Who hasn't heard some whiz kid talk about insect-infested, dirty-feathered robins as Springtime's signal? Some view of nature. But robins aren'tm the harbinger of Spring. Nor are Capistrano-bound swallows. And by the time the first crocus get around to sticking its bud into the act, you can well be on your way to your second sunburn. No, the realm first sign of Spring is the motorcyclist.
Is there a creature more sensitive to the change of seasons than a biker? I think not. In black leather jackets, studded with club colors, they emerge, one at a time, as vulnerable as chicks cracking through shells.
Each mounts his bike, a bit unsure at first. Has he lost any skills through the long, car-bound winter? Can he still take turns with his shoulder only a few inches from the road? Can his back withstand the torture of his girlfriend's nails digging in as she tries to hang on?
With luck, you may see a motorcyclist riding around the block just beforem the turn of seasons. After the long winter, his bike "putt-putts" almost obsequiously. The experienced biker knows the first ride is never right. He knows it may take weeks before the bike is tuned to just the right pitch of "va-ROOM! ROOM!" So the long ritual of tinkering begins.
Do bikers sometimes fake themselves out and think it's Spring when it's only a lull in the winter? Are they like those hopelessly naive plants that stretch up one day only to be cut off by the blade of a snow shovel the next?No. Bikers know better. They don't bring their Machines out to rust. They're not about to roar down the turnbike and hit an ice patch or pothole. Bikers are too aware to be fooled by Mother Nature.
So, after systems have been flushed, points and plugs replaced, chrome polished to a blinding brilliance, the motorcyclist wheels out his bike, jumps to start it, heels up his kickstand, narrows his eyes, inhales the magnificent fumes. He turns his handlebars and hears the beauty of his exquisitely tuned engine revving. And he's off, knowing fully both the loneliness and glory of Paul Revere, calling humanity to reawaken
Recent findings, such as the discovery that bikers are exceptionally sensitive to magnetism and ultraviolet light, have heightened interest in the mystery of what causes the motorcyclist to begin his journey.
More than ever, the scientists' curiosity and research are intensified at this time of year because the annual North American spring migration to summer breeding grounds begins to fill the major highways.
It is one of nature's most spectacular events, in which scores of bikers participate. Exactly how they flock together, decide who is to lead, and why they blindly follow this leader of the pack are questions scientists are currently puzzling over. but trooping remains one of the great, relatively obscure mysteries of motorcycling.
In what some scientists regard as the most important recent discovery, researchers have reported that bikers' heads contain magnetite, an iron oxide with magnetic properties. Other researchers discovered that bikers had difficulty orienting themselves when coils were attached to their heads to produce magnetism different from the earth's natural magnetic field at that site , with most bikers asking, "What's going on?" And in a room shielded from all magnetic radiation, the bikers aimlessly crashed into one another.
Experiments with Indigo Buntings, a Bridgeport, Conn., club, have shown that the bikers use star navigational aids. The bikers were put in a room that simulated the fall and winter star patterns. No matter which way the pattern was turned over in their heads, the bikers always sought to get out through the room's single door, which was always in the north or south direction as shown by the star projections, depending on the season.
It is difficult to track bikers, and until recently scientists had compiled relatively little data on their habits. But observation by planes, radar, and radiotelemetric gear attached to the bikers has helped to add to the lore of motorcycling. Tests have shown that most riders of Harley-Davidsons emerge at night, while riders of the smaller Hondas take off in the early afternoon.
While much remains to be studied, I, for one, would simply like people to look at their first biker with a bit more wonder. This year I hope people will come in from a chilly afternoon, their spirits reawakened, their hearts warm, and spread the good news: "I just saw my first motorcyclist. Spring's here."