“Not under my roof you don’t. As long as you live here you’ll obey my rules.” There aren’t many kids who, while living with their parents, haven’t heard that quote. Girls hear it about getting home before curfew from dates and boys hear it when they want to ride motorcycles. If there is such a thing as a mother who wouldn’t rather kill her son with her bare hands than see him fall off a motorcycle and break his arm, I haven’t met her.
Seems like everything I wanted to do was against the rules, I heard “NO!” on a daily basis. So when I left home and was on my own, the first thing I did was buy a motorcycle. It was a used 250 Honda Scrambler with an orange tank. Helmets and gloves were sold in hardware stores, my riding jacket was army surplus, work boots were from Sears. A torn piece of tarp from the back of an 18-wheeler wrapped up my Boy Scout sleeping bag and, combined with my canteen, was permanently tied to the back fender. A cheap Bowie knife with a leather scabbard was taped to the handlebars. With this kit I was ready for a trip to anyplace on the planet.
By today’s standards the 250 was a small learner bike, something kids ride to school. Back then it was a mid-sized go everywhere, do anything machine that spelled excitement and adventure.
Maybe you did “meet the nicest people on a Honda,” maybe not. I didn’t care about that. My main interest was in the exploration of the world and finding my place in it. Riding this two-wheeled machine seemed to be perfect for self-revelation.
Before it became a political thing, wearing a helmet was all part of the gig. You locked the bike, took the helmet with you so that everyone knew you were one of those guys; one of those motorcycle guys, that you owned a motorcycle and that you were either on your way around the world or that you had just come back.
“Yes, Miss, I own a bike. It’s right out front of the café. It’s the one with the orange tank. Do you like motorcycles? You do? Great. What time do you get off work? Maybe you might want to go for a little ride?”
The helmet started the conversations and the motorcycle sealed the deal. If you were a rider you had legitimacy and your stories about exciting exploits had credibility. There was no denying it; the tarp, sleeping bag, the canteen and the knife taped to the handlebars all said that you were knowledgeable about the exploration of the earth and you were ready for voyages into the unknown. You were different from all the other guys who had cars and hung around in packs. You were independent, an indefinable rogue and we all knew how the women were intrigued with the “rogue.”
Motorcycles became my passion and I remember saying to myself, “This motorcycle thing is really great. This 250 is a piece of junk, but this motorcycle thing is great.” I could never keep from breaking piston rings in the thing. (Later I found out that it wasn’t its fault, but mine. Even after replacing four sets I never knew how to set the end gap correctly.)
The 250 Honda Scrambler is long since gone, as is the knife that was taped to the handlebars. One night, up in a canyon, I rolled out my tarp and sleeping bag. For protection, I stuck the knife in a tree root at arm’s distance. The next morning I rolled up the sleeping gear tied it to the bike and rode off forgetting the knife. Damn, I liked that knife.
That was all 300 years ago when I was a kid. But things haven’t changed much. Since then I have always had at least one motorcycle in the garage, sometimes several and currently a dozen. I just like them.
Old guys talk about how we were different, how we had a sense of adventure that the younger generations don’t understand. The younger generations don’t plan motorcycle trips around the world. They watch YouTube about other people riding somewhere exotic and spend their time texting each other about what they had for lunch at the food court in the mall.
The old guys are the people who buy $25,000 BMW GS dual-purpose bikes and outfit them with every gadget known to man preparing for a trip they will never take. I know this for a fact because I have coffee with these guys twice a month. We sit around and talk about the new trinkets they have just added to their bikes and about the trip they took 14 years ago. Sure, we are all going to ride somewhere next week, but only after we get a new GPS.
During our latest mixture of coffee and self-aggrandizement, eight BMW GSA’s around-the-world specials sat in a line. Decked out with 8-gallon tanks, crash bars around everything, extra lights and 1,000 other gee gaws, they looked like a cross between a herd of rhinos and a club rally for old Land Rovers.
In the middle of our self-congratulatory stories, a kid on a small 350 Suzuki DR dual-purpose bike pulled up and bought a pizza. He didn’t say anything, took a seat at an adjoining outdoor table and sat quietly eating the pizza. Ten minutes later a second small dual-purpose bike skidded to a stop and joined the first. A few minutes later a third jumped the curb, rode circles around their table, bounced off the curb again and parked his small street-legal dirt bike in the dirt next to a tree. They laughed and ate pizza. When they got up one gave another a canteen, he tied it to his bike, they talked about where they were going to camp and rode away bouncing off each other into the night.
Forgetting the exuberance of youth, my group of stodgy old curmudgeons with perfect-world touring bikes frowned at the curb jumping.
I smiled and remembered.
Just about the time I think the younger generation is going to the dogs and hasn’t got the gumption to put down their cell phones, I find hope when three kids on small bikes jump the curb and ride off into the darkness to find adventure.
I am smiling now, thinking about them.