Depression and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

1 November 2019

1989.

At the end of my time in high school, I had a friend who went off to college and needed money. My dad bought his motorcycle for $600 and it sat in our garage for a bit. I rode it a handful of times and enjoyed it greatly. I almost crashed once (fishtailed on some gravel and overcompensated) and rode it home from rock climbing with only one working arm.

All without a license.

I took to it reasonably well. But was super nervous about the driving test part of getting a license, so I never followed through.

1990.

Somewhere, down a dead-end alley in Lagoa, Portgal, there was a motorcycle & scooter rental place. Being 19, and essentially unsupervised, my friend and I rented bikes for a week. No license needed.

It was incredibly fun racing through the country/coastal roads with nothing protecting me but an open-faced helmet, a t-shirt, and shorts.

Keep in mind: riding a motorcycle isn't at all dangerous.

Until it is. Then it's sort of catastrophically dangerous.

Up to that point (a point most riders never get to, thankfully), it is freedom. It's a funny thing, but freedom really is a great word for it. And if you've not ridden a motorcycle, it's difficult to communicate how well that word captures the feeling.

You're hurtling along, barely tethered to a machine that will fall over if it goes too slow, where the slightest environmental oddity can bring an abrupt end to your day and it is wonderful.

When you're riding, everything is okay.

2018.

Roughly 30 years after zipping along the Algarve, as one does, I threw my leg over a bike in Eugene, Oregon, and rode up Highway 99 to where I live in Portland, Oregon.

What allowed that to happen was:

  • Kid turned 18
  • $2 million in life insurance
  • Completion of the Team Oregon basic rider course
  • Actually getting my license (no riding test because Team Oregon!)

To ride well, you need to envision success.

Target Fixation is a real and dangerous thing and should be avoided. When you ride, you have to pay attention to everything, just not too much attention.

I know about Target Fixation and have (briefly) felt its effects before. The antithesis of it is to envision success. Not imagining what could go wrong when you ride, but imaging how things need to be in order for it to go right.

When you envision a successful ride, or even a successful maneuver, you set yourself up for, well, success. Can things go wrong? You bet. The thing is, whatever you envision is more than likely going to be the thing that manifests. I don't mean in The Secret kind of way, but ...

And in a lot of ways, due to this past year of riding, envisioning success has seeped into other areas of my life. And, weirdly/not-weirdly, reduced the impact of my Depression.

Why “Maintenance?”

Definitely a nod to the title of the book ZAMM.

You need to do more than envision success to have a successful ride. Tires need to be properly inflated, oil and gas need to be fresh and in the bike, brakes need to work. Bikes need to be consistently maintained to be safe and to do what you need them to do when you need them to do it.

Kind of like you.

The feeling of freedom and relaxed happiness I get when riding is partly due to envisioning success and partly due to the fact I maintain the bike in good working order. I really like the feeling. I don't always enjoy the maintenance aspect because so often it means that in order to do/fix one thing, I need to do 17 other things first. But, such is the way of complex (in the definitional sense) machinery.

You know what else is basically a complex machine? You. Me. Our selves need to be maintained to be safe and to do what we need them to do when we need them to do it.

I wish I had been riding for all the years between the southern coast of Portugal and the northern coast of Oregon. Not necessarily because I'd have lived a happier life (maybe I would, maybe I wouldn't), but because I would likely have found sooner the correlation about envisioning success and consistent maintenance.

I'm not a big fan of metaphors, but I admit I kind of like this one. Primarily because it is both a metaphor and a ... phor?

Freedom and a state of relaxed happiness is achievable through envisioning success and consistent maintenance. And I'm increasingly sure that applies to more than just motorcycles.