New bike fever

New bike fever

Obsession. Rumination. Insomnia. The angst of buying a motorcycle can be sweet torture. This ordeal may arrive unbidden. You don’t have to be out looking for a bike to end up smitten by some irresistible fresh face or a deal too good to ignore. Maybe you were just picking up an oil filter at the dealer, browsing online ads to pass idle time, or you noticed a For Sale sign on a machine in the grocery store parking lot. Whether you immediately shifted into hot pursuit mode or became knotted up with ambivalence, the pain set in—a mix of agonizing suspense, agitated impatience and frantic desire that refused to dissipate, even if you “decided” yes or no in an attempt to settle down. It felt less like a choice you made, and more like the motorcycle chose you, locked on, and wouldn’t let you think about anything else. The temporary insanity that ensued combined delicious fantasies of blissful rides with gnawing fear/guilt about financial overextension, or at least dread of enduring the fitful days or weeks between the immediate present and purchasing consummation.

If this sounds familiar, welcome to the club! Given the fact motorcycling is a passion-driven activity for most of us, it’s no shock we churn violently at the prospect of acquiring a new bike (“new” here will mean new to us, not necessarily new off the showroom floor). These are intensely emotional events, barely—if at all—tempered by rational thought. That doesn’t mean rationalizations are absent; in fact, they may be rampant! Reviewing these after the fact can be quite amusing: “Sure, I can afford this bike. I’ll simply sell my old one.” We’re able to say this in all seriousness, completely ignoring the fact selling that old one won’t be at all simple because it’s not particularly desirable, especially at the outrageous price we’d have to charge to significantly offset the new ones cost. It’s not that we don’t know better. In a less heated moment, we could estimate our old bike’s worth realistically. We just ignore inconvenient facts out of expediency.

Then there’s the relentless, all-consuming distraction. The new motorcycle haunts our sleep and hovers before our open eyes, beckoning, promising ecstatic, unprecedented riding experiences. Again, we undoubtedly know better. In all likelihood, we’ve been around this block before, perhaps many, many times. It can seem like we’ve finally found The One, the bike we’ll keep forever, the answer to all our riding requirements and aspirations. Perpetual joy awaits! We need only claim it for our own. How can you put a price tag on such boundless pleasure? We adopt a heroically determined stance: nothing will keep us from our beloved! Reservations are summarily dismissed with the most ridiculous arguments. Who cares about retirement savings when the coolest forged wheels on the planet are at stake? Didn’t you see those gorgeous graphics on the TFT display?? You can’t possibly live without them. Your life would be bleak and miserable forevermore. Don’t throw your future away. Do whatever it takes. There will never be another opportunity like this again—ever!

Of course, after a while the fever breaks. We may truly relish rides on the new machine and be glad we bought it, but its flaws have become apparent. Alas, perfection proves illusory again. There are always problematic details that contaminate the idyllic purity of our original vision. Maybe we make modifications to fix the disappointing bits or we learn to live with them. In any event, the exquisite becomes mundane and what had seemed like the be-all, end-all of motorcycling is now “merely” a very good bike—or not.

Mark’s trials bike the day he picked it up from the dealer.

Perhaps we’ve also done much worse than settle into a pleasantly relaxed appreciation of the bike for which we initially burned. After expending superhuman effort and emptying our coffers, the motorcycle of our dreams turned out to be the stuff of nightmares. We discovered the hidden evidence of its previous owner’s neglect, abuse, or mechanical incompetence. Or we learned the kind of riding we’d imagined doing (That could be me in the press photo!) isn’t as fun or readily executed as we thought. A bike’s appeal can not only fade but reverse for many reasons, leaving us to contend with buyer’s remorse, and possibly a terrible financial loss. We whip ourselves and vow to never act so foolishly again, even if we couldn’t possibly have possessed the information required for better foresight. And yet here we are again, salivating over another motorcycle bursting with promise and rendering our prior regrets moot; this one will be different, without a doubt.

Motorcycles are often considered sexy. There are plenty of reasons the machines might be thought of that way, but what about our emotional involvement with them? Isn’t there something romantic, or even plainly lustful, about our relations? If you went back through the previous text and substituted the word “lover” for each bike reference, you wouldn’t have to change much else in the wording to make it all fit. A lot of overlap exists between the infatuation we feel for an exciting new love interest and the phenomenon of New Bike Fever.

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In both situations, we are monomaniacal, unreasonable, and extraordinarily energized. To an outside observer (or to us at another time), this is an obviously perilous combination, but we experience it as an unquestionable imperative with life-changing consequences. Our happiness and contentment are on the line, with no alternative means of securing them. All other matters feel tedious and annoying. Critical judgment is absent in some ways, yet also sharply focused on solving the problem of acquisition. The object of our desire is surrounded by an aura of intoxicating allure, conjuring hallucinatory images we half-recognize as absurd, but nevertheless find overwhelmingly compelling. We readily give ourselves over to the frenzied trance. Careful deliberation is out of the question, made impossible by the prompt invasion of illogical justifications. The only relief is surrender. Even then, the yearning persists. So we buy the motorcycle or successfully woo the new lover, now we can’t bear to be apart! Life elsewhere demands our attention, and we’re obliged to go through the motions, but we’re ready to crawl out of our skin to return to what feels transcendently important. We splurge on lavish gifts or premium farkles, we sneak peeks at photos while at work, we stare starry-eyed across the dinner table or garage. In their presence, we soar through the clouds. In their absence, we ache mightily, incessantly. Friends and family tire of our relentless fixation.

Novelty, by definition, is a time-limited feature. And we actually don’t have limitless reserves of energy for this kind of concentrated investment. Mysteries are revealed, and infatuation exhausts itself. Clarity of thought returns. We must contend with reality and its disappointments. Perhaps the lifting fog reveals additional assets unrecognized at the start. These may be even more valuable than what falls away with the advent of sober assessment. Indeed, in our relationships with machines or people there is ideally an unending process of discovery. What more do they have to teach us about themselves, ourselves, and what’s possible with some work? Is there more here than we realized, or is this it? If the latter, is it enough?

In the case of a motorcycle, the difference between a wild fling and a lasting partnership often hinges on our openness, perseverance and humility, much the same as in romance. Yes, there are aspects of any bike we eventually deem imperfect. Is that cause for replacement? Maybe, but we might also find ways of adapting that allow us to hold onto the good stuff, which a successor might lack. Are there aftermarket parts or modifications that could remedy my dissatisfaction and expand my wrenching repertoire? What if my dissatisfaction could be readily addressed with some skill development on my part, instead of me insisting the motorcycle should make up for all my shortcomings? Maybe I’m the one in need of enhancement. Or maybe this bike is truly unsuitable for Riding Style X, but it introduces me to Riding Style Y, which I hadn’t considered before and now find intriguing. Trade-offs, compromises, unexpected growth—these are all components of sustained connections, regardless of the target of our affection or frustration. Can couples married for many decades retain a spark? Yes, if they’re able to keep revisiting the frontier of their knowledge of one another. There, where there’s always more to discover, lies an inexhaustible reservoir of novelty. But many never exercise the curiosity and vulnerability necessary to keep the relationship fresh after the newness wears off. Oddly enough, the same principle can apply with our motorcycles.

Unsurprisingly, I’m writing about New Bike Fever because I just went through it for the umpteenth time myself. Despite several dozen examples in my own history, I just can’t turn it off. I’m now able to bargain more shrewdly than in the past, but I don’t know if I could really walk away were my offers rejected. I can now remind myself repeatedly that these urges, no matter how powerful, will eventually subside if I resist temptation. That’s a proven fact I’ve experienced firsthand; feelings are not facts, after all. But do I actually make use of this insight? Rarely. For a while, I might be able to enjoy the titillation without taking it so seriously. And I’m probably now able to seek—and take—advice from a fellow rider I trust as knowledgeable, straightforward and sympathetic to my plight. But I mainly consult those who’ll always prod me to go for it. I know it’s crazy, but New Bike Fever remains a reliably exhilarating and excruciating affliction, each and every time I buy a motorcycle. At least this time I’ve finally bought the most absolutely and completely perfect motorcycle ever made…

Really. I mean it!

Mark Barnes is a clinical psychologist and motojournalist. To read more of his writings, check out his book Why We Ride: A Psychologist Explains the Motorcyclist’s Mind and the Love Affair Between Rider, Bike and Road, currently available in paperback through Amazon and other retailers.