Living on the Edge

By Christopher Esch
April 19th, 2009


I am a biker, living my life on the edge, but it isn’t the edge you think. I am not unique and I am not a rebel.   My motorcycle story is the same as so many others who are on the edge between family life and our consuming desire to spend every available minute riding.  Here it is:

The dangers of motorcycles are obvious and unforgiving.  Bikers are bad people made famous by the likes of Mongols, Hell’s Angels, Banditos and other 1%-ers.    Crotch rockets are for insane youth who are lucky to outlive the paper license plate. Even through the early 1990’s sport-touring was mostly an underground movement in the US.

My dad was a doctor and thought tackle football was too risky.  At 16, I thought a motorcycle would be cheap transportation and that conversation lasted about three minutes. 

I was young and cocky and knew I’d never crash or anything “lame” like that.   I just wanted to go fast and be in the wind.   It looked so fun and so free.  (I also wasn’t paying for my insurance!) I could fly an airplane by myself—but a motorcycle, that was just too dangerous.

Luck would have it that my college roommate owned a Suzuki GS750 and a VW Bus.  Every weekend he’d take the VW down to the beach where he worked as a lifeguard.  He’d leave his helmet, keys and gloves on my bed and I’d make sure it was clean and full of gas on Sunday night.  I started riding around the neighborhood and progressed to longer cruises through rural Riverside County in southern California.   I didn’t know it at the time but I was infected with riding.   (And now I know why he left the keys and seemed to take particular pleasure in creating another rider)

College, marriage and a couple kids happened in a heartbeat.   I was old enough now to know the intrinsic danger with motorcycles.  But despite this knowledge and the social bias against them, so many riders were on the road.   I thought, “It must be more than just a simple thrill that drives these riders,”

I wish I could say I was unique in how I came to own my first bike at 43.   Heart surgery and a midlife “crisis”—I say “correction”—motivated me to stop waiting for life to get here.   My wife signed me up for the MSF basic class as a birthday gift.   She figured I’d rent a Harley once and while.   Three days on that little 250 and I had to get me one and break free of that parking lot, fast.

With my shiny new “M” on my license, I drove down to EagleRider rentals and got me a FatBoy for 24 hours.    I rode up and down Hwy 105 until I had the courage to try some “twisties.”   Called my buddy and he got one too and we rode around another entire, glorious day.

Pretty soon I realized that $165 per day was a bad habit to feed.   So began the big search.  “A 750 is all the bike you’ll ever need.”   “Get an old Harley.  You’re owning history and you’ll learn how to work on it.”  “It’s not like you want to ride the thing to the other side of the country.”   Friends are full of advice.

Craig Miller won the advice contest.  He convinced me I had to have a Honda.  “The Shadow can’t get out of its own way, and Honda has this new 1800cc cruiser.”  I think to myself, “I can’t ride something that big.”  Same day at the office, “Mr. Harley,”—as evidenced by his shirt, coffee mug and pen—tells me his first bike was a Road King.   After 10 days with the Denver Post classifieds I rode home on my 02 VTX1800C.  

I tell my family the cost and insurance is a good deal for entertainment.  I just need a helmet and a jacket.   Are you bikers done laughing yet?   Because it doesn’t end there.  Boots, some chrome, tires, tailpack.   More…   New seat—my butt still hurts when I recall my first 3-day ride on the stock seat.   More than a couple new black shirts in the closet.  

As if all this wasn’t enough for my family to absorb, my new, very-short, helmet-friendly haircut was the signal I had completely changed my life.  I wanted to be ready to go at a moment’s notice.   Ride my bike every day everywhere there wasn’t snow on the ground.  “Sneak” in a ride over lunch or early on Saturday

In trying to minimize the impact to my family, I’d left them out of my excitement.  I golfed, they could understand that.   Now they wonder “Why does Dad want to leave for 3 days and not get anywhere or do anything.   The trip itself is the purpose?  Weird.”

The fear of motorcycling is becoming less of an issue for “wife of biker” or “friend of biker” these days.  Rider safety is more prevalent.   American Chopper and Miami Ink have demystified much of the biker culture.   Recent increases in fuel costs are driving record sales of motorcycles and scooters as well as resurrecting “that old bike” from garages everywhere. There are motorcycles in front of office buildings and in your neighborhood now.

But even with motorcycling now more mainstream, I live in that gap between family and freedom.  Someday I’ll live the dream of taking a month off and riding the four corners of the US.   But for now I relish every sunny fall day and my three-mile ride to work.   I’ve got to go now and take my son to the orthodontist—as soon as I grab my Rider magazine for the waiting room.