[Rev] Motorcycle Heaven | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

[Rev] Motorcycle Heaven

GIVEAWAY: The Pearl River Resort is giving away a free Harley every Saturday through May 22. Ride your own bike to Choctaw for the Pearl River Run bike rally, Motorcycles and Music, May 21-23. Visit pearlriverresort.com for details.

It all started with the arrival of a repair manual, and Billy got that demonic gleam in his eyes. The manual, called the Harley Davidson Sportster Handbook, is one of hundreds that he gets each year—he loves to buy auto-repair manuals from Powell's or eBay for cars that he's working on. But this was different. Along with the Sportster book, there appeared, out of thin air one night, the horrible carnage of a Harley Sportster. This could only mean one thing: My boyfriend is going to start riding a motorcycle.

For many, motorcycles are a sort of rebirth. Take some friends of my mom's, for example. He, let's call him Dan, was the type of guy who, during parties, would sneak away in order to be near his computer; he was wan and skinny. He was getting into his 50s, and this was going to be it. Somehow, though, his wife, Winnie, convinced him that they should get matching Harley motorcycles. After she took riding classes, and he managed to stop dropping the thing, their lives opened up and blossomed. Having motorcycles has created a new lifestyle for them. Dan has grown tan and muscular (those bikes are heavy!), and she wears a leather vest and Harley earrings. They go out on weekend rides; they've joined a Harley club and have met tons of new friends.

You might think Dan and Winnie are now hanging out with guys with names like Spike or Hound Dog. However, the other people in their riding club aren't Hell's Angels out to crack some heads or pillage small towns. The majority of their fellow Harley riders are older professionals—doctors and lawyers who like to get into some leather on the weekends, and go for long windy rides in the country. According to a recent article in The Los Angeles Daily News, Dan and Winnie are part of a growing segment of older professionals who are looking toward Harleys to set them free. Harley-Davidson dealers report the median age of buyers is 45 years and over, with a median income of almost $80,000.

Bikes are still dangerous, though, no matter who's driving them. The flip side of this miraculous rebirth of your soul is the possibility of death, which increases greatly on a motorcycle. A report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1999 said that motorcycles made up 2 percent of registered vehicles in the U.S., but that same year, they made up 5.5 percent of all traffic fatalities. The NHTSA also found that those on motorcycles were 3.6 times likely to die compared to those in passenger cars. The reasons seem obvious; soft body on unenclosed speeding machine vs. speeding enclosed machine=dead motorcyclist. The age group of 40-49 showed an increase of 44 percent in fatalities in the last 10 years, so death follows the trend.

Of course, Harleys aren't the only motorcycles out there. There's a motorcycle group ("gang" seems too harsh) in my neighborhood, the East Bay Rats, who pledge allegiance to no motorcycle company. In order to become a Rat, you have to salvage a dead bike from a junkyard and, piece by piece, make it ride-able again. For them it's not about a brand—Harleys can cost over $30,000—it's about fixing something, caring for it and making it breathe again. I'm told a lot of the guys (and it's only guys, unfortunately) were computer geeks, but now they wear leather jackets emblazoned with the Rats logo. My Billy seems to think this is where his motorcycle adventure will lead. But have I told you Billy's already got a scar from a hot tailpipe on his calf from some crazy stuff he did as a young kid on a motorcycle? And that he's a terror behind the wheel of a fast car? So imagine him on a motorcycle.

You must understand, then, that when I look at Billy, and he's so excited about this motorcycle, I see two things. One is of us riding along the coast, through forests, and hillsides, the light golden, and we are free. But the second thing I imagine is me sneaking out to the motorcycle late one night and slashing the tires, pouring water into the engine, beating the hell out of the machine until it won't move again. And I guess those are the two sides of this story.

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