A New Motorcycle Memory

sidecarI witnessed the ending of a life last night. It wasn’t stolen by disease. Nor did it gently surrender to the passage of many decades.

A healthy man, in the prime of his life, died tragically in a traffic accident. The vehicles involved did not appear to have been traveling particularly fast . . . but one was a truck, and the other a motorcycle.

I have many friends who absolutely love their bikes. That includes the fine deputy who I was riding with last night as we responded to the crash. My friends are all smart enough to wear helmets, just as the victim in this case was doing.

I have never personally longed to experience the freedom of riding a motorcycle on the open road. That doesn’t mean I think less of those who do. On the contrary, many of the people whose company I most enjoy consider riding bikes a blast.

I only hope that my grandchildren don’t.

I have no desire to rob my grandkids of any of the joy that life can offer—I’m just cautious and protective by nature.

Several of my friends have been in serous motorcycle accidents. Fortunately, all survived. And they have one more thing in common—none of the incidents was their fault.

As I looked at the bike, crushed beneath the front of the truck, I said a prayer for the rider whose family will never see him again. And as I gazed toward the driver of the truck, I prayed for him too, knowing that his own life would never be the same.

Like money, which is not the root of all evil (the love of money is) . . . so too, it is not motorcycles themselves that are intrinsically dangerous. They just happen to leave their riders so terribly vulnerable when the drivers of more massive vehicles fail to see them.

C.S. Lewis rode in motorcycles. I say “in,” because he was accustomed to riding in the sidecar of his brother Warnie’s cycle. The familiar account of his final conversion from theism to Christianity involves one such ride, to the Whipsnade Zoo. As Lewis wrote, “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.”

The following diary entries from April 1924 relate to enjoying rides while on holiday. The shorthand “W” stands for his brother, Warnie. The “D” for Mrs. Jane King Moore, the mother of a close friend who died in WWI. The passage illustrates how at home Lewis was when traversing the countryside with his brother.

In the afternoon W generally read: I often went out to get something, or else read and wrote. After tea all three of us went for a most excellent ride in divine weather. We rode through Yatton and Wrington into the Mendips, passing within sight of D’s well beloved Winscombe—a steeple on a hillside seen for a moment in the heart of a beautiful long ridged wooded crooked country. After that we ran through a small gorge out on to the barer southern slope of the Mendips and down into the narrow little streets and beetling houses of Axbridge—glory! what a town and how placed!

Thence on to Cheddar by a road that skirts the hills. Here I saw many fields and trees quite white with blossom and daisies. At Cheddar we caught sight of the gorge up to our left quite unexpectedly: and then while I was still in a confused impression—the speed of a motor cycle is sometimes a great aesthetic advantage—W suddenly turned and ran up it. I lay back in the side car and watched the huge coloured cliffs pushing up further round us and closer till it seemed like going into a tunnel. I was quite unprepared for anything of the sort. It was a great moment.

We turned on our tracks and went on to Wells. Just before reaching it we turned off left at a signpost “To Wookey Hole” to find some quiet pub where we cd. eat our lunch. The lane wound on so long that we began to fear that Wookey Hole was a natural feature, a devil’s punch bowl or the like, and not a village. A village however it turned out to be, with a pub where we sat on a curiously comfortless bench and ate our sandwiches and drank cider.

We then went back and into Wells where W was charged 6d. for leaving the bike in Wells Square by the town authorities, who however “took no responsibility of any sort” for it. W was delighted with the outside of the Cathedral but less pleased with the interior. I think I agreed with him. I also agreed with his view that King’s Chapel, Cambridge, is the perfect building. We then strolled all round the Palace talking of all things that arose therefrom—Barchester, abbots, mediaeval siege tactics. Our ease and freedom and pleasant chat made this visit to Wells far better than my first when I came here on the motor tour with my father and the Hamiltons. In many ways W is the ideal person to go for a jaunt with . . .

On Saturday 26th we all came back to Oxford. It had been arranged that I shd. travel in the sidecar. It was obvious that one of us shd. do so to save fares and D, of course, refused to be that one. I therefore trained with her to Yatton and saw her into a through train to Bristol with the luggage, and W, Pat and I got aboard the bike. As we were making all snug outside Yatton station, a hamper, wh. had just been taken out of the train, was suddenly opened just beside us to release a cloud of pigeons that filled the air with an amazing noise before we knew what was forward. It was a curious experience for I had not suspected the hamper of containing anything live.

It was raining when we started but soon cleared up. We got into the main road shortly before Wrington and entered Bristol by Bedminster… From Faringdon we came along at a very good speed thro’ Bickland, Kingston Bagpuize, Fyfield, Bessels, Leigh, Cumnor and Botley to Oxford. It is a tame, well combed, cheerful country of tidy well growing woods, white gates, dark tarred roads, comfortable cottages, sometimes exceedingly beautiful, green hedges and flat blue distances. The speed, the sunlight, and the sense of coming home put me into an unusually prolonged fit of “joy.”

As Lewis says, “the speed [and] the sunlight” of a motorcycle trip can surely be exhilarating. Likewise, “the speed of a motor cycle is sometimes a great aesthetic advantage.” Clearly, C.S. Lewis enjoyed motorcycles greatly.

But I still hope my grandchildren are not seduced by motorcycles’ allures.

14 thoughts on “A New Motorcycle Memory

  1. My dad and brother both had to be talked out of their bikes by their wives. Dad didn’t have to experience a trauma for himself to know better (being a doctor), but my brother slid down the freeway for some distance before coming to his senses (he had on protective gear and came through fine).
    We came up to such an accident as you describe a few months ago on the way to my sister’s wedding. It has a way of putting the fear of God into you. We are all so close to eternity!
    Love the excerpt from Lewis’ trip. No wonder he was such a grand communicator; even his journal is almost like being there. Now I want to go to Cheddar to see that gorge. I wonder how it compares to Colorado where I always ride shotgun so I can just stare. :-D

    1. Yes, wives can occasionally talk “sense” into a few of us. The individual I saw last night was wise enough to be wearing a helmet. It allowed him to survive the initial impact.

      You’re right about how seeing these things offers us another reminder that we are mortal. Oh how often I fall into the trap of taking each breath for granted.

      Cheddar Gorge is quite impressive. While stationed in the United Kingdom we got the chance to visit the Gorge and explores their Caves. Impressive and memorable.

  2. We have been forbidden to ride motorcycles – daughter as a surgeon has tried to patch and repair the damage (rarely the rider’s fault) in the ER and spoken to too many families after.
    I rode in college and a few years after but on less traveled roads, mountain/pasture trails, or small relaxed islands. Cities are now much too dangerous – too many mean drivers, inattentive drivers, and junk on the road.
    I understand the freedom, but it’s too dangerous and wouldn’t want to be a burden on society. Fear and survival instinct is there for a reason
    So I’m thinkin’ either mini cooper or mustang convertibles?

    1. A reformed rider. Well, our kids can persuade us to change our behaviors too. I know that firsthand.

      I used to have an MGA, back when I was in college. Loved driving it. Nowadays I’d be a bit reluctant to wedge myself into such a small and fragile shell on the crowded and (as you say) aggressive roads.

  3. So sad and tragic! I saw a young man killed on his motorcycle in France. I think he tried to pass a car on the shoulder and hit one of their concrete electric poles head on. Horrible! Our son and daughter-in-law had motorcycles and rode for a few years, but when they had kids they grew up and got rid of the bikes. I was SO thankful! Now if only they’d stop taking the baby out on their boat! They just have no concept of what would happen if they were hit by someone else and they were both knocked out. Who would save the baby? Not even a life jacket would do that!

    1. Only a parent can experience the thankfulness you refer to.

      You know, I really don’t want to sound like I’m 100% negative about motorcycles. They certainly have their merits. And, like I said, many of my friends love to ride. In a perfect world it would be safe to do so. They just leave a person so utterly vulnerable…

  4. In my younger years I thought I wanted a Harley. My wife worked in admitting in an ER. She recounted the horror stories she had witnessed and put her little foot down. I got over it. Like you though I have nothing against those who ride. I get it.

    1. I suspect that’s been the experience of many married men. My wife helps me pursue all kinds of sensible goals I’d probably overlook if we weren’t married.

      Of course, there are many wives that absolutely love riding beside, or with, their husbands. And, as you say, “I have nothing against that.”

  5. Let’s all remember to pray for the officers who respond to these calls as well. They must suppress their emotions and remain ‘professional’ while dealing with tragedies; some of which hit closer to home than we would like to think. Believe me, the years take their toll. Like the clergy, they frequently see humanity at its very worst, yet they continue to serve us all in spite of that.

    1. This is so very true. Law Enforcement officers (and Fire Fighter first responders) frequently see things few of us could witness and still be able to continuing functioning.

      Clergy see the fallenness of the world from a different vantage point… usually it’s showered and spruced up on the outside though, and not raw and bloody. (Which brings to mind “white-washed sepulchers”).

  6. Pingback: C.S. Lewis & Automobiles « Mere Inkling Press

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