What Can Happen to a Kid:  The lasting impact of “On Any Sunday”

We must be crazy.  Why take this risk?  Everybody reminds us of the dangers of riding a motorcycle, and they are right.  I get it.  

It depends on which source you check, but only about 8 to 10% of the US population rides motorcycles.  I actually thought it would be a smaller percentage.  

We are completely exposed not only to every other moving thing, but things that are not moving like trees for instance.  In addition to being dangerous, owning a motorcycle is not cheap.  Far from it!  Especially if you have more than one, says the guy who has more than one….  Let’s start at the top.  You need a good quality helmet to protect your brain.  A good quality helmet is expensive, but then, so is your brain, right?  Then there is a motorcycle jacket to protect your skin and bones from falls and the associated skid.  You need specially designed motorcycle gloves, pants and boots, all designed, again, to protect your skin and bones.  

You’ll pay for gas of course, but also insurance.  If you’re like me, you may put more miles on your motorcycle than you will on your car.  It’s relatively small amounts of gas per fillup, but it turns into a lot of stops at the gas pump.  Speaking of lots of miles, you’ll probably need to replace the tires after only 8 to 10k miles, or less, and you’ll probably need those installed and balanced by a motorcycle shop, not to mention the other expensive preventive maintenance.  

So all of that said, why spend so much money and take such risks? 

Well, I can speak for myself, and maybe you feel the same way.  We ride motorcycles because it makes us happy.  It just does.  

Well, it was a long time ago.  My mother took me and my friend Jimmy to see the Bruce Brown film called “On Any Sunday''.  I was 11.  This documentary film is not only about motorcycle racing which I was already fascinated about, but at its core, it was about the joy of riding, not only alone but with friends.  It’s a fun film to watch, you should see it.  

If you watch it, don’t miss the  last scene in that movie.  It’s completely magical.  I felt that way as a kid and I feel that way now.  It’s these 3 guys, the actor Steve McQueen, along with racers Mert Lawwill and Malcolm Smith.  Not only were these guys riding together along a beach, riding wheels and jumping sand dunes,  but they were clearly friends having a blast.  

A song they used at the beginning and also at the end of the film was written and sung by a lady named Sally Stevens.  Sally was a backup singer for artists including Elvis Presley.   Sally was not a rider, but after watching scenes as they were piecing the film together, she captured the joy riding motorcycles.

Sally’s lyrics include this: “Over my shoulder through the dust I’m calling.  Run wild and catch me if you can.  Free as the wind, faster than time, reason and rhyme are running behind.  Tasting the sun, feeling the earth, knowing my worth and freeing my mind.”  “Screaming inside of me, and laughing out loud I'm losing contact with the ground, I'm flyin'.  

There is an article written about Sally by Joe Zimmerman.  I’ll have a reference to that in the Episode description.  I think his impression of Sally’s song captures it well.

“To describe the spiritual, emotional and physical reaction bikers have had listening to Sally Steven’s song On Any Sunday is startling.  It sends chills through our bodies every time.  She not only sings to us, but speaks to us in a manner which we fully understand.  On a personal level I can say it gives me goosebumps and transforms me to another time and place where everything is whole and good, a place where humanity and two wheel machines are fully alive, youthful and dancing as one within a place of freedom and happiness”.

Well put Joe!

Well, after seeing that film with my friend Jimmy, the stars must have aligned.  Somehow, my dad convinced my mom that the only way to stop me from begging for something with two wheels and a motor was to buy one for me.  Dad and I went to the appliance store that also sold bicycles and mini-bikes.  We came home with a little red mini-bike.  

My brand new mini-bike had a 3 and a half horsepower motor.  Same kind of motor they used in lawn mowers at the time.  It had no gears and only a rear brake.  My folks insisted that I wear a helmet which was a good thing because I ran into a few trees as I tried to build trails in the woods behind our house.  I can hear it even now.  I can remember pulling the rope that started the engine.  That’s right, a ROPE!  I can feel the handlebars vibrating.  I remember how it felt when I twisted the right hand grip, and that little bike started to move.  

At 11 years old, I rode my mini-bike all over the fields behind our house, then even down public country roads, illegally I might add, to a Park some 5 miles from home.  I recently checked it out on Google maps, and yep, that park was 5.5 miles from home to be exact. The little bike had such a small gas tank, it’s amazing that I didn’t run out of gas more often. 

I still have a picture of it, but how is it that I can remember so many details about how it felt riding that mini-bike?  It had small balloon tires and although it had little shock absorbers on the front forks, on those old rock roads, I felt every bump.   I remember the dust getting in my eyes and all over my face.  Yeah, that was awesome.  

Sometimes, a car or a tractor would come down the road.  I wonder what they thought when they saw me.  They probably thought, “I’ll bet his mother doesn’t know where he is!”  And they would be right. 

It would be another 4 years and 2 real motorcycles before I would get my license to legally ride to the same place as a kid, but to that little 7th grader, life could get no better.  I’ve often thought that if all of our dreams come true in Heaven, I would have the experience of that 11 year old again and again, out on that same old road.

As far as deeper reasons for riding, many people reflect on how it’s therapeutic, helping them to deal with traumatic experiences of the past, much like I described in Episode 2. Certainly, we all face the worries of life, work stress, thinking about our finances, concerns about protecting our loved ones.  That’s part of life.  But, how do I say it without sounding like a complete nut.  OK I’ll risk that.  I take care of my motorcycle because it has taken such good care of me.  It still takes me down roads where memories come flooding back, and life feels very very good.

The background music you’re hearing now is original and it’s played by my friend, Gary Schmidt.  You can find Gary’s info in the description.  

Now that I’m getting sentimental, I may as well go for it.  After a ride, when no one is around, have you ever patted your motorcycle on the tank and said “thank you”?  I have.  

Billy Joel has a song with lyrics that say “you may be right, I may be crazy”.  Well, I think I’m in good company with some of you who may be listening right now.  In the same song, a line says “Even rode my motorcycle in the rain”.  Yep, we’ve done that too, right?  Yep, we’re crazy.

On one of my motorcycles on the lower part of the gas tank, are painted the initials of the person who hand-painted it.  That beautiful red and silver tank, hand painted.  Wow.  I wonder if those who designed, assembled and painted our bikes realize what joy it has brought us.  So many of us around the world.

I don’t know what I would be like if it were not for the gift of riding a motorcycle.  I think in some way, when I was 11, I was transformed.  I did something that most of my classmates didn’t do, or didn’t have the opportunity to do.  How lucky….    Over the many years, I think of the countless hours and miles spent in the saddle of a motorcycle.  Just riding in circles.  Really big circles sometimes I suppose, always somewhere away from home, then back home. Just like those days as a kid on my mini bike, riding the 5 miles to the park and home.

A lot of life has happened since I was that 11 year old kid, but without a doubt, with every ride I take on my motorcycle today, in just a small way, I go back to that innocent time.  

The last verse of Sally’s song says, “On Any Sunday, like the tail of a kite, Flying and dancing in the wind.  I'd like to break the string and drift out of sight. I may not pass this way again”.  

I don’t think my 11 year old self comprehended the meaning of those words at all.  But, my friends, I do now.  Maybe you do too.  And why do we ride?  Because it makes us happy.

Thank you for listening.  I wish you Peace.  I wish you Love.