by Ralph Gardner Jr. Not-So-Easy Rider
Chris Miles of Jupiter’s Motorcycles takes the columnist for a spin in Manhattan. Kevin Hagen for The Wall Street Journal
Less than a month after I hitched a ride with Supercross racer Mike Alessi at MetLife Stadium, I tackled a different track Monday afternoon. This one took me past the World Trade Center, around the tip of Manhattan, onto the FDR Drive and then back to our starting point through the Financial District.
I can now report that traveling New York City by motorcycle is a lot scarier than negotiating some manufactured Supercross course.
The excuse for my second ride—after wisely avoiding motorcycles altogether for several decades—was a new MotoShare service from Jupiter’s Motorcycles that aims to do for motorcycles what Zipcar has for automobiles. Or Citi Bike for two-wheelers.
“It’s not having the responsibility,” explained Chris Miles, Jupiter’s founder and president. “Is my oil OK? Is my tire pressure OK? Is my wife annoyed with me because I haven’t ridden in six months and the bike is taking up space in the garage?”
For an annual membership of $49 a month, plus $49 a ride, members have their pick of a fleet of BMWs, Triumphs, Moto Guzzis and Ducatis. Or almost. “We take lots of information into consideration before we let you ride motorcycles,” Mr. Miles said.
He compared the process to renting downhill skis, where the technician requests your skill level. “We have beginners’ bikes. There are advanced bikes. It runs the gamut.”
Here’s how it works: You sign up at Mr. Miles’s website, Jupitersmc.com, create an online profile and make a reservation after meeting certain requirements. These include having a valid motorcycle license, being at least 25 years old, plunking down a $2,500 deposit on a credit card and having at least three years and 3,000 miles of experience (though I’m not sure how Jupiter’s can tell).
There’s also a GPS tracking device on each bike, in case you’re tempted to steal it.
Mr. Miles’s motives for putting motorcycles at public disposal seem as much romantic as mercenary. He grew up in Southern California’s motorcycle culture, and spent a month in 2006 traveling alone across China on a motorcycle. “It’s important for people to have access to the things they love,” he explained. “You get to experience the world differently” behind the handlebars of a motorcycle. “It’s not like being a celebrity. But it gives you an opportunity to connect with people you wouldn’t in any other way.”
I think I can relate. After all, “Easy Rider” was a seminal film for my generation. Then again, smoking can be sexy, too. But I resist because I have a vested interest in growing old.
“We’re trying to rent to the guys in between,” Mr. Miles said, putting those with a death wish at one end of the spectrum and physical cowards, such as myself, at the other. “Those who have a romantic vision, but want to live.”
At the moment, Jupiter’s has three locations open 24/7—the one I visited in TriBeCa, another in Midtown and a third in Williamsburg. It hopes to have a couple more, including one in Bridgehampton, in June.
Once your information and skill level have been authenticated, you’re given an access code to get the keys to your motorcycle.
The time had come for me to don my helmet and a jacket Mr. Miles, my driver, had provided in case I flipped off the back of his 2013 Moto Guzzi V7 and suffered gravel burns. I know you’re supposed to lean into the curves. But that was the least of my problems. My glasses fogged up inside my helmet, but that didn’t really matter either because I couldn’t see around Mr. Miles’s helmet as he weaved in and out of traffic.
If being a backseat driver is an exercise in futility in an automobile, it’s even less rewarding on a motorcycle. In truth, I didn’t have the time or reflexes to criticize Mr. Miles’s driving, which seemed reasonably cautious. I was dealing with more visceral concerns. For example, remaining upright and avoiding getting sheared by marauding cabbies.
One thing you realize profoundly on a motorcycle is that you’re at a decided disadvantage in a game of chicken with a truck or a Chevy Caprice. Also, every time Mr. Miles hit the brakes my helmet crashed into his, as if I was some sort of human bobblehead. Is that supposed to happen?
And potholes: If you’re in a car you try to avoid them; on a motorcycle they present an existential threat.
My favorite part of the ride, as bracing as it was, was dismounting. “In New York City, you don’t go fast enough to really hurt yourself,” Mr. Miles insisted.
Apparently, we have different pain thresholds.