Friday, December 31, 2010

In the Beginning

Yep, that's where it started.  That's my dad and me on one of the motorcycles he owned when I was a kid.  I never really had a chance, I guess :)  My dad loved airplanes -- I love airplanes.  My dad loved motorcycles -- I love motorcycles.  I still remember as a child putting on my dad's boots to see how I measured up.  When I grew up, I wanted to be just like my dad, because I had the coolest dad in the world.

I remember telling my mom that as soon as I got my driver's license, I was going to get a motorcycle, and she did her best to discourage me.  She had been scared by motorcycles, twice.  The first time was before I was born.  Dad had a 125cc dirt bike -- I don't even know what brand, but it doesn't really matter -- and had taken her out to learn how to ride.  She twisted the throttle wide open, but fortunately never let go of the clutch.  If she had, she would have been a quarter mile up the road, with the front tire clawing for the stratosphere the whole way, before she would have even known what happened.  Nevertheless, the smoke and noise -- and Dad's concern -- was enough to turn her off.  The second event didn't even involve her, but somehow or another, she heard the story.  Dad was cruising down the streets of San Angelo, Texas, where we lived at the time, on his bike, when a garbage truck pulled out of a side alley right in front of him.  He planned to lay the bike on it's side and hope he could slide between the front and rear tires of the truck, because at his speed, hitting broadside on a garbage truck would probably be fatal.  He didn't think the odds of sliding under the truck were much better, but if you've got a reasonable certainty of death with one option and at least a glimmer of hope with another, take the glimmer of hope!  Just as Dad began to lay the bike down, he saw a third option: there was a break in traffic across the road, parallel to and opposite the direction the truck was going.  On the far side of the road was a gas station.  If he made a 90 degree right turn, he could bypass the truck by pulling through the gas station, then making a left back in to traffic.  He reefed on the throttle, shot through the gas station, then turned back out on the road.  Later that day, visiting the same gas station in his car, the owner of the station (who knew Dad) came out to regale him with a story of "some complete idiot on a motorcycle" earlier that morning, who tore through the station like a bat out of...well, you get the picture.  My dad coolly responded, "Really?  Some people..."

In sixth grade, one of my best friend's dad owned what I thought was the most beautiful motorcycle in the world, a Kawasaki KZ750LTD.  My friend told me he would sell the bike to me for one dollar...but the key would cost another thousand.  I should have taken him up on that offer!  For years, that bike was the epitome of what a motorcycle should look like.  Then, in my first year of college , a friend of a friend offered to sell me his 1983 Honda CB550 Nighthawk.  It was love at first sight.  The Kaw had been dethroned!  Unfortunately, I didn't have the money, and there was an undiagnosed engine problem with the CB550, so I regretfully passed, but I never stopped thinking about that bike.

Another 20 or so years passed.  I learned to fly, got married, became an instant parent of a teenager (my wife had a fourteen year old daughter from a previous marriage), had another daughter with my happened.  Then one day, as fate would have it, my wife had to pick up something from the landlord for her business.  Sitting by the dumpster at the landlord's place was the frame of a motorcycle.  It was a sorry sight -- the engine had been removed, spark plug wires dangled from the coils, the side trim panels had been removed, leaving the coolant reservoir exposed, there was rust on all the chrome parts.  But in my mind, it was an object of beauty.  Here was a UJM -- the Universal Japanese Motorcycle -- just like all the old street bikes my dad had ridden when I was a kid.  My wife asked her landlord about the bike, and he told me it had been his son's bike, but his son had disassembled it to rebuild the engine, and never put it back together again.  Finally, he had told his son to either rebuild it, move it, or get rid of it.  The son didn't have time to do anything with it, so the dad was throwing it out.  We asked how much he wanted for it, and my wife's landlord said "pack it up, and it's yours."

There was a moment's hesitation at one point, as I realized what we had found.  Emblazoned in gold leaf on the center console, where the gas tank would be on a typical bike, were the words "GoldWing".  GoldWings weren't quite the motorcycle I had envisioned when I had dreamed of learning to ride.  The ultimate touring bike, modern GoldWings are part recreational vehicle, part La-Z-Boy recliner, all packaged up with every modern amenity a motorcyclist could desire, and somehow balanced upon two wheels.  They were not beginner bikes, however.  Still...the price was right, and all the parts to reassemble the bike were there, stored in huge Rubbermaid tubs.  Even if I decided not to keep the bike, I could always rebuild it and then just trade it for something more suitable.  So, my wife and I rigged up a ramp from an old table (which we also found by the dumpster), and, huffing and puffing, loaded the GoldWing and all of the Rubbermaid tubs in the bed of my her pickup truck and took the whole, sorry lot home.

The next morning, I did some research and found out that what we had inherited was a 1978 Honda GL1000 -- one of the original GoldWings.  I was relieved to find that the GL1000 was considerably smaller than modern GoldWings, at just over 500 pounds, and at 1000cc, has an engine roughly half the size of the current model.  Still, a liter bike is big for a beginner, and my motorcycle time to date was limited to a quick trip around a corn patch on a Honda 80 (which ended rather ignobly in a spray of corn stalks, dust and two-stroke smoke, but fortunately with no damage to either me or the Honda) and an even quicker jaunt around a parking lot on the aforementioned CB550.

As I began rebuilding the GL1000, my wife and I decided that something smaller was definitely in order.  A quick search of Craigslist revealed that my dream bike, another 1983 CB550 Nighthawk, was for sale in Wasilla, about an hour away, and was a steal at $900.  Once again, we jumped in the trusty F150 to retrieve a bike.  A quick test ride, since I still didn't have a motorcycle license, ended up much the same as the earlier ride on the Honda 80: I ended up in a patch of waist high grass.  I pulled the bike out of the grass, pulled the grass out of the bike, and returned to the owner.  Cash exchanged hands, we loaded the bike in my wife's truck (I wasn't about to ride it home until I learned what I was doing), and I was the proud new owner of my first *running* motorcycle!  Within a week, I had completed the MSF course, taken my new credentials to the DMV, lined up some insurance, and was commuting daily to work, rain or shine.  I was hooked.

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