From Cycling to Motorcycling

If you’ve been riding bicycles, I mean really riding bicycles, as in cycling, racing, or maybe you used it for work to deliver things; you know how to handle weight and speed.

Motorcycling is in a lot of ways a different world, but there’s a lot that stays the same. You already know what to look out for on the road; the slippery things, the unseen, the sneak attacks and belligerents.  Now you just have to add in two things: mass and power.

Any motorcycle, scooters included, are absolutely massive compared to a bicycle. Most road bikes weigh around 25 lbs. – the lightest freeway-capable motorcycles weigh at least 350. The torque is enough to destroy a driveway with a twist of the throttle. It is no longer sporting equipment, an attachment to your body; you are attached to it, straddling an engine on two wheels.

To ease the transition, try following these steps:

  1. Start riding your bicycle with tons of weight. Put on cargo racks and do some bike-packing. You’ve probably already done this, if you have just do it more. Load it up with rocks – seriously. Watch how it handles the corners. You might notice you have to push the handlebars the opposite way you’re turning a bit. That is called countersteering, it’s a trick of physics where the front wheel has to… turn aside to allow the weight to fall forward in the direction of the turn a little? At least that’s how it seems to me. Google it for a better explanation.
  2. Get a moped or a light scooter, or borrow one. Get used to riding it, and push the limits a bit. Learn how to handle gravel and rough roads. The countersteer needed will be light, but pay attention to the difference between understeer and just leaning, and where the bike feels like it wants to go when you do each.
  3. Either load up that light scooter with stuff – groceries or whatever – or move up to a larger scooter. Don’t go higher than 150cc, though. Take it on some highways at 35+ if it can handle it, get used to negotiating traffic. Depending on the laws where you live you may need to take the motorcycle endorsement course before you can ride a larger (50cc+) bike, and if so, take the course.
  4. Take the motorcycle endorsement course. Yes, you can teach yourself to ride, but you’re much better off getting all the priceless advice that comes from the wisdom of expert-level riders. Most of the most useful information will come from their asides, their lessons learned. If you’ve only ridden scooters with automatic transmissions up to this point, you’ll learn how to shift gears. It’s great to practice on one of their beat-up bikes.
  5. Get a small motorcycle. Do not get a supersport. Do not even consider anything over 500cc. It doesn’t matter if you can “handle it” or not, you need to build up your skills before moving on.
  6. Ride that bike a lot, very often, in as many conditions and roads as you feel comfortable on. Push the envelope carefully and keep building up your skills. Have a few close calls, even. Keep riding and learning until you’re completely fluid.
  7. Either stop there and enjoy the high fuel economy of your 250cc Ninja, or whatever you ended up with, or keep moving up to larger bikes gradually. Go on plenty of test rides on bikes at stores or borrow your friend’s.

And that’s about as much as I can tell you, as I’m on that last step 7 right now. For all I know it could be the last one, but, I’ve only been riding a few months (albeit thousands of miles in those months). Just like it was on your bicycles, motorcycling is a skill set you never stop learning and adding to.

As in all cases, rubber side down.

I Can’t Operate on This Failure

I can’t just borrow the words of a song
but she gave me pale shelter
so how can I be sure it means anything at all

cold hands and cold comfort
cold is what you feel in the shadows
of someone who only throws shade
by their hand which reaches out
was it to help me rise
or to give a pat on the head?

Jo wanted me to believe I’d hallucinated my own memories
she lit the gas lamp, like the old play
it burned
she helped
she didn’t want to hear it
I’m sure she still wouldn’t
which is fine, I’m through talking

I’m through talking about the most massive loss I’ve ever felt
my real family, the one who never paid lip service
the one always there to truly lift me up
to whom I am forever in her debt
now I’ve fallen
I’m through talking
to someone only concerned with the loss of her human crutch

I’m leaving the pedestal, and honestly, I hope it falls
for her sake and anyone beneath it
her spotlight burns my eyes
and so I turn away

The Heroine

It’s no joke, not hyperbole to say
she’s saved my life before
that she pulled me away from death

Now she stands in the path of her own train
transfixed by its headlights
unable, unwilling to move

They tell me she has to just kick that train away,
to kick a train off its tracks
with legs barely strong enough to walk

But what would you do, if she were your sister?
What if she meant that much to you?
If you knew you couldn’t push, pull, drag her
from its undeniable path?
If the only options were to clutch her
and be crushed with her, to be ruined,
or to watch?
would you scream for her to run, futilely?
would you turn away?
would you even have a choice?

Consider this the FAQ

Q:

Why don’t you ever have more than a couple drinks? What is that doctor’s appointment you go to every Friday about? Why are you so sensitive to jokes about mental illness? Why can’t you pull an all-nighter or two to study for the exam? Why’d you leave at 2 AM and drive all the way home?

A:

The answer to all of these questions is the same; because I have bipolar disorder. More specifically, I have type 1 bipolar disorder with psychotic features. Without effective treatment I will have drastic variations in mood – in brain activity – ranging from severe depression complete with suicidal attempts/ideation and physical symptoms, to manias involving psychosis; paranoid delusions, losing touch with reality. Type 2 bipolar is equally as serious, but in different ways. I’ll write more about my particular experiences later, but for now here’s an article on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website that explains bipolar & its various types fairly well.

That guy you see on the street, dirty and deranged, yelling about some invisible conspiracy? That could easily be me, without the right medication and/or care. In fact, it has, and could be again. That’s why I have to not just take my pills every night (even if its 2 AM and I forgot them, miles away at home), but also take a number of measures to ensure I’m mentally well and staying that way. The biggest part of that puzzle is medication, but there are several other things which factor into mental health. Some of the most important involve diet and exercise.

The reason I’m writing this blog is not just for my own good, though it will be convenient to be able to simply send someone a link that explains so much. It will also be to stick up for those who don’t yet have the courage or ability to do so for themselves, but especially for those who may be suffering but have yet to be diagnosed.

There’s so much more to tell about my experiences, past and present. To put it very briefly; I was diagnosed in 2000 with bipolar when a mania complete with paranoid delusions followed a suicide attempt some months before. Both involved hospitalizations, the first voluntary and short, the second involuntary and several months long. It was hell. Entire weeks of it, I can’t even remember.

Since then, over the course of about 15 years – between 2001 and 2015 – I had relatively little trouble. But when in 2015 and 2016 thanks to insurance and prescription issues when moving between states, I relapsed, twice. the first relapse was relatively minor, but was exacerbated by a toxic work environment. The second, in 2016, was a bit worse but I managed to recover fairly quickly.

These recent experiences have led me to focus more intently on managing my health, as well as getting involved in advocacy. I attend support groups and volunteer on a regular basis, and will be writing a lot about my experiences, here. One major change I’ve made, which has been a lot more difficult than I’d anticipated, is that I don’t keep my diagnosis secret any more. We face a ton of discrimination, as I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve lost jobs, housing, friends, girlfriends, over the mental illness stigma and ignorance it perpetuates. But while a lot of people may remind me to ‘choose my battles’, I would remind them that it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight. If you choose to fight no battles, you lose the war. Read; you lose lives. My cousin Kevin, for instance, at 19 began experiencing the same symptoms I experienced around the same age, but he was too embarrassed/indignant to seek help. Unchecked, it spiraled out of control, and on April 4th, 2002 at 4 pm he threw himself off of a ten story building, to his death.

No one should feel ashamed to seek treatment for an illness which affects that most vital of organs; the brain. If our cautionary tales can lead to just one person picking up the phone to make a doctor’s appointment, or checking themselves in at the ER, if need be, then they’re worth sharing.