By Kurt Sunderbruch
Do you have a local go-to road? Yeah, me too. I’m lucky enough to live in a place where some really fun roads are within a mile or two of my house. Roads I know well. Roads I feel like I can rely on like old friends. Roads that (almost) always deliver a jolt to my joy center. And yet…
And yet, it’s the distant roads that I hear calling my name. The roads I haven’t ridden in a long time, or even better, the roads I haven’t ridden at all. They call to me with the promise of new horizons and new experiences. They call to me with novelty. They call to me with the excitement of the unknown.
Why should this be? Haven’t my local roads always been objectively fun roads to ride? Don’t my local roads leverage their familiarity to make me look good? Aren’t my local roads convenient? Haven’t they always been there for me like a well-worn pair of jeans?
All of that is true, and at the same time this familiarity comes with a risk. There is an old saying that familiarity breeds contempt. Contempt can come in many shapes and shades, but there are two that pose the greatest risk to me. The first sort of contempt is more like a lack of respect. It’s the belief that I “know” this road. I know where to go faster on this road. I know exactly where every bump is on this road, and where the camber flattens out, and where one old buck likes to cross the road. Those all sound like good things to know, but if I let this knowledge lull me into a sense of complacency, if I let it lull me into the delusion that the road has not changed in any meaningful way since I last rode it, if I let it convince that there can’t be a cyclist, and a u-turning motorist, or a tree limb in my lane just beyond my sightline, that contempt can cost my life.
The second type of contempt I’m thinking of is the belief that this road has nothing else to teach me, and if I know this road, I might know all roads. That means when this road stops being fun for me that all roads will similarly stop being fun. If I’m bored now, I will always be bored. That contempt can cost me my love for riding.
What’s the cure? You got it – distant roads!
On distant roads, it may have been a long time since I last rode them. I can’t assume much of anything. My memory may be faulty about this upcoming corner, or missing entirely. This forces me to deal with the road as if it’s the first time I’ve ridden it. I must deploy all my road-reading skills. I must keep my pace within my sightlines. I can’t assume that I know everything this road has to teach me. On a road I’ve never ridden before, I must remain even more present, more on-my-toes, more within my sightlines. All of this sharpens me as a rider. It forces me to be fully present. It blocks out all distractions and reveries. It forces me to leave the work and relationship problems behind, and be “only” a motorcyclist for the time being. It puts me in the moment.
Unfamiliar roads are even better. On those roads, the rider knows nothing beyond the clues the road offers. Riders must approach this situation with attention and respect. The road pays it back in novelty; new turns, new elevation changes, new surfaces, new traffic patterns, new vistas. This combination of discipline and reward strengthen the rider’s skills, and maximize the rider’s memories. Road like this always have something to teach us, and as a result are not boring. Roads like this enhance my love of riding.
Where can you find these roads? Sometimes you can find them a town over, a county over, a state over, and even a continent over. You can find them on maps, or on web forums, or in guide books. Sometimes you find them as you pass by and think, “I wonder where that one goes?” It doesn’t need to take a great deal of effort, and the payoff for finding them is entertaining and educational and life-affirming. Start looking.