Twenty Years Behind Bars

I had an amazing ride last night, so I thought I’d take the time to share something that is a large part of who and what I am. Much of my identity is tied up in being a rider and having spent so much time in the saddle. I wanted to take a moment to explain why it means so much to me, and how its more than just a mode of transportation. It becomes a way of life. Maybe I can begin to make you understand. 

I have lived on both coasts, and I have ridden all over both sides of this great country. I have experienced the thrill of whipping down old Route 66 with the Cali sun in my face, and I have had the exhilaration of carving up the switchbacks and valleys of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I have smiled and grinned with pride at seeing and hearing hundreds of my fellow riders thunder out onto a bike run, and I have cried tears at seeing brothers fall. 

I have been riding now for half of my life. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner. I can honestly tell you that my life became better and more balanced when I started riding. It’s a funny joke in biker circles, but it really is true: It’s a form of therapy. 

I’ll start off by saying I have one bike. She’s all I really need. Her name is Cassandra, and we’ve been all over this country together. She’s a 2005 Harley Davidson Softail Deuce, and she’s a beauty. They stopped making the Deuce in 2007, so that, on top of having put so much time, energy and money into her, keeps me loyal. When I pictured a Harley Davidson when I was younger, this was the bike I had in mind. She still makes me smile when I see her parked in the lot outside a roadhouse or restaurant. That’s important to me. You have to love what you ride. 

Cassandra in front of the USS Massachusetts

That brings me to another point: It doesn’t matter what bike you ride. Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of it, and chances are, they probably aren’t a rider. I started on a metric cruiser (Suzuki Intruder) and she was a hell of a bike. I learned on her, made mistakes on her, and ultimately, it was the right bike for that time in my life. 

I ride a Harley now because that’s what I like. Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t bother me that it’s not the fastest bike. It doesn’t bother me that it’s ancient technology, and the air-cooled belt driven motor is a dinosaur compared to the amazing and impressive advances in technology over the past decade. It doesn’t bother me that you have to be Popeye to operate the ancient cable clutch while stuck in traffic. 

I ride it because it’s exactly what I want. Simple, clean and powerful. I see it as an extension of me, and most riders feel the same way about their bikes. If you ride, you understand what I’m talking about. It’s a different feeling than driving or owning a car or truck. You can have immense pride in your car, take care of it, and appreciate its beauty, but it’s a different feeling. When I’m on my bike, I become that moment, and I’m not simply riding through the city or countryside, I’m part of it. I can feel the subtle temperature changes. I experience the elements, good and bad. I can hear the sounds, smell the scents, and I can look all around me with nothing blocking my vision. You become part of the world around you. It’s an incredible high, and once you experience it, it’s hard to let go. 

If you’re reading this, chances are you don’t ride. Approximately only 8% of American households have a motorcycle. I’m not even trying to convince you to go out and buy one. It’s not for everyone. It can be uncomfortable at times, inconvenient at times, and above all, it can be dangerous. Everytime I’m in the saddle, I know it can be my last time.  I’ve watched brothers fall, and I’ve lost several who would be here today if they were in a car. That’s the reality of it. There’s something about it though, that makes those risks worth it, at least to me. 

These days, I try to keep my life simple. I try my hardest to be a good man and a good citizen of our beloved nation. I try to be a good son to my incredible parents. As a newly married man, I also try to be a good husband to my wife, and a loving father to our little girl. I also do my best to be an effective, engaging and passionate teacher. 

My daughter and I sitting on Cassandra

Being behind bars keeps me balanced in all that. It’s what keeps me sane, and allows me freedom and individuality, and helps keep me focused on those other aspects of my life. Being a rider allows me to breathe, and feel alive. It did that the first time I sat in the saddle twenty years ago, and it’s still doing it today. 

I hope you have something in your life that makes you feel that way. It makes life worth living. 

-Z

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