Of All the Bikes I’ve Loved Before

If you are new to motorcycling, or are too young to have owned more than a bike or two, this article may not be of any interest to you. To appreciate these words, you must have a few years of biking and few miles of riding and perhaps earned that road taught wisdom that inevitably comes to those who endeavor to throw a leg over for more than just a passing fad. There is a certain privilege that comes from riding for 40 years. It is the privilege of experience. The privilege of past bike ownership and of familiarity with the old. This privilege is earned. Through years of riding, making miles, wearing bikes out and buying and selling and loving each one like it is your first, like it was your last. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you know what I mean. Bike ownership is not boat ownership. Buying them is ALWAYS the best day, selling them is ALWAYS the worst day!

I recently stopped at my friend Brian’s shop to check on the status of some work he was handling on an old bike of mine that needed some TLC. A barn find ‘72 Bonny Triumph, with worn knobby tires and original Amal carbs. There were 6 or 8 bikes in varying states of disassembly, strewn across the 2 bays of his shop. A couple of old swivel office chairs with torn cushions, made it just the kind of place that invites cigar smoking, beer swilling, lie telling and all the things that separate us from most women. As we cracked the tops of a couple of PBR cans, I felt as though someone was watching me. That sense you have when being followed. At first, I shrugged it off as we talked bikes and kneeled next to the barn-find Triumph I scored months before. Then, through the frame of the old Triumph, past the leaking cases and frayed wires, my vision caught something familiar. I looked through the Triumph and noticed the silhouette of a motor I knew in my teen years. It was as if I had bumped into the girl I took to the prom. In viewing only the bottom portion of the motor, I knew what leaned on the kickstand just 6 feet away. I stood up and the sound of choir music rang in my ears. I froze and Brian knew exactly what was happening. He stepped back clearly proud of his work and let me revel in my moment. He had just finished restoring a perfect 1976 Honda XR-250. It was silver and black, kick only, black pleather seat with white piping and knobby tires. It had wide motocross style bars with thick grips and 2 round gauges with oddly familiar white numbered dials, just like my first big street bike, a thousand years and a million miles ago.

It has been over 30 years since I rode mine around my neighborhood, to my part time job at an Italian restaurant, and to my High School, where the Nuns scoffed in disapproval. It was like I had stepped into a time machine. This old love had just been meticulously restored for some middle aged guy who, as I, had lusted for such a reminder of his youth. There she stood, in all her glory. In the corner of my friend Brian’s garage, leaning right on her kickstand. All I could think to say as I walked toward her was “Nobody puts baby in the corner.” Brian laughed. I did not. With my mouth agape, I walked up to my old companion and asked if I could sit on her. ‘Sure’ was Brian’s smiling reply, amused by my reminiscence. If only I was wearing some chinos and a denim wrangler jacket, the picture would have been complete. Perhaps a little more hair and 20 pounds lighter (myself not the bike.)

“How about I take her for a test ride?” was my next thought, clearly reaching beyond reason. “Sorry,” Brian said, the client gave strict instructions. Not even Brian had ridden her. Just then, the yellow lab sleeping on a blanket barked, signaling the arrival of a truck in the gravel driveway. It was the owner, a guy about my age, smiling ear to ear. “WAIT, I just got here,” I thought. Here was my chance. My ‘old-girl’ was about to be loaded onto a truck and taken away. I wasted no time. “How much would you take for her?” I asked half in jest. “Nothin” was the reply. Said he’d been waiting on this day for 30 years! Who could blame him. I knew the bike to be worth 5 or 6 grand, maybe 7. I said “how about 10?” “Nope,” a quick reply. Surely he could buy another with my half cocked offer and pocket 3 for his trouble. Turns out he’d kept his XR-250 all along, unlike me. I sold mine for a hundred bucks with a bad clutch to put towards a used CB 750. This was his ACTUAL teenage years bike. Stored in a shed till kids headed to college and money freed up. Well done! I asked him what he planned on doing with the bike. He said he’d ride it some, show it some. But mostly, he said he’d park it in the corner of his garage and stare at it from an old easy chair. “Nobody puts baby in the corner” was all I could think.

Well, signing off for now. Remember, ride strong, ride safe, and in the end, make sure you ride home.

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