Some day…

In a stroke of exceedingly bad judgment, I once calculated the cost-per-mile of owning several of my motorcycles. It was simple math, adding up out-the-door purchase price; fuel, insurance, registration, repair, maintenance, and accessory/modification costs; all divided by the number of miles I’d logged on each machine. I do not recommend this exercise to anyone.

Listen to this column as the DEBUT EPISODE of  The Ride Inside with Mark Barnes; the episode includes a Q&A session about knowing how to recognize mental decline and when to stop riding – maybe for the day or maybe for good. Submit your questions to Mark for the podcast by emailing podcast@bmwmoa.org.

I pursued these objective figures during a period when my riding time was especially limited by a convergence of extraordinary situational factors. Determined to do something motorcycle-related, I got out my records and calculator (app – of course!). I knew the numbers would be sobering, but I wasn’t even close to prepared for what I discovered. Instead of feeling sobered, I felt thoroughly hungover and literally nauseous. Nobody in their right mind would ever sign up for motorcycling at the rates I’d been paying to ride, at least nobody with the disposable income of a mere mortal. Even when I factored in the likely “rebate” I’d receive upon selling each bike, the astronomical per-mile costs were insane.

Then I reconsidered.

Those objective figures had left a great deal out of the equation. Much of the pleasure I derive from being a motorcyclist is unaccompanied by wheel rotation. Countless hours in the garage, dutifully performing all those maintenance and repair tasks, mounting those accessories, making those modifications and adjustments (sometimes with time-consuming fabrications, and always with trial-and-error do-overs), all those hours were spent truly enjoying my motorcycles, yet none were part of my cost-per-mile analysis. In the case of my pure off-road bikes, time spent working on them (including lots of cleanup) far exceeded time spent in the saddle; and, since much of that saddle time was spent crawling over obstacle-strewn trails at a walking pace or less, even long riding days could generate very little mileage. When examining street rides, I had to think about how owning several road-going mounts at the same time dramatically reduces the number of miles accumulating on each one, while simultaneously multiplying all the costs of ownership, even if those only included routine maintenance during a given year. Again, none of this had tempered my original calculations.

Then I realized there was an even larger omission. What about all the time spent anticipating a ride, whether or not it actually happens. I can go weeks without a moment on a motorcycle or working in my garage, while imagining riding on a daily – or perhaps hourly – basis. Maybe I’m daydreaming about generic scenarios, with no specific outing in mind, just anticipating the sensations of once again banking into a sweeper or noticing cool mountain air on my neck as I traverse a shady pass. I might imagine the perpetually gratifying thrust delivered with a sharp crack of the throttle, the thrumming soundtrack of an exhaust note, or the satisfaction of returning from a challenging trek, reviewing the day’s best moments with a riding buddy. Or I could be envisioning a particular ride, either already planned or just beginning to take shape. What route details will need to be worked out? Who should be invited? What might I need in the way of special gear?

Speaking of gear, how many more hours have been spent poring over information and comparing all manner of clothing and mechanical accessories? It’s absolutely absurd, but I’ve spent so, so many trying to determine which options held microscopic advantages in performance or price, differences I would never be able to discern in any significant way – but that’s part of the fun, too. Learning about clever technical features, shopping for deals, making sure my decision was the best it could possibly be; these are pleasurable activities impossible to account for in an objective cost-benefit analysis. And let’s not forget the enjoyment of reading books and articles related to our beloved avocation!

There’s yet another intangible yield, as well: maintaining an identity as a motorcyclist. I can’t imagine life without this priceless element that orients me in a multitude of ways. How I’ll spend any upcoming free time or discretionary income always passes through this filter first. Simply driving down the road in my car, I’m always considering what this same trip would be like on two wheels, and studying turn-offs, paved or unpaved, in terms of their riding potential. When I meet someone new, are they a rider, too? Could they make a good riding or wrenching companion? Can they at least appreciate the joys of such activities? How many of my most cherished friendships would never have begun without having these overlapping passions? Such considerations saturate my daily experiences.

Riders I’ve known who, for one reason or another, had to stop riding often clung to their identity as a motorcyclist. Memories of riding might be frequent conversation starters whenever we got together, long after they’d last swung a leg over a motorcycle. A set of leathers, a helmet, or a custom seat might hang on their garage wall for many years after the last motorcycle inhabited that space. Sometimes these are mementos of days gone by, but in at least some cases they served as hopeful symbols of what might still be part of their future, whether or not such hopes were realistic. Any time these talismans caught their eye, the owners entertained fantasies of, “Some day…”

Trying to quantify the return on investment in motorcycling is a fool’s errand. Even for those who regularly ride vast distances, and therefore enjoy a far lower cost-per-mile than mine, most of the benefits of being a motorcyclist evade any objective accounting. Our lives are constantly enriched by our membership in this community of fellow enthusiasts, with all the time spent preparing, repairing, imagining and remembering adding immeasurably to those relatively few hours when we’re in the saddle with wheels turning. The “Some day…” factor – which applies not only to nostalgic musings, but virtually any time we’re off our bikes – expands and extends our riding pleasure geometrically, albeit without any way to capture the effect numerically.

It’s mid-February as I write this, and like many on this continent, I’m anxious for the gray, cold, wet days of winter to give way to balmy spring sunshine. Riding opportunities will be more plentiful and easier to enjoy without having to brave hostile elements (though I concede there’s a perverse sort of pleasure to be had doing so). Yet even with our bikes spending most/all of the current season in storage, dividends from the price of admission to this grand adventure keep rolling in. I’m no CPA, but I’m confident I’ve done quite well, once you take everything into account.

Mark Barnes, PhD

Mark Barnes is a clinical psychologist and motojournalist. To read more of his writings, check out his book Why We Ride: A Psychologist Explains the Motorcyclist's Mind and the Love Affair Between Rid-er, Bike and Road, currently available in paperback through Amazon and other retailers.