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About On The Mark

Having piloted a motorcycle for many years, Mark has many thoughts floating in his helmet and he's ready to share them with us.

Name: Mark Byers

Current Rides: BMW R65, R1200RT and R1150RS, Suzuki DRZ400, SV650 and DR200, Honda TLR200 and TL125…

Favorite quote:

If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.

- Winston Churchill

The Shepherd

Fall wiped summer’s haze from the sky and the leaves stood in stark oranges, reds, and yellows against the neon blue of it. Nature was kind, with temperatures in the 70’s, a delicious treat for November. The conditions were fecund for motorcycling, so a ride burst forth from a text message and four men met to ply the rural roads on a collection of sporty bikes.

There were two Ninja 650s and two CBR-600s – certainly not a herd of turtles when it comes to riding iron. As men go, three were what you expect from a group of sportbike enthusiasts: twentysomething techies with various stages of minimal riding gear, including Timberland work boots. The fourth guy was the joker. The fourth was a 52-year-old, managerial type with an amalgam of worn, but effective riding gear. I was the fourth guy. I was the shepherd.

I didn’t campaign for the job – I backed into it. My part-time job as a recruiter for younglings led me to a meeting with a group of them and I showed up with a helmet. One of them had a helmet too and the ensuing conversation revealed him to be a new rider of only three months experience. Intelligent and inquisitive, he pumped me for information in a polite, but relentless way. He invited me to a ride and that is how I came to meet at a Chipotle parking lot for a ride with three twentysomething sportbikers on a gorgeous fall day.

I approached the affair with an enormous amount of caution, as I’ve had moto mentoring efforts go down in Hindenburgian conflagrations. A lot of people don’t have the temperament to listen to mentoring and a group of driven, intelligent, and hormonal young male engineers on sportbikes had the potential to be a frustration-fest. On the way to the rally point, I kept telling myself to keep it low-key.

When the guy who organized the ride arrived, he was another new-hire. The leader had the forethought to check to see with whom he was dealing. The conversation went: “How long have you been riding?” The first, my inquisitor, whom I’ll call “Sochi” because he grew up in Japan, said, “Three months.” Fittingly, he was on a Ninja. The second, on a mid-2000’s CBR-600, whom I’ll call “Tim” because of his boots, said, “I got my license five years ago, but I never used it until I got this bike less than a month ago.” The leader, whom I’ll call “Ricky” because he looked like Ricky Schroeder, then looked at me. I hesitated. “Forty years,” I finally offered, eliciting a wide-eyed look.

I don’t know how much experience the leader had, but I have socks older than

he. Nevertheless, heeding my original self-talk, I played it cool. Asking for the experience level of his charges was a good sign, and he also knew enough to talk about taking it easy and not riding above anyone’s pace. Full marks. Because he didn’t mention it, I casually mentioned lane position and spacing and waiting should we get split by a light. He knew enough to put the newbs in the middle and I offered to ride last. As we left the lot, a guy on a crotch rocket who was not part of our cabal ripped by with an open pipe, hoisting a wheelie in the middle of traffic. I happily observed three helmets shaking in a negative way from our group.

True to his word, our leader – a local guy by birth – took us on a beautifully scenic ride that was not too challenging. We stopped for lunch and the talk was that of enthusiastic, knowledge-hungry young men who understood their inexperience and were approaching it a mature way. They even acknowledged the minimal state of their riding gear and asked for advice on what to get. The two total newbs turned out to be private pilots who are working on their instrument ratings. If they continue to approach motorcycling like they approach aviation, they’ll be fine.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day. I was heartened to see the mature, intelligent approach these young men are taking to riding. We spoke of getting together over lunches at work to talk riding and survival strategies, meeting after work to talk bikes and wrenching, and to continue to ride together to build experience for the new guys. I talked to them about Pridmore’s school at VIR and they were excited about the prospect. I promised to take them on a ride through our Amish country and they seemed excited. We ride again on Veteran’s Day.

I hope to be a good shepherd.