Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Beggining and the Why

I am a retired police officer and former Marine, I have had motorcycles ever since my first dirt bike at 15. My biggest regret is that I have very little evidence of any of that. No pictures, souvenirs or anything.

The one constant string that ran through my life, from 14 to present, was my ardent fascination with motorcycles. At the earliest age - and before I had a drivers license - I could put on my helmet and be transported to another world; full of risk and reward, eacapism, thrills and the feeling of reckless control and freedom.

It's the same feeling today as it was way back then. Whether it's giving the kick starter a hard thrust downwards, or merely pressing the starter button with my right thumb, those sequences always announced to me that time had stopped from that point on and a journey was about to commence. Hang on.

From my dirt bike days on, I have had a plethora of Japanese motorcycles. Not being a gifted wrench, I needed their reliability and they were always more affordable. My first real street bike was a Kawasaki 650 I bought from this cool black guy I worked with at an auto-parts store. It has a custom seat and loud pipes and, at 16, it was a blast!

Much fun later, I broke my hip when a guy coming in the opposite direction suddenly turned left in front of me and I dumped it prior impact. I remember skidding for a while on the wet pavement and seeing the undersides of cars passing by while I skid, tucked into the smallest ball I could make, waiting for the inevitable impact.

I must of passed out briefly because I awoke seeing blood on the inside of my full face helmet visor, and scrambled to removed the helmet. The next sight I saw when the helmet was removed was the downward fist of the at-fault driver who was pissed that I caved-in the passenger door of his piece-of-shit car. Several blows to my head later, I saw him being laid out by the first cop at the scene.

I knew that cop had pity on me because nothing was said by him when he found out I didn't have a motorcycle endorsement on my drivers license. I always meant to get that...

I stuck to dirt bikes until I joined the Marine Corps in 1980. My next purchase was this beater Yamaha 650 Enduro - a huge dirt bike 'thumper' with a headlight and turn signals. I was stationed out in the high dessert of southern California; Twenty-Nine Palms, a.k.a. "The Stumps"
I road that bike to death in the open dessert and through the San Bernadino Mountains and had the time of my life.

The next purchase was a new bike; A Honda CB750. My buddy and I bought identical bikes - except for the color - and this was the start of my touring experience.

We entered the California 500 - which was a rally bike trip where you went from check-point to check-point to learn the next leg of the journey. We had a blast and it was then that I learned that touring is not a vacation. It is an expedition. It is rewarding work. We helped downed bikers, camped out on library lawns, ate at greasy spoons and roadside cafes, met interesting and wonderful people, shared stories, saw wonderful views, experienced fascinating places and had good - but sometimes tough experiences. Like Marines, we adapted and overcame.

I was hooked.

Still in the Marines, I eventuall traded that bike for a 1984 Honda V45 Saber - with the optional fairing. This was a fast bike and my first bike with a fairing. I never owned a bike after that point that didn't include a fairing. What a God-send for long distance touring.

Stationed now in Texas, I would drive down to the Gulf Coast town of Corpus Christi and back home to the south burbs of Chicago - both of which came to be my first solo touring experiences.

The sale of that bike paid for our honeymoon in 1985...but I knew I would once again ride. As we worked and raised our family, I felt that longing every Spring when I heard the first sounds of motorcycles on the road. It called me and felt that pang in my soul.

It wouldn't be until 1998 when I could afford a proper touring motorcycle. Actually - 'afford' is a mis-nomer, but I reached for - and with the green-light from my better half - grabbed the brass ring of the ultimate touring bike imho: A Honda Goldwing.

Specifically, a deep green 1997 GW bought new in 1998. We got matching Arai helmets with the boom mics so we can listen to the radio and talk to each without shouting across my shoulder. This was what heaven must be like, I thought at the time. I wished digital pictures were around then as I am sure we would have recorded our adventures.

We took annual trips: Asheville, NC to the Honda Hoot, Americade at Lake George, NY, Door County, WI, along the Michigan coast to Lake Michigan and took the coal ferry across the lake. Just had blast, riding, staying at B&B's, seeing sights and meeting people.

The sale of the GW broke my heart, but we had bills to pay and that was just a luxury I couldn't see keeping. Even then, I knew I would never leave motorcycle touring.

Through the proceeding years, in order to scratch that itch, I had a few scooters to buzz around town. It wasn't much, but it seemed to be enough to quell that feeling every motorcyclist gets when the weather starts to turn warmer in Spring. It may have not been ideal, but it was two-wheels, I could afford it, and it was good enough.

So, I went from a yellow Honda Reflex 250cc, to a blue Yamaha Majesty 500cc, which led me to the largest scooter made, a silver Suzuki Burgman 650cc touring scooter. All these were bought used, with low miles, and I technically still have the Burgman - although I have a deposit on it and the sale of it should occur next week if everything goes right.

The Burgman 650 was a great machine for me: It is good around town, has a boat load of storage, weather protection, can comfortably ride two-up, is reasonably priced (used ones that is) and really is the poor mans GW. This was my daily commuter to work in good weather and what I took on my longest tour to date this last Summer when I went to a scooter rally in upper Minnesota, then headed West to Yellowstone Natl. Forest, to the Oregon Coast, down HWY 1 on the Cali Coast, then through the Rocky Mountains on the way home.

This was a glorious solo trip. Truth be told, I created a blog specifically for that trip, but will transfer all those posts over to here. That blog was 'scooter specific' and I realized my touring life can't be confined - nor defined - by a particular make or model of machine.

Motorcycles/scooters are all a blast. I am loyal to my future experiences and these machines are the tools I use to have them. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less.

So, where am I at now?

In my garage is the Burgman - which should be sold next week if everything goes right. Next to it is a 1997 Honda Pacific Coast, with 26k miles, which I acquired off of Craigslist last month, from a guy in Tennessee for $2500. I have liked these out-of-production bikes since I became aware of them. This PC800 is in really good shape, paint wise, and all I had to do was replace the broken tail light, and that wass really it. It seems to run fine and may take some tweaking. It is a bright red with a dark grey bottom and this will be my new daily commuter to work.

As much as I love GW's - and I do think they still are the ultimate touring motorcycle - I do not think I want another one at this time. My wife gave me notice that her long distance riding days are over, so I can't see spending that kind of money for solo riding.

Which brings me to my bike philosophy: There is no one perfect motorcycle for both daily and long distant touring. Many can come close, don't get me wrong. But that behemoth for distance riding lacks the nimbleness for urban lane splitting, and the quick and light bikes get blown all over the place on windy, lonely highways or mountain twisties.

That is why I now have a two-bike rule: One bike for daily commuting that can haul myself and my stuff, is dependable, cheap to own and run. That is what the PC800 is for. I do plan on acquiring a Honda ST1300 for my LD tourer. Not as big as a GW, but hefty enough to pass a semi and not get blown over a lane by the side gust, and plenty of CC's to handle anything. This will also be my weekend runabout for my wife and I as it is perfectly capable of two-up riding and has integral storage.

Plus, I also want to ride with some friends who all have Harleys, and although very much different that an HD, it is a good deal more presentable for that riding crew than a scooter or lipstick-red PC800.