Thursday, March 17, 2011

You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda

The stuff dreams are made of - 1985 cb450sc (Honda Nighthawk)

You meet the nicest people on a Honda. That's what the ad said many years ago. Seems to be true enough, though these days it could be rephrased to cover all kinds of motorcycles. Maybe not all, there are still some dirty bastards out there: stereotypical, Hollywood tattooed knife freaks. People who light hospitals on fire or worse, use spray cans pressurized with Chlorofluorocarbons! For shame. Of course, that's only reality if you believe Hollywood's garbage. Really, bikers are good folk who genuinely enjoy all the cliched crap about the open road, freedom, speed, testosterone, performance – plus scenic views, travel, and philosophy. Things you don't learn without first talking to a motorcycle aficionado – or if your limited experience with bikers involved getting your ass kicked by a tattooed maniac. Do not get between an angry man in a leather jacket and the man who's ass he's going to kick.

In spite of the bruising, I was still drawn to the cult of cycle. How do you get in? For paste-y skinned internet buffs, motorcycle shops are way too intimidating. You open the door and a tattooed jackal is upon you. Jesus, he looks familiar, does he wear a leather jacket? Why is he approaching so fast? Does that can contain CFCs?

“Hey!” He says, and damn, he seems excited. “How's it going today? Just got in the new ZX-6Rs. 600CCs of coked out laser beam, they'll pull the skin clean off your face. Totally awesome. Check 'em out.”
“Yeah, thanks. Uh... I'm just looking.”
“Sure, take your time, let me know if you need anything.”

Gratuitous photo of another Honda used to meet nice people, and what a
 looker! I sure do know how to pick 'em. (1978 cb550k)
You've got to play that 'just looking' card right away and get the hell out of the line of fire. What if this guy finds out I don't even know what I'm looking at? It's best to hole up somewhere between a couple massive touring bikes. A place where you can keep an eye on the dealer, if you can see over the school-bus sized tourer, one painted a shade of yellow to match. He's laughing over there with another sales guy. They're laughing at you, he has to be. Why did I leave the house?

Eventually, past the street-fighters, the cruisers, the dirt bikes, the race replicas, you find yourself tucked away in a tiny corner with the 'entry-level' machines – a few 250s as token gestures to the new rider. This is what I'm reduced to? They sure don't look like much, more glorified scooter than anything. These bikes aren't full of lasers or cocain. They probably don't even have access to caffeine pills. How the hell can you live the dream, challenge the open road and the man on this? I already own a fucking scooter. The real bikers will find me on this thing. They will approach me in leather, they will catch me, and they will beat me with chains. Shit, that salesman alone will laugh me out of the store. I need to get back to the internet. There is a better way to find a bike. Craigslist, I need craigslist. Fuck this store, it is not for newbies.

My first experience with actual purchase was, like most first experiences, anxious and impatient. Sound familiar? I drove across town in late November with my wife, my scooter helmet and a leather jacket – one more appropriate for a Spanish gay pride parade than motorcycle riding. But it had style, and it was leather, and that's motorcycling. Kelsie followed me up the guy's driveway and we greeted him. “Who's the bike for?” He asked “Oh, for you?” The bike was an '85 Nighthawk 450, and the owner didn't really believe it to be a 'man's' bike. He said he had bought it for his girlfriend, but she lost interest. Then, he gave me a once-over. After a good look at my riding gear and dainty frame, he seemed convinced the 450 was adequate. "It's probably big enough, for you.” For me? What do you mean? No, really, this is my wife. Seriously! We're married!

Not impressed with my scooter-riding prowess, he took me for a test ride. It ran, so it was 100% what I wanted. It came with a few bonus features, too: a torn seat, a few dings and an enigmatic gas leak. The seller assured me it was only a 'small' carburetor leak – not much to worry about. I agreed. You agree when you don't know what the hell going on. You think this makes you look knowledgeable. Of course! Carburetors. Yeah, sounds right, they have gas in them. That must be it. Then, as if to prove I knew what was going on, I attempted haggling and even saved a few bucks. (Though I should have tried for a few more) Then, before he could pry too far into my nebulous riding history, I forked over a small wad of cash and he gave up the title and keys.

“You can ride, right?”

Can I ride? Of course I can ride! I've been on a scooter for almost two years, haven't crashed in over two months, and I've had a recurring dream about riding a BMW /2 in the post-war era. I've probably had all kinds of past-life experience. It wouldn't hurt if you could just give me a basic rundown, you know, to refresh me... 1954 was a long time ago... and it's been a long time since I've ridden a machine with a clutch. I had, of course, never ridden a bike with a clutch.

He gave the groan/grimace combo that said he'd rather have the blood stains on someone else's driveway, preferably mine, and even offered to drop it off tomorrow, no problem. I declined. This was mine, dammit, I could do it. I've driven plenty (of cars) with clutches. So, I'll be leaving now, dressed like a matador on my woman's motorcycle, if you'll kindly show me how to get the fuck out of the driveway.

Somewhere between 5 and 400 attempts, the bike rolled forward. Startled, I yelled over my shoulder for my wife to 'follow' me home. I was elated, and even happier to be out of earshot before I killed it the first of many, many times. “Follow me home” is spouse code for “Dearest wife, use the Mazda to body block all attempts at vehicular manslaughter tonight. Please, please, please, do not let me die.” The one-mile ride through town took roughly 12 hours, and earned me a month of motorcycle-related nightmares. About the the insomnia was clearing up, I found out I had bought a blown head gasket. I'm so happy I entered this world alone.

There are better ways to get into motorcycling. You can make it by yourself, the learning, the new skills, the scary situations, the unfamiliar engine work – it's all doable. But, it's a hell of a lot easier with a friend on the inside. I should have accepted help at the first offer. I would love your help. Please, ride it across town for me! I should have taken the Motorcycle Safety Course. I should have just asked someone, anyone, for help – but like most men, I was so full of moronic bravado and impatience that asking was next to impossible.

The worst part is that everything I was afraid of, the exclusive, intimidating, cruel world of knife-toting, tattooed freaks... it doesn't really exist. OK, the tattooed freaks exist, but they tend to be normal people with just a little extra insanity. I like that, it's a small part of everyone chooses to trade safety for fun. For all the concern at the onset, there were a lot of places and people who would have been a hell of a lot of help. It was a little traumatic. Shit, it was terrifying at times, but that trauma put the Gospel of the Bike in me, and now I spread the word. You new to riding, need help, have a question? Ask away, I'm here, I'm happy to help - because it's completely different than you ever thought. You're not the nice-guy on the fringes, you're just another motorcyclist. You really do meet the nicest people on a Honda.


  1. Great post! Saw a lot of me in there with my first motorcycle purchase, oh those many, many years ago.

  2. There is a lot of stupid to be had in men. It's a wonder we survive childhood. It's even crazier we survive adulthood.

    Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

  3. Great description of typical sales people :-)
    You have a way with words that I love. "blood stains on someone else's driveway" made me laugh ;-)

  4. Thanks George. There are dealers and there are dealers - the one closest to me is worthless. The owner himself drives me batty. He gave me advice on how to revamp my Honda to a 2 caliper system. After I set it up he told me I did it wrong - though I listened to his advice. They mount my tires wrong, they gut me on prices. I won't go there unless my toilet is stopped up. I have no use for them.

    On the other hand, the next closest place has a good service staff, a nice sales crew. (whom I talk to for an hour every time I'm in, and am NEVER pressured.) Gotta find that place you like. Makes all the difference in the world.

    Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

  5. Amen, Brother. If you're ever interested I'll tell you the story of my first ride, it's amusing to look back on, but it sure wasn't funny at the time. I'd say my introduction to the world of motorcycling has been life-changing,and some of those scary tattooed bikers ARE still scary.

  6. It's a crazy world to be a part of Julie. The first ride is one of those things that never goes perfectly. Most of the tattooed maniacs I meet are pretty good folk, of course, there are 'bad apples' in every bunch. Whatever the hell that actually means.

    Behind Bars - Motorcycles and life

  7. My favorite line is "haven't crashed in over two months"... Ya know, some guys don't think that is a qualification of any sort, crashing regularly is apparently the only thing to possibly boast about! :)

    See, girls can put on that shy, retiring look that says "Help Me". Most, most not all, dealers will chat and help. Now it is just a matter of us weeding through the bullsh!t spewing out of their mouths! Until we gain the experience and can talk intelligently.

    Great right up and glad you survived that 12 hour jaunt home. :)


  8. Brady, your comments about dealers were pretty much spot on....but having your "riding friends" along when looking for your first motorcycle can be fraught with dangers as well. In my case I ended up with a motorcycle that was not me, which I outgrew in less than six months.....

    I missed out on all the trauma, danger, fear, and anxiety you so vividly detail on you first ride on that 450 motorcycle by taking the Basic Rider Course with the MSF......there was still some anxiety on the first few runs but training helped.

    Of course, there was all the anxiety during the training while under the eyes of the instructor and your fellow converts to motorcycling....but no oncoming cagers trying to take you out while you stalled out the bike yet once again.... : )

    You see, unlike your years of experience with scooters, the first time I threw a leg over a motorcycle was day one of the rider course!

    Great tale


    Redleg's Rides

    Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

  9. Lori, I felt pretty good about not crashing. In reality, I had turned a page in my understanding of what it meant to be on two wheels, which is why I felt ready to buy the bigger machine. Unfortunately, as is chronicled, this didn't mean I was ready for the task. Sort of a I understand the risks and will be more careful... but I don't know what the hell I'm doing. Seemed to work a bit cross purpose.

    Dom, I really wish I had taken the course. Something in me kept saying no, or I looked at it through the eyes of a teenager - unable to see the validity or bring enough patience. I had to go through snowmobile safety training when I was fourteen, and that was nine hours of mind-shattering excitement. I was convinced at a young age to never, ever repeat the mistake.

    Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

  10. Great post. Had me chuckling.

    I can relate to intimidating dealerships. We still have a few that I don't like to go into because of how uncomfortable I feel in them. I especially liked shopping for a bike for me when all the salesmen would talk to hubby about his needs and wants assuming we were looking for him. Good times..... thanks for sharing your story.

  11. Dear Brady:

    I had to laugh about your 12-hour, one-mile ride home. I had the opposite experience. My first ride was a Kawasaki H2-750. I got 25 minutes instructions in the dealer's lot, and rode home in rush-hour traffic — three miles from the heart of New York City. It would be 2 years before I had my first crash. Traffic was so bad on day #1, that I never got it out 3rd gear.

    That is a beautiful Honda.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad

  12. Brady:

    for some reason I never had a problem. By the time I purchased my used Yamaha 80 4-speed 2-stroke it was already my third bike and I used it to get my M/C endorsement. Back then, around 1964 it was only a parking lot test. I've had a couple of Hondas; CB350 and Nighthawk 450, I was mainly a Suzuki rider.

    Riding the Wet Coast

  13. All I had to do was get through a parking lot test, too. Wouldn't have been very practical if that's the only thing I had ever done in terms of riding. I did like that 450 quite a bit, always started. Gave me lots of trouble with the head gasket, apparently when you overfill the crankcase that causes pressure issues... strange. It's not big enough for real out of town driving, though, not these days, and not with any degree of wind.

    I suppose in '64 they weren't too crazy about catching boys buzzing around without the proper endorsement. They must not be nowadays either. They never got me...

    Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

  14. Great post! You had me laughing through the whole thing, especially HOW you obtained the Nighthawk. I guess being a woman can have some privileges, although I'm one that doesn't like to play that card... unless I have to. ;}

    "a leather jacket – one more appropriate for a Spanish gay pride parade"... has me envisioning a cute little matador, draped with a flowing red cape to complete the ensemble. lol!

    I am going to add you to my blog roll if you don't mind. Stories like this are good medicine. Thanks for the laugh! :D

  15. Thanks Ridesalot, I'm putting them out hoping you'll enjoy them, so you're quite free to spread the link.

    I hope you played the card when you were learning. It was a maniacal experience that's so stupid I shouldn't even tell people about it. But, I have no humility.

    Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life