By Kazim Uzunoglu, companion of many adventures on the road, organiser and guide of many challenging rides, motorcycle guide, above all, great thinker.
Originally Kazim wrote this essay as a personal message, for my eyes only; I broke the rule of privacy that I always respect and I did not even ask Kazim permission to publish: the reason will become obvious for the ones of you that will keep reading with patience and attention. I rarely found a more striking correspondence of minds and souls: “Keeping my senses open presents me with a unique appreciation for the impromptu side of this city and my attachment to it, with a full awareness of the randomness hidden in the so-called chaos”.
The motorcycle market in the world is in recession not because “Corona virus” but mostly because the producers and marketers find difficult to understand the new generation attitude toward two wheels. Technology abounds, prices soar, insurance’s costs keep new riders away; the growth is generate by one only category: SCOOTERS that gain in popularity not only as commuting vehicle but as recreational, sporting and touring companions.
From the saddle of a scooter the words of Kazim are pure riding-thinking:
“I read the bulletin every month (or whenever they come) and think about your inspirational approach to motorcycling all the time. Unfortunately I just can not jump on the motorcycle as soon as I read your sharp comments and insightful perspective even though how inspiring and tempting your sentences may be.
I have dropped out of the “ride-with-friends-on-a-weekend” scheme for a long time due to stuff just happening, simply about work. However, I ride my scooter with great versatility and, in Istanbul, it has literally become my extension in the city. Wherever I go, my scooter is my best companion and a real pragmatic solution in surviving in this city.
As much rational the use of scooter may be, it is also a great reminder of one’s connection to life in the city and lots of fun as a symbol of what it represents and accomplishes. Of course, generally the destination is the objective of most scooter rides in the city (as opposed to the journey itself, to misquote a popular and cliché’ expression).
The scooter is the “perfect vehicle“(using Melissa Holbrook Pierson expression) to get some errands done just here and there, sometimes in the least possible places where a car or even a “big” bike would be useless or ostentatious.
On the other hand, I can not overlook the fact that riding a scooter in Istanbul is (or can be, depending on the perspective of the rider) immense fun, along with the default package of “riding-is-a-way-of-thinking,” sharing the fundamentals of riding in general. Regardless of which motorcycle one rides, the “two wheel syndrome” is always there because of the two 4 – 5 cm patches that connect the rider to the asphalt, and maybe to this planet in general.
A motorcycle is a constantly moving object applying circular, vector’s and gyroscopic forces against the unbeatable gravity that defines our very existence here.
On the scooter, function overlaps with form, objective diffuses with object, fun of the journey permeates with the joy of getting to the destination in the shortest time possible. This “sensation & thought” package on the scooter is maybe a bit different yet so familiar.
Sometimes I find myself tucked under the windshield maximizing aerodynamics (or at least assuming to do so), counting down the seconds at a traffic light, watching the beaten tarmac blur under the bike, admittedly and occasionally breaking a small traffic law without harming myself and anyone potentially (don’t we all do it?), always expecting the unexpected in the large pool of vehicles and pedestrians, but doing all this, sometimes with a stupid grin on my face and corresponding thoughts in my brain.
Independent of all exogenous circumstances and what kind of motorcycle one rides, the pilot is overcome with the exalted feeling of freedom vs. inherent risks, the continual joy vs. potential pain lurking around a steel and plastic mass.
This continuum presents an unusual travel in time, wrapped with the translucent envelope of unobstructed space where the rider directly participates in every stimulus generated by the surrounding world. These are not thoughts that conquer me on the scooter because I don’t have the luxury to construct fancy sentences while I am on the scooter.
These are just my possibly futile attempts to define a so-called disciplined integral of infinitely small snapshots of actions vs. reactions, created by gazillions of nerve-ending explosions and their natural consequences in and by our bodies.
The moment can only be experienced in that very moment by that person in that moment but these manifestations (to the point of bullshitting) are my individual and subjective accounts of man’s ability to relate himself with his surroundings and understanding of life, using the motorcycle as the perfect vehicle.
Is it not great to know that the motorcycle itself as a lifeless mass is the reason behind such errand-destinations as well as well-deserved journeys? That alone deserves a standing yet silent ovation and deep respect for the lifeless actor.
I think one needs to further explore the variables of the scooter function. One of the most discerning differences between a scooter ride in the city and a joy-ride in the countryside is the very city (Istanbul in my case) that inevitably sets the scene and presents the multitude of actors constituting a scooter experience in the city.
Keeping my senses open presents me with a unique appreciation for the impromptu side of this city and my attachment to it, with a full awareness of the randomness hidden in the so-called chaos.
That’s why I have come to believe that there is no such thing as an accident.
What we call an “accident” is simply a natural and a comprehensible part of this randomness of chaos, embedded in the famous belief that there is a reason for everything, and hence a result from everything.
Metaphorically, Istanbul is a vast ant colony intricately yet simply woven with its own hustle and bustle, sounds and smells, rules and regulations, etiquette and jargon, finally its haphazardness and randomness. The utilitarian scooter is indeed the purveyor of such recognitions and the most eligible vehicle in the hands of the right rider.
Scooter (and commuter bike) riders inevitably share the roads of Istanbul with the couriers and messengers who spend a good deal of their awake-time on the road.
Some of them understandably wear a tired and exhausted look on their faces as a result of rough traffic conditions, inclement weather and most importantly the constant struggle for bringing home some bread. For that alone, these people deserve the utmost respect from all drivers and riders alike. Naturally they have one thing in their mind: to deliver as many parcels in the shortest time possible.
During my stops at traffic lights when all the scooters and messenger bikes gradually line up at the first row in front of all cars, you can feel the camaraderie (sometimes a friendly competition of the erupting egos discussed by you as well) among these true bikers and catch a glimpse into their hectic and risky lives on 125 – 150 cc bikes.
The inherent yet competitive bonding between the scooters / commuters / messengers of Istanbul is, in another dimension, similar to the respect we get from an occasional truck driver (usually accompanied by a greeting in the form of a loud honk), who constantly drives thousands of kilometers and shares the loneliness of the roads along with the motorcycle riders of a common mindset.
I think that as much as street cats of Istanbul are (or should be) an inseparable yet characteristic and subtle symbol of the city, another perfect and potentially iconic example of such co-habitation are these thousands of couriers who congregate in certain hang-out spots and offer another dimension to our matrix of two-wheels and their raison d’etre.