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Expensive Distractions

Always, and necessarily, being a frugal man, the cost of all things "motorcycle" sometimes astounds me. Someone just getting into riding of slight or normal means after reading the motorcycle magazines must reel and reconsider their choice of transportation when confronted with the newest and best motorcycle gear and accessories. It reminds me of my sailing days when anything with "marine" stamped on it was claimed to be worth the equivalent value of five or six of the same item without that valuable label.

Every month I read of helmets unabashedly offered with price tags of four or even six hundred dollars. You need a good pair of boots for riding?—get ready to cough up $600. And, of course, you must ATGATT if you value your life at all—four hundred for leather pants and the same for a leather jacket is a small price to pay for your safety. Now, also almost everyone has to ride in different seasons, which logically requires different clothing for each and a wardrobe budget of thousands. After all, you'd be a fool to ride without heated clothing in the cold or in the summer in a fullface helmet. While buying all this, you have already spent so much that you might as well get that certain label; it hardly makes any difference, percentage-wise—it might as well be emblazoned with "Harley-Davidson", "Alpinestars", or "Aerostich".

And the bike, well, how are you going to go anywhere without hard bags that match the color of the bike. And when the cold fronts roll in you are going to be glad you have those heated grips. Can you imagine crossing the flat plains of the Mid-West without a good stereo to listen to and pass the monotonous time? Your pipes are too quiet, and you've heard that "Loud Pipes Save Lives"?—here are some aftermarket ones that are LOUD.


I am not saying any of these things are bad, in themselves; it is the cost-benefit ratio for each. If I was a wealthy man, sure, why not? I'd buy a complete Aerostich suit and boots made from exact measurements of my feet. Those products will probably perform great, but like many of us, not being a wealthy man I must balance the cost of those things against other things, like my ability to go where and when I want on my motorcycle. If those extra four hundred dollars I paid for my boots means shortening my two week motorcycle trip to one, are they worth it? Will wearing a hundred and fifty dollar pair keep me from going the distance on that trip? In other words, you must decide what is more important to you, you must prioritize. This seems pretty simple when you think about it, but often the logical gets blurred in the world of marketing we all live in. Yeah, I want those new saddlebags, but do I need them? Will I be able to do anything or go anywhere with new ones that I cannot with the old ones, in spite of what the magazine ad tells me?

For some, like me, the choice is made easier by simply not having the means to purchase "newer and better." While that can deny some kind of enjoyment, it also frees one from all the rigamarole of superfluous complications and spending.

I bought a used set of leather saddlebags at a yard sale back when I got my CB350 going. They cost me the sum of eight dollars. They are not nice and shiny, they are not watertight, but they have held half of my kit for thousands of miles with little trouble and not a few ziplock bags to contain the stuff within. Sure, someday I will spend $150 on bigger, waterproof, and more flexible bags, but I know I do not have to and can choose to whenever a windfall comes my way. $150 is two nights at least in motels on the road—an automatic extension of any trip I want to take.

I bought an aftermarket windscreen for my CB350; one of those that attach to the handlebars of about any bike. It was relatively inexpensive, but in spite of its small size made a huge difference in comfort at highway speeds. I am not sorry I spent the money on it, but that I could get by without it was proven when in my driveway in Florida, I dropped the bike and broke the windshield on the very start of a trip to Michigan during a cold April. It was not until I got to Niles, Michigan, that I was able to procure a replacement, but by then I knew that having one, while nice, was not a necessity.

Not giving oneself up to the advertising gods, gives one a chance to collect one's thoughts about gear and accessories, and decide on a rational and personal level of what is important to oneself. For me, a windscreen and a good saddle are important parts of a pleasant riding experience, and worth some expenditure. I have never felt the need, however, to spend many hundreds of dollars on motorcycle clothing. Early on, I bought a mesh jacket with CE armor for less than a hundred dollars. It is usually all I need, and I can zip in its thermal liner for all but the coldest times here in Florida. For those times, I can wear my old sailing fleece and nylon shell jacket underneath and stay toasty warm in the 40s. When in colder weather than that, I add thermal underwear and long sleeve shirt. Would I be more comfortable in a jacket made for the cold, or one with a heater? Yes, of course, but not necessarily warmer and certainly not richer.

My boots? Eighty-nine dollars, a lucky find when my local bike shop owner, Vince, decided he didn't like the way they fit his feet. Even at retail, I would have been out no more than $125. My riding pants? Well, I have to confess to often riding in my jeans, but for more serious non-local riding I do have jeans with leather lining in the seat and knees and CE armor that cost me less than ninety dollars.

All this is to reassure those riders who, like me, are shocked at the price of motorcycling gear, that it is not necessary to mortgage their house to ride a motorcycle. Heck, you can stay pretty damned warm just lining yourself under your jacket with newspaper—ask an old-schooler; they'll confirm it. You can navigate all over North America with nothing but an atlas and a few folding maps, no GPS necessary—really. You can get a tent for less than $50 that will pack small behind you on your saddle or form a lean-to "tent", as I once saw an intrepid BMW rider do, by draping a tarp over your bike and tacking the other edge to the ground and crawling in to sleep between the tarp and motorcycle—no REI catalog necessary.

So you can afford the expensive stuff, then great. The economy needs you. Just don't let the appurtenances of motorcycling overshadow the act of riding. They don't have to. Much of the freedom of riding a motorcycle is tied to independence, of being unattached to many of life's distractions that others are tied to. The rider is in control of his directions and his machine. Where he goes is decided by him, not a voice on a GPS telling him where to turn. To be a slave to all the superfluous stuff that can be attached to a motorcycle takes some of that independence away.

If you drop your bike in your driveway and break your windscreen, ride anyway.

Road Dog

"Ride Your Own Ride"

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