Further: The Dark Side of Pairing Up | Thoughts on Motorcycling
Yes, there is a dark side to some of the modern moto conveniences such as Bluetooth communicators. Many of us think this is an important adjunct to a well-equipped biker, but beware — all is not rosy and may not end up as you anticipated.
Most riders have logged countless miles lost only in their own thoughts, but those days may be coming to an end. Riders who have dabbled in the electronic arts may have started with music piped into their helmets.
This led to the linkage of GPS devices and their often-annoying orders to follow their lead. Soon thereafter, smartphones found their place in the equation, and they too can present a love/ hate opportunity for the tech savvy.
In defense of Bluetooth, there is so much ability and an extra margin of safety through its judicious use. Many will ballyhoo this notion and talk of how the serenity of their ride would be destroyed by any input other than from the front-end or twisting the throttle.
I get it, but submit that one needn’t go overboard and the ability to play some music and make/take an important call is a nice feature. Beyond this, the idea that you can link up with riding buddies to be able to make quick route changes without hand signals or just discuss the sights as you roll by sounds like a perfect plan.
On a long ride into the nearby mountains, I paired up my intercom with a pal. His identity will remain a mystery, to protect him from potential ridicule. Our initial conversations were as you might expect.
We talked about the weather and scenery and the characteristics of the bikes we were riding. There were periods of talk and of relative silence; I thought that this was really terrific.
We were surfing the crest of the technology wave to enjoy the camaraderie and safety of easy two- way communications.
Then the humming started. At first it was quiet—barely audible. I thought there was some strange harmonic emanating from my Aprilia. Over the next hour, the volume increased. When I made a comment about this and, to my future discomfort, chuckled, he knew this was now out in the open and his humming gained greater commitment.
As time wore on there was sporadic singing and nonsensical words and statements. Then he was chatting in his mother tongue, which was Greek to me.
As we headed into the best, curviest part of the ride he would say, “I love this turn.” Then, at the next corner he would say, “I love this turn.” Over and over and over again.
I could have shut down the intercom channel and played music from my phone, but I couldn’t work the controls at speed and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I sensed something brilliant about to be divulged; that never did occur.
Next, the singing began in earnest. My repeated request that he “shut up” fell on deaf ears and, instead, drove him to new heights of theatrics.
Perhaps he was hypoglycemic and we should have stopped to eat. Maybe it was the hyper-burger he had snorked down a couple of hours earlier at a dark barroom counter in the middle of nowhere. Too many onions, I thought. I wondered if he had mixed up his meds in the morning.
As the day wore on, it became as amusing as it was disturbing. I was trapped. I had become enmeshed in the web of insanity that was flowing from my earphones. I couldn’t turn it off because I might miss some pearl of wisdom or other inspired ridiculousness — that is, up until we had to split lanes on the freeway as we headed home.
He began a running commentary on every idiot we passed and what they could be thinking as they made their half-hearted attempts to crush us under their wheels.
With my last ounce of conviction and determination, I shut off the device and heard the silence of the wind roaring through my helmet. The kind of silence one can hear or feel even with the loudest of background noises, which tend to be ignored, like other people’s noisy kids at the next table at a restaurant.
The peace was blissful until I realized I missed the antics. I reached up to switch him back on and had that inner argument with myself, not unlike a recent ex-smoker toying with the idea of only having a puff or two.
Consider yourself warned, fellow riders. Think first before pairing. The sanity you risk may be your own.
Column from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For subscription services, click here.