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The body electric

By Terry Roorda

I started doing it because it felt good, simple as that. I didn’t need it—not at first, anyway—and I sincerely believed that I could quit any time I chose, no problem.

Still, I didn’t quit. I couldn’t. In a world that can turn so very cold at times, it comforted me and satisfied some kind of physical need I didn’t even know I had and was loathe to acknowledge for so many, many years. But, of course, my habit caught up with me, as dependencies always do, and now it’s no longer a casual, occasional failing. It’s cost me personally. It’s impacted the respect of my peers and my own self-esteem, and mutated my self-image, and, in truth, I can recall what my life was like before it only sketchily, like a dream. I wish I could quit, but I can’t. I can’t break free of the habit. I’m helpless. I need my electric clothes.

How did I ever come to this mean state? Me, a son of Michigan with ethylene glycol coursing through my young veins? Me, who would ride the wintry streetscape in denim and high-tops fishtailing in the salty slush, and then strip to my T-shirt in spring when the mercury hit 50 degrees? What happened to that kid?

Thinking back, my undoing must have commenced after I rode out to Northern California in 1977, and the milder climate began to slowly but inexorably turn my ethylene glycol into just regular red blood. Even so, I rode year-round in all kinds of weather, tolerating the chill even as icicles would form on my crash bars and my hands would go numb to the point of uselessness, and I’d ride with one hand or the other alternately tucked down beneath the tank above the rear exhaust manifold to thaw, or shake them vigorously to restore blood flow in an exercise exactly like you’d use to remove fly paper. No big whoop. I was tough. I was a biker, and a bit of misery from time to time just came with the territory.

Then about nine years ago I conducted a product review on a heated jacket liner and gauntlets made by a company called Gerbing’s. Such an innocuous name, Gerbing’s. It sounded like Gerber’s, so how insidious could it be?

Plenty, we know now. I didn’t even want to do the review, considering electric clothes to be sissy stuff, but, well, the gear was free. Isn’t that how it always starts? So I hooked up the umbilical cord to my bike’s battery and plugged myself in and set off for the snowy Sierras. After two days of riding in freezing temperatures I didn’t want to stop. I was as cozy as a hot cross bun.

The heated gear extended my winter riding range and was a nice thing to have if the half-a-hair im;pulse to head up-country in the winter struck, but that was the extent of my involvement with the electrical crutch—at first. As time went on, though, I found myself not just plugging in when the mercury was in the 20s or 30s, but when it was in the 40s. And after awhile I was doing it in the 50s, and even the 60s if I thought there was any possibility that it might dip down to, like, 59.

Besides the obvious encroaching wuss factor I was subjecting myself to in my weakness, my personal appearance began to suffer. The thing about electric clothes is that there’s all this wiring and suiting-up protocol that goes with them, and no matter how adept you get at performing the procedures, and how scrupulous you are in trying to keep your life-support plumbing on the down-low, you will inevitably end up looking like a dork, which is no biggie on a Beemer, but anathema to a real biker.

The fuel stops are the worst. See, the way the electric jacket liner connects to the gauntlets is by wires at the wrist, and they’re tricky to plug in unless you’re double-jointed there, so I tend to leave them connected and just let the gauntlets dangle while refueling, and leave them dangling even when going into the station to use the loo. The visual effect I achieve is that of a kid whose mother clipped his mittens to his snowsuit. Not a great look. What’s more, the wire that plugs the jacket liner into the battery umbilical is down at my crotch, and it dangles as well. On;lookers never know exactly what to make of that appendage, but they’re pretty sure it can’t be good.

I don’t care, though, and that disturbs me. That’s how far I’ve fallen since my addiction kicked in; my personal appearance, my identity as a gnarly biker, the image I project to the straight public, my self-respect have all taken a lethal electric jolt.

While riding up the 101 last month, temperature in the mid-50s, bundled up and electrified and trying to decide if I was too warm and perhaps should dial down the heat a bit, a kid blew past me on a Cross Bones, gloveless, and wearing only a hoodie, Chuck Taylors, and baggie jeans blowing up his skinny shins. I had a pang. I used to be that cool. I used to be that cold. I could be that cool again, I thought. But I would also be that cold, and I’ve grown too soft to go there.

You can have my electric clothes when you peel my warm, toasty fingers off of them.

It’s all right here in the diaries.

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