Have you ever planned something really, really dumb? Something you knew was a bad idea as soon as it hit your brain, but you followed through until it was too late to turn back? Have you listened to every bit of advice on a topic, then come up with a plan that flew in the face of everything you’d heard?
I have. Because I, a person with a grand total of four miles of motorcycling experience, decided to buy an out-of-state bike and ride it home. And you know what? I’d do it again.
Yesterday, after weeks of searching and shopping, I picked up my new BMW G310GS. I’ve already owned two bikes, but they didn’t really work for a beginner, and I basically never rode either one. I’ve taken the MSF course, but the baby GS is essentially my first bike. I want to adventure, to explore new terrain, and I want to do it from the seat of an ADV bike — one that 130-lb me can actually pick up out of a bush.
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Sometimes adventure isn’t, as Fortnine’s Ryan F9 so eloquently puts it, “blowing six figures and six weeks of vacation playing Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Sometimes it’s just looking at a route that is absolutely, unquestionably above your skill level, and thinking “I can make that work.”
Nineteen miles, from a New Jersey BMW dealer to a bike garage in Brooklyn. I’ve ridden four or five miles, what’s another 20? But this route is deceiving: It involves two water crossings and the traffic-choked heart of New York City.
I evaluated what stood before me. The route starts on Jersey back roads, whichI figured would be fine. Then there’s the Holland Tunnel, followed by perpetually gridlocked Canal Street, then the Manhattan Bridge. For someone who only ever rode a motorcycle in western New York state, this was shaping up to be a tall task.
My coworkers agreed. They offered to pick me up should I bin the bike somewhere in Jersey City. One commented, “I’m writing your eulogy blog in my head already.” But with the spirit of adventure and a whole bunch of shiny new safety gear on my back, I elected to send it.
That confidence lasted all of 30 seconds. I emptied my duffel bag full of gear and refilled it with complimentary BMW merch and new-bike paperwork and lashed it to the cargo rack. The dealer’s salesperson walked the bike to the parking lot, where I hopped on and almost tipped over immediately.
Shit. This might be rough.
Rather than heading to the street, I toddled to the building’s back lot. Circles, short laps, starts and stops. Practicing the basics after years of not riding and mere minutes of total experience. I got some confidence back, but caffeine jitters had started to take my hands.
I left the bike — my bike — in a Wendy’s parking lot and ordered my typical road trip dinner of breaded chicken. I ate outside, not wanting to leave the GS unlocked for too long. I don’t even own a lock. Why don’t I own a lock? Why am I on a divided six-lane road? What am I doing?
The six-lane gave way to a service road, which led to quiet streets. Traffic was light, but potholes were plentiful. Puzzlingly, puddles proliferated, despite a lack of recent rain. I haven’t even figured out how to position my mirrors, and now I’m riding through standing water?
The mileage ticked up. My confidence slowly grew, aided by a wave from a someone on a sport-touring bike. Right. I have to wave to other riders now. I get to do that now. I’m... in? I bought a bike, I’m riding down these roads. That’s all it takes? Can other riders, real riders, not clock my nervous energy and unsure movements? Do they notice, and just not care? Do I count now? Am I in the club?
More seat time brought yet more confidence in my abilities. By the time I got to Jersey City, I was already doing little monologues to my helmet-mounted GoPro. Most of them sounded like “how the fuck does Zack Courts stop at a stop sign without putting a foot down?” Still. Progress.
The Holland Tunnel is entirely underwhelming to ride through. As expected, traffic never really exceeds the speed limit. The hard part was gear choice, whether it was better to be in the middle of first gear or the bottom of second.
The Holland Tunnel exits onto a road far worse, with far rougher pavement and far more unpredictable drivers. Canal Street is bad. As I rode along, I said to myself, “I skipped the exit for Brooklyn, because I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m not taking the highway. Instead I’m gonna take Canal Street, because I’m an idiot.”
I made it through Canal Street. I made it over the Manhattan Bridge. And once I was back home in Brooklyn, on streets I know well, the feeling of adventure came back. The end was in sight. I knew I’d complete the trip.
I, a brand-new rider, took a brand-new motorcycle on an hour-long trip that basically tripled my lifetime riding experience. But by the time I had reached my destination, I’d succeeded in navigating the skills I needed to make that trip. This kind of trial-by-fire is dumb and dangerous. But it was the best evening I’ve had in a long time.