Where is your edge? How far do you go? What happens if you lose your edge?
There are the edges which define an entity and there are the edges that give an advantage. The edge of skill and the edge of experience, the edge of life and the edge of self, these are closely woven together. I believe we select band, of men and women that ride motorbikes, generally know a bit more about edges than the commonality.
The Skill edge is the real or imagined to be real, limit of your own bravery; in life and in the riding of your motorbike. It seems to me that most humans instinctively make every effort to surround themselves with boundary cushions. Of course this is the basis of ‘society’. Though there are free spirits that, like the mountain men of the Old West are always in search of a new horizon, but most of us happily settle into a rigidity. A set way of riding, a set of roads, a set of club friends. After a while you don’t push your skills anymore, don’t try and get round that corner smoother, we are comfortable and it is easier to stick with what we know. Now and again, sometimes accidentally we suddenly reach or cross that edge. A miscalculation or an unforeseen tractor causes us to push our skill to a new edge, or back out to where it used to be. Other times, particularly with our fraternity, the Mountain Man inside will break out; we pack light and head for the mountains of a new land. We step over the edge of day to day experience and challenge our own skills with the risk of the unknown and unforeseeable. Soon the comfort zone of experience is expanded, we cope with things that the mere thought of previously would have scared us.
I know that times when I haven’t been riding for a week or more I set out in a cautious way, I worry whether it is going to rain, how far will my petrol take me and so which petrol station am I going to stop at. Ooh, is the road slippery or is something wrong with my tyres, did the engine always sound as rattly as that? Ted Simon describes this very well in Jupiter’s Travels – ‘my ear picked up noises and vibrations that fed my doubts. – I was unwilling to believe that all this proceeded from my own mind, and I tried to diagnose faults. – looked at the wheel alignment and several times snatched a glance at my rear tyre, convinced it must be flat.’ This happened after a rest period in Kenya. He had pushed his edges well out getting there but it is instructive to see how quickly they had contracted around him as he rested up and ‘re-civilised’ himself. Coming back from even a relatively short bike trip I am relaxed, taking the road and weather as it comes. Petrol, well I have 30-40 miles from the reserve light coming on, plenty of time. The edges of riding skill and the travel challenges we are willing to tackle surround our sense of self. When you ride well and far, one can reach for that point of existence in which we are responding to the world as it comes to meet us, freed of the desire to know everything in advance and to impose our will upon it in advance. Able to go with the flow. Comfortable with a new expanded outer edge.
A honed knowledge of our skill edge allows us to better handle the edges of experience. As in ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’. “The Western outlaw usually faced high odd. Beyond their physical, practised dexterity with the pistol and their courage, those who “done the thinkin'” were the ones who lasted longest. They always endeavoured an “edge”. – To his reckless men Bloody Bill Anderson had been a master tutor of the “edge”. Once he told Josey, “Iff’n I’m to face out and outlast another feller in the hot sun…all I want is a broom straw to hold over my head fer shade A little edge and I’ll beat’em.” He knew the limits of his skill so well that all he needed was the extra advantage given by a piece of straw.
This edge is the one that lets you safely expand. You don’t have to spit gobs of tobacco juice onto a dogs head to make it work for you. Draw from beyond your own skill, this is the use of world that is rushing at you to tilt the odds in your favour. Whether getting the sun in your opponents eyes or knowing that the big lorry that has been going just too fast to be comfortably overtaken is now going to be slow coming out of that next corner. Be ready; you might well have the edge now to nip past. Like Josey’s knife sharp edge of action, being close to your edge is to be able to react with purpose and decision. We bikers often meet it like Josey meeting Ten Bears the Comanche Chief; alone. Josey sets the edge of his skill before Ten Bears, (“this is the word of life, and of death…”) and Ten Bears sees the truth of this edge. They become blood brothers with the pain of a knife cut across the palm because Ten Bears sees that Josey Wales is poised at the very edge of his existence. Josey knows a wrong move and he will instantly be killed and yet Ten Bears can see that Josey is in equilibrium, perfectly balanced, able to go for death or life with equal commitment. And that is his true edge, his best advantage, the knowledge of self edge. This is an edge rooted in attitude born out of aptitude. The result of the sharpening of the self edge is the ways in which we respond to others and the world around us.
Our sense of self-sufficiency fostered by the testing of our edge on two wheels enhances our ability to cope with the hard edges of experience that come at us. We bikers are ‘individualists’ – acknowledged fact. One reason is because edges define personality and we spend more time at our edges and keep them sharper than the hoi-paloi.
I am not saying that we should always be trying to push out the edges, but that we should occasionally check that we haven’t let them drift closer and become a fuzzy band of ‘can’t be bothered’.
So… Breath deep, fill your lungs, push out the chest of your life, discard that suit and head for them thar hills!
‘Jupiter’s Travels’ by Ted Simon. ISBN 0 14 00.5410 3
‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ (formerly ‘Gone to Texas’) by Forrest Carter. ISBN 0 8600 7331 9