bikers. Thin leather looks good in the bar, but it won't save you from "road rash" if you go down. The best modifications cannot be seen from the outside. Always replace the cheapest parts first. You can forget what you do for a living when your knees are in the breeze. No matter what brand you ride, it's all the same wind. It takes both pistons and cylinders to make a bike run. One is not more important than the other. Bugs caught in teeth are a good source of protein. You never really learn to swear until you learn to drive. Don’t drive faster than your guardian angel can fly. You don't stop riding because you get old - You get old because you stop riding. Motorcycling isn't dangerous at all… crashing is. Remember, shiny side up… rubber side down. Cars transport the body. Motorcycles transport the soul. I ride way too fast to worry about cholesterol. When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane. It's more fun to ride a slow bike fast, than a fast bike slow. It is better to go into a corner slow and come out fast than it is to go into a corner fast and come out dead. You should always learn something new from each ride. In this way, the sport remains ever fresh. A life lived without risk is no life at all. Ah, motorcycling... where a fat man can look graceful! Most motorcycle problems are caused by the nut that connects the handlebars to the saddle. Life may begin at 30, but it doesn't get real interesting until about 150. Insisting on perfect safety is for people who don't have the balls to live in the real world. Never trade the thrills of living for the security of existence. If you wait, all that happens is that you get older. If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough. You never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist's office. A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. You can always tell how happy a motorcyclist is by the number of flys on his teeth. When life throws you a curve, steer towards the apex and lean. It's only far if you don't go. A good rider can overcome marginal equipment. However, even the best equipment can't overcome a marginal rider.
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