I have a motorcycle. I like to ride it. It takes me places in a way nothing else can, except for my horse. But my horse is getting old (like me), we can’t ride on public roads and he can’t travel as fast as a motorcycle. Similar to riding a horse, riding a bike is all about the journey; the destination is only one part of the whole. I often find that once I’m ‘there’, I want to get back on again and go.
Horses have names, so does my bike: Red (Red Sonja). Just as every horse has the same basic anatomy, and motorcycles share similar mechanical concepts (power system, function, etc), they all express an individual personality. Red and I are becoming well acquainted; I learn something new about it and myself every time I ride. We both have personalities and I am still learning to mesh mine with Red’s. Every time I add or change something on Red, we go through another meshing.
After the first few times I rode Red, I realized this is not just a machine. Well, rationally, it is a machine, in that it has moving parts, burns combustible fuel and expels waste; it gets hot and cold, and something occasionally breaks that needs repair or replacing. But to really ‘know’ my bike, to truly become ‘one’ together, I have to learn how all the parts of the bike work in synchrony just like my own body. I realized at some point in time I would need to learn how to maintain and fix things myself. Moreso, I want to fix things myself. I have to learn how, what and why. Like knowing anything else, it’s a process.
I posed a question to an online motorcycle group on which I participate and it generated slight confusion. I received answers that created more questions, and even more answers. But that’s the process of learning about anything. Rather than knowing only the effect, I want to learn the cause(s) as well. Invariably, peeling away one component reveals another, and on and on until a system is pieced together. In reality, there is usually more than just one answer, more than one way to go from point A to B.
Now, I approach this endeavor the same way I do working with biological questions. Identify the components and their functions. Examine all the small parts at the molecular level. Sort them according to function and location, and ask how they interact with each other, either top down or bottom up. Then ask how that system and its components, interact with other components outside that system. This is the “system” comprised of sub-systems. How they all work together is like a symphony. When all the instruments are tuned and their sounds mesh, you hear and feel beautiful music: it’s ‘right’.
My question to the group was: how does wind affect gas mileage? Realizing that it was a complex question and there would be several answers, sure enough many factors affect gas mileage. The style in which one rides, the intrinsic components of the bike (engine, transmission, power, fairings, etc), and environmental elements. I targeted one element: how does altitude affect engine performance? Of course, what I was asking was a physics-based question (ultimately everything is reduced to physics). So I learned about air density, humidity, temperature, fuel ratios and altitude.
Regardless, all of these factors influence gas mileage: Wind, altitude, gas octane, engine components, bike design, road surface, temperature, style of driving (e.g. commuting versus long-distance open road). And experience. I explained to my fellow riders that as a novice and a scientist, I want, no, need to know the concepts, the fundamental theories of parts, how they work alone and in synchrony, and why. Then I can add my empirical data, experience on the bike under different conditions, to the basic fundamental knowledge and concepts, and ultimately I am able to alter the behaviour of the bike and my riding.
Being aware of all of these components when you ride allows you to feel all of it in synchrony: the wind, temperature, altitude, fuel combustion, speed, road surface, and so much more. But rather than be overwhelming, it all becomes a part of you and your bike together. Does it detract from the beauty and enjoyment of riding a bike? Only if you let it. On the contrary, it can enhance the sensation and pleasure of riding. Your bike becomes more a part of you and you a part of your bike.
It is my ‘zen’ of riding.