I remembered, after posting my last blog, that I did a little writing about bikes after a near-miss a few years ago. Worth posting, I decided. Feel free to harrangue me if you disagree…
It is late spring. Highlights glaring in the evening sun, the traffic is tailing off from the rush, tardy workers nosing into the pockets of space in the roads, queuing at speed, brake lights twitching impatiently, coughing tense fumes into the just-cooling air.
Down a gentle hill, leaning out into the opposite side of the road, the rider rolls the throttle open and allows the pitch of the sleek 750’s engine to climb, curling around the inside of the gentle bend and checking that the twinkling reflection of the car has fallen behind enough to make pulling in safe. The bike swings upright again, a tiny dip of revs and clutch and up a gear, the bike continuing to accelerate as the air rushing over the helmet begins to roar.
The asphalt surface is worn and pitted, repairs run through the abused surface like dark veins beneath scarred and aged skin. As the bike cants through the gnarled, arthritic twists, each feature shucks the tyres slightly, causing the vehicle to writhe and fidget as the weight swings over the centre of gravity and back again to an irregular rhythm. Unnoticeable to the cars as they hum across the cratered, faded, black tape, the squirming signals back to the rider through the play head wheels, humming the lilting harmony of the road’s texture quietly over the swelling symphony of its curves, climbs and dips.
Conducting, bound by the score and yet in control, the rider guides the machine along this sweeping sequence, the rise and fall, the swaying and vibrating of his immediate environment filling his senses and concentration. The fields that fall away to either side of the road are ripe and green, full of the verdant promise of a summer to come. The smells that drift on the light breeze are unimpeded by the filtering of a car’s ventilation system but the rider is only peripherally aware of these things, they remain a backdrop to the act unfolding through the visor.
Now there is a car ahead, a Mazda, painted in an uninspiring shade of blue designed possibly with the sole intent of causing depression on rush hour motorways, slowing down the economy in some unimaginably deep, inscrutable piece of economic sabotage. Out of tune with the machine travelling behind it, the compact, scuttling carapace slows and swerves, occasionally crossing the dashed white line that divides the road centrally, to and from, ayes and nays, for and against.
It is clear that the driver’s mind is on other things. The driver feels not the road’s grating, contused texture, is immune to its seductive sway. The driver is caught up in some epic, Ulyssean struggle, fighting one handed with a recalcitrant tape player or wrestling with words as he composes a text message, eyes flicking from road to tiny screen.
As the rider scrutinises the car ahead, looking for a safe spot to pass, a cigarette butt is ejected from the window, a tumbling, slow-motion meteor, trailing a tiny ribbon of smoke, throwing out a shower of sparks as it hits the ground. The smell of smoke is immediate. As the incandescent filter begins its downward parabola, the rider anticipates the driver’s lapse in concentration, a gentle squeeze of the right hand and a touch with the footbrake and the narrow overtake is abandoned as the Mazda veers into the opposite lane for a moment, where the rider and his machine would have been swatted into the hedge like some vast, scarlet insect.
How aware, how watchful, how alert. The perception of the cigarette smoke on the sweet evening air and the premonition of the driver’s error simultaneous. Still, in the background, the rider is aware of the emerald landscape all around. How alive. How close to death. A momentary lapse and the cigarette would have been missed, the overtaking undertaken and, very possibly, the undertaker required. On this defining moment the rider’s fate balances, the line between life and death ruled between two spots of rubber the size of a pair of coins.
This is not a defining moment in the rider’s life; this is not an epiphany. This is the journey home from work. This nanosecond drama is played out as a distraction from the matters of the day, the abiding issues of the rider’s life and the eternal questions faced by the soul each day.
I don’t care if I’m old. I believe more, as I grow older and my bones bear testimony to my years on the planet that I would sooner burn out than fade gradually. So I treasure these moments, balancing between life and death on the tyres of my motorbike. Should this awareness, this appreciation of my life and the world around me go on, then I would gladly live forever. If the fight ceases, if senescent, grey complacency takes me, then perhaps I’ll miss the flicked butt. And deservedly so. Should I eschew this dice-throwing on the road? As each little kinetic drama plays itself out I know that my chance of losing increases. But simply through existing I gamble against cancer, heart disease, stroke. A genetic legacy of chance that I neither chose nor do I welcome. What’s the difference to me between losing to a moment of inattentiveness on the road or a creeping rebellion in my cells? I’m a scientist. We all are in that we should be able to recognise patterns about us. I know that my ordered thoughts, my renewing cells, are an offence, an affront to the universe and it’s draconian statutes. My life is defiance, my insurrection against the gathering dark. These moments where life stands in such stark contrast against the void are my fight against entropy, my two fingers brandished at the second law of thermodynamics.
The gradual running down of the cosmic clock is regulated, time and life are rationed out to us. I suspect that the whole process is being run by beings that, at least figuratively, drive small, blue, bland Mazdas.
Overtake them and give them two fingers, that’s my advice. Watch out for fag ends.