When I was a kid growing up in Kingsport, Tenn., my next-door neighbor, and a few years older than me, was Lonnie Bailey. He was the coolest guy I knew. The girls loved him, he sported a “ducktail” haircut, and he had a motorcycle. He had a reputation of being able to fight.
He was “The Fonz” of the neighborhood. I was more like “Potsie.” Sometimes, I would help him on his paper route and would get to ride on the back of his bike. Having a bike, to me, equaled cool.
The one time I tried to ride a bike, when I was 15, did not go well. Another guy in the neighborhood had a motorcycle and offered to let me take it for a spin. Of course, I had no idea how to ride a bike but I kept that to myself. I wrecked his bike within 30 yards and cut a deep gash in my right leg. I lied to my folks about how I received the cut and that was the end of my motorcycle dreams. Until five years ago.
In August 2010, I enrolled in the motorcycle course offered by Great South Harley-Davidson in Newnan, Ga. It was a three-day course and cost around 300 bucks. At 59, I was one of the oldest students in the class. Much to my relief and surprise, I passed the course and received my motorcycle endorsement on my Georgia driver’s license.
I bought a used Harley Road King and drove around my block for two weeks, getting used to the bike. Then, I ventured out on to Highway 34 and just rode up and down the highway for another two weeks. My first venture on to I-85 scared the stuffing out of me. I don’t think I got over 50 miles per hour. Eventually, I grew more comfortable with the machine and with the road.
Five years ago, I was told that it takes more than $20,000 and 20 miles to make a biker. In the past five years I have traveled just under 40,000 miles on two wheels. By some standards, that’s not much. But for me, it is a dream realized. In fact, given a choice, I will ride rather than drive a car, anytime. And, I’m not just a summer rider. I think the coldest weather I’ve ridden in was about 13 degrees.
Does it get too hot to ride? No. Never. I avoid riding in the snow, but I have, inadvertently, ridden hundreds of miles in stormy weather with rain so heavy I could barely see the highway.
The only regret I have is that I didn’t take up motorcycle riding years ago — decades ago. Some people have objected that it is a dangerous pursuit. What I have observed is that the greatest danger to bikers is motorists. People who drive cars don’t just drive. They read, talk on the phone, fiddle with the radio, text, eat, and turn their vehicles into lethal missiles. A minor accident for a car is a fatality for a biker.
The other big dangers are animals, especially deer. But, so far, the benefits have outweighed the disadvantages.
It’s far too late to try to be cool, I’m too much of a realist to think that the girls love me (maybe the granddaughters) and I don’t have enough hair left to fashion a duck tail. I know how to fight but would rather not.
But having a bike and being a biker (and, yes, I claim that title) is its own kind of special. My two older sons have a bike and we ride together pretty often. I ride with some other folks at church and I am in a motorcycle club as well.
But riding alone is also very gratifying. No phone, no computer, no pager — just time with oneself, with one’s thoughts, with the wind, and with the road. It is also time spent with the beauty of creation and with the Creator. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to start.
It was the best 300 bucks I ever spent.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA (www.ctkcec.org). He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee (www.midsouthdiocese.org) and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.