Ride Assertively, Embrace Contingency: On CityBike’s “Ride Fast Take Chances” Motto

Ride Assertively, Embrace Contingency doesn’t exactly glide off the tongue, does it?

We printed a couple of letters in Tankslapper (“Ride Fast? Sure. Take Chances? Maybe…” – Tankslapper, April 2015) a couple months back, sort of a pros and cons of our long-running motto/slogan/raison d’être or whatever we’re calling it. Let’s go with motto, for now, to keep it simple.

In case you missed it, here’s a recap: our “Ride Fast Take Chances” motto has been the subject of much scrutiny for many years. Even here at CityBike HQ, we have deep, philosophical conversations about ye olde RFTC. For reals.

Buy a real-deal Ride Fast Take Chances t-shirt at CityBike, the home of RFTC.These two letters basically took the two sides of the Ride Fast Take Chances discussion. Rick, from Potter Valley, took the pro-RFTC side, saying, “Ride fast, take chances! I do, it’s a habit that I haven’t been able to break, since about 1968.”

On the other side, Paul from Palo Alto (Paulo Alto?) said, among other things, “Taking chances on your bike is dumb and juvenile. If your magazine had been available when my two children were growing up, I would have removed or obliterated the ‘Take Chances’ headline.”

We pointed out that we don’t advocate stupid riding—in fact we’re big fans of always increasing your skills—but taking chances is part of riding motorcycles. And we like riding fast. We also asked all y’all think about this.

This unleashed a flurry of letters, emails and even phones calls, 100% in favor of keeping Ride Fast Take Chances (sorry Paulo Alto), with some even taking offense at our recent tongue-in-cheek takes on our own motto, like “Ride Slow Look Cool.” Apparently, some of our readers thought CityBike’s sacred motto was at risk, that we were going to bow to some invisible hand of safety-ism and political correctness. That’s understandable—there have been some changes around here in the last year—but I’m not gonna make you wait. Ride Fast Take Chances isn’t going anywhere.

To understand why, let’s start at the beginning, with CityBike’s founder, Brian Halton:

The term “politically correct” first surfaced in CityBike, as I recall, in the early nineties.

The term kind of said it all. So we immediately set our sights on it. Set out to satirize everything it stood for…and we did.

Boy did we get letters! Around that time the slogan was coined by me, and the t-shirts created, which sold well.

I think what has happened since that era is that despite our relentless lampooning of “political correctness” and it’s embarrassing temerity—it has clearly triumphed as the new way. The hyper cautious path is decidedly in vogue.

As my contemporary at the time, John Ulrich of Roadracing World, observed to me: ‘Today’s generation’s idea of taking a chance is eating in a restaurant that hasn’t been reviewed yet!’

Kind of nailed it, didn’t he?!

Keeping it in the CityBike alumni vein, former publisher Kenyon Wills shared this story:

Guy calls, asks if this is CityBike. Yes, yes it is. The caller informs me that he’s from out of town and that he’d just grabbed CityBike for the first time and was appalled, shocked to see the RFTC slogan. Funny thing was, this was done a little bit like Foghorn-Leghorn—pretty over the top, but I could tell that he was upset and was trying his best to do the conservative talk show thing where much ado is made about very little.

I asked him to hang on to answer two questions.

Question #1: Have you ever exceeded the speed limit on a motorcycle? Caller admitted that he had, on occasion, done so. I asked if that meant that he’d ridden “fast”, and he agreed.

Question #2: Do you think that riding motorcycles is as safe as riding in cars, planes, or trains? Caller guffawed and hesitated because he knew where this was going, then agreed that motorcycles are not as safe as other conveyances.

So—if motorcycles aren’t as safe, then by riding one, one assumes greater risk, or TAKES CHANCES, am I right?

After a moment of silence, the pretense of self-righteousness, piousness, and mock indignation were dropped and he agreed that he was guilty of it just as much as anyone.

My comment here, after getting occasional pressure and feedback about the slogan for five years, is that we all take chances. At whatever level we deem acceptable, but we do take a chance getting on ANY motorcycle. It’s a fundamental truth, and part of why we ride. To say that this should not be acknowledged, even in humor, seems hypocritical to me. Anyone who obeys every speed limit to the letter has a position to take on this topic, I suppose, but that sort of behavior is pretty un-American, so it’s a small bunch that actually can claim that one.

Who among us obeys every posted speed limit, everywhere, always?

RFTC is the moto-editorial equivalent of Elvis swinging his pelvis and making crotchety old people think that such things promoted promiscuity.

Anyone who’s really hanging it out dangerously on the road didn’t get there reading CityBike—CityBike is NOT an enabler of such behavior, grandpa.

And here’s what readers had to say. Frequent emailer AFM Ex-Pres Kevin Smith sent us a poem. A POEM. Awesome, right? Check it out:

There was a young man who rode.
He didn’t listen to what he was told:
“Stop riding so fast.
You’re being an ass;
Keep it up and you’ll never grow old.”

Ride Fast Take Chances was what he had read.
A phrase that drilled deeply into his head.
“It feels good to go fast.
I want it to last.
To go slow, I’ll stop riding instead.”

“CB is what I would follow;
Without it my life would be hollow.
I’m gonna go fast,
Don’t wanna be last
And I still plan to be here tomorrow.”

“You’re crazy,” they said.
“You’re gonna be dead.
If you don’t stop now,
While you still know how,
You’ll be painting the pavement in red.”

Ride Fast Take Chances was all he could see.
“The paper don’t lie,” he rode wild and free.
Go slow he would not,
More speed he still sought,
And now he’s the king of GP.

Kevin continued in standard prose:

In case you couldn’t tell, I think you should keep the phrase.

There are valid points to both sides of any good discussion. The challenge, therefore, lies in self-justifying one’s position. I believe that personal responsibility is paramount. Our ever-restrictive society seems to disagree, looking instead for a parent figure to make their decisions for them. But that’s a different rant.

Regarding the CityBike slogan: It’s a marketing phrase, not a philosophical mandate. Those who don’t appreciate the humor in RFTC probably won’t enjoy the contents. I could get all mystical and say that, in addition, changing the slogan would have an inevitable effect upon the content. Gradual, persistent and almost unnoticed at first; kind of like the frogs in that old B-movie.

Dewayne Harkov from Ripon (that’s in the Bay Area, right?) pulled no punches:

I hope you guys don’t knuckle under to the whiners/PC crowd with the removal of the “Ride Fast Take Chances” logo on paper and T-shirts. WTF?? The contributors are always stressing their independent non-conformist attitudes so why would you even entertain any thoughts of changing?? I’m an old fart, 62 and have been riding over 40 years with 2000RT and 20008 GSA in the garage. Thanks for a great paper which is hard to find in the valley.

Jay, another of our golden years readers, said:

I say keep Ride Fast Take Chances. Don’t buckle under to political correctness. This is why we ride. We take a ‘chance’ just throwing a leg over. Ride fast? Hell yeah. Just ‘cause we ride fast doesn’t mean we are reckless.

For what it’s worth, I’m 60. Every ride is a thrill, but if I don’t hit 100 somewhere on my ride, well, it’s a slow ride. Keep it coming!

Weston Headley said:

On the question of whether the tagline of your ‘zine should remain true to its journalistic history and Bay Area motorcycling legacy: a resounding YES!

Your April 2015 (dear God, I hope it’s just temporary) tagline is the perfect example. In many parts of the country where roads run straight, “riding slow and looking cool” is the rule. Ditto for the many people who think of motorcycling as some monoculture of leather vests and wannabe Sons of Anarchy.

But here in NorCal, where twisties roam free like antelope and moto-culture is a wonderful cocktail of urban hooligans and backcountry billy-goats, riding fast is the name of many motorcyclists’ game. And while “riding fast” is the science which can be measured in mph, lean angles and g-forces, it is the art of “taking chances” that we remember. The art of calculated risk, and its inevitable stir-and-shaking of the soul, is what makes all the science of speed worthwhile.

No doubt there are people who don’t think this way. And they don’t read CityBike. But for those who do, please stay true!

Allan Slaughter proclaimed:

“Ride Fast, Take Chances!” What else has CityBike’s allure ever been?

“Ride Far…” puts you in the genial genus of Bob & Patti Carpenter or even the trimmed-down Clem Salvatori with “101 Road Tales” to ennui, working up a plea of “Who, me??” for the manaclers of Atascadero. And today you’re baiting the profilers with gun-slinging Stocktonites or even the ATGATT with taste! While Peter Franzen—Clint Eastwood knockoff—gets strafed by 3 menacing Honda jocks in Finland (yet!) Come on; that classy masthead of May AM won’t crumple beneath any Amy-Holland cry of “Me too!” to blow any clutch in Friction Zone.

Keep the old banner! Both Brian and Gabe took on the milquetoasts—and won.

And finally, Richard Rosen wrote in to say:

I think the motto should be addressed as two separate statements.

First: Ride Fast.

To begin, I seem to remember when studying for my written New York State motorcycle license, in 19 aught sumthin’, the study guide recommended staying 5 miles above the flow of traffic. Why would they recommend that? Presumably for purposes of safety. I have thought about this ‘wisdom’ over the years. If you drive faster than the prevailing flow of traffic, you are forced to perceive traffic as a series of particles, traveling in roughly the same direction. Separate, and unpredictable. This is as it should be. Heavy, possibly dangerous particles, with spaces in between. Staying in between these particles, as opposed to under or on top of them, is pretty much the goal. Sitting in a line of cars traveling at, oh, let’s pick some arbitrary number, like 55 mph, and expecting them to travel at a constant velocity and direction, as if you are riding on train, is to invite very unpleasant surprises. So ‘fast’ is a relative term. If traffic is moving at 55, and you are moving at 60, you are perceived as riding ‘fast’. Seems logical to me…fast is good.

Second: Take Chances.

Well, if you don’t take chances, you stay home and pray for something good to happen. The American Heritage Dictionary I have on the bookshelf, gives as a first definition of chance:

‘The abstract nature or quality shared by unexpected, random or unpredictable events; contingency.’

Kinda sounds like life to me. Let’s face it, riding a motorcycle is taking chances. The key is weighing the contingencies.

Like I said, Ride Fast Take Chances isn’t going anywhere, but it’s good to hear that you all have our back on this.

We often find ourselves walking a strange and very thin line, talking about and promoting “motorcycle safety,” the idea of managing risk—the chances we take—by being good riders in both a mental/strategic sense as well as a physical/skills sense. We truly believe that we should all be working on being better riders, all the time.

So we can ride faster, and take those chances, and still make it home.

This story originally appeared in our June 2015 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.

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