Sunday, September 2, 2018

The bikes are gone …

There was a time, way back in the early 2000s, when the idea came to Margo and me to ride motorcycles. Together, we signed up for lessens that eventually led to us both to getting our motorcycle riders endorsements added to our respective drivers’ licenses. Cool! We were still very young back then and immortal. And so a two decades long adventure began. Of course, any opportunity to purchase an entirely new wardrobe meant a lot to Margo and while she stopped short of buying nail polish matching her purple trimmed motorcycle, I have to believe the thought crossed her mind more than once. 

My own adventure with motorcycles began when I was still a teen and at high school in Sydney. Friends at my school bought motorcycles as our final year came to an end and I thought that bikes were pretty neat and there was many a later afternoon spent hanging around their homes as they “played” with their bikes. Honda was the manufacturer of choice back then and, for a while, 250cc / 305cc twins were as big a bike as Honda sold in Australia. Working the summer at an underlay felt manufacturer, I saved up enough to buy my first Honda – a 250cc CB72. This was a sports bike, very light and its handling properties were excellent.

However, I never took a lesson and for two years, rode the highways along the coastline of New South Wales without a license. You see, if you gained a license it was only a provisional license and for one full year subject to cancellation following any incident that came to the attention of the police; zero tolerance for infractions of any kind during that probation period. I understood very quickly that I would never make it so I exploited a serious loophole in the system. Carrying only a learner’s permit technically, I didn’t have a license, so the only penalty I was subject to was a fine – and I paid a lot of fines during the years I stuck with that plan.

I also had lots of accidents! Untrained and unaware of the mechanics of cornering, I cannot recount the number of times I went into a corner too “hot” only to drop the bike. I went through a period where that Honda was in the shop being straightened more times than it was on the road. So, without giving it any second thoughts, I bought a used Yamaha 75cc motor scooter just to tool around on whenever the Honda was in the shop. Overnight I became a Honda and Yamaha fan but the two-bike affair didn’t last all that long as yes, you guessed, it! Both of them ended up in different shops at the same time …

I had my Honda 250 customized in such a way that the local constabulary recognized it as I rode by to the point where, at one time and leaving Sydney’s central business district, while stopped at a traffic light, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Shocked, I turned around to see it was the hand of the law. What on earth, I thought, before the policeman asked me, “don’t you recognize me?” He was the same officer who had pulled me over and ticketed me the previous Friday night and it was now Monday morning. “Don’t tell me you were pulled over by more than one policeman this weekend – I recognized the bike but I didn’t recognize you wearing that heavy coat!”

Customization was something that wasn’t so much along the lines of what we see with custom motorcycles today but rather, after taking the Honda apart, I removed the Honda badges, made the gas tank flush, filled with a little body putty and repainted a much brighter red. And then, every single piece of metal I could take off the bike, including the frame and the front forks, I had chromed – yes, this little red Honda stood apart from any other example motoring along Sydney’s roads. Was it loud? Well, a pair of twin piped Dunstall racing exhaust from England to give it the four tailpipe look went on and even as I was working in the data center of the steelworks in Wollongong, the operators could hear me arriving over the noise of the un-baffled IBM mainframe 1403 printers as they ripped through boxes of continuous stationery. No, standard bikes in off the showroom floor trim weren’t for me even back then, all those years ago.

Returning to the 2000s, once Margo and I had our motorcycle riding endorsements affixed to our driver’s licenses, we waited until we had finished building our Niwot, Colorado, home. At that time, there was plenty of garage space available to store a motorcycle or two or three. In fairly quick succession, we started with a small Suzuki for Margo and a mid-size Honda for me. The Suzuki was traded on a Yamaha Warrior for me, which gave Margo my Honda V Twin which was traded on a Yamaha 1100 V Star in pretty quick order. A third motorcycle was then bought so I could join Margo on her Yamaha cruiser; this time, it was a Yamaha 1600 RoadStar.

We had the Yamaha cruisers extensively customized and we had our helmets repainted to match each motorcycle. As for the Warrior, it was a brute and I loved to ride it, but after just a couple of years, a smooth-talking Yamaha salesman convinced me to trade it in on an R1 “1 liter” sports bike which for a gentleman of my age and physique was madness. So it too went in short order and Margo and I settled in on two cruisers for the next decade plus – Margo on the Yamaha 1100 while I returned to the Honda fold having purchased a Honda VTX1800 “110 cubic inch” heavy-weight cruiser and they looked pretty good parked between our normal daily drives!

In popular culture, motorcycles have become a metaphor for freedom and a life spent on the open road. Author Michael Sears, in a blog post supporting his 2015 novel, Ling Way Down, probably described it best when he said: 

“The great metaphor for the melting pot that is the United States was next door to our convention.  At the motorcycle show. Unless you ride, or know a rider or two quite well, it may be easy to dismiss the whole phenomenon as a fringe movement, populated by criminals, crazies, and sufferers from male menopause.  While the purchase of a motorcycle may be - along with decreased libido, weight gain, and depression – a symptom of early dementia among men, I discovered that the world of motorcycle lovers encompasses so much more.

“The first stereotype to fall was the idea that motorcyclephilia is solely a male condition, the only women involved being the babes in black leather bustiers and Daisy-Mae shorts who pose for the ride-customizing ads in the back pages of some of the rougher magazines.

“If the cowboy is the quintessential American hero, then bike riders are the modern equivalent.  The motorcycle has replaced the horse for the man – or woman – who rides off into the sunset in search of freedom and the next challenge.”

Margo and I didn’t quite fit the mold. When we first started riding around Boulder County, she encountered almost no women riders. However, what she did encounter was a community made of individuals from every walk of life who welcomed her with essentially open arms whenever we stopped for gas and other motorcyclists were present. She also become aware of “the wave” – no matter what road you were riding, even the baddest, toughest, biker we passed would take their left hand off the handlebar to give Margo a wave which, of course, she returned with a mix of surprise and amusement. We had become cowboys and we were enjoying it immensely! 

It took a year or two but sure enough, the rides around Boulder became rides around Colorado until eventually we were riding across state lines and into Wyoming and Nebraska. Over time we found our motorcycles living on battery tenders for much of the year. Winter months weren’t favorable to riding motorcycles although one January, I took the Honda VTX on a ride to Laramie and back as the temperature climbed into the mid to high 60s. This was covered in a March 9, 2008, post to our business blog, Real Time View From higher altitudes!

I guess you could say the end came when one weekend, with both cars and motorcycles having lain idle for the winter, with two cars in the shop for repairs and maintenance we were left without transportation. So one bike would be traded for another, smaller, city car that we could use for fun and essentially, a substitute for motorcycles! The natural choice was the Mini Roadster and the victim turned out to be my Honda 1800. Ouch, but the Honda didn’t go quietly. Riding it to the gas station the big Honda decided to break down – so it arrived later that day at the Mini dealership atop a tow truck. This left us with just the Yamaha 1100 which I gradually eased away from riding it only occasionally each year. 

Make of it what you want but there was something about knowing that there was still one motorcycle in the garage that well, kept me feeling pretty good at night. Margo wasn’t quite up to sharing in the “fog of youth” like I tended to do on occasion as, just a short time before the sale, she had fallen from her Yamaha. During the final turn into our street, following a nice afternoon ride for coffee, down she went. With bones in her hand broken, Margo never again felt the same way about her Yamaha. Even as she admitted later that she had messed up and failed to properly manage the turn using her rear brake, it didn’t really make amends for the pain she suffered over the next couple of weeks as her hand began to mend.  As for her Yamaha – it looked a little cross-eyed for a while before we had it fully repaired.

And so our days of motorcycle adventures have come full circle as just a few weeks ago, we sold the Yamaha to the local motorcycle shop. Looking at it for the last time, alone in the garage, was an emotional time for me. Almost two decades to the day after we gained our motorcycle endorsements! The motorcycle may very well have replaced the horse for those who ride off into the sunset in search of freedom and the next challenge but, closer to home and to how Margo and I found a shared hobby late in life, it’s not the only way to enjoy freedom, challenges and the allure of the open road. As we continue to zigzag across America, in cars, SUVs and RVs, there has been one constant the whole time. It’s not even the trip we are on at the time – but the one that comes next. Ever since we were married, we plan trips two at a time – the immediate journey and the one further out.

Motorcycles were always about doing something right now but they are now gone and we don’t feel as though life has relegated us to arm chairs and hammocks. A spirited ride up a Colorado front range canyon in the M4 is nothing to scoff at nor is a long day’s drive across the prairies in the i8. And then there are track days in the Corvette Z06. Notice a pattern here? What that first Honda did for me was to foster the desire to do something beyond standard and to look for something that is just a little more off-the-wall than usual.

Yes, we have a Jeep but it’s an SRT. We have a Corvette but it’s a Z06 and as for the BMW yes we have a coupe but it’s an M4 and, as for the 8-series coupe then yes, it’s not a regular coupe but the hybrid i8! So while we adhere to the adage of never say never and have already stopped by the local bike shops to look at a Harley trike and a Can-Am Spyder – a more sedate and indeed age appropriate way to pick up where we have left off – it’s nice that Margo and I can reminisce over rides taken throughout the nearly 20 years we have been married.

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