Friday, August 15, 2014

XS750 Project Part 25: On Rat Bikes, Abandoned Projects and Moving the Soul

I took an English class in college that was easily one of the biggest wastes of time in my entire college career. However, there was at least one grain of wisdom that the English professor teaching (ahem...) that class left with me: "A work of art is never completed," she said. "It is merely abandoned." Her point, of course, was that you can spend an entire lifetime rewriting, editing, altering, adjusting and perfecting your writing -- or any other art form, for that matter -- and there will still be something else in that work that you feel you can make better. Eventually, however, most artists (writers, painters, sculptors, whatever) grow tired with a particular piece of work, and move on to a new project.

Likewise, I have reached a point in my cafe racer project where, even though I know full well that the project is not complete, it is at least at a point where I can pull it out of the workshop and start enjoying it.

Don't be misled; it's still a rat bike in every sense of the word. The seat is a 1/2 inch thick sheet of foam rubber crudely carved (more or less) into shape and held on to the metal seat pan with bungie cords. The exhaust is shot and falling apart. The bike still idles at 4000 RPM once it has reached operating temperature, although I've got a lead on what needs to be done to fix that (thanks, Gatlyn!). The instrument cluster is dented, the triple trees are faded and rusting, and the idiot light panel is cracked and off-kilter. Nevertheless, it is at least ridable now, and I've been commuting around town on it every chance I get.

As I've said before, the V-Strom has been a great bike, and I am really glad that I bought it. It's rock solid, bulletproof, and as reliable as a bike can be. I've put just shy of 30,000 miles on it in the five summers I've owned it, and I fully intend to ride it into the ground; I don't expect that I will ever sell it.

However...have you ever had an itch where it doesn't matter where you scratch, you can't quite seem to reach it? You scratch here, but it's a little too low. You scratch a little higher, but that's not quite it either. You scratch to either side, but still miss the itch. Desperate now, you scratch all over, but every time, you get close...but not quite there. That's what the Strom has been like. It's a great bike, and I really enjoy riding it, but there's still something inexplicable that's missing when I ride it.

Then there's the Yamaha. Now that I've got it running, I think I've finally found what the V-Strom was missing: Character. Soul. That invisible, unquantifiable, visceral feeling of rightness that you can't explain to anyone else, but that you know and recognize the second it's there. The V-Strom is fast enough; in fact, I've ridden it about 10-20 MPH faster than I've (yet) gone on the Yamaha. It's a lot more comfortable than the Yam. I rode the Strom from Anchorage to Seattle and back, a round trip of 5,000 miles, at least according to the odometer (which, admittedly, includes commuting while in Seattle); the longest round-trip I've made on the bike I've named "Miami" ("My Yammy," lol) is 60 miles...and then I was a little stiff for two days afterwards! The Strom has never, ever stranded me anywhere (although I did trailer it back from Valdez this summer after what turned out to be a non-event -- the chain guard had loosened and was rubbing on the chain, but I thought it was bearing problems again), but I've had to call for a ride home once already while out on the Yammy, and I had to stop and troubleshoot on the side of the road once after the engine abruptly died on me. The Strom is more nimble, turns quicker and is more responsive to body language than the Yam. It also is lighter, has more range, carries more cargo, is more versatile, and starts with the push of a button every...single...time whereas the Yamaha is a cranky, cantankerous, kick-start-only machine, etc., etc., etc.

Yet somehow, despite all of the logical, rational, practical reasons why the Strom is a better bike -- and it is, no doubt about it -- the Yamaha still elicits more smiles per gallon than the V-Strom. When I want to unwind, it's the bike I gravitate towards, even in its present, unfinished state. When I close my eyes and picture myself shedding the stress of the day, the vision in my mind's eye is me astride the Yammy. The Strom transports the body, but the Yamaha transports the soul.

And in the end, that's why I ride. There's nothing logical or rational or practical about it. It's about feeding the soul and feeling alive. Both bikes fill needs that I have, so both bikes will continue to be ridden. Sometimes the mission will be practical, and I'll take the Strom. Sometimes the mission will be emotional, and I'll take the Yam. And if one or the other bike is down for maintenance, at least I won't be caging it during Alaska's all-too-short riding season ;)