As I rounded a curve on a hill during my adventurous ride on a just-purchased used Kawasaki Vulcan Drifter, the bike cut out. This isn’t something you want to experience on an interstate in the dark. I pulled over, coasted to a stop and looked for the problem.
The bike started and I told my wife following me in the car, I’ll go as far as I can, but may pull over again.
And I do, about a mile down the road, just past a bridge and on a slight incline. Trucks buffet you when you’re on the shoulder as they rush by. I’m checking every electrical contact I can find, can’t locate anything wrong. I see gas in the tank when I rock the bike. (There is no fuel gauge.)
I flip switches but nothing makes a difference. I try the starter and nothing happens. I’m flummoxed. Frustrated.
I call the former owner who assures me it’s never happened to him. Maybe that’s true, maybe not. Not that he’s untruthful, but how am I to know sitting here dead in the water as the traffic blows by?
He suggests I’ve hit the cut off switch. Not while I was running on the highway, I counter.
I turn what I think is a reserve fuel petcock. In fact, I don’t know if this bike has a petcock. It never occurred to me to ask.
I’m thinking of calling a tow truck. I’m also envisioning dollar signs flying past as I imagine dropping the bike off at a Kawasaki dealer for repair.
I flip the red switch on the right handlebar, try the starter and the bike fires up. I ride off as my wife continues to talk to him. While sitting here I had flipped the kill switch, but not while riding on the highway. So the problem still exists, I reason.
I look at the odometer. I’ve ridden 134 miles.
The bike gets me to a service station and I fill up, talk to my wife, and continue. The bike runs without a blip and in another hour I turn onto the beltway around the city, almost home.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation tells you to do a fifteen point pre-ride check to prevent becoming stranded by the side of the road. I didn’t do this. On a bike new to me, with an unfamiliar configuration, no less, I just rode off into the wind.
This makes my roadside stall all the more egregious and galling. How do you tell yourself, “I told you so?”
Riding a motorcycle requires presence and full attention. It’s not like driving a car. When I’m riding I can’t let my mind wander, I have to keep my attention on the roadway, the cars nearby, the upcoming intersection and its traffic, that crazy driver coming too fast behind me, the sound of the motor, and a host of other things. You have to “survey, evaluate and execute,” according to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. To see, assess and plan.
You have to know your position relative to the cars around you, anticipate what they might do that could put you at risk, and plan your reaction, which means anticipate an escape move before you need it.
This requires presence all the time. It also requires knowing your bike and not fumbling with its switches in the dark on the side of a roadway.
Being fully present is something we are abandoning in a multitasking world. We’re doing so many things at once we attend to none with our full presence. Undivided attention is becoming a relic of the past.
I think it’s a spiritual problem, perhaps more important than the things that divide us and make us afraid in today’s culture wars.
I’m the prime example of the multi-tasking, divided attention malady. Maybe that’s why I need to ride. I need to re-learn how to be present, to attend to those things that matter and to be reminded that when I overlook this basic fact of life, there are consequences.
I need to integrate my thoughts, focus and center on what’s important in order to keep going.