Common Denominator

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It started for me before 1974. An exposure to motorcycles through magazines, I allowed myself to be consumed by an ongoing urge to ride on two wheels. In my early days, it was about horsing around, pulling wheelies and power-slides, climbing hills and getting air-born while honing my skills and learning that hitting the deck can hurt – not enough to keep me off my motorcycles, just enough to teach me a lesson. As time moved on the competition side of me took over and I raced a little motocross only to realize I was just on the verge of being average at it before I broke my leg on the third lap of leading my moto in 1987. A fast, sweeping corner with a nice berm, I tried cutting inside, got cross-rutted and went down. Did it end my enthusiasm? No, it just changed my focus from dirt to street. It was an easy transition, and going places on a bike felt pretty good. Still in the early days, I was riding for the fun of it. Nothing to deep, just getting on and going places just for the sake of going. No rhyme or reason, or a plan in place, just riding to ride.

I can’t remember any time since the early 70’s that motorcycles weren’t a big part of my daily routine. Reading about them, riding when I could or just talking about bikes with others when we weren’t riding. Growing up with friends that ride helps considerably and learning to work on them was a plus as well. But still, at that age it was impossible to understand exactly what kind of effect this would have on me through the years. As constant as the ringing in my ears, the thoughts of motorcycles and everything that surrounds them, I’ve carried with me.

A lot has changed over the years with technology, style, performance and price – but the one common denominator through it all has been how the motorcycle influences me. The people involved within the industry – whether professional racers, moto-journalists, photographers, builders or enthusiasts all have an impact on our perception of this sport, but it’s the motorcycle that pulls it all together and brings it all to life. I ride motorcycles for transportation, recreation and meditation. It isn’t a hobby – it’s a passion, and with passion comes inspiration. That feeling I had the first time I let the clutch out, when motion turned into emotion, was truly a memorable moment. Although the reason I ride has evolved into a more complex explanation, it can always be broken down into passion.

No matter what you ride, remember why you ride. As I get older it has become apparent this is my fountain of youth, because when you’re young you don’t think in those terms. Riding motorcycles allows me to never lose that feeling of letting the clutch out for the first time and it’s also a vehicle from which to reflect on all of the miles and memories I’ve experienced over the years. We all have something we’re passionate about and mine just happens to be motorcycles. I wouldn’t change it for the world and I would do it all over again given the chance. Well, maybe I would change one thing; I would probably have taken a different line in that corner back in 1987.

The Same Mistake Twice

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The further I get into the future, the more I reflect on the past. It’s funny how the older we get the more we say “I remember when.” We often use that term when it comes to cars, motorcycles and even our friends because the history we are creating while living our lives often requires us to look back to tell the story. So that’s what we do – we tell stories, stretch the truth and laugh about the good times. We look back and laugh because even those bad days weren’t that bad after all.

I’m as guilty as the next person when it comes to this as my tall tales get even taller and in most cases it always ends up being funnier than when it actually happened. Case in point; it was 1976 and me and my trusty Yamaha DT175 were out to the Katy trails just behind the White City Cemetery for a little fun in the dirt. Disregarding all common sense for my own safety, I would usually ride alone and not once in my Bell helmet did I hear my mother saying anything about clean underwear or “wait until your father gets home.” So off I went the two miles or so as the crow flies, (of course I felt like I was flying as any teenage boy would on his motorcycle) to spend the afternoon jumping and climbing a few hills.

Who hasn’t ridden a motorcycle only to suffer a mechanical break-down? Not me. Over the years I have become very keen on what is a real break-down compared to a road-side fix. But it wasn’t an overnight education. After the first few minutes of getting to the Katy trails, I laid my motorcycle over on the left side. Not a real bad crash by any means, but it was enough to get up and dust myself off. I picked up the DT to find my shift lever bent underneath the engine case. Not knowing what to do, I pushed it more than two miles home (I’m not a crow) back into the yard. My brother Danny was a huge help in pointing out the obvious solution to my problem – grab hold of the shift lever and bend it back out. There, problem solved. Why wasn’t it obvious to me? It sure would have saved me a lot of effort and it would have kept me riding for the afternoon. But from where I was standing the problem seemed to big to handle on the side of the trail. I was apparently more concerned about clean underwear and if my dad was home yet I guess.

Looking back at the situation now I can laugh about it. Not only did it not seem funny at the time, it also gave me plenty of time to think about it as I pushed it home. But it’s a lessened learned and it definitely builds character. It also gives you the satisfaction of knowing that you won’t make the same mistake twice. Fast forward to 2008 and I’m riding my Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail. For some reason, every time I shift gears up or down, it takes excessive force. What in the world is wrong with my transmission? After talking to a friend of mine, he told me I need to put a little lubricant on the pivot for the heal-toe lever. Hmmm, lubrication. Who would have thought? At least I had my clean underwear on.

Motivation by Recreation

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It’s been a long time. Years. A certain period of time in your life when the weather was just winter or summer. Nothing in between, just one or the other. We were either going to school or we were out for the summer, and as kids that was all we knew. As we got older, we started to notice the difference in the seasons and that there was actually a clock on the wall. Life was going on around us and we were taking in the view beyond the grasshoppers, mud puddles and those really straight sticks you would find every so often that you couldn’t stand to leave behind. We were growing up.

All of a sudden life became a little bigger. Where you sat in the car became somewhat of a status symbol. Back seat – a friend, front seat passenger side – good friend, driver seat – popular with your friends, and sitting in the middle of the front seat – girlfriend. At this stage we were just trying to figure out what we were going to do next Saturday night, not what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. We looked forward to the weekends for reasons other than getting caught up on yard work. Motivation by recreation.

But we keep getting older and that clock on the wall keeps ticking. It’s funny, as kids we didn’t notice the clock on the wall and time literally stood still. Now the clock is such a big part of who we are and what we do, it demands our attention. Like it or not, it’s ticking. But as young adults we were starting to realize that there was something bigger coming down the pike.

I’ve ridden motorcycles for a lot of years and just like my friends who played sports in school, I found a sport that I connected with. Somewhere in the middle of White City Kansas as I was riding a wheelie through one of those mud puddles, it should have hit me then that this is what I could be doing for a living. At seventeen, having the 8-track stereo in your car and enough money for pizza and a movie with your girlfriend was the depth of my focus, not a career in the motorcycle business. Looking back there were a couple of things I would have focused on more and that could have directly changed my life.

The winding road of life can take you to places you never dreamed of. Sometimes it’s the long way around and sometimes it was the obvious route that our stubborn, teenage pride or angst ignored. Either way, the old saying “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” holds true. So here I am, fifty years old and working in the motorcycle business, motivated by one of the things I enjoy doing. The clock is still ticking and I’m still intrigued by a really straight stick when I see one, but I’ve learned to leave it on the ground. I’m riding and writing about motorcycles and my life of growing up in a small town in hopes that someone will find a little humor in it. It has taken a few years but it has finally dawned on me that life is as big as you make it. And I’m in the driver’s seat!

The Mechanics of Emotion

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Take a step back. Look. It’s motor in plain site-the oil lines expose and its polished cases reflecting a fun-house image of yourself. The air cleaner is prominent and the cables that run from the hand controls to the power plant are waiting for your every command. The suspension is visible as are the disc brakes-a conflict in horsepower and stopping power, when all it wants to do is go, and go fast. Gears, pistons, bearings and oil. Precision cut with an idea of what is truly possible from internal combustion. Adding to this, a couple of gallons of gasoline sitting between your legs, and you fire it up. The sound, the smell and the vibration of a machine as it runs, brought to life by the push of a button or a kick of a lever.We feel it. Emotion.

We talk of motorcycles as a mechanical object-which they are. but when the inventors of two-wheel motion started assembling the early versions, they were in fact changing how we would feel about transportation that “moves” us. There is a lot of parts and pieces that are required to turn a machine into emotion but it happens with a single spark. It happens every time the motor fires up. A spark can transform peace and quiet-to gears turning, pistons pumping and exhaust throwing out the sound of life. This directly affects our physical and mental state, far beyond what was originally intended by those Harley and Davidson boys. 

The mechanical side of motorcycles is something amazing in itself. But the emotional side can be even more complicated to understand. It moves us in a three-dimensional way; physically, socially and emotionally. For over one hundred years, mechanics have never had to replace the emotional part of a motorcycle.     

 

Practical

As I was pumping my usual $12 worth of gas into my Heritage, a older gentleman walked over to me and floored me with the question “is it practical?”. He was driving the required older gentleman’s car, a Buick, which I have owned a few myself. I know the fuel economy of that wonderful engine, and it is nothing to dismiss. Usually when I get asked a question from a stanger at a gas station, it’s “where are you headed” or “how many miles to the gallon do you get”. But never “is it practical”.

So I thought about it and answered with “only if you ride it”. He continued about his love for motorcycles and how he wished he was still riding. I could see it in his eyes and he was very sincere in his words. We had a great talk and he was on his way as I was mine.

The ride home I couldn’t help but think of this exchange. The truth is there a cars that get as good of mileage as my motorcycle and yes, that would make them more practical. Enough to carry more than two people, cup holders, radio, storage, heat and conditioned air. Why didn’t I think of that? But I ride because I want to, not that I have to. I ride all year long as long as it’s not dangerous and saving gas is just a benefit. Most of my friends ride as recreation and wouldn’t think of riding the way I do, and that’s OK. They have their passions and I have mine. To me a boat doesn’t make sense but I don’t have any interest in that particular form of recreation. And that too is OK. But if you want to ride a motorcycle to save gas you have to ride it. A fair weather rider I’m not and I have the miles on my bike to show for it. Sixty degrees and a twenty percent chance of rain, will you ride? Probably. Forty degrees and a twenty percent chance of rain? I will. Most folks will look outside and say it’s just easier to take my coffee cup and jump in the car. It’s not convenient to ride for a lot of people, with dress clothes and laptops. I don’t have much hair, so helmet head isn’t an issue for me.

There are a lot of forms of transportation that are not practical. The distance to our destination comes into play as well as what we need to take with us. My saddle bags are full for any of you who have followed me, so apparently I have a lot of stuff I need to carry as well! I’m fortunate to be able to ride almost daily all year long. Some winters are worse than others but you know what I mean. If there is one point I want to make here is this. Be passionate about what you want in life. Bicycling, running, sports cars or boats. Enjoy your hobby as I enjoy mine! If you haven’t experienced riding a motorcycle or are curious about it, ask someone who does. Then someday it might be me that walks up to you and asks “is it practical?’