Freedom and Motorcyclingby Midwest Motorcyclist on 01/07/14
We've all heard it and some of us have probably said it. "I ride a motorcycle because of the freedom it provides." Despite having heard that statement (or something similar) for years, late last year that use of the word "freedom" in the context of motorcycle riding began to bug me. What do motorcyclists mean when they say something like this? The use of the word "freedom" to describe riding a motorcycle isn't exactly correct. I checked online for explanations of this connection between motorcycling and freedom. Several writers (links below) have tried to explain but none adequately explain why motorcyclists equate riding with freedom.
I began thinking about this question because, if someone were to ask me what I enjoy most about riding (no one has), "freedom" wouldn't be mentioned. It wouldn't be in the top 10, 25, 50 or 100. I'm all for freedom but it's not something I get from a motorcycle. I'm already free; riding a motorcycle doesn't change that.
Riding a motorcycle is, for me, a form of active meditation. It's not that I'm clearing my mind and focusing on my breath or some sound in an attempt to clear out all of the mental noise. Instead, riding is about focusing my attention on a series of actions and reactions. Roll on the throttle, pull in the clutch lever, up shift, brake, down shift, countersteer and roll on the throttle again. Like every other rider, I go through this same process thousands of times on each ride. For me, the challenge is to be smoother, more in synch with the operation of the motorcycle. Everyone can accelerate, clutch, shift and brake but I want to reach that state of riding nirvana where the entire operation is smooth and seamless. My throttle, clutch and transmission operation are in synch at all times so there's no bogging or lurching. Braking is smooth and controlled with no tire sliding. My speed and lean angle through the curves allows me to stay in my lane on my line through the apex before giving it gas and accelerating out. As meditation is called "practice," so is the way that I ride. Not only do my riding skills improve but also all of the issues of life - work, spouse, kids, car repairs, finances, politics, etc. - are out of mind when I am in the saddle. It's a refreshing break from life but riding doesn't make me feel any freer.
I think that what many motorcyclists mean when they say "freedom" in the context of riding a motorcycle is actually "escape." Escape from the challenges of life helps those riders to feel more free if only for a little while. That's not why I ride but if, when asked why they ride, motorcyclists would simply say "to escape," I would better understand what they mean. It seems more accurate than saying he or she is freer when riding a motorcycle.
To some, the difference might only be semantic. "Freedom" is used a lot these days, especially by those who feel under represented in, or perhaps over regulated by, the government. It's an important word with historic significance for Americans. Perhaps we should reserve "freedom" for something bigger, more momentous than riding a motorcycle.