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About Postcards from the Hedge

Always on the cutting edge of the motorcycle industry, Bill Heald’s Postcards from the Hedge provides readers with an exceptional look into all things motorcycle. From racing to design to day-to-day riding, Heald has a grasp on it all.

Name: Bill Heald

Current Rides: Honda VFR and V45 Magna, Kawasaki Ninja 500, Triumph Street Triple R

Favorite quote:

The Wand chooses the Wizard Mr. Potter. It is not always clear why.

- Mr. Ollivander in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

When is it When?

“Time is relative. I don’t always get along with my relatives, so I recommend a good Swiss watch.”

-Ohlin Metzeler

It has been a pressing question that comes to us all, and it’s not just about motorcycling but all kinds of activities. If we are fortunate, we will live long enough that our personal parts will become worn out after many, many miles of operation and it may become time to abandon the saddle due to the inevitable loss of proper physical/mental capabilities. This means we will extinguish our seat time. Twist the throttle no more. Park the machine in the space eternal, as least as far as our piloting is concerned. For most of you reading this I’ll wager (and sincerely wish) this time is quite far down the road, although there are circumstances that sometimes arise that have little to do with age that may bring a cessation of motorcycling. These circumstances can be varied and unexpected, but the result is the same.

So why in the world do I bring this up? Well, it has come to my attention that about a year ago, beloved actor, producer, director, writer, ne’er-do-HedgeCloonswell, spouse to an amazing woman and long-time motorcyclist George Clooney (or “Cloons,” as people like me that have never met him like to call him) was in a very nasty scooter crash in Italy. I say scooter, but this was one of the larger, more powerful variety and he was zooming at what he says was about 70 MPH when he encountered the front of a Mercedes sedan. He departed the scoot, and his helmeted head smacked the windshield of said German machine with enough force to split said helmet. An aside: perhaps it’s a good thing he wasn’t in Connecticut, where being over 21 he could have opted not to wear a helmet and thus been featured in next year’s “People we Lost” video tribute during the Oscars. Of course, Cloons would have had a helmet on anyway. I hope.

Where was I? Oh yes. Anyway, despite getting concussed, and literally getting blown out of his shoes, Mr. Clooney’s MRI revealed no permanent damage and bruised but OK he was dismissed from the hospital. The incident was largely kept quiet by both Clooney and the film company he was working with at the time, and he has now revealed that a) immediately after impact he thought he had cashed his check, mortality-wise, and b) he decided he really didn’t need to ride motorcycles anymore. Being this information came from a couple of articles I read

since Cloons FORGOT to call me to seek my counsel, I am not sure if he meant no more motos for good or just for the time being. But it certainly got the wheels rolling in my head, because since I started riding in the early 80’s the subject of Not Riding Anymore (NRA) has come up with friends and acquaintances with great regularity. As I recall the first time this came up was when a friend found out he was about to become a parent, and started to evaluate pretty much every activity, expense and behavior he engaged in. In circumstances like these, I am a huge proponent of people giving the change considerable thought and then proceeding as they see best. Simple, really. If you ride in a state of constant concern that you’re about to auger into the shrubbery, your preoccupation with this scenario could well speed it into reality. But here’s where I think this whole essay is trying to go: a bit of healthy fear, caution and even doubt can be a healthy thing and need not mean it’s quittin’ time. Allow me to explain my reasoning.

Motorcycling has some similarities to other activities, but in many ways it is quite unique. I have always been a believer in the concept of manageable risk. I soloed in a glider when I was 15, and I remember as my instructor closed the canopy and walked away before take-off maybe I was crazy. But I also knew I was well-trained, the ship was sound, and just about any contingency that could arise I was not only prepared for but had practiced (including if the cable broke on the tow plane). I’ve been diving for 40 years and have been in a few tricky situations but again, have been well-trained and have practiced all kinds of emergency procedures. But motorcycling is a fish of a different feather (see what I did there?), and compared with flying and diving has an additional level of unexpected mayhem that can come your way. What I mean is, as with any activity including getting out of bed in the morning there are unexpected perils, yet in my mind riding has a few more that seem to be of the day-to-day variety. It is here where I think a bit of healthy paranoia can be good because it can heighten your awareness. No matter what the activity, if you do it enough and survive a lifetime of incidents even the most seasoned veteran can get lured into a sense of complacency, or even just good ol’ distraction. The more the years fly by you can lose your focus, and this can be amplified by dealing with the consciousness-stealing events that arise in life. Even an argument with a spouse or financial problem can lure one away from the moment.

So was this the case with the Cloons? It seems unlikely he was worried about money. Was he thinking about the day’s work on the set, including going over his lines in his head? Quite possible. It could be the person in the Mercedes was just a total menace and George never could have seen the situation developing. But nothing changes the fact that he’s had a number of incidents when riding, and he may have decided it’s time to hang up the leathers. I think in one interview he mentioned the term “9 lives,” and I always take such things seriously. I just wish him well and hope he makes the best decision for his future. I personally would like to see him continue to make movies for a very long time. As for riding, only he knows for sure when it’s time to say when.