This column first appeared in the March, 2006 CityBike magazine.
For about ten years now, I’ve been noticing my first squid of the season.
I’ll never forget the first time. It was an unseasonably warm day in late March or maybe early April, and I was standing in front of Alice’s with a friend of mine when three guys go whizzing past us on Highway 35. They were on late-model Japanese sportbikes, and one of them was wearing a half helmet, shorts and a tank-top. He saw us staring at him and made a weird, joyous sort of shriek.
I turned to my buddy and shrugged. I remember thinking, “well, it must be spring.” For the previous five months, I hadn’t seen any motorcyclists clad in anything less revealing than a rainsuit and full-face helmet. I thought about what kind of idiot would ride a high-performance bike in such flimsy protective clothing.
After a few more minutes of speculating on the roots of squidliness, we suited up and headed north on 35. As we rounded a turn not a mile up the road, we saw our friend in the dirt being tended to by some paramedics. His motorcycle was smashed up, lying on its side, but Mr. Squid could care less, as he was so badly torn up with road rash that his leg looked like an extra helping of my high school cafeteria’s sloppy joes.
“Yiiiiiiii!” he said in a piercing shriek. Or maybe it was “Arrrrrgh!” Or perhaps, “Ahhh! It hurts! It hurts! It hurts!” It was a long time ago. I’ll bet he remembers that day a lot better than I do.
I wouldn’t say I felt a great deal of satisfaction seeing a fellow motorcyclist in so much pain. But now I always notice when I see the first guy on a motorcycle or scooter in shorts in a new year.
I saw him just a few days ago this year, one of the earliest sightings I can remember. I think this is a good sign, like the groundhog seeing his shadow, or not seeing it, or whatever it is. He was at the corner of 24th and Castro on a Vespa ET4. He was wearing shorts and a half helmet. I’m happy to report that I did not see the Vespa a few minutes later wedged under a Muni bus like a pastel-colored tire chock.
When I was a kid, I didn’t like to wear shorts. I thought they looked silly. You never saw a tough guy in a movie wearing shorts. About the toughest movie hero I can think of in shorts was Alec Guinness in Bridge Over the River Kwai, a poor role-model for an eighth-grader, as few 13 year-olds can whistle The Colonel Bogey March convincingly. So I’ve always avoided shorts except when exercising, sleeping, swimming or attending rock concerts high. Also, since I’m a boxer short kind of guy, the idea of riding a motorcycle while wearing shorts is kind of horrifying to me. As the psychiatrist said to the naked patient, “I can clearly see your nuts.”
I’m starting to see a pattern. Self-taught motorcyclists learned how to ride by doing. When they were kids, instead of watching old movies, they were pedaling BMX bikes over rusty heaps of scrap iron. They would often fall down and hurt themselves, get up and do it again, returning home bloody and scabbed. That’s what kids do. So when they age a bit and move up to faster bikes, they use the same safety equipment and learning techniques: none and crashing until they die or stop crashing.
Hopefully, I don’t have to tell you not to ride without protective gear. Wearing a full-face helmet is really just a start. Even if your head is safe in its Kevlar and Styrofoam to-go container, the lump of meat its attached to is crucial for its survival. Severe road-rash, contusions and other injuries to the body can make you less likely to survive a severe head wound, even if you are wearing an $800 Rossi Replica helmet, according to an article in Motorcyclist magazine examining helmet standards last year. And as we all get older, we get more fragile, less able to resist infections and other nastiness.
We all know this, but what is it about warm weather than brings these guys out of the woodwork? And why can’t they wear at least a pair of freakin’ blue jeans? Are their legs so Adonis-like that they have to display them proudly at every opportunity? Are scorching Bay Area 75-degree temperatures just too much to handle wearing long pants? Are they afraid they will be mocked in the society column for being too formal whilst riding?
Who knows? Just put your damn pants on.