While driving back to work from lunch with a coworker today, we were commiserating about the price of gas and ways of trying to save money. One of the invariable suggestions to maximize the gas dollar is the highly fuel-efficient option of the motorcycle. My coworker has been riding for years and is a proud owner of a Honda complete with ape-hangers and several bells and whistles and he is a member of a riding club that requires he wear the “colors” when he rides. He was very enthusiastic about the suggested prospect of my getting a motorcycle.
I am not unfamiliar with motorcycles. While it is true that I have never owned one, I have had occasion to ride one or two over the years. The first motorized bicycle I wanted was a Moped, but my mother wouldn’t allow it. Perhaps she feared I would end up splattered across the grill of some car or truck, or perhaps I would become too familiar with the effect pavement has on contacted flesh at 20 mph. Either way, my repeated entreating for a moped fell on deaf ears (well not deaf…that woman could hear me mumble my responses from a mile away with alarming clarity). It may have had something to do with my older sister getting injured while riding a friend’s scooter. I don’t even remember ever getting to ride one as none of my friends mom’s allowed them to get one either. Perhaps it was a great mother conspiracy to deny my peer group access to this form of transportation. Come to think of it, I couldn’t get a jet ski when they came out either. Definitely a conspiracy.
I have had friends with bikes. Kevin had a Kawasaki dirt bike, but he didn’t let me ride it. This was probably a wise decision, since I can be reasonably certain if I had, I’d probably have tried to merge the bike with a tree trunk. I had a roommate once—another friend named Kevin—who had a little motorcycle; I don’t remember which make but the thing would do good to hit 60 miles an hour. It was on this little thing that I actually learned how to ride.
Kevin and I worked at Astroworld on the train; he was an engineer and I was the conductor. I was at that age in youth where one tries everything in the world to establish independence by moving out of the parent’s house; even if doing so would be cost prohibitive. So, when Kevin, who was living in San Antonio and commuting to Astroworld, suggested we split an apartment, I was all for it. He drove a car but he also had this little motorcycle. One day, he needed me to drive his car to pick up the motorcycle from the shop and then drive the car to work while he rode the bike to work. We got halfway to work when he pulled over and, after turning around to see why he stopped, he told me that the bike needed to go back to the shop for a minor adjustment. The problem was that he would be late to work if he did it himself, so he asked me if I could ride the bike back to the shop.
Now, I had never told him I didn’t know how to ride. Of course, in my defense, I never told him I did either. So, did I confess my lack of experience here? Heck no. I was 19. Nothing can hurt me. I can do anything. I’m Superman. So, he got in his car and took off. I mounted the bike and, after a moment of silence, I had a conversation with the machine. I told the machine that if it didn’t kill me or break, I wouldn’t wreck it. I guess it took me at my word, since I was able, after only two false starts, I was moving.
I had already learned the concept of a clutch with my parent’s pinto, so believe it or not, that wasn’t the hardest concept to master in riding. The challenge was not the throttle. It was not the brakes. The biggest challenge I had was keeping the dern fool thing upright when stopped. If you lean even the slightest amount to one side or the other, that machine wants to lie down. But, it was a concept easily conquered and soon enough I was wheeling my way through the streets back to the shop, where they did whatever it was they needed to do. They could have told me the flux capacitor was out of alignment and I wouldn’t have known the difference.
Kevin was nice enough to let me borrow the bike from time to time as my 64 Buick Le Sabre had a particularly ravenous appetite and I couldn’t afford to feed it as often as it would have liked. I took his bike over to my girlfriend’s house once, which routed me along IH610—the south loop in Houston. This machine couldn’t go above 65 MPH going downhill with a tailwind and I was taking it on the freeway. Cars go whizzing past and I have nothing between them and me but a windbreaker. That was a disconcerting feeling: going that fast without a car around me. I don’t know if it is something I can get used to.
Sad thing about that trip, though. Going from her house back to my parents, I ran out of gas. I rode FM 2100 on the east side of lake Houston when I ran out and had to push the bike all the way to Atascocita. That’s about 12-15 miles at 10 pm. Well, I did have a good Samaritan stop and give me about a half gallon of gas which got me most of the way, but I did push it from Huffman to Atascocita.
Anyway, the only other time I got to ride a bike was when a recruiter bought a Honda Goldwing and he was showing it off at the recruiting station where I was working. He let me ride it around the parking lot only after I swore I had ridden a bike before. I had. I didn’t tell him it was only a half-step over a moped, but he didn’t ask.
So, will I get a motorcycle? Unlikely. As romantic the notion may sound and as good as the gas mileage is I doubt it is much fun in inclement weather. Also, there is an inherent risk with other drivers not noticing or appreciating motorcycles. Besides, I don’t think I can get used to that feeling of being exposed on the freeway at high speeds. Now, if you see me on a hog hanging onto ape-hangers in the near future, keep in mind my mid-life crisis is due at any moment and anything goes then.