|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.