Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Willy lives to ride

You don't choose the motorcycle life; it chooses you

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Willy, pictured here aboard a Harley-Davidson Road King, has been riding since he was a kid and can’t imagine a life that didn’t include motorcycles.

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Willy, pictured here aboard a Harley-Davidson Road King, has been riding since he was a kid and can’t imagine a life that didn’t include motorcycles.

Every time I hear about a motorcycle-related fatality, it hits me like a hammer to the heart.

Most of my friends ride bikes and, as it turned out, I knew three of the five riders who lost their lives last month, all in one deadly weekend.

After the shock had eased, and the celebrations of their lives had concluded, I couldn't help but begin to have questions about my own life, and how it would really suck if it ended in the near future.

I've been blessed with a great family, amazing friends and a great job. I have more toys than I know what to do with, and my health for the most part (despite my best efforts to erode it) has been stellar.

Yet, on the very same day one of my friends and the love of his life were buried, there I was barrelling down the highway on a massive Harley-Davidson.

On the surface it may seem that those of us who choose to ride are borderline suicidal. We also might appear to be more than a little selfish -- making our loved ones worry about us for no good reason other than our own personal gratification.

In this time of reflection, I imagined my life without motorcycles. Maybe I should sell off the 15 or so bikes I own, and burn the piles of helmets, riding gear, T-shirts, magazines, die-cast models and posters that surround me. Delete all my riding buddies' numbers from my phone, un-friend my biker pals on Facebook and never again darken the doorways of the spots we frequent.

My better sense ultimately prevailed. For guys and gals like me, people who eat sleep and breathe motorcycles, it's much more than a hobby. It's our way of life. Our riding buddies are different than other friendships we've made. The constantly growing fraternity of brothers and sisters we meet on two wheels are our friends for life. Take it from a guy who has been around the block a few times, the only way you're likely ever going to find friends like your "motorcycle family" is in the military, law enforcement, the fire department, or maybe pro sports. Or if you slide to the dark side and run with a band of outlaws.

Ultimately, for me and many others who ride, it's this simple: We didn't choose motorcycles, they chose us.

My motorcycle life officially began in the fall of 1979. I was 12 years' old and lived with my mother, Isabelle, and my older brother Allen in a townhouse in St. Norbert. My parents had divorced when I was about five, and my brother and I lived with mom during the week and spent most weekends with our dad, Dave.

Mom and her new boyfriend, Jim, who later became my stepfather and best bud, were going to Hawaii so he could play rugby with his beloved Winnipeg Wasps. Because we kids had school, our dad was spending the week at our house. Pizza for a week was surely in our future.

On the very day my mom and Jim left for Hawaii, our dad pulled up in front of our house with a trailer in tow behind his Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon. Without having the slightest notion of the joy to come, we hopped in the car and drove to Winnipeg. When dad wheeled into Richmond Yamaha on Pembina Highway, we still didn't know what was to come. But, as we entered the showroom and were ushered over to a pair of Yamaha dirt bikes with sold tags on them, my life instantly changed.

Thanks to that little Yamaha GT80, I was cool for the first time in my life. I was no longer a chubby kid from a broken home who stuttered a bit when he got excited. It didn't matter that I wasn't the best skater or the fastest runner. I was the kid on the motorcycle.

Ever since that day, I've always been the kid on the motorcycle. In high school I was the only kid who rode a motorcycle to school. At football practice, my bike was usually the only one in the Fort Garry Lions parking lot. When I was a corrections officer, my bike was usually the only one in the jail parking-lot.

Today, my motorcycle is always the only one in the Free Press lot.

In the past, I've tried to justify why I ride. I'm not going to do that anymore. From now on, I'm gonna tell it like it is. I don't ride because I want to, I ride because I live to ride.

If you're a rider, you understand. If you're not, unfortunately, you probably never will.

willy@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2013 F7

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