not just machines

It’s funny, I almost never get emotional over selling cars. While I bond to them well enough, I don’t name them, don’t spend hours and dollars customizing them to a fast degree. But there are those I connect to. My jeep – I felt a deep pang of wrongness when I drove away from the […]

It’s funny, I almost never get emotional over selling cars. While I bond to them well enough, I don’t name them, don’t spend hours and dollars customizing them to a fast degree.

But there are those I connect to. My jeep – I felt a deep pang of wrongness when I drove away from the dealer where I’d traded it in. NOt for my first chevy impala, nor my first or second pickup truck. Not for my mazda van (the first car to carry the ‘GURU MBL’ license plate), nor when I traded either of the vehicles that followed it. I was happen when I left my Titan in a lot and drove off in my xB.

That one, the xB, may be different when I sell it. This car, I feel something for. A desire to make it visibly MINE. For the first time EVER, I got talked into a personalized plate.


But with motorcycles it’s different. Even the first one – a completely shitty ’83 Virago 920, it seemed like I was abandoning a loyal steed. When my following bike (a Honda Shadow) was turned into a pretzel by another driver, I was as close to murder as I’ve ever been; I still recall screaming at him, me in full leathers and waving my helmet like some sort of bludgeon, screaming “SON OF A BITCH!, YOU KILLED MY FUCKING BIKE !”.

It was pure tragedy for me. Not least because of the injuries I suffered (bruises, cuts, and a severely sprained back), but because the first bike I ever LOVED was brutally killed. It felt personal.

The next bike was an FJ1200. It was a whim purchase; I wanted to go faster, to prove to myself the accident hadn’t broken my nerve. And I wanted a bike that was really different. I can’t say I bonded to it completely, and one week, when barb was pregnant with Olivia and I had two near-death-near-wipeout experiences in the same week, I decided the FJ was just too damn much bike for me at the time (too easy to go too fast). So traded it in on a Kawasaki Vulcan, and even bigger bike (1500cc), but nowhere near as fast. Even so, I wanted to keep the FJ, felt bad about walking away.

The Kawasaki was easier. It wasn’t the right bike for my needs. I had a 30 mile commute each way, and no reliable car. The bike wasn’t well set up for long rides and luggage, and wasn’t comfortable for passengers. When I sold it, I knew I was moving up to a bike I’d always wanted, in spirit at least. And I was selling the Kawasaki to my friend Chris, so it felt like it was in the family (though he turned around and traded it for a moto guzzi a month later, and then traded THAT for a BMW.

But the bike I bought was something important. It was a Triumph.

The name Triumph means something to me. My father rode, his friends rode. My aunt’s friends rode. Motorcycles were a big part of my youth. Names like Norton, BSA and Triumph were always around, as were Harley and Suzuki and Honda (those last two my father’s preference; little japanese bikes).

My father also collected and re-built british soprts cars. MG’s, Morgans, and mostly, Triumphs. We had spitfires and tr2s and tr3s. My father had these little race cars around for most of my childhood (though it strangely stopped when I got close to driving age.

I spent my youth wanting nortons and triumphs. So when I realized that Triumph had risen from the grave and was building new bikes, I started thinking, i need one.

The bike I chose – the Trophy – was a perfect commute bike. Sporty, fast, comfortable, with excellent weather protection and luggage. It was built to roam europe. And it was in one my favorite colors, British Racing Green. And I loved that bike.

The trouble with that bike was simple; it was made to run. Like a racing greyhound or a thoroughbred horse, it needed to move, long and often. But I changed my job, and my commute went from 30 miles to 3.

I had visions of motorcycle trips with friends, but somehow, none of us ever got it to happen. Too many wives, too many kids (though those don’t work for Chris; maybe just too much work or too little ability to commit). Whatever it was, we never once put together a ride. So the Trophy tended to sit in my garage, more trouble to get out than it saved me to ride it. If I’d been freeway commuting 10 miles, it would have payed out. But with my surface road, three mile commute, it actually meant my trip to work was longer, not shorter.

So I’ve had to do more maintenance than needed due to leaving the beast to sit. And I’ve never put the kind of miles on her that I should have.

I’ve tried for two years now to talk myself into selling her – and you see, I’ve now given my Trophy a gender, for the first time ever. I wasn’t quite able to get myself there. Last summer, I put several hundred dollars into maintenance, and then STILL didn’t ride all that much. The size of the trophy (top heavy, tall, not meant to tool around in and out of parking lots) makes it more work to ride. I never took it on an errand, never rode it to dinner, rarely rode it anywhere but to work.

Last month, I started soul searching. Did I need a bike at all? AM I just *over* motorcycles? Or do I need to make a choice that suits the riding I actually do?

I pondered a great deal. Because my heart’s desire isn’t the light and nimble bike I know would be most useful. It’s a Harley, like uncle Doug rode in the 60’s and 70’s. Doug was a real one percenter, a real hells angels kind of rider. And he was a hero to me, with his bad tattoos and his truck full of harley parts, and his drug dealing. He and his friends rode the bikes I had dreams about.

I don’t see Harley as today’s stupid doctors and lawyers icon. I see it as it was before that, when it was a street rod. And that’s what I really want. Bikes like they ride on Sons of Anarchy.

But that’s impractical in so many ways, despite the desire. They’re vastly too expensive out the door, and then they need another ten grand of add-ons to bring performance up and put my own stamp on the bike. And I’m back into the land of big, heavy and awkward.

So I checked down the lists of what I wanted in a rider’s bike.

Naked – no plastic nonsense.

Twin – I just like the feel and sound of a twin better than those inline three and fours most sport bikes are built on.

Price – I had to be able to afford it without breaking the bank.

Sporty and nimble – No giant cruisers. If it wast’ going to be a harley, it wasn’t going to be a big-ass cruiser.

I came up with several options that might work (some too expensive, like a ducati monster and several moto guzis and aprillias, and some just ugly), and came down to a honda, a suzuki, and a couple of triumphs.

As of now, the triumphs are winning. The Thruxton or one of the other Bonneville options. The Harley still keeps calling, but the Triumphs meet my needs better unless someone’s gifting me ten grand for a boyhood dream.

Friday, someone’s coming to buy my Trophy. And I walked out into my garage to look at it, and though, fuck, I don’t want to sell this bike. I’ve ridden it for eight years now, and loved it, no matter how much of the time I’ve spent thinking wrong bike. It’s beautiful, and I don’t want to part with it.

But owning bikes doesn’t make a biker. Riding makes a biker. And I’m not riding enough anymore to earn that name. I need to get out on the road in my leathers agin, and earn my self-description of biker.

So, if things go as planned, I’ll watch a fellow named Hans from teh east bay ride away on my Trophy this friday, with a small fistful of cash in my pocket. And I’ll have to go directly to the local dealer and start to flirt with a need machine, to save me mourning the loss of the old.

They’re not just machines, motorcycles. They’re something else. They don’t have a soul like a vincent ’52, Richard Thompson said; but even so, they have something. And it makes the relationship more intense than some marriages I know.

The second that bike rolls away, I’ll feel incomplete. I’ve been there before, when I lost my Honda; I couldn’t wait even for my court case to end to throw down money on a new machine. I had to roll.