Getting To Know My New Vulcan Drifter at 85 MPH

After I bought an older Vulcan Drifter in Memphis, I had a five hour ride home. I’d never ridden this bike before and I was just a little concerned. I can’t remember when I last rode something other than a BMW.  I doubt I’ve shifted gears on another brand in twenty years, maybe longer. And I don’t ride the Interstate.

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In Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford writes that bikes have personalities. I think the older they are the more unique the personality. They, like us, create patterns of behavior that are familiar and relatively predictable.

I don’t know this bike’s personality and that can mean not knowing how easily or reliably it shifts, brakes, accelerates or runs on the straightaway.

Some say riding is about ninety percent in your head. But the ten percent that’s method is important.

I don’t like riding the Interstate. It’s faster than I’d normally ride. Seventy-five to eighty-five mph is not my preference when I’m exposed to the elements and sitting about six inches above the asphalt.

Trucks whip you around, the wind roars through your helmet. And when I lifted my foot, I felt the pressure of wind and gravity. I was surprised. Because your feet are behind the cylinder heads on a BMW you don’t experience this pressure so it came as a strange sensation.

As it became dark, I became even more cautious and attentive. Pulling alongside an 18-wheel truck at 85 in the dark, being slammed by the wind, knowing I’m about as visible as an ant, is a sobering thing.

Changing lanes is hazardous for other reasons and this caught me by surprise. I hit an invisible pothole in the center line. It was deep and long. Before I knew it, I was in it. The truck was barely twenty feet behind me, running at full speed, headlights at eye level. In my mirrors it looked huge.

You’re supposed to approach such obstacles at a 90 degree angle. But I was entering this one almost on the parallel. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

My mind is running as fast as the bike. What if the front tire blows? What if the steering is yanked out of my control? What if I go down in front of that truck? The driver has no chance of stopping and I have no good exit alternative.

I hit the hole, kept a firm grip, held fast to a straight line and plowed through.

I took a deep breath, thanked the tire manufacturer for making a good product, Newton’s first law of motion for keeping me moving straight ahead, and for good measure, my lucky stars; and I watched for potholes for the rest of the trip.

Days later it occured to me that our interdependency reveals itself in the most surprising places and in the most unexpected ways.

Somewhere government regulators required a certain tensile strength that made the tire strong enough to hold up under extreme conditions. Engineers and designers worked out a cord design that kept it whole. And a team of workers in a manufacturing plant mixed the rubber and other ingredients and monitored the assembly process that resulted in a tire that didn’t blow out at high speed on a dark, cold night on Interstate 40.

This begs the question: Even in our independent realities, can we accept that we are responsible for each other in meaningful ways even when we can’t see each other and don’t know each other’s names? Separated by geography and culture, will we care for each other anyway? Can we understand that our common humanity and, yes, our safety, are bound together on this small planet?

We often overlook this bond because it’s virtually invisible, yet we are inescapably dependent upon each other in our globally interconnected world, and this isn’t high-minded rhetoric it’s very real, practical and potentially life-saving.

When you hit a pothole at 85 mph on a two wheel vehicle in the dark of night, you are reminded of that.

One Response to “Getting To Know My New Vulcan Drifter at 85 MPH”

  1. Stan Ling April 19, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    Larry, thanks for your postings of insight while riding

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