Grease Monkey, Iron Horse
Sep 04, 2011
I love my motorcycle. It’s a middleweight, 650cc and about 450 pounds, and is as old as I am but still gets 50 miles to the gallon. I love the speed and the wind, the freedom and the closeness to the landscape. I think I love my bike just as much as you can safely love an inanimate object, or possibly more; she’s got a name, and I’ll occasionally pat her on the flank1 when she reminds me just how responsive her throttle is, or executes a particularly beautiful turn. That’s why they call it an iron horse.
The speed of her! It’s like that bit in Chariots of Fire: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” When we’re kids, we tear around the yard just for the pleasure of speed. Simcha Fisher remembers this: “When we were little, centrifugal force and acceleration, momentum and gravity were our playthings!” Every physicist, if he’s a good physicist, knows that the laws of the universe are beautiful. Every kind of physical play glorifies God, because it glorifies the laws that He made.
I determined to buy a bike shortly after Pentecost this year, and impious or not, I do connect the one with the other. Pentecost is a time for making changes, overcoming inertia, and inertia has always been a big problem for me. It’s easy to get excited about a new resolution, whether it’s a resolution to build a virtue or get your motorcycle license, but it’s harder to follow through on it, when the vision has faded a little and the whole thing starts looking impractical and inconvenient.
I know it’s no virtue to own a bike, but it is a virtue to determine to do something good and then to do it. The Lord transforms our hearts, piece by painful piece, but he works with what we’ve got. So the natural virtues are transferrable: sticking to your diet might or might not be a moral good, but it builds the moral muscles you need to stick to your faith.
As you might expect with a 28-year-old bike, it breaks down pretty often, and that’s a good, too. Sort of. I mean, I won’t pretend that I haven’t occasionally screamed in rage, maybe just a little bit, when yet another part breaks and I know I have another grease-soaked Saturday ahead of me. But the work turns into pleasure, too,2 and every new repair makes me feel a little more real, a little closer to the physical world.
I park my bike on the street, and a couple of weeks ago some jackass dumped her over and didn’t even leave a note. The force of the fall bent the handlebars, making the bike useless, so I spent part of last night taking the old one off, a pretty convoluted process that involved disconnecting most of the instrumentation. But again, it was a blessing in disguise: a couple of neighbors happened by, guys my age who I’d met in passing a few times, and we ended the night by killing a respectably-sized bottle of Maker’s between the three of us. It was an unexpected pleasure, which is the best kind.
I’m not saying everyone should get a bike, or that driving one is an intrinsic good. I’m just saying, life is good, God is good, and my bike helps me remember those things.