I rode a motorcycle the other day, for the first time in probably 30 years. It turned out the old bicycle mantra — once you learn how, you never forget — also holds true for motorcycles. That’s the magic of procedural memory, which stores away motor skills in some stable part of the brain, ready for when they’re again needed to prevent you from cracking your head.
Thirty years is a long spell between rides, but I did spend a lot of time on a motorcycle in my teen years. I doubt it was 10,000 hours, the standard popularized by author Malcom Gladwell as the threshold for skill mastery, but I rode a lot.
I raced motocross for about five years, collecting more injuries than trophies. It turns out my primary accomplishment from those racing days was laying down the permanent electronic signals that allowed me to hop on an unfamiliar motorcycle and cruise through a weekend of rider training as if my racing days had ended just a week before.
Passing the training course allowed me to earn a motorcycle endorsement for riding on the street, though all of my previous experience was off road. One of the reasons I hung up my helmet all those decades ago — in addition to the accumulating injuries for which I’m paying the price today — was the unavoidable truth that our dirt bikes were doing serious damage to the places where we rode.
I watched the valley that was our favorite place change, dramatically. Roads and trails widened, and as we chewed up the scant vegetation, erosion did its dirty work during the monsoons, turning trails into gullies. We turned that place into a barren wasteland where even jackrabbits had a hard time making a living.
The valley was an unregulated wildcat spot. We were trespassing, but the landowners didn’t care enough to sign it. They were playing the long game, waiting to cash out when the developers arrived with their payday. Now our old riding valley sports a Costco, Walmart and a couple of chain restaurants, and is otherwise covered in pavement.
The conflict between motorized use and environmental protection, or between motorized and non-motorized users, continues to grow. There are more of us, in both categories, especially now as the technology of motorcycles and ATVs has improved, making them more accessible for novice riders.
Novice riders such as Kanye West, now of Wyoming since he and wife Kim Kardashian purchased a ranch just outside the town of Cody. The couple were out touring their new digs recently and came upon a herd of pronghorn — which vastly outnumber the human animals in those parts.
Being a power couple skilled in the art of keeping the public’s gaze on themselves, they of course recorded the adventure and posted the video on social media. That video prompted a visit from Wyoming Game and Fish as the post seems to show West steering the vehicle off the road to chase the herd.
State officials took advantage of the moment to educate the celebrity newcomers about state and federal laws regarding the harassment of wildlife. They held off on a fine or some other more serious enforcement action, which seemed prudent under the circumstances.
If it happens again, however, I expect officials to take it much more seriously.
For now, my revived motorcycle career will be limited to paved surfaces. If it expands to the dirt, I’ll follow the best practices the off-road community has established in the decades since I contributed to the destruction of my old riding valley and then came to question the barrens my gang of motocross hoodlums (and many others) left in our wake.
Procedural memory. It’s usually about motor skills, but sometimes it’s about making the right choices.
You don’t need 10,000 hours practice to do that.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.