There are forsythia down the street, blasting out their yellow blossoms and the weather app on my iPad indicates that the temperature here in Missoula will hit 80 on Friday. Leaves are beginning to appear on many of the trees. Boxelder bugs are crawling around on the side of our back door. The air smells green. Someone has already mowed a lawn. It is almost time to pull the cover off of Siegfried and reconnect the battery. Wake him up after the long winter’s slumber.
Siegfried is a dark red, ‘97 BMW R1100rt motorcycle. It is a big bike, and I wonder if it is too large for me at my age, 75. I admit that I am a bit nervous about rocking it off the center stand and taking it out for the first ride of the year. Hell, I’m a little scared to start it.
Last Fall when I wanted to charge the battery before disconnecting it for the Winter, the temperature was around 40 degrees. I noticed, in the past, that when the weather was cool the throttle tended to be sluggish and the motor would race slightly between gears. But, I was unprepared for the roar of the engine the last time it started it. The tachometer immediately jumped into the red zone and stayed there. I was just reaching for the kill switch when Siegfried calmed down.
He must be getting temperamental.
My first bike was a bright red Honda CB350 named Rudy, and he was less than three times the size of Siegfried. Even so, I thought I was sorta, borderline Hells Angel when I puttered around the University of Wisconsin Madison in the seventies. There were two or three other guys with motorcycles of the same size, some of them had two cycle engines —— rrrrrrrr-ring-a-ding-ding. Stinking, black smoke coming out of the exhausts.
Sometimes we’d ride over to Middleton or Stoughton and terrorize those small towns. When we came down those main streets the residents would hide in their locked houses and stores would suddenly close for fear of our rampage.
Later, in Seattle, I bought a blue Yamaha 650 named Toranaga after a character in the novel Shogun by James Clavel. It was a fast bike and looked a little like a Triumph 650, the prettiest motorcycle ever built. The Yamaha was a very reliable machine and easy to work on, but that vintage of Triumph, well it was a miracle if it started.
My next bike was a red 750 Yamaha that came with the name of Fred and had a three cylinder engine that remained a mystery to me. God never intended a motor to have an odd number of combustion chambers and certainly would not have approved of valve lifters that had to be adjusted with shims. Shims were something used in carpentry, not motorcycles.
Another odd feature, or lack of feature I should say, about Fred, is that he came to me without a side stand. That was a real pain in the ass, especially when the bike was fully loaded for touring. It took a huge effort to buck all that weight back on the center stand when ever I stopped.
It might have been in a small town in Wyoming where the lack of a side stand got me in trouble. Just after filling the tank with gas, I wheeled the back away from the pumps and decided to get something to drink. Taking the motorcycle to the back of the gas station I stopped, turned off the motor, swung off the bike and walked away. A few seconds later there was a big crash behind me, and when I looked back, Fred was lying on his side with gasoline pouring out of the tank. I’d forgotten to set the bike up on the center stand.
Jesus, what a dolt.
With all the shit strapped on the pinion seat, it was impossible for me to lift Fred up to a standing position. After a few useless efforts and getting dizzy from the fumes of the gas flooding onto the hot engine and muffler, I race into the station and dragged the attendant out of his office and pulled him, by the arm, to the fallen bike. I bullied him into helping me pull the overloaded, stinking motorcycle up and roll it out of the pool of gas.
I put the bike on the center stand, and then thanked the guy for his heroic effort. My embarrassment was such that I forgot about my thirst and rode off without explaining how I had expected that the motorcycle would stand by itself without support. A car will, a tricycle will, but a motorcycle will not.
The Beast, a black ‘81 Honda Goldwing was my next motorcycle, and was named after its ungainly handling.
But, I digress.
I am going to Alaska for a week, and when I return I will be ready to ride.
Yes, I am nervous. But, I think that being a little frightened is a good thing on a motorcycle. It keeps me alert. From experience and tales of other bikers, I am convinced that we are invisible. Drivers, me included in this category, do not see bicycles, motorcycles, scooters, or even pedestrians on the road. They are looking for cars and trucks, not those of us that are smaller than a Bug or Mini-Cooper.
Still, being on a motorcycle is a delightful challenge. There are few other vehicles, other than a small airplane, that give the feel of strength and freedom. Sitting on that seat with all that power underneath is to feel a superhero kind of strength. The rider feels the road and the bike responds to every shift of weight. The handlebars don’t steer. They have the clutch and brake options and give the rider something to hang on to. A turn is negotiated by leaning. It’s almost a feeling of being the machine itself.
The rider is in the environment and odors of hay, freshly mown grass, cattle, horses, fruit trees, dry leaves in the Fall, cooking add to the experience. Sounds of birds, cattle, geese, children on playgrounds, and others that would be missed in a car come to the biker above the rushing wind and growl of the engine. Air temperature changes rapidly from cools shade in a wooded area to the warmth of the prairie in sunshine. Then there is the blazing hot radiant heat of the desert compared to the cold icy air of a mountain pass that seems to suck the heat out of the body.
Speed. Jesus, the feeling of ripping down the highway at 120+ an hour. Other vehicles seem as though they are crawling, maybe going 20 mph.
One would think that I am too old for this shit.
Well, maybe I am. But, I am looking forward to one more season, at least. And, it’s almost time.