Gadgets

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ADVENTURE TRANSLATES TO MOTORCYCLISTS in numerous ways. Some believe it’s riding off pavement into the dirt. Others find it a reason to mount electronic gadgets on their handlebars, simulating the cockpit of an F-16 fighter jet. There are also those that mix the two, with sometimes undesirable results.

I HAD BEEN FOLLOWING an acquaintance who claimed to be an experienced adventure motorcyclist. He had mounted several digital gadgets on his Honda handlebars for a leisurely ride across the United States. He touted the technology as necessary, not merely wanted, to ease navigating the interstate highways he had mapped as our route. Since he had invested in these gadgets, he insisted he should lead. I only had paper maps stashed in my tank bag and memories on my cranial hard drive. I acquiesced to his self-proclaimed, digitally-advanced theory, but did so wanting him in front of me rather than behind. I watched him wander from one side of the lane to the other as he bent forward and lowered his head to read the digital displays. He looked like a chimpanzee with gloved hands attempting to peel a banana.

WHEN WE STOPPED, I asked about his lane wandering with a politically correct query, “Are you wandering the lane throughout the day because your steering head bearings are shot?” He replied, “Nah, they’re fine. Sometimes I might drift when I can’t read my GPS.” His GPS was mounted well below eye level; his intent was to be focusing on the road ahead. I suggested he move the GPS higher, but was informed it would then be in his line of sight and block his radar detector. He also said it would take hours to reroute his wiring scheme for all the electronic devices.

WHILE RIDING IN FAST-MOVING LOS ANGELES TRAFFIC, he suddenly slowed in the HOV lane and made a dangerous multilane-change to the right shoulder, earning him honking horns and middle-finger salutes. I circled around and found him parked with his tank bag and gas tank removed, digging through his wiring maze underneath. “Things went dark on me and the motorcycle quit running,” he said when asked what was wrong. He had twisted so hard to adjust his GPS screen that it detached from its mount and dangled at the end of its electric tether. As he frantically tried to collect it with one hand, he had pulled the wires hard enough to cause the entire electronic system of the motorcycle to shut down. We eventually traced the electronic failure and were back rolling after 30 minutes. Though he had risked his life and the lives of other drivers around him to save his GPS, he was in denial that the root cause of his near-death adventure had been his fiddling around with his GPS when he should have been concentrating on the road ahead.

A FEW DAYS LATER, performing his chimp-peeling-banana act again, he made 45 degrees out of a 90-degree curve. Again, trying to read his GPS, with one hand shading the screen and not looking at the road ahead. This time, his adventure took him off the paved road and he ate grass. TIPS The numerous gadgets available to make motorcycle adventuring easier compound the risk factor when they become the focus.

» Do not fixate on electronics while riding. Pull over and stop, then fixate on technology.

» Locate gadgets where they do not require shifting focus and vision from the road ahead.

» Before adventuring, test accessories to make sure they are securely fastened and will take a few bumps.

THE AGE OF driverless vehicles is upon us. While piloting motorcycles and seeking adventure, we need to remember that we are supposed to be more intelligent than a chimpanzee. We should not be increasing our risk factor by fiddling with electronic bananas. Eyes on the road is how to wander the globe. Dr. Gregory Frazier has authored four global motorcycle adventure books, logging six circumnavigations and over a million miles.