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Steve Lunetta: Freedom can be found on two wheels

Right About Now

Posted: September 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: September 12, 2011 1:55 a.m.
 

A couple of weeks ago, my son and I decided to do something very unusual. We enrolled in the beginning motorcycle class over at COC. And, miracle of miracles, we passed the test, and now have our motorcycle licenses.

Of course, my wife, Trish, thinks we are absolutely crazy. Being a former EMT and ambulance driver in our early married years, she often came home and regaled me with stories of bike riders’ misfortunes on the streets of Sacramento.

The worst was probably the encounter between a drunken Kawasaki rider and a steel cable that was hung across a construction site. The cable won.

But, Trish’s concerns merely added to my own apprehensions for a middle-aged man to climb onto a powerful engine on two wheels. I still remember the time when I was a kid and my buddy let me climb onto his 80cc dirt bike and pop the clutch. Needless to say, I wound up on my back, and he wound up chasing the bike down a hill.

As a commuter, I am always frustrated by the bikers that “lane split” on the freeway when traffic is stopped and I’m sitting there wondering why I can’t do the same.

So, casting caution aside, we went for it. The first night was classroom instruction. Who knew there was so much to remember? The location of all those controls and which body limb actuates what was mind-boggling. I knew I was going to grab the brake when I thought I was turning on the headlight.

But our instructor Dave was very patient and covered the material slowly and thoroughly. His first priority was clearly our safety, and it showed through in all he did and said. And we learned.

The next day was the tough part: actually riding the darn things.

At 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, 12 of us gathered in the COC parking lot to tempt fate. I selected a Honda Rebel, a 250cc beast that seemed slightly less threatening. For those who don’t know, “cc” stands for “cubic centimeter,” which is the displacement size of the engine.

I learned that the smaller engine sizes are really for kids. At 250cc, an adult can comfortably kill himself. At larger engine sizes, you turn into a smear mark on the freeway. Oh, goody.

Our other instructor, Bob, rides a 1,500cc Honda Goldwing, which has an engine the same size as my 1963 VW Beetle that

I had in my earlier-formative years. Bob can ride two Goldwings Roman gladiator-style while standing on his head and making a cheese blintz. Show-off.

I fired up my Rebel and began the process of learning how to ride. For those unfamiliar with motorcycles, your left hand operates the clutch, your left foot shifts gears, your right hand works the throttle and front brake, and your right foot triggers the rear brake. And your mouth utters a silent prayer.

“Lord, here I come. I’m beating Earl into heaven.”

But, then it happened. I got up into second gear and a smile spread across my face. I shifted into third, and the smile got bigger. I began to slalom through the cones and teeth began to show. I was hooked.

As the old ’70s Yamaha commercial said, “Today is the day that learners will see what’s on the other side.”

I saw what is on the other side, and I liked it. Immensely. Bob told me to stop smiling so much. I couldn’t help it. My eyes were opened.

Something else also happened. While going through the numerous exercises and skill-building challenges, I realized that motorcycle riders are actually very skilled. It takes immense focus and concentration to control a bike and keep yourself safe on the road.

Driving a car (or “cage” as Bob called it) is relative child’s play in comparison. In my car later, I was stunned at how simple it was. I also caught myself thinking like a bike-rider — looking four and 12 seconds ahead to anticipate the future and save my life. It has made me a better car driver.

At the breaks, I learned that most of us shared the same interests and views. Most of us owned guns and were very conservative.

It got me thinking: Do those who love freedom gravitate to pursuits that allow us to express and enjoy that freedom? I tend to think so.

I think the popularity of motorcycle riding has little to do with the actual machines. It has more to do with a mindset and desire to be free to express ourselves as we wish and not be told what to do, say, or think.

I have crossed over. I get it now, my biker brethren.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and now has a Harley tattoo. He can be reached at slunetta63@yahoo.com.

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