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Raptorman, the Honda, and the Bulbasaur. Sometimes You Just Need to Risk it All.

The liberty bell, just one of the great assets of the cb550f
Back when my friend ‘Raptor’ still graced us with his presence, I would harass him with links to good deals on old Honda 550s. Since both of us loved riding antiquated machinery, Raptor had been fighting a long time to get me to ‘graduate’ to a Beemer airhead. Then one day, he actually asked me to let him take the Honda for a spin. When he came back, I knew there was a chink in that thick-plated BMW armor. “That’s the smoothest bike I’ve ever ridden…” he told me. Well, it’s not like he was riding Goldwings, but high praise from a beemer man…
Shortly thereafter, I picked up the phone early one morning to, “I need help getting a bike into the truck over in Hampton Roads.” When Raptor called, you answered. You were never sure if he was calling with half-baked plan or looking for help staving off suicide, so, no matter what time of the day you answered. What time was it? He wanted to buy a what, a Honda? Obviously, his mental health was questionable, but when a man says he’s going to buy another bike, even a fourth or a fifth, even if it’s not his brand, you don’t put up a fight. “Come on, man, we just need to stop at the bank first.” He was impatient at the other end of the line. Flashes of the last time Raptor’s truck was used to move a motorcycle whirred in my head – the bald tires, the lack of steering, and the mysterious dragging chain sound at low speeds, like the Marley’s ghost visiting Scrooge portending doom. Ooooohhh… Change your ways! They will be your undoing!
      “Well?” he demanded impatiently.
      “When do we need to leave”
      “Now. I told the guy we’d be there by lunch.”
      “Aggh. Lunch? It’s two hours just to get there. I haven’t had breakfast. Did you fix the radio?
      “No.”
      “The speedometer?”
      “It still works sometimes – under 50.”
      “The tires, tie rods, or ball joints? How about that starter relay, will it even start?”
      “It always starts, you know that, I keep the hammer in the bed. The tires won’t blow out, you worry too
      much. Oh, and bring your little compressor thing, that rear is flat again.”
      “See you in ten.”
Raptor got to the edge of town before I made him stop. Two of his other tires had less than 10 pounds of air. When I was filling I noticed the cracks on his side sidewalls. I really thought we’d have a blowout. The tire would explode, the truck would flip over on the interstate and burst into flames. We argued about who would drive, but after he admitted to only maybe two or three hours of sleep the night before, he finally capitulated. We drifted in and out of our lane at an unknown speed all the way speed all the way to Hampton Roads, without incident, not listening to the radio and yelling at each other over the wind rushing through the bent doors frames the whole way.
When we finally got there, we actually found a nice specimen of a ’77 super sport. Candy Apple Red paint still in tact, very little rust, no leaks, everything there and working. The tires were shot, so it was ready to fit in with the rest of Raptor’s garage. Only one dent… and the questionable taste of the previous owner. The sissy was tall and had half a liberty from the 1976 biennial as decoration. The seat was… what a worm would look right before it pops under your shoe – all flat one one end and pressurized to explosion on the other. (known instantly as ‘Bulbasaur.’) Apparently, the wife of the previous owner had made it custom. How fortunate.
While I wasn’t able to graduate into ‘ze German’ club until after his death, I’m glad he joined me in my little Honda world for the short time I knew him. Of course, as soon he we got that 550 home Raptor ripped off the sissy bar, ape hangers and Bulbasaur, though he never worried about the tires. What’s more, he never even crashed it, in spite of his best efforts. Really, he should have taken his Honda cash and gotten a new clutch for one of his airheads and a new tank for the other. But this experience with the Honda pretty much sums up my whole experience with the man. Instead of doing the prudent thing he took his old tires out to do the ton up in the Blue Ridge mountains, and he locked up his rear at every red light – the tires wouldn’t stop in any other way. It was all half luck and half insanity, and that lucky SOB survived all of it with a grin and a laugh unscathed. I already miss his insanity, but wherever he’s at now, I don’t suppose he needs luck anymore. I hope he’s spreading it around, I know I could use it. And if he can be bothered I hope keeping an eye out for me, and for all of us. Good tires or not, we could all use that kind of blessing.
Posted in Airhead, Beemer, BMW, cb550, cb550f, Hampton Roads, honda, insanity, luck, Mental Health, Raptor, Raptorman, Suicide, tires, Truck | Leave a comment

The Great American Sportbike: Harley, Buell, and the Unfortunate Seperation

Buell Ulysses
 I recently reread a Cycleworld interview with Erik Buell. When it comes to life, he must be one of those, “Let’s make lemonade!” guys. Which is odd, since by now I’d think he’d be throwing lemons at the pricks who grew them. In October of ’09 the new guy in charge at Harley-Davidson, owners of Buell rights, pulled the plug on Buell production to focus on the HD core brand. Understandable, according to their own press release HD sales were already off 35.1% in the second quarter of 2009. But, this isn’t a finance lesson. Harley was getting killed and needed to cut costs; it’s easy to see why Erik Buell’s head wound up on the chopping block. 
The toughest biscuit for Mr. Buell to swallow had to be that HD kept the rights to the Buell name because it was “…too deeply integrated into the company and H-D dealerships.” (Cycle world) Though, they are allowing Mr. Buell to stamp his name on a few more 1125RRs until the end of 2010. Tuning a few 1125s is a good enough way to keep busy until HD’s control of the Buell name expires in 2011.
I feel for the guy, and I feel for the whole American sport / street / enduro scene. But, truth be told, I had never really thought about getting a Buell bike until I heard of them going under. Since I’m not ready for a cruiser, I never even had reason to think about buying an American bike. When I heard that there were bargain basement prices to be had on brand new, though defunct, models, I started making calls. Harley was even guaranteeing availability of parts and service for seven years. I would have liked a utilitarian Ulysses – or a Lightning for a lot less practical reasons. Or both. But, I already owned a couple of bikes, and my wife was making the frowny face while I prattled excitedly. When you work within the confines of teacher’s pay you have to make tough choices. A new bike, even with a sizable price reduction, wasn’t in the math.
The question is, why hadn’t I ever even considered buying Buell before? There were a few around, but not like the number of metrics on the road. I knew the name existed, but pretty much nothing about it. Up until Buell’s death rattle, I had been looking at Honda’s NT700 and ST1300 or one of BMW’s GS models. Both were good in town and weekend riders, but the Ulysses would have been another great option, if I had ever heard of it. Of the few HD shops that carried Buell even fewer were excited to have the bikes in stock. My memory isn’t great (ask my wife) but I don’t remember any Buell advertisement our my neck of the woods, and you wouldn’t have known what sportiness was inside your local HD dealer just from driving by. Again, it may be my memory but I can’t think of one HD shop with Buell written large somewhere on the outside .You might have known that Buell existed if you saw one parked, and if you enjoy a good google you might have found a dealer within 50 miles where you could have had an actual look. It’s hard to buy what you don’t know about.
Honda NT700V Deauville
It’s not like Americans don’t want street bikes. Japan alone has four big names here. FOUR! Then there is Italy, and Germany… and even Britain is back! Norton is having another go, and Triumph has managed to stay afloat even with the recession abounding. So, there is a way to carve the American market with an American sport bike company in it.
Looking at the Buell website, the bikes themselves have a rather quirky sense of style, maybe a bit awkward, but I think they’re overall full of character and innovation. I mean, those huge rotors mounted to the rim and not the hub! It may not be better, but it’s different. Each successful company needs unique qualities. I think Buell had what it takes. However, I never saw one and said, “Look at that handsome devil! That’s it, that’s the bike for me!” if you can understand my meaning… nothing like what the Italians produce – nor should it have been. Buell had its own sense of self and style, maybe we just hadn’t gotten used to it. But, it is awfully hard to get used to something you never see. And, now that I’m looking over the field again… most of these bikes look like they were made from plastic, tinfoil and lightning. Maybe Buell wasn’t as out there as I thought…
 
We had a good American motorcycle at a good price – something different and innovative but I don’t think we even knew it. Then, it’s founder had most of his teeth knocked out and the name kept from him. We may never have another shot at an American sport bike company like this one, but Luckily EB isn’t giving in just yet. Rat Pak Records is showing off Buell 1190RS merchandise (of a yet unseen street version of the 1190RR race bike) How many will be made and where? More information is to be given September 14th 2010. Where will EB go without HD? Can he go anywhere without the muscle and cash? Maybe without Harley he’ll be able to keep his motor costs down and make an inexpensive bike for the next generation. Or, he may only stick around in his niche building race bikes, but I’d like to see him do more. I’d like to see him carve up the American bike market and give us that great American sport bike company. After all, his motto is, “Never Quit.”
Posted in 1125rr, 1125rs, American, Buell, cycle world, erik Buell, Harley-Davidson, HD, honda, Lightning, Recession, Uylesses | 1 Comment

Ten Days Out: Virginia to Minnesota and Back Again – Page 2

I stopped at the first stoplight on the way out of town about 12:15. Trip tip #2: If you can smell toasted neoprene, it’s already too late. In the parking lot of ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Resilience’ or similar church, the bag situation already looked dire. Upon reevaluation, it looked as if a spider had dropped acid and laid technicolor web all over. The bags had sagged onto the pipes… and begun to melt. If things continued like this my underwear would soon be left on the highway like bread crumbs. Hopefully someone could use the trail to save me. A few white haired ladies were, apparently, doing laps of the church lot as I rebuilt the web and shifted the bags. Keep an eye on the motorcyclist, Ethel, I’m sure he’s up to no good. Half convinced the new system would work I climbed back on the bike to finally ready to leave my zip code.
As the trip went on, the Blue Ridge Mountains grew until, suddenly, I was climbing. Then, trees were all that could be seen. In western Virginia the BMW really came into it’s own. At only 425lbs wet, the bike easily chewed up Appalachia, even fully loaded. Heavenly. The mountains rose and fell into West Virginia and highway 250 passed through about a hundred little towns, just speed bumps to remind you of where you are. Before this trip the only things I knew of West Virginia were gleaned from gas station bathrooms and the back country knowledge of “Deliverance.” But, in the real world If you own a motorcycle you need to find somewhere to go on the other side of Appalachia. It’s damned well worth the trip. The whole day disappeared in a flash of downshifts and leanings.
The first day’s ride ended just about where the terrain did, too, southeast Ohio. I set up camp in the Hocking Hills region, where I surveyed the day’s damage. My saddle bags were slowly decaying, I had torn off a mounting strap at a gas station while lifting the bags. (Because, of course, the gas tank is at the rear and the bags had to come off at every fill.) and I almost tore off one of the handles by jerking the whole rig off the bike at the camp site. According to calculations, the bags would be thrown away before the last of my clothes. Trouble. With camp set up, I dwelled on this eventuality, but was interrupted as a mother and her kids approached. I was worried about a righteous verbalization. “What’s a biker like you doing at a nice campsite like this? Camp Somewhere else!” etc. etc. But, she was carrying a plate. “It looks like you’re on an interesting trip,” she said, “we brought you a bedtime snack.” She handed me s’mores. As I took the plate, confused, the woman added, “Oh, the milk is also organic, in case that’s important.” Her kids gave me that odd, unsure, puzzled kid look, then ran back to their site like I was covered in 12 hours of road stink. I managed to get out a thanks as she waved and toddled off. Stunned, all I could do was eat my bedtime snack.Not a bad day.
The next morning I took extra time loading to keep the remaining straps attached to the bags, and the remaining bag from dripping away under high heat. With everything meticulously tied together, I carefully backed into a tree on the way out of camp, cracking my tail light lens. Trip tip #3, if you’re backing up, watch behind you. I wondered what would be left by the end of the trip.
Past Ohio is faring country, all wind and corn. All I can say is avoid Indianapolis, bring some headphones, and the food at Hardee’s hasn’t gotten any better since the last time you ate there. If you’ve never been to Indiana, the crossroads of the nation, I can save you some trouble. Like much of the midwest you feel as if you’re riding on ‘no’ street expecting to cross ‘where’ avenue at any moment. Depending on where you’re at, sprinkle in alternating bean and corn fields. This will get you to Minnesota. I appreciate and love the midwest, where I was born and raised, but it is not a place for small, dual sport motorcycles. After two days of grinding through glacier-flattened country, I finally arrived home.
Going home is great when you haven’t lived there for a while. I found my dad at the country club. Though he hasn’t golfed since his back gave out in the middle of playing years back, he still spends time drinking beer and driving around in the cart with his friends every Wednesday. I walked in and stood right next to him at the bar. It must have been five minutes before he even realized who I was. Startled and smiling, he bought me a couple of beers and asked about the trip. His friends recounted some rather… vivid stories (golfers, who knew?) and after 1,300 miles I felt like a war hero.
Posted in Beemer, BMW, Camping, Minnesota, Motorcycle, S'mores, Touring, Virginia | Leave a comment

Ten Days Out: Virginia to Minnesota and Back Again – Page 1

When it comes to motorcycling, I tend to stay within my ‘home radius.’ This means that during any bout of weekend riding if I see a $3 cup of coffee, I can balk indignantly like any normal human being and be home grinding beans before I fall asleep. Short trips are easier and less intimidating than long ones. Once, I started planning a longer trip with my friend, Raptorman. We would go from Virginia through the plains states to Minnesota, up through Canada, and back again. But, Raptor stopped taking his meds, and I stopped thinking it was a good idea. His driving became a bit erratic – sometimes dangerous – and besides, how far would a poorly maintained 70s Honda really go? I made excuses, Raptor understood. The Honda was over 30-years-old, ragged, and could only go 2,000 before an oil change. No, an epic ride was out of the question, short trips were the safe bet.
I always regretted skipping that trip. It seemed like a great way to see the country while simultaneously dabbling with alcoholism. But, as the expression goes, better safe than sorry. That was a couple years ago. Recently, as I was blearily making my way through my morning cup, I happened across a bit of Facebook news. My friend ‘Raptorman,’ who had recently moved to California, had committed suicide. For all the wonders of our modern social network system, I can tell you that Facebook is a terrible way to learn of the death of a friend. Knowing his trouble with depression, it was understood suicide was an option. The thing is, you never really understand that that means. I was left shaken. What happened, what caused this? What could I have done, and eventually… what is going to happen to his motorcycles? I talked to some of his other friends and also his brother. We swapped stories, and eventually I decided to save as many of Hugh’s bikes as I could afford. 1.(Another) poorly maintained Honda cb550, candy apple red, 4 into 1 pipes, and rotten tires, and 2. A 2006 BMW F650GS, a black, lightweight, high-seated BMW dual sport with high exhaust pipes, heated grips, ABS, and rotten tires.
That’s also how I ran out of excuses. Like the expression, I was safe, but I was also left sorry, genuinely sorry we never took that trip. A few weeks after learning the tragic news, and only days after getting the paperwork for the Beemer, I told work I wouldn’t be in the following week. Some business can only go unfinished for so long; it was time to take that trip. The only difference would be Michigan instead of Canada.
Thursday, after I had decided to leave, my wife came home from work a bit upset. Why was I looking for a place to stay in Ohio and Indiana? Was I going somewhere? Why was she the last to know? It seems Facebook is just a terrible news medium. Sorry, Hon, I just decided today… you’re welcome to come along, but uh, pack light, really light. Also, I need to see about a tent, and some saddlebags, and everything else. Kelsie declined my generous offer. With only four days to launch, a riding partner struck me as desirable. About that, here’s trip tip # 1: people with running motorcycles have jobs. People without jobs do not to have enough money to rebuild blown motors. After a few calls, it looked like this was going to be a solo trip. Time alone to process the tragic news, then.
Saturday we shopped Wayne Cycle in Waynesboro, VA. They had some Fieldsheer soft side saddle bags for relatively cheap, which improved the packing scene. I also found some deep discount rain gear (all of it in my size, tall and skinny… this never happens) and an Airhawk seat. With somewhere to put clothes, I took Peter Egan’s advice and stuffed the new bags full of worn underwear and stained jeans, clothes worthy of throwing away along the journey. No laundry, more space for the inevitable souvenir crap, and if everything went right there wouldn’t be much to bring home. I started designing intricate bungee webs to tie all of my bags and camping gear together and pondering the benefits of each variation. If I could get new rubber mounted, I was ready to ride.
The local bike shop, despite their apathetic stance to my schedule, (central Virginia to central Ohio by nightfall) managed to get new tread mounted by 10:30 Monday morning. The new rubber was Bridgestone Trailwing 80/20 on/off road tires. Not perfect for all the mountain climbing and highway driving scheduled, but better than running on the remnants of tread past, or worse, waiting until Wednesday. At home, with the wheel mounted and bags bound together in an intricate web of colorful bungee the trip officially started just a few minutes before noon. The bags were close to that scrambler exhaust system, but the web looked secure. I was ready to ride.

Posted in Beemer, BMW, Camping, Epic Ride, F650, Freedom, honda, Motorcycle, Raptor, Raptorman, Suicide, Touring, Vintage, Virginia | Leave a comment

Technology, Human Interaction and Motorcycles. Taking Time to be a Person.

The oft-imitated Ned Ludd in action. (Internet Art)
Purportedly, about 200 years ago a guy by the name of Ned Ludd beat his loom to death with a hammer. A bit later some technophobes, probably yelling something like, “They took our jorbs!” took up his name and their hammers and beat the tar out of some more new-fangled technologies. Now, I’m no Luddite, but there are a few things I could say a few things about, at least when it comes to technology. No, not texting, I’m just talking about GPS. GPS is a phenomenal invention that I do not use, probably due much more to financial reasons than all this moral crap, but since I don’t own GPS I can still take the moral high ground.
Not too long ago, after a cerebrum-crushing, nine-hour session on the proper administration of pharmaceuticals to children (Think: Proper paperwork? Check. Correct child? Check. Correct Dose? Check… Repeat for liquids, repeat for pills, repeat, repeat, repeat…), I stepped into a boiling Virginia afternoon, flipped down my visor and took off toward freedom – with a few hours of daylight to burn. At the last stoplight on the edge of the city I hit a red by about two car lengths. Dammit, Janet. With my blood boiling inside my summer riding jacket for a number of literal and figurative reasons, I looked around. There was no way to blow off a red. But, there was a big guy lounging on a big V-twin in a close parking lot looking at scrap of paper. This guy looked lost, or maybe he was waiting for drugs. Maybe both.
I pulled into the lot and headed toward the guy. Big dude, tattoos, wiry beard, pudding bowl and a wicked sunburn… somewhere deep in my brain I thought, rather whimsically, that this guy resembled the chopper-ridin’ stab maniac archetype of too many movies. But, between the heat and the nine-hour seminar, I never thought twice. I just frisked on over on my little BMW F650. All he said was, “I think I missed highway 15. I’m thinking of taking 29.” I killed the motor, movie archetypes aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. I explained that for bikers highway 29 is a road you use when you are up to your grapes in debt, and your life insurance will not pay out in case of suicide. I helped him find a better, albeit longer, route and then we had a nice chat. He admitted the area had some of the best riding he’d ever seen, added that had just been discharged from the armed forces and was touring a bit, but it was getting late and he needed to call his wife, if I didn’t mind excusing him. Movies rarely get people right – what a nice guy.
I’m sure he would have survived suicide alley and made it home alright – probably sooner. But, how often do you tell a story that ends, “… and using my GPS I returned home in a timely manner.” I don’t know since I don’t own one, but it doesn’t seem worth anyone’s time. I left that short conversation feeling good – and I hope the other guy did, too – in spite of the nine-hour day, and it was the interaction that did it. Human interaction is key, and we seem to be drifting away from it in our daily routines… Internet shopping, self-checkouts, and my personal favorite: two people sitting together, each furiously thumbing iberries (ip ones?)…cell phones bringing people together. This isn’t a call to arms, a crusade or nostalgia for better days, and it sure isn’t the first time someone has thought that technological innovation = humanity lost. Sometimes, you just have a nice conversation… and for some reason it kind of makes you want to use a hammer.
Posted in BIker, BMW, F650, GPS, Hog, Humanity, Ned Lud, Riding, Virginia | 1 Comment

A Boy and His Bike. Motorcycles and freedom.

When I was young, every time I wanted to go anywhere I had to beg for a ride. Slowly, I earned my freedom. It came in the way of a budget bicycle. Marty would drop by and I would yell to anyone in earshot that we were off to the park, then run out the door before being told to make my bed. Our favorite parks were oddly all at the bottoms of hills, and we’d race down red-faced, legs pumping and out of breath. The wind would blow back our hair and we’d catch bugs in our grins. Sometimes in our throats. Freedom. We would scream motor noises and think ourselves to be the very champions of speed. It only cost us tired legs, sore throats, and butts bruised on BMX seats. Kid stuff. As for the park? That was a navigation point, a place to catch our breath and sip a soda before killing ourselves to get back up the hill. Who goes to a park to play when you’re old enough to bike that far from home? Really.

Eventually, we both got cars. This time, true freedom. We traded the bugs in our teeth for radios, top speed, and a place to keep girls. (When we could get them) There was something exciting about being behind the wheel of the hulking mass of a 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix. It’s massive 5.0L engine was only slowed by it’s anchor of a frame and chassis. It sure felt fast… 0 to 60 in roughly 12 or 20 seconds. But, after the automotive honeymoon was over, that car and all others became just another responsibility, and expense. Insurance, taxes and horrid fuel economy. Just a car, it takes you from A to B, dry, comfortably and most of the time safely, except when brake components burst like zits due to rot and lack of care. I’m probably on file with the EPA. It took me everywhere, work, school, to see girls, but, it had become just a car, just another part of life. It seemed that kind of tangible, easy freedom was over.

It took me until well after I took the training wheels off my first motorcycle (The two wheel equivalent of late model Grand Prix, an ’85 Honda Nighthawk 450) to realize all of the things I traded away with my Huffy BMX. Last summer in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I caught a monarch butterfly with my eye. I delivered a few firm words to the the insect, who was still tasting my face inside my helmet, and then I laughed my head off. Marty, if you could only see me now… Saving my voice, I took the motor up near red line and breezed down the mountain. I am the champion of speed. Finally. I am free. (mostly.) Now, I’ve started to (motor)bike to the park again, and I’m old enough to know that once I get there, I don’t need to be doing anything. Not that I would anyway. The destination is the excuse, the ride is the reason. So, I take my wife and we bring more than a can of soda for lunch, and we take our time. The vessel is different, but the idea is the same, avoid main roads, find small, twisty routes, and go the longest way to the destination, if you even bother to invent one. Don’t go home, because the bed still needs to be made.

I’ve traded back the radio, windshield, and roof, the protection, comfort and safety, (though I kept space to keep a girl…) and I’ve gotten back a machine that takes my whole body to handle, a full-on visceral experience. I’ve traded back because now everything is amplified and simplified again, the wind, rain, cold are intense… and the perfect summer days are expanded to hyperbole. Proof that June hates cars, but she loves motorbikes. It’s obviously not exactly the same as a bicycle, of course, and some things have changed. The whole ride is downhill now, thanks to twisty grips, and my throat doesn’t hurt from yelling anymore. You also get to go so much faster. But, some things will never change, the seat still hurts my backside, and, just once in a while I quietly put my boots on, then yell through the house that I’m off to the park, giddy as I slam the door and anxiously hope my 32-year-old Honda can get me out of earshot before I’m told to come back and make the bed.

Posted in Adulthood, Childhood, Freedom, honda, Motorcycles, Pontiac, Responsibility, Vintage | Leave a comment

Good Friends We’ve Had, and Good Friends We’ve Lost – The Sad State of Suicide

I heard someone say that one way or another, the big personalities in our lives tend not to stick around too long. What a damned cruel thing. What’s worse, I think he’s right. Good friends with great personalities have come and gone my whole life, and when they go it always sucks. The worst of all these happened recently, I lost a riding partner and very close friend. More a friend than a riding partner, really, but we did spend a good amount of time leaning through the hills of Virginia. ‘Raptorman’ as I called him (when he wasn’t in earshot) suffered from depression and lived his life in fits and spurts as a result. But, when he was on, when he was living, boy, was he living. When he was down he was out, completely. The last time he was down, he was so far out he couldn’t climb back out. Raptor committed suicide, and I guess there wasn’t anything I could do about it. At least, I try to believe that.

Imagine this: A medium build, full of life, sitting atop a 60s Beemer airhead and grinning like he knows the devil’s last name. Raptor’s got a black leather jacket and a helmet and goggles you think might have been stolen off a dead Luftwaffe soldier, if you didn’t know better… Then, there were the enormous WWII rucksacks slung over as saddlebags. Where did he get all that crazy, antiquated, mechanical crap he kept? If anyone was hiding a time machine, it would have been him, raptorman was that kind of crazy, smart and wild, and when he saw you coming he’d bellow your name in a voice like a lumberjack soaked in bear piss. A through and through BMW man, he always told me it was time to graduate off the Honda to a Beemer. I could never quite give in, and after he took the ’78 cb550 out for a ride he finally figured out why. He did eventually have me ride along to pick up a 550 for himself a bit later down the road… but since I knew the him, he never gave up a single Beemer, but now I own one. I don’t think that bike will ever really be mine, and I’d give it back in a heartbeat. I tried to prove I’m worth it by taking it about 3,500 miles from Virginia to Lake Superior and back like we had talked about doing in better days.

In ‘better days’ Raptor would always offer a beer, and almost always an India Pale Ale. I’m still not sure if he started drinking it because it was tasty or because it was higher in alcohol than most other beer, but it’s all he ever had. It took about a year to adjust to the taste and even longer to figure out why I hobbled so bad every time I left his place. Have another beer, oh, didn’t you know? It’s 7.5 %… His personality was magnetic and open. He told me once, “I was looking for a party on Hill street last night, but I wound up at the wrong house. There was a party there, so I stayed a couple of hours anyway, eventually I found the right house.” That was his life, that, and a few interesting ways to keep busy. His hobbies were mixed, and always fun to be around. I helped him piece together motorcycles, cure bacon, brew beer, smoke pork ribs, repair his ’60s Volvo, chop wood and most often, drink beer. He was a man well after his time. Once in a while, we even got out on the motorcycles. We spent some great times together, and I sat with him through some pretty rough bouts when the depression hit hard, but I always thought he’d pull though, he always had and always would. He was strong enough to keep going and I believed that without doubt, until he wasn’t.

When he moved to California to be closer to his family, and get his head right, I thought it was a good decision. Apparently it wasn’t, or maybe it was… that’s suicide. When it comes right down to it, I know I only had a limited impact on his decisions, but suicide always leaves you feeling like you could have done more, wishing you had, and wondering… What’s done is done and that’s what I live with, that and the holes left where my friend used to fit. The holes that I don’t really want to fill, even though, sometimes, I try with India Pale Ale, or a cut of fatty pork, or a ride in the hills. Usually though, it’s the IPA. Those holes that are haunted with memories and a name, a face and a lot of sorrow. I want to kick down the door of his old house and hear him yell my name in that ox piss voice, and have him ask what the hell I want, his usual greeting. I want him up the street complaining about his cat. I just want him back in this world, even for just one more beer. I want to tell him I miss his company. That’s suicide.

Posted in Beemer, BMW, Depression, Friends, honda, Raptor, Raptorman, Suicide, Virginia | Leave a comment

Crazy bikers


When it comes to finding people to ride with, I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. I see regular people riding together having a nice time, but this is not how things work for me. The other day while in the driveway with the Honda, (a ’78 cb550 that hasn’t run right in probably 20 years, in spite of more man hours than it took to originally assemble.) I heard a nearing bike. As an avid rider and wrencher, my ears perked up, not much traffic comes to this particular dead end. A Yamaha rounded the corner that tracks to my cul de sac and I ‘casually’ I peeked out behind the shrub that would have otherwise hidden me from view. About a block off, I was just able to tell the bike was from the same era as the Honda. Unable to ignore the rare possibility to talk shop, or maybe just step away from the Honda for a while, thus preventing any more gas from peeing into my socks, I hailed the mystery driver.

The scope of this mistake was not immediately clear. At first, I made out the logo, not my brand, but different strokes for different folks and all that. Then, it all came together, the whole horrific picture, as proof that old is not necessarily vintage: Sputtering motor, deep ‘patina’, and enough rust to be considered a serious factor in structural integrity. Yard art in motion. A bit of acid rain would wash this thing away. The guy’s shirt too, in spite of its deep green hue, was mostly see through. I need to be more frugal with my waves… The guy pulled the clutch and his motor died. I looked at the kill switch just to be sure, but it was on, so was the key. This Yama could kill its rider in twelve different ways at any speed. With a big, toothy smile, he flops off. I should have hidden in the shrub.

“HAY NEIGHBOR!” He yelled. He’s probably lost a few decibels to the holes in his megaphone pipes. Then, he surveys me, my knee high pile of tools and reek of gas, walks right up into my face. “IT SHORE LOOKS LIKE YA KNOW ALOTTA BOUT BIKES! MAYBE YOU COULD HELP ME… I DUNNO MUCH ABOUT ‘EM, THEY HAVEN’T LET ME HAVE ONE SINCE THE ACC’DENT…” I must emphasize that at this point, that he actually told me this. This is a very honest stranger. I hope he doesn’t offer any candy…

I’m not sure what happened next. A wave of odor hit me, even over the pool of gas, and all I could think about was the time I spent in France, particularly the vagrants in the Paris Metro system. That smell of stale body that shorts out higher thought. People don’t usually smell this bad in the continental United States. At least not in public, not in small towns. Somewhere, far away, the guy went on and on about his bike. “AND YA SEE HERE? I HAD TO CUT OFF PART OF THE SEAT SO M’LEGS’D TOUCH THE GROUND!” Oh, my. Yes, it’s one of those days.

I remember telling him I’d think about his problems, knowing full well their sources would never be found without tools I would not admit to owning. Eventually he decided to sputter off, and I’m happy his battery was in good shape, it took forever for the motor to catch. This whole experience pretty much sums up what happens when I try to meet other motorcyclists. It’s all a string of crazy happenings. I’ve always wondered why I never meet any normal people who ride motorcycle, but normal people probably avoid me and my old Honda, after this, I can understand why. I guess I’ll just start shaking the shrubs.

Posted in crazy bikers, honda, rust, yamaha | 1 Comment