Motorcycles

For people who own motorcycles, summer can’t come soon enough. And so it has arrived for another year.

The weather is warm, the sun is out, and we have vacation days. The road ahead invites us.

But sadly, with the arrival of summer and the open road, we are hearing and seeing reports of devastating motorcycle crashes almost every week. Injury. Death. It just continues.

Last week I was on the road in my car and came upon what was obviously a severe -- if not deadly -- car versus bike accident on Route 1 in front of the Shoppes at Longwood Village.

I asked an emergency responder at the scene how bad it was, and he said, “The worst.”

“Fatal?”

“Yes.”

You could tell even without being told. The bike was so badly smashed that the wires from the interior had spilled out, and the metal was all bent.

I knew that some family was about to hear the awful news that someone they loved, someone whom they knew as a free spirit, had died.

You know those people -- bikers.

They didn’t just pick out a two-wheeled vehicle because it saved on gas. They got it because it felt so good. They fell in love with it.

At some point they were intoxicated with smelling water as they drive past a river; of braving the spray from a rainy day; of meeting up with other bikers and riding to a destination; of polishing that metal and buying yet another adornment for their vehicle in a shop that smells like oil and leather.

It’s like they say: “Only a biker understands why a dog sticks its head out the window of a moving car.

That’s the great part.

I thought about the danger, too.

On a bike there’s no seat belt. There are no skid brakes. There’s no protective covering.

They say you are 10 times more likely to be injured or killed on a bike than in a car because you are out there -- so vulnerable.

But bikes are still seductive.

I remember when the bug bit me.

I was riding on the back seat behind then-fire company President Tony Talamonti on his Harley. I had to interview him, and he had time for me only during the weekend while he was on a ride. He said it was then or not at all. So I took him up on it.

I can still remember the feeling of smelling the grass and feeling the wind. It was so good. The rivers we passed actually had a sweet scent.

He told me, “You ought to get a bike. A lot of girls are getting them.”

I thought, “In your dreams.”

But every time I saw a bike after that, I kept looking at it -- thinking about it -- and in a short time I had purchased my own Harley-Davidson Sportster.

I didn’t know how to drive it, but I did one thing right: I took the PennDOT Motorcycle Rider Course.

It was a slow start for me, handling 800 pounds of steel and noise and all that.

But soon I was riding with others and loving it.

At one point, however, I was in the company of someone who was a really good rider -- an instructor, in fact.

We came to a red light and I applied my front (not rear) brakes and fish-tailed.

He stopped me right there on the highway and said, “I’m going to teach you again about brakes. You have to use the hand AND foot -- back and front! Try it now!

That wasn’t the only lesson.

The longer you ride, the more you learn and (probably) the safer you become. But then again, you get braver, too.

I don’t ride now because my knee is too weak to support me if I dropped the bike, and, to tell the truth, I have become wary of big trucks and stupid drivers.

But to this day, I still watch the bikes go by and recall the freedom. As I drive past a lake, I still imagine how good it smells, even though I’m inside a car.

Weighing the thrill against the dangers, I still prefer the thrills.

I grieve for the lives lost on bikes, but I still watch those two-wheeled wonders as they go by.

Chris Barber is editor of the Avon Grove Sun.