Soul II Soul (with apologies to Jazzie B)

One evening last week, as the heat was just going out of the day and the shadows were lengthening, my wife walked in to the garage and stared at me in a vaguely suspicious way.

“Who were you talking to?” she demanded, scanning the place for a phone and failing to find one.

“Er…the bike”, I said, sheepishly. And then, more confidently: “The bike, it’s been looking after me.”

As she stalked off, probably thinking about all the other blokes she could have married back in the day who almost certainly don’t talk to inanimate objects, I thought about this. Is it, I asked myself, weird that I talk to my bikes?

A few hours earlier I’d gone for a ride – one of those great ones where you have no idea where you’re going, you just need to blow the amassed shit of a working week off and clear your mind. 

As I set off, with no destination in mind, my mood seemed to lift and change with each revolution of the wheels. Lighter, more carefree, a sense of perspective, a lifting of the everyday loads and worries, filed somewhere, for a time, and forgotten.

I have no idea what drugs like Prozac et al are like, but if they’re anything like this I can see the point.

Long story short, I came home late, hopped off in the garage, lit a cigarette and, involuntarily, smiled like the Cheshire Cat. Exhausted, hot and consummately happy.

Cars, which I love too, don’t have this effect on me. I’ve owned lots of nice, fast, classic cars. All fun but, set against bikes, not even close.

I’ve no time for fatuous argument about which is “better”, two wheels or four. It’s a matter of taste and it’s like comparing cricket and football – they’re wildly different. But for those of us who love both, why is one so much more powerful a drug than the other?

As I sipped a beer, sitting on an old ammunition box and listening to the bike “tick” and “ping” behind me as my wife walked off, I think I worked it out.

When all’s said and done, you operate a car. However fast, whatever forces are playing on you, you are one step removed. Steering, acceleration, brakes are, in the final reckoning, operated remotely by a series of buttons, pedals and levers. You operate those, the car does something; from an Austin Allegro to a Pagani Zonda, this is true.

Bikes you ride. You’re an intrinsic part of the machine and its performance. Where you put your body and how you put it there dictate what the bike does. You have to trust the bike to do its job if you’re going to be willing to take the physical risks you need to take to do yours.

You and the bike share the responsibility for making progress. You get it around corners not by simply turning the bars and letting it do its thing but by shifting your body forward, out, down, towards the rushing Tarmac, pressing down on the inner foot peg, committing your weak, fleshy frame to the corner as much as the bike commits its, much more solid, self.

It needs you to do this as much as you need it to do its part. Teamwork, in other words, in which either party choosing to down tools will see you pass through a hedge.

Left to its own devices a bike will simply fall over, stricken; a metaphor for your relationship with it.

And because of this there’s a bond there. Because of this you achieve things together. You help one another. Sometimes the bike will do more of the work, saving you from oblivion. Sometimes you’ll take it by the horns and subdue it to your will. You learn from one another and you’re equal partners in doing so.

I talk to my bikes. I’m not alone in that. Before we set off I tell it where we’re going. When we get there I give it a pat as I dismount. I thank it for looking after me. I wish it goodnight as the garage door closes, usually with a kind word for its sisters which I haven’t ridden that day, too.

I know, deep down, that it can’t hear me, for it is only metal and plastic, isn’t it? But after what we’ve just been through together how could I do anything else? We’re partners. Together we’ve just done something amazing. We’ve shared risks together and won exhilaration as a reward for doing so.

So when the bike-car argument comes around in the pub again, I’d humbly suggest it’s not about speed, or lap times, or power-to-weight ratios. It’s about soul.

Two souls, actually.


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