I would have to say that it is incredibly difficult to quantify the exhilaration of being on a motorcycle. In a day and age where driving is less about keeping your eyes on the road and more about how much multitasking can be accomplished during your commute, there is no comparison to the bond between a man and the two wheels he balances on (or as we’re seeing more and more of, the three wheeled contraptions).
Maintaining your balance and attention is paramount on a motorcycle and even the slightest distraction could end your ride abruptly and painfully. Keeping your head on a swivel and letting your eyes hit every visual nook and cranny along the way is one of the biggest keys to success. No one has ever said that riding a motorcycle was a simple task, but just about everyone who takes their two (or three) wheeled beauties out on the road seem to feel that it’s worth it.
My first motorcycle was a Buell Lightning XB9SL. Purchased in Ocala, Florida in 2004, I named her “Jessica” after one of my celebrity crushes at the time, film star Jessica Alba. As plain black and grey, she was a great starter bike. My father has been a lifelong rider and I took bits and pieces of his advice when making the decision (“don’t get a crotch rocket” was disregarded, however “get at least a 750cc engine so you don’t blow all over the road” was heeded). “Jessica” was closer to 1000cc than 900cc (984cc, technically), but she was in the 900 cubic centimeter bracket. She was fast and fun to ride. When the engine on my Toyota pickup truck blew up on the highway, I was left with nothing but Jessica to get me around, and “get around” we did. I rode all year long; rain and shine didn’t deter my riding. I had no choice but to make the 20-30 minute commute to work on her. I learned quite a bit with Jessica. I drafted semi trucks (not always a wise choice), puckered up while hydroplaning over patches of water on I-95, and tried to avoid as many blind spots as I could.
When it came time to sell Jessica in 2007 (I was headed to training out of state that would relocate my family and I, and taking a pay cut along the way), she had nearly 20,000 miles on her odometer. From the daily commuting to work and the weekend excursions with my father in law (he still owns his Harley Fat Boy purchased the same year), I definitely got the most out of Jessica’s engine. With the exception of one nail in the rear tire and a fuel sensor replacement around 3,000 miles, we had a great run.
Fast forward to April of 2013. The government is talking sequestration and shutdown. My coworkers and I are financially “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” as we move money around in order to see where we can cut costs. I take out a low interest loan from my TSP with enough money to pay off my car and purchase a motorcycle, hoping to ease the pain of gas prices. I jump on craigslist and start looking through the motorcycle pages, knowing that this time around I’m more interested in a comfortable ride than I am a speedy one. I contacted several potential sellers and made appointments with three or four. I liked all the motorcycles I took a look at, but the one I settled on was the 2007 Kawasaki Vulcan that has since been named “Kate”, after the werewolf-battling British actress.
When I first saw “Kate”, I was impressed. Never mind the fact that the craigslist ad boasted that her mileage was low (1,200 miles on a six year old bike is quite impressive), the picture of her and that shiny gas tank had my full attention. We went over to the seller’s house and he asked me if I’d like to take her around the block to get a feel for her. I was conflicted. I hadn’t sat in the saddle of a motorcycle since Jessica in 2007. Although I had gone through the training course and logged a ton of miles on her, I hadn’t ridden a motorcycle since April of 2007. I was nervous, needless to say. I didn’t want to look like a schmuck by either dropping this man’s pride and joy (“Sorry about the damage, but I don’t think I’m interested. K, thanks bye!”) or just forgetting altogether how motorcycles work (“Sooooo, you’re saying it’s NOT an automatic?”).
You know the funny thing? The only silly thing I did was try and start up Kate with her kickstand down (safety interlock won’t allow it). Once I had her up and running, it all came rushing back to me.
Releasing the clutch slowly, picking one foot up off the ground, then the other as we picked up speed, it felt like I was home again. Just like you “click” with your pets and your friends, Kate and I clicked. She was an incredibly comfortable ride, her engine purred beautifully, and her shifting was simple and smooth. It definitely didn’t hurt to hear my wife say “You look hot on that motorcycle” either. 😉