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Hog Wild

Confessions of a Swarthmore gearhead

1979. That was the year I bought my first motorcycle magazine, the now-defunct Cycle, with a black BMW R65 on the cover. The fact that it’s the only detailed memory I have from that year tells me something.

Hi, my name is Pedro, and I’m a motorcycle addict.

I remember dreaming of riding before I ever actually rode a bike. It felt so real. For the entire ’80s, I subscribed to four or five monthly motorcycle magazines and kept them all in boxes well into the ’90s. I would regularly visit every dealer in Westchester County, N.Y., to ogle the shiny metal, sit on bikes, and imagine myself riding them. I even bought a beautiful, burgundy Arai helmet before I ever had a motorcycle license, let alone a bike. (My love wasn’t limited to two-wheeled iron horses. I also remember making the rounds of all of the European car dealers just for the chance to sit in expensive machines.)

I have to give my mom credit. She had a co-worker named Wilma who rode. Wilma was kind enough to let me use her Honda CB650 to learn how to ride and take the New York cycle endorsement driving test. So there we were: me on the motorcycle and my mom driving our Buick Century, with Wilma riding shotgun. They would patiently follow me through the streets of White Plains while I tried not to kill myself on Wilma’s bike—I can only imagine my mom’s reaction to some of my maneuvers and am eternally grateful that she didn’t put a stop to it right there and then.

On the big day, I was so focused that I forgot to put my feet down as I came to a stop in front of the examiner. If YouTube had existed, the video of me and the Honda plopping over at a stop would have gone viral. Unfortunately, dropping your bike is an automatic fail. The second try was much more successful—I finally had my license!

In 1982, off I went to Swarthmore with my precious helmet and license. I remember asking my dad during my sophomore year if he would buy me a bike. His answer was a very clear no. I do have to thank my dad for giving me enough of an allowance that I could take my first Motorcycle Safety Foundation riding class. (There was no reason to tell him back then, of course, but it did get me one step closer.)

I must have channeled my two-wheel energy into bicycling, because I became an avid cyclist, riding my 12-speed Fuji over the hills of Delaware County.

I didn’t know any other students with motorcycles, but I met a fellow gearhead, Antony Sheriff ’85, another engineering student living in Wharton. I remember car drawings all over his room and his white Saab 900S. For his senior project, he built a bathtub go-cart that he let me take for a spin.

Graduating without a job meant going back to NYC to look for one. I was living with my parents, feeling sorry for myself, when my mom asked me the $64,000 question: “When are you the happiest?”

“When I’m around cars,” I said. That turned on the light bulb, and I decided to take a six-month auto mechanics course at Apex Tech. After all of the theory fed to me as an engineering student, I was ready for a hearty meal of practicality and hands-on work. Thankfully, my parents paid for it since I had no money.

Shortly after graduating from Apex, I was amazed to find a want ad in The New York Times for an engineer at an auto parts company in Long Island City. So, in 1987, I got not only a job but also a $500-a-month studio apartment in Queens. Freedom! It didn’t take long for me to save enough money for my first bike, a red 1983 Kawasaki GPz550 with a bikini fairing, a tiny windshield, and a cowl surrounding the headlight. I was living the dream. Without a proper place to park it, my only option was to push the bike through the building’s narrow service entrance to the basement, where the super let me store it. I didn’t mind. I had a bike.

Riding in NYC was the best survival-of-the-fittest training I could have had. Jockeying for position with taxi drivers taught me valuable lessons about bike control and situational awareness. Riding to the tip of Long Island in the middle of winter taught me about cold and the importance of proper riding gear. I have great memories of summer-night rides to Jones Beach and weekend rides to Bear Mountain—I was taking longer rides and loving it.

In 1989, I moved west to attend the University of Michigan and, in 1991, rode my bike from NYC to Ann Arbor, the longest ride I had ever taken. Not only did I make it unscathed, but that long ride also made me want more.

Speaking of unscathed, as with any long-term relationship, there are ups and downs. In the case of my two-wheel love affair, the downs involve gravity. As the old saying goes, there are only two kinds of riders: those who have fallen and those who will fall.

But even after a broken collarbone and spiral tibia fracture (thankfully, at different times), I would not change a single thing over the past 30 years. Motorcycles have been the one constant in my life as I navigated jobs, residences, and marriages.

Riding has given me true moments of Zen and memories I’ll never forget. Going road racing with my friend Ed to experience the thrill of 50 bikes driving as one. A weekday morning riding solo on the Cherohala Skyway in the Smoky Mountains, the best road I’ve ever ridden, with 50 miles of perfectly radiused curves: no intersections, no towns, no tourists. Cruising through torrential downpours while wearing enough rain gear to keep me dry, feeling like an astronaut in space—surrounded by a hostile environment yet comfortable.

At the ripe young age of 54, I am now shifting my love affair from two wheels to four. My tibia break a few years ago definitely had an impact (pun intended). It made me realize that I am not indestructible. After staying off the bike for a while, I slowly came back to it, but never to the level I had before. I still love to ride, but my trips are shorter and slower now. My love of speed is still there, and my latest find, a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR, allows me to fully embrace it.

If you’re a car enthusiast and have never driven an Evo, you really should. It elicits feelings in me that are different from, yet similar to, those I’ve had on two wheels … but with a reduced risk to my bones. Funny how age has a tendency to make us wary about breaking ourselves.

The way I look at it, those 30 years on bikes were the perfect training grounds for 30 more in cars.

See you on the road!

Cruising Toward a Dream

At Swarthmore, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I was captivated. It described a feeling I wanted: a freedom and an openness. I dreamed of having my own motorcycle, but at the same time, I was afraid: My parents always reinforced how dangerous motorcycles—and the men who ride them—are. And so I settled for a post-college move to San Francisco. With student loans and the need to live cheaply, I opted for public transit.

Four years ago, I finally faced my fears and got on the back of my boyfriend Clement’s motorcycle, a Honda VTX 1800.

Oh my God, I thought as we glided around our town, and later, many other places—whole vacations. Why the hell had I been so scared of this experience! The power! The scent of the air!

Our first rides were in town, short and sweet toward the Cup & Cone ice cream shop. (You know the principle of intermittent reinforcement, right?) Last summer, we cycled around Lake Superior. It was an epic trip, motorcycle camping beside the largest, most beautiful freshwater lake in the U.S. As much as I enjoyed the experience without the responsibility of driving, I craved more control and the ability to go where and when I chose. I realized I still wanted my own cycle.

And so, several months ago, I took an “Introduction to Motorcycling and Scootering” course. On a Honda Grom 125, I learned that, despite my fear, I can ride—I just have to put in the practice. It was the reminder I needed, especially after some major recent life changes: leaving my corporate job, launching my own consulting practice, starting a blog (, and marrying that motorcycle man of mine.

Cultivating play and playfulness opens up our creativity and allows us to enjoy ourselves and reach our full potential. I’m learning this firsthand riding a bike: You must always be totally present on a motorcycle; you must always be present in life. Every moment.