Being a dumbass is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, some of my best-learned lessons have come the hard way.
From my “Touring Topics” column in the Jan/Feb 2015 American Iron Motorcycle Bagger magazine, here is some of what I’ve learned from being a dumbass:
The giant wind turbines should have been my first clue. Miles and miles of ‘em, scattered along the Texas prairie next to Interstate 40.
Turns out that Texas is one hell of a windy place – in fact, there’s more wind power produced there than in anywhere else in the country. But until my Road King began to sputter and lose power 25 miles west of Amarillo, I’d scarcely given a thought to the effect of all that wind resistance on gas mileage. Coasting to a stop on the shoulder, I felt like the world’s biggest dumbass. I’d been pushing hard over the last couple of hours, fighting a strong headwind with the bike’s cruise control locked in at just a touch over the 75 mph limit, heading back east after a glorious week of riding all over the Colorado Rockies. Sure, my fuel warning light had been illuminated for a while, and I’d traveled 140 miles since my last stop, but hell, I’ve been able to squeeze 180 or 190 miles out of my Road King’s 5-gallon tank in a pinch. I figured I’d just save time and wait till the next exit. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out so well for me.
The roadside assistance guy who showed up later told me I was the third biker to run out of gas on that stretch of interstate that week. I may have been a dumbass, but at least I wasn’t alone.
Let’s face it, “stuff” happens on the road. From dropping a bike at an inopportune moment (not that there’s ever an opportune time to drop one, of course), to running out of gas in the middle of nowhere – sooner or later, the flying fickle finger of fate comes calling. But things that make you go “Doh!” can be a learning opportunity for yourself and others. So in the spirit of altruism, I share this and another embarrassing story in the hope you learn something from my mistakes.
A few years back, I dropped a bike in the middle of Nevada, miles from the nearest town. After excitedly pulling onto the narrow gravel shoulder to photograph a sign reading, “Next Gas 80 Miles,” I lost my footing as I dismounted, and the bike tumbled right, onto the shoulder’s downward-sloping hill. A major dumbass moment, and righting the 900-pound touring bike by myself proved impossible – the technique of placing your butt on the seat, facing away from the bike and walking it slowly back upwards is hopeless when you’re positioned the wrong way on a hill and your boots can’t get traction in loose gravel. Defeated, I sat dejectedly on my fallen motorcycle and waited for a passing good Samaritan, which in the middle of the Nevada desert can take awhile, as there’s hardly any traffic to speak of. After about 20 minutes or so, a couple of passing motorists stopped to offer their assistance, and I was back on my way. I’d emerged unscathed, but unfortunately, the bike’s right saddlebag had gotten scratched from the tumble. The bike didn’t belong to me, either; it was a loaner from Harley-Davidson, so when I returned it, I had to explain what happened, and the motorcycle was taken out of service for repairs. Well, in the “small world” department, the moto-journalist who was supposed to ride that bike right after me was none other than the esteemed editor of the publication you are now reading (Hi Dain!), who was then forced to use a different motorcycle from Harley’s press fleet. Of course, he promptly emailed me for some good-natured, well-deserved ribbing, and I don’t blame him; I would have done the same!
Of course, not all lessons from the road have to be big ones. There are lots of little things learned by trial and error (mostly error) that can make life on the road a bit easier. Take trail mix, for example – a great on-the-road snack to throw in your saddlebag to ward off between-meal munchies. I always keep a big bag of the stuff with me on trips, but I’ve learned to avoid the kind with chocolate or yogurt chips, which tend to congeal into a messy glob in the summer heat.
I’ve also learned that a white t-shirt, after a long day in the saddle, shows grime and road dirt a lot quicker than a darker-colored shirt does (I know, duh!). And you can always count on Murphy’s Law to be in full effect if you don’t have rain gear with you at all times, no matter what the weather forecast says.
I’ll take a sunny day anytime, of course, but I’ve learned the hard way that the sun isn’t really your friend – use a good, high-SPF sunscreen and stop to reapply it at least every two hours. As bikers, we are particularly susceptible to skin cancer from sun exposure, but you can mitigate the risks by covering up as much skin as possible and using and reapplying sunscreen often.
That’s just a short list of “learning opportunities,” big and small, I’ve encountered on the road. The key is not to be afraid of looking like a dumbass. And keep an eye out for that flying fickle finger of fate.