Looking at a map of aforementioned Texas, finding the little dot marked "Cleburne" and the non-dot where I knew Stephenville to be -- Stephenville housing Tarleton State University -- I decided I could do with some decent gas mileage, too, for my commute to class.
Wait, I said to myself, Why not make it a motorcycle? That would be an awesome graduate present!
Duh, Self, I said to myself a minute later, Because you can't even drive a friggin' stick. You haven't been on two wheels in about fifteen years, you don't know the first thing about motorcycles, and you're all thumbs when it comes to mechanical stuff.
Well, Self 1 just told Self 2 to shut the heck up, and I proceeded with my zany plan. In addition to, y'know, actually working on school and graduating and taking the GRE and getting into grad school and planning to move and blah blah blah all that boring junk, I set about spending the better part of eight or nine months researching motorcycles. Doing google image searches to see which ones called to me, scouring internet message boards dedicated to riding to see who complained about mechanical issues the most, reading bike-rag reviews to read up on current models, scouring eBay motors and Craigslist to see what kind of pricing to expect, poking around here on Glocktalk to see what the riders were chatting about, learning about the Motorcycle Safety Foundation and their courses, and on and on and on.
A few short weeks after the move, I spent a weekend in the middle of a vast, empty, middle school parking lot, roasting in the June Texas sun (and wearing mandatory helmets and long-sleeved shirts) and fumbling around on a bike for the first time. The MSF people did a terrific job of making each of us feel comfortable by the end of the second day, getting us practiced at shifting gears, accelerating, stopping, turning, doing figure eights, and all that good stuff. In addition to being a riding course stringent enough to count for motorcycle license purposes (here in Texas, at least), the course was just fun. For me, it was something of a litmus test -- did I even want a motorcycle? Could I ever, possibly, enjoy riding? Was this whole thing, all the months of me sighing wistfully over every bike I saw, just going to lead to me freezing up, peeing myself, and then running away, as soon as I tried to ride one?
No. Especially not the peeing myself part.
I had a good time, I got fairly comfortable on two wheels, and then I started shopping for real. My old DHL 401(k) was getting cashed out whether I wanted it or not, and it served as both my motorcycle fund and our "holy poop moving is expensive" fund, all wrapped into one.
I spent fairly conservatively. I shelled out money, first and foremost, for gloves, a jacket, and a helmet (already had good boots). I snagged a Joe Rocket Airborne jacket -- and a ran liner for it -- for a great price of Craigslist, got a nice DOT/Snell certified helmet from a local shop for a very reasonable price...part of my deal with Felicia is that if I'm riding, I'm riding geared up. It's not the sort of deal I mind keeping, because I like all my skin right where it is.
That left needing, y'know, an actual bike. I wanted a cruiser. Well, I wanted a Triumph, in particular, but I'd settle for any old cruiser. I like the look of 'em -- not the chrome ones, the blacked out versions -- all ugly and gorgeous at the same time, unrepentantly mechanical, with rounded edges and classic lines, the two-wheeled machines that Allied couriers rode in World War II, that Evil Knievel and Steve McQueen flew on, with a nice upright riding position instead of being all hunched over. I'd kill a man for a Bonneville, but I just like the "I'm a machine, get over it" look of the no-chrome cruisers.
What I got? Well, not a cruiser.
But I couldn't pass up the price, and the fact that the Ninja 500R -- yeah, yeah, it's a Ninja -- has that upright riding position I wanted, and terrific mileage, and is light enough for me to learn on. If I'd spent four times the money to get a used Triumph Bonneville, I'd be more likely to wreck it (since it's heavier, handles a little worse, etc), and I'd be so damned worried about wrecking it that I'd be a nervous wreck. I didn't want a "garage queen" for a first bike, that I'd be terrified to ride because I was scared about breaking it.
So I snagged up the little Ninja. It's not my dream bike, but it's a dream for a first bike. It's already been dropped, so I don't have to worry about scuffing up the fairings. It's light, I'm sitting at right about 50 mpg, and the seating positing is more "standard" than "sport."
I started slow, and took advantage of my wife's third-shift lifestyle (and my own lack of a schedule, over the summer). I took it out for little spins around Cleburne at two am. I was the only one on the roads, and I could drive past the courthouse and hit all the stoplights on purpose, giving myself practice at starting, stopping, shifting in and out of first, turning right angles, all the basics -- and so I could do it without any of the eight million pick-up trucks in Cleburne scaring the bejeebus outta me!
I started slinging on my backpack and running to Walmart every chance I got, taking the trip down 171 to hit the Burleson one, instead of the Cleburne, just to ride. Then I got a wild hair and hopped onto 67 one day, and rode about halfway to school on a lark, just to call home and say "Hey, I'm in Glen Rose!"
That first trip onto a highway felt like flying low. Awesome.
Riding makes you a better driver, I think. It makes you more aware of what a turn feels like, what accelerating and stopping do to a vehicle, how the balance shifts, how tires can slip if you're not careful. Being on two wheels instead of four makes you amazingly less stable, and makes you know it, and pay attention to the road; to the puddles, the gravel, the changing pavement pattern, the contour of painted stripes versus hard reflective markers during a lane change.
It keeps your head on a swivel, makes you watch in your rearview when you're at a stop light, looking to make sure the truck behind you sees you and not just the truck in front of you, makes you aware of the traffic on either side and makes you keep an eye out for what spots are open and which aren't if you've got to move. Riding like you're invisible -- because to many drivers, you are -- makes you work at it, makes you focus more. It makes you all the more aware of how distracted most drivers are, how arrogant, how greedy with their turn signals and sloppy with their lane changes.
Moving on two wheels makes you less stable, being invisible makes you less confident, and being less protected makes you less cocky. Swinging a leg over a Ninja and climbing into my pick-up are two phenomenally different sensations, but before long I started to drive my truck like I rode my bike; I didn't take the tons of steel and safety belts for granted, I started looking more and glancing less. I stay more aware of the drivers around me, of the flow of traffic. I look at what's on the road three, four, five, seconds ahead of me, instead of checking radio stations three, four, and five on my pre-program dial.
Riding's good for your soul.
Riding -- in rush hour, in traffic -- is good for you as a motorist.
Am I Joe Cool, cruising down the street on a Triumph? An American icon, riding a low-down Harley?
Nope. But I'm enjoying myself. I'm ugly enough to be all kinds of visible. I'm light enough to triple my truck's mileage, fast enough that I can't help but grin into my helmet when I hit the highway, and comfortable enough that I make the 60 mile drive to school just fine.
And that's what counts.
Posted 12-08-2010 at 19:43 by Arquebus12
Posted 12-11-2010 at 10:33 by jhoagland
Posted 12-11-2010 at 22:48 by Critias
Posted 01-31-2011 at 18:43 by Bill1954