My First Group Ride

The sound of 20-odd motorcycles starting up at once and revving their engines cuts through the air and the sound is furious. I suspect that the sound can only possibly be compared to hearing the chants and shouts of a group of Maori warriors intimidating their opponents with a Haka war chant. It is, in the most literal sense of the word, awesome. 

    This is my first ever group ride. One of the main reasons why so many people get into motorcycling is to attend these events. There is a certain sense of comradery that I feel amongst these complete strangers that I’ve never felt ever before in my life. Upon first arriving I was immediately greeted by the ride leader who started asking about my bike, but it was soon clear that he knew much more about it than I did. My motorcycle is a second hand Ducati Monster 400 that I got for cheap because it had a dent in the tank. It’s good for riding around the city and in the urban areas that I visit, it can handle corners pretty damn well, whenever I fill it up it doesn’t cost mush, and that is practically all I know about it. 

    Instead of embarrassing myself by conveying how little I know about my own bike I decided to delve into what he was riding. It was a Kawasaki Ninja, a brand and model that I certainly recognised as one of the ones known for being fast. Really fast. At just the first inquest I was given a barrage of information about it – the engine size, how fast he’s gotten it up to – 200km/h according to him, what mods he’s added, how it feels going around corners and also the sharpest corners that he’s ever been around. Going around the group I find that everyone is like this, and it makes them all incredibly easy to converse with and I feel that I’ve learned more about riding in these few minutes than I ever did in the multiple day-long courses I had to go through in order to get my license. 

    That’s one of the great things about people with hobbies – ask them even the simplest questions about their interests and they’ll lay out their whole life story with such passion and gusto that you can’t help but be enraptured. This goes double for most of the people here because if you run out of conversation about their ride then you can simply transition into questions about their tattoos, which they are all too willing to explain and that all have interesting stories attached.

    But for now the formalities are over and my fellow riders have began to pull out of the small petrol station that was chosen as a meeting place and as we peel out the individuality of each of the motorcycles begins to be revealed; there are the high whines that can be associated with the Japanese brands that waste minimal energy on making sounds; below that are the deeper sounding scramblers that rumble and sound like an untamed wilderness – this is where my bike sits – and then, coming up just behind me, is the deep and powerful rumble of a Harley Davidson and a Triumph which sound like the angry roars of a raging bull. These two individuals have decided to stay at the back of the pack to ensure no one gets left behind even though their bikes, with those massive engines, could easily overtake me. The reasons for this, I’ve been told, is because our route is going to be rather twisty and their bikes cannot handle that as well as even my bike, despite it’s comparative disadvantage in engine size, and also to ensure any inexperienced bikers have someone around to help them out if they need it. 

    The first part of the ride is just along a highway that’s about as exciting as driving along Monash, but this is also the part where some of the riders create their own excitement. Ahead of me I can see one of the riders doing a wheelie, going at 110km/h, with all the casualness I would give to stretching my leg while riding. Up next is the man on the Ninja who lifts one of his legs up and over the tank and rides side saddle. He’s not even looking at the road and is simply using a single hand to control the throttle. Turning to everyone around him he gives a brief thumbs up, and I can only imagine he has an enormous grin hidden beneath his helmet. After a while of this a competitor approaches; he cuts up through all of us, gives a response thumbs up, and then lays back on the seat and puts his feet up on the handlebars as though he were simply relaxing on a hammock. He only remains in this position for a few seconds before sitting back up, but I am suddenly conscious of all the muscles I’m having to use just to hold onto the bike at this speed.

    After the casualness of their interaction the ride leader and this competitor, probably someone who has ridden with him for a long time, hold their hands out to indicate that our exit is coming up soon. I know that there will only be a short ride after this exit before we get into the main purpose of our ride. The one who was sitting side-saddle pulls off and slows way down before pulling way off to the side. I see in my side mirror that he’s waiting for the two hogs to come rumbling through before continuing. After the final riders make the exit I see that not only does this person’s act help the group by ensuring that even inexperienced riders get to keep up with the pack, it also helps the individual; because immediately afterwards he puts the throttle on full, opens up the bike, and flies past me at speeds I can only imagine getting to on my little Ducati. In almost an instant he’s back at the front of the group to set the pace and be ready to guide people like me through turns that they otherwise wouldn’t have known to make.

    Soon after came the experience that I was promised and that every rider there was longing for – what was called amongst the group ‘The Twisties.’ This is the stretch of road where expediency wasn’t really considered and so the roads went along to match the natural contours of the hills. I had been through some roads with sharp bends in them before, but never had I experienced anything like this. In one moment you were performing a sharp turn where your knees were an inch above the ground and in the exact next moment there was a wide turn that seemed to last an age where you just had to keep the bike turned at an angle as the further it went one the faster you felt you could go until you eventually ended up doing 120 along it with the engine shouting furiously in an attempt to get you around this damned corner. Then you’d exit it into the next corner that required you to briefly slow down and analyse it and only then would you realise how fast you were going. I never thought about slowing down after that; I only thought about how much faster I could have been going. Speed limits be damned. 

    I felt myself, at the end of each corner, growing more and more confident and my speed at the next bend would increase further and further. Then I understood what a very experienced rider had once told me – ‘just look where you want to go and the bike will take you there.’ So for each wind, instead of looking directly in front of me for any sudden dangers I took the longer approach and looked to the end of the turn knowing that my bike would take me wherever I wanted to go. This was the most exhilarating thing I had ever done in my life, having been constricted to the speed limit or, more often than not, less than the speed limit while riding around the city I felt so freed having no consideration for the recommendations of consultants to the police on how to make as much money as possible aka the ones who make the speed limits.

    Just then, as the Anarchistic thoughts were entering my mind and as I was exiting a long curve I heard the bikes ahead flare up in a way I hadn’t heard yet. I wanted desperately to know exactly why this sudden excitation had happened and when I finally rounded the corner and could see ahead I knew exactly what it was. Before me was a long, empty stretch of road whose only occupants were the people I was riding with. This, even I knew, was one of the most beautiful sights for any motorcyclist. I readjusted my grip so that I would have more leverage over the throttle, then I tucked my elbows into my ribs and bent down so that I contorted to the curves of the machine. I let go of the throttle, took a deep breath in, pulled in the clutch and shifted down from sixth gear to third. 

    ‘Putting her on,’

    ‘Opening her up,’

    ‘Letting her go,’

    ‘Fucking her up,’

    These are all phrases that are used, within the motorcycling community, to mean putting your bike at full throttle and trying to go as fast as you possibly can. After shifting into third gear and breathing out I fucking let her go. My throttle was pulled down as far as I could pull it and my revvs were maxed out. I’ve never read Faulkner’s ‘The Sound and the Fury,’ but if the subject is anything other than going full pelt with max revs on a bike along an empty straight of road then the book is criminally mistitled. The huffing grunt of a hog that I was used to was instead replaced by the screaming, furious cries of a beast that was pissed at something and on a mission to find it.

    My speedo kept climbing – 130, 140, 150 – the wind pounded against my chest even through my leather jacket and it shook my helmeted head so much that I was straining my neck to see straight. I decided to pull my body in even more, pushing my chest closer to the fuel tank, bringing my knees in to wrap around the curves of the bike’s body, craning my neck so I was no longer gazing at the road in front of me but at the fields beyond me. My hand was still full on the throttle and in the brief moment I gazed down I saw that the needle was at 160 and continued climbing. This moment was indescribably euphoric. The machine was no longer a tool I used to cruise around and look good with, it was myself the way I wanted to live. Every facet of the road I felt intimately, as no driver ever could. I was going almost 170 kilometers per hour. The sun shone over me, the road presented itself before me, and the bike accepted me and encouraged me towards ever further speeds. 

    I almost didn’t feel like slowing down. I felt like just letting the road take me. Becoming a spirit of this path and watching speed-demons push their machines faster and faster for all eternity seemed like a pretty fun way to enjoy the afterlife. But this wishful thinking wore off as the bike in front of me snapped me out of it with the flash of her brake light, and so I applied my breaks, geared back up the fifth, and made the turn. 

    Now we were only going 80, and I felt almost sluggish. This was the speed limit around these bends, but I knew I could be doing at least 120 and I wondered why we weren’t. Then I gazed the reason why; up ahead of us was a small little Toyota that was absolutely sticking to the speed limits and was going painfully slow around the bends. This is one of the reasons why I chose motorcycling over car driving – in a car you are controlled by the idiot or idiots in front of you, but on a bike it’s much easier to overtake and weave between moronic motorists. These people were clearly just some fucking Weekend drivers who don’t know how to drive and would probably be banned from doing so if they weren’t so profitable along the toll roads. 

    After a seeming eternity there was an overtaking area and we each went around them. I took a little extra time to gaze through their windows to see what breed of people would be so boring and so earth-bound as to not want to risk their lives along these exciting bends. Unsurprisingly they were an elderly couple. After passing them I let out a short prayer under my breath ‘please lord, let the road take me before I become old.’

    The rest of the ride went on pretty much the same as before. Soon enough we ended up at our predetermined destination – a lovely little pub with an Al Fresco dining area and friendly staff who had a few members who had joined in on these group rides before and were unreservedly excited to let these “hoodlums and hooligans” in and hear all about their experience along the ride. 

    We talked for a fair while, and for every conversation I got involved in the topic of the old couple going ‘fucking fifty’ around a wide bend that easily could’ve been taken at eighty was brought up. So, as far as I can tell, all the members of this group agree with me. Just remember that if your precious sensibilities are upset by the sound of a motorcycle going through your street then don’t worry, most of us will probably be dead soon. That’s one of the two things I learned along this ride – that these people would rather die in a crash after opening her up to as much as she can take rather than die at an artificially inflated age. The other thing I learned is that these motorcyclists – these rugged individualists – believe in a fraternity of their peers, and their belief in this is far stronger than any other group I have ever interacted with. Anyone willing to ride with them is immediately welcomed into the family no matter their background, experience, class, race, sexuality, gender or any other feature you can use to ‘define’ and ‘group’ humans.

    The final thing that I learned was that I love riding, and I will absolutely be flooring it with this group of wonderful individuals again very, very soon.

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