Sometimes it's hard, and that's what makes it great

I like riding motorcycles even when it isn’t easy.

I was sitting at my desk on a Friday night when I got a call from my buddy Mani. Turns out his girlfriend was spending the weekend at a bachelorette party, and with his weekend wide open, Mani wanted to ride.  

I met Mani last year at Pine Barrens Adventure Camp Riding School, where he was working as an instructor. At six feet, seven inches tall, he was pretty much the only other person there who could make an adventure bike look like an appropriately sized machine for tackling off-road riding.

It’s not. They’re not.

Mani Kalidasa KTM 1090 Adventure R

Adventure bikes are big and heavy and they require a certain amount of finesse to properly navigate the channels of dirt, sand, and mud the advertisements make look so easy. Those with short inseams will struggle to find sure footing at a stop or when dabbing. Should you fall, you’ll be thankful you’ve been keeping up with all those squats at the gym.

What’s that? You haven’t been keeping up with your squats? Well, luckily, that’s what friends are for.

I could have enjoyed a nice relaxing Friday night. I could have met friends after work at that new bar down on Passyunk Avenue. I could have laughed with the bartender and flirted with that cute girl I was convinced was smiling at me, even though she wasn’t.

Mani’s phone call changed my plans for Friday night. I went home, made dinner (i.e. scrambled some eggs) and prepped gear. I drank a beer while I prepackaged spare tubes in Ziplock bags with Monkey Butt powder (a trick I learned from Steve Kamrad after getting a flat tire on Conserve the Ride). My roommate was still out with friends when I turned in at 10:30 p.m. in order to be up by 5 a.m.

The faint sound of raindrops splatting against my window was the second sound I heard, after my alarm clock. My bed taunted me as I winced through the pain of buckling up my motocross boots (a few little piggies are still broken from an earlier crash). I cleaned my hydration pack while I waited for the coffee to trickle from my old Mr. Coffee machine. After a light breakfast (more eggs), I walked through the rain to the garage, flicked the light switch and waited for my eyes adjust to the dimly lit shop.

It was only 7 a.m. Not too late to call Mani and tell him I wasn’t feeling well, I thought to myself. I could go back inside, brew another pot of coffee and relax on the couch with that Robbie Roberson biography that has been sitting on my end table since Christmas. I hesitated before hitting the large white button on the wall, activating the garage door.

KTM 1090 Adventure R and 1190 Adventure R

I had to move some motorcycles out of the way to reach the one I wanted, the newest addition. The white-and-orange Austrian behemoth sat there in the rain, doing its best imitation of a dirt bike, while I gathered the rest of my gear.

It rained for nearly the entire ride from Philadelphia to New Jersey. It was what Forest Gump would have called a “sting-ging rain.” It was cold for July, with temperatures barely cresting 60 degrees. I shivered. The trip, which normally takes me about an hour and a half, stretched to nearly two hours. Mani, apparently affected by the rain as well, had texted me that he was also running late. 

It was 9:30 a.m. when Mani greeted me with a hug; we were the only two who had actually showed up. He ate a banana as we traded a laundry list of excuses we had each received from our friends for backing out.

The couch is always easier.

Mani Kalidasa KTM 1090 Adventure R and 1190 Adventure R

We checked our tire pressures and I adjusted my handlebars before following a sandy trail into the woods. My mind always spends those first few miles of off-road riding wrestling with the laws of physics as my body acclimates to the bike sliding around.

Let the bike move. Grip with your knees. Ass back. Balance. I talk to myself a lot in my helmet. Mani, linked with me via our Senas, had become my audience.   

And then, all of a sudden, it gets easier.

Mani Kalidasa KTM 1090 Adventure R

The rear wheel slides perfectly through the corner, the rubber touches down after a “professionally” executed jump (if professionals get excited over capturing six inches of air), and that tricky section of deep sand that normally serves as a trap flows like a pillow underneath the TKC 80s. Suddenly, I’m not cold, or wet, or tired, I’m just riding.

By the time we stopped for lunch, five hours had slipped by. Over BLT and ham sandwiches at the local diner in Hammonton, Mani and I caught up. While he is no longer instructing at a professional level, he has been busy teaching his girlfriend how to ride a motorcycle and the pair just returned from a vacation to Montana. When I asked him if he missed bestowing his knowledge on new riders looking to master the dark arts of riding big bikes off-road, he paused before responding.

“Sometimes, but I really think I just needed a break,” he said. “Too many people just want to show up and tell you about something they read about on a forum somewhere. It was frustrating trying to get people to trust you when they just thought they knew better. And then, inevitably, they fall.”

From my experience it seems that folks don’t seem to realize that falling is par for the course. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “If only I can get through this without dropping my bike…”

Spurgeon Dunbar I, on the other hand, fall a lot. My friend Amelia joked recently that I was the only person she knows who crashes (constantly) trying to get in or out of the campsite. “The ride is over! How are you lying on the ground right now?”

But I get a little bit better each time. If you never fall, you never learn the limits of your abilities. It’s not easy picking up these big bikes, but the more you pick them up, the less you’ll have to.

Spurgeon Dunbar KTM 1090 Adventure R

Everyone will tell you that dirt bikes and dual-sports are easier. They are. Lemmy reminds me of this all the time. He just looks at me (usually on the ground with a 500-pound English kitten on top of me) and shakes his head, kicks over whatever tiny two-stroke he’s piloting, and tears off. I follow, somewhat more slowly and deliberately, but I always follow.

I follow, and I learn, and I laugh, and I fall. Then I get back up and repeat the process.

Spurgeon Dunbar KTM 1090 Adventure R

I enjoy riding adventure bikes off-road. They’re not easy but anything that’s worthwhile usually isn’t. The same could be said for attending track days, or hitting the motocross track, or tackling an Iron Butt ride. Pick your poison; we’re not that different.

“It's supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

When Tom Hanks said that he was trying to inspire Geena Davis to keep playing baseball, but it fits here too. Maybe if Nike made motorcycle gear there would be passionate ads about the athleticism and sacrifice of our sport, but they don’t. Therefore, it’s up to us to break the mold and inspire others to join us.

Yeah the couch is easier. But you'll never regale your grandchildren with stories about the time you stayed home and watched “Game of Thrones” all Saturday afternoon.

Forgo easy. Ride a more challenging life.

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