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Jerry Davich: Motorcycles are everywhere, including in my heart

Columnist Jerry Davich his motorcycle. | Sun-Times Media

Columnist Jerry Davich on his motorcycle. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 13, 2013 6:12AM



“Took a look down a westbound road, right away I made my choice. Headed out to my big two-wheeler, I was tired of my own voice.”

~ “Roll Me Away” by Bob Seger

This motorcycle is the biggest, newest and loudest one I’ve ever ridden over the course of 35 years.

It’s a 2011 Harley-Davidson softtail blackline, propelled by 1,584 cc’s of power, weighing nearly 700 pounds, and equipped with a new LED “daymaker” headlight. Nicknamed “Shadow” by its owner, it’s like riding an angry Doberman without a leash.

Yet a few oblivious motorists still failed to spot me as I cruised across the region this past week. Despite all those ubiquitous “Motorcycles are everywhere!” yellow bumper stickers and the “Look twice, save a life” public awareness campaign, there’s always an inherent danger to riding a motorcycle on any roadway at any time. Period.

I started riding a 400-cc Honda as a teenager growing up in Gary, later owning a handful of larger bikes through the years. As anyone knows who rides a motorcycle, it’s an infectious, even intoxicating feeling to hop on one and ride to, well, anywhere.

I missed this feeling and was hoping an opportunity would present itself. It did last summer when I noticed Porter County Coroner Chuck Harris’ all-black, all-muscle motorcycle. I made a mental note to one day ask him if I could ride it.

That day came last week and Harris was kind enough to suggest I keep it for a few days.

“No problem at all,” he told me. “I hope you get hooked on it.”

I’m humbled by his generosity and floored by his blind trust in me. I could be a wheelie-riding, throttle-twisting nut-job for all he knows. I’m not, but still.

On Sunday, I picked up the black beauty and rode it through Valparaiso to get a better feel for it. Every bike has its own feel, its own nuances, its own personality. This one is no different. My first reaction echoed Harris’ own description: “It’s all engine.”

Sure enough it is. In my younger days, I would have probably ridden it directly to an expressway to test its speed, quickness and power. My previous top speed on a bike was 105 mph, many years ago, but there is no need for such muscle flexing these days.

“Roll, roll me away, won’t you roll me away tonight. I too am lost, I feel double-crossed.

And I’m sick of what’s wrong and what’s right.”

My inaugural 10-minute trek quickly reminded me of a motorcycle’s power, exhilaration and potential peril. It also reminded me that my most immediate danger was from other drivers, more so than from gravel, oil slicks, darting animals or weather conditions.

One driver, an older woman, had no clue I was behind her late model Chevy as she jammed on the brakes to make an abrupt left turn — without using her turn signal. I rolled my eyes and cussed under my breath.

Later, another driver got too close to me from behind, at least for my comfort level. I gave him one of those cliché “back off, buddy” glance-backs. He got the message.

As I’ve always done on a motorcycle, I have a habit of accelerating rather quickly at stoplights and stop signs. Not to stupidly rev the engine or immaturely draw attention to myself, but to distance myself from other motorists.

I always feel safer when I’m riding alone or isolated by space, not bumper to bumper or amid heavy traffic. Too many things can go wrong I’ve learned. I guess it’s reflective of also how I live my life.

Through the years, I’ve had my share of close calls and near-crash incidents, usually at the fault of other drivers who simply didn’t see me or didn’t care about my safety. I don’t blame them. I blame me for putting myself in a precarious position. Again, reflective of my life I guess.

“Stood alone on a mountain top, starin’ out at the great divide. I could go east, I could go west, it was all up to me to decide.”

I’ve seen too many motorcycle crashes up close and personal since I’ve been in the newspaper business. I recall one crash on U.S. 20 where a motorcyclist was thrown more than 50 feet in the air after colliding with a truck.

He was wearing a helmet (admittedly, something I don’t always do), but he died of blunt force trauma. In simpler terms, his bloody body was splattered on the road like a tossed tomato. A white sheet covered him. One hand stuck out. I haven’t forgotten the visual.

I typically hear such gruesome horror stories from non-bikers who feel oddly compelled to pass along every motorcycle crash they ever heard or watched on TV or YouTube.

“And then his left leg just broke off, and his arm twisted into a pretzel, and …,” they would say. Geez, thanks for letting me know, I would reply.

In the few short days I rode Harris’ bike, I was again reminded of the dangers of motorcycles, such as road rash, gravel roads, near-sighted deer and, of course, riding without a helmet.

“Where’s your helmet?” one woman asked, as if I was keeping her from wearing a helmet.

Other distant reminders reemerged as I rode the bike again and again. For instance, giving passing motorcyclists a nod or a wave, or bugs hitting my face at 70 mph, or being able to better smell the great outdoors, or the simple joy of just riding and contemplating life. No cell phone to check at stoplights, no radio to constantly adjust, no daily planner to cram more things to do into my busy day.

Just ... ride. And even better with my girlfriend on the back, sharing the same experience.

“We never even said a word, we just walked out and got on that bike. And we rolled,

and we rolled clean out of sight.”

Will I now search my own motorcycle again after my heart was reignited? I’m not sure. It’s one thing to flirt with someone else’s bike. It’s another thing to wed yourself to one.

Maybe I’ll just leave it as my summertime fling of 2013, a brief but exhilarating romance that will forever appear more attractive, alluring and memorable in my rearview mirrors.

“Roll, roll me away, I’m gonna roll me away tonight. Gotta keep rollin, gotta keep ridin’, keep searchin’ till I find what’s right.”

For more on this subject, listen to Jerry’s “Casual Fridays” radio show today at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.lakeshorepublicmedia.org. Call in at 769-9577.



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