Just hang in there

With Boris Mihailovic


One of the biggest problems facing motorcycling in Australia at this time is what the industry calls the “Conversion Rate”. That means L- and P-platers are not hanging onto the handlebars long enough to graduate to bigger and better bikes. They lose interest, decide riding is not really for them, and drift off into the hands of car dealers who will sell them a car they can take their girlfriend out in, for less than the cost of a new bike.

So there’s a good chance this piece might not be read by the people who maybe need to read it.

2019 Honda CB300R
Honda’s CB300R

And the people who need to read it are still in their teens and flubbing about on L-plates wondering if this whole motorcycle thing is really all it’s cracked up to be.

I do not blame them. Listening to a 300cc Kwaka boring a hole in your brain through the pipe you bought on eBay from China can do that to a person.

So I’m hoping the old leathery warhorses who read this might take it upon themselves to share this article around the traps. There’s not a hope anyone over 60 can work out how social media works, but you should try anyway.

Beloved L-platers, just hang in there! Maintain the strain! Do not give up!

Because this motorcycling thing is ever so worth it. Trust me. I’ve been doing it for a million years. It never gets old.

Now, I know our terrifying rulers are hell-bent on destroying the whole caper. They make you ride little tiddler bikes for years. They force you to wear fluoro vests and make laws so you can’t carry a pillion passenger. They instruct their armed revenue-raisers to torment you at every opportunity. They want you to NOT ride.

2018 Suzuki SV650X
Suzuki’s SV650X LAMS machine

Then there’s the fact good riding clobber is expensive and people laugh at you when you shop at Aldi for motorcycle gear. You can never seem to afford good tyres, and your chains and sprockets are a disaster area. And maybe you’ve fallen off and broken some shit, and while you know deep down inside it was really your fault, you find comfort in your social media echo chamber which will tell you all car-drivers are bastards and it’s not your fault you crashed.

Don’t worry. That mindset will hopefully change the longer you ride.

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? You have to keep on riding. In the rain, in the heat – and not just in the city, or those same-old same-old loops you go to every Sunday where the cops are waiting for you with chafing erections.

Yamaha YZF R iK AM
It’s all about getting out there, every day, riding

I know, I know. It’s hard. I was once like you are now, as they say in the classics. The difference is there was no social media to stroke my fur the way I wanted it stroked. Instead, there were horrible leathery old bastards on criminally loud motorcycles I had to chase, and who would laugh at me in my shiny, new, cheap-shit gear when I pulled up at a pub they were in.

But I’m a stubborn cuss. And the thrill and the joy motorcycling gave me each time I threw my leg over my bike was irreplaceable. It was more addictive than heroin made from tobacco, and seriously more fun than rooting – which at your age, is normally just an embarrassment of ignorance and discomfort. Sex, like riding, gets better the more of it you do. But riding’s better because there are no tedious preliminaries you need to deal with. You just get on and go.

So how are you meant to survive the seemingly endless years in the wilderness of L- and P-platerism?

2018 Yamaha XVS650 Custom
Yamaha’s XVS650 Custom

The easy thing to say is “Suck it up, princess.”

When I started riding we were not forced to ride small-capacity bikes. So we normally bought the biggest-capacity monster we could afford and went at it. Yes, some of us died. Some of us were maimed. The survivors, and I am one of them, now congratulate ourselves each time we come back from a ride and are alive to tell of it.

Strange thing, this motorcycle-riding. It’s divinely dangerous. Which is why it appeals and why we do it. That’s the bit that never gets old. What changes is you. You eventually become a risk-manager rather than a risk-taker.

At your age, it’s all about banging hard and being cool. I can assure you it’s still all about that for me. But wisdom doesn’t come with age. Only perspective. I bang less hard these days, but I am faster than I was as a 17-year-old. It’s because I ride better.

Kawasaki's Ninja 400
Kawasaki’s Ninja 400

And this is what you have to do to get past these hard years. You have to improve your skills. Do courses if you can afford them. They will certainly help.

But most importantly, you have to ride. All the time. To far-away places.

This is not all that expensive and heaps safer and more convenient than when I was sleeping on the side of the road back in the late 70s. You have mobile phones now. You’re able to call for help if you need it. We used to have to wait for a passing car and then send it to the next town with a message. You have tyre repair kits and very reliable bikes – even if you skimp on oil, tyres and chains.

Going on long rides will help you put up with the banality of being on a LAM for three or four years.

And at the end of that time, if you do as I suggest…well, Hell, pilgrim, have you even seen the magical two-wheeled stuff us old people ride?

Hopefully, one day that will be you, if you just hang in there.