June 16 is the annual Ride Your Bike to Work Day, where motorcyclists around the country ride their motorcycles to dispense negative stereotypes and show how common motorcyclists are.
The day is almost entirely irrelevant to Central Michigan University Provost Michael Gealt, who rides his Honda Goldwing or BMW R1200RT to campus at least two times per week.
Motorcycling for Gealt isn’t about appearances. He doesn’t wear leather, nor does he have the tattoos. He admires motorcycles with chrome painting or LED decorative lights, but it isn’t his thing. One of his favorite motorcycles, a BMW, is not flashy and it doesn’t have a lot of chrome.
There’s only one reason Gealt rides, and that is to ride.
“I just really enjoy the freedom of it; the focus, the concentration of it,” Gealt said. “I was thinking if the weather was nice this weekend, just getting on a bike and going on a 400-mile ride.”
Gealt has been around the country on his motorcycle. His most recent trip, one to Little Rock, Ark., is the shortest long-distance trip Gealt has taken in a decade.
Gealt and his wife, Mary Janet McNamara, have taken trips, him driving and her in the back, to South Carolina, Philadelphia, northern Virginia, Washington D.C., Maine and Chicago.
Gealt started biking nearly 30 years ago, just to save money. Parking passes at Drexel University ran roughly $2,400 per semester, and train passes were steadily rising in price. With those costs came other annoyances: his SUV was stolen at the end of one semester. The thief took it, drove it down a hill and left it. Gealt said he got “most of the car” back.
Gealt said switching to a motorcycle was either going to be something he liked or he hated. He didn’t expect to love it as much as he does.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but it is one of the things I really enjoy,” Gealt said. “When I’m in a car, and I see someone riding a motorcycle in the rain, I feel guilty.”
Riding a motorcycle might serve the same purpose as a car, but the two are fundamentally different experiences, Gealt said.
“When you’re driving a car, you’re cut off from the environment. When you’re riding a motorcycle, you’re part of the environment,” he said. “If it rains, you get wet. When you’re riding through a field where a farmer just put manure on a field, you know it. Jobs like I have here are jobs where a lot of people want me to think about a bunch of things constantly. When you’re riding a motorcycle, especially, you do not multi-task, you focus. It’s kind of nice to have that change from the everyday world.”
Still, motorcycling does have its risks.
On a trip to Cape Cod, Gealt almost knocked his wife off the back of the motorcycle when he hit a large bump while she was sleeping. It’s one of the reasons he rides bigger bikes now, such as his Honda, which is more difficult to fall from.
On a trip to Philadelphia, he hit a deer, which upended his bike and tossed him in the air, dislocating his shoulder.
“The first ride afterwards and the first couple of months, it was hard,” Gealt said. “But it’s one of these things – where it’s like you’re really afraid of heights – it’s one of these things where I had to challenge myself to overcome that.”
One of Gealt’s motorcycle heroes is another CMU employee.
Kevin Smart, director of employee relations, might be an even more avid motorcyclist than Gealt. Smart has taken place in the Iron Butt Rally, an 11,000-mile trip in 11 days. Gealt, although an avid long-distance biker, said he has never done anything as intense.
Smart said one would be surprised at how many faculty ride motorcycles at CMU.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a CMU staff motorcycling club here on campus, but you’d be surprised at the number of CMU staff who’ve helped out as motorcycle escorts for the Le Tour de Mont Pleasant,” he said.