Why We Ride (© American Honda Motor Co., Inc.)Click to enlarge picture

Released from the steel cage of the automobile, motorcyclists experience scenery firsthand, rather than through the frame of a vehicle windshield.

What attracts people to motorcycling? When faced with the numerous personalities of both riders and motorcycles, there may not be a single answer. Despite the differences between touring rider and hill climber, chrome-encrusted cruiser and nimble Grand Prix race bike, there are some universal attributes that get under the skin of the motorcyclist and feed the desire to ride.

Freedom is often cited as an attraction, but what does that mean? Compared to driving a car, riding a motorcycle offers freedom from the constraints of four-wheeled physics. When a car negotiates a turn, it leans to the outside of a corner, struggling to maintain its former direction of travel. A motorcycle leans into a corner.

This may not sound like much, but until you've experienced both you can't understand the superior grace and simplicity of this mode of travel. Cornering becomes a symphony of precise movements instead of an awkward wallow, working in harmony with the road instead of fighting it tooth and nail.

The Sense(s) of Freedom
Once freed of your steel cage you are thrust into the world to experience a broader existence unfettered by HEPA filters and climate control. Your nose will get a vivid introduction to skunk roadkill and diesel exhaust, but will also revel in bread baking and plants blooming. Your body will feel the thousand tiny impacts of raindrops and absorb the buffeting of the wind. Your skin will feel the gently warming temperature as you crest a hill and drop to the valley floor below. You are no longer huddled behind a wheel disconnected from nature. It's Lawrence of Arabia in Cinerama versus a daguerreotype of a camel.

Wrap all this freedom in a lovely ribbon of performance, and you get what experts call fun. Not the fake hood scoop, chrome wheels and racing stripe school of performance. Picture instead a carrier launch and you'll be in the right neighborhood, and you don't even have to pledge seven years of service. Best of all, this astounding performance is dirt cheap. For less than half the cost of most commuter pods you can buy a stock motorcycle capable of 9-second quarter miles.

Don't bother figuring the cost for a production car with matching performance, because you won't find one. AMG teamed with Mercedes to make the CLK-GTR capable of a 9.4 second quarter mile, and it's a steal at a measly $1,000,000. Performance cars do have the edge in aerodynamics and top speed, but to use them you'll need lottery winnings and the Autobahn.

Message board: There is enormous joy in the sport of motorcycling. Why do you ride?

All of this freedom and fun doesn't come without a price. First of all, you have to learn how to ride. Given the right training and the right attitude, the skills can be acquired by just about anyone. Want proof? One of my first forays was on my dad's 1975 Honda CB125S, a ride so mild it's hard to believe it could burn gasoline. I was so overwhelmed I couldn't remember how to stop, and ended up using a conveniently located pickup to do the job. Fortunately the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) runs well-organized classes where you can safely learn motorcycling in a pickup-free environment.