Pick One Bike

My buddy, George, came down to Atlanta to ride in the mountains last year and was dragging all weekend, like a hung over college freshman. I rode his butt three days straight for being a lightweight. “Man, you’re turning into an old fart!” We rode a bunch of miles and he couldn’t keep up. I did not stop ragging on him about it, even after he went back home.

Well, he was still dragging when he got home, so he went to the doctor. The doctor told him he had cancer. Thankfully, it was a very treatable type, and he’s in remission and will be O.K. A brush with death, even if it was your friend’s brush with death, can really make you think, though. Did I love my wife enough? Did I spend enough time with my kids? Was I a good son? All that stuff. Riders like him reasonably think,”Did I ride enough?” George is horizontally challenged and fits perfectly on his ‘Hugger’ Harley. He used my Triumph ‘Tiger’ (very tall seat-35 inches+) and couldn’t touch the ground at a light with both feet. Tough being Greek.

So what if you received similar news? Have you fulfilled your biker dreams? Have you been a “shoulda, woulda, coulda” biker? I haven’t been to Sturgis and tell the guys, “Yeah, next year count me in.” Inevitably, I will disappoint them and myself with: “I’m on trial that week” or some other commitment. You know how it goes. Life is complicated.

Recognizing that we all ride within a budget, imposed by money, wives, garage space, time, whatever. None of us have the exact bike we want, all the bikes we want, or enough space to keep the fantasy corral of bikes. Hell, if Yvonne let me, I’d live in a grass hut, with an attached 50 car garage, half bikes, half cars, lawn three feet high.

How many times have you talked with your buddies about what bike you wanted or what will be your next bike? I know guys who have the same shovel they bought after returning from Vietnam. I also know guys who buy bikes and sell them before logging 100 miles. (Yeah Mark, that’s a jab at you brother; nice minivan.) We’ve got a six bike limit at home. Not bad. That’s why I keep some in my office, my shop, or wherever else I can squirrel a few good investment bikes away. The “Honey, these old bikes are good investments” line works well enough with my overly tolerant wife, but a man’s got to have a limit. I just thinned the collection out a bit and it was tough. 25 years of swap meets, horse trades, barters, loan payments, and wrench spinning. Most of my friends and clients have two or three. An old Harley and a new one, or a vintage Bonneville and a modern sport bike. The new Electra Glide and the old sport tourer that is paid off is a common combo.

What if a spell were cast upon you by the bike Gods that limited you to one bike for the rest of your life? Now this will be a normal bike. No magic. Price is not a factor, as the Gods will deliver it in exchange for your mortal devotion ‘till the end.’ Can’t be traded, sold, bartered or altered. You get it and it’s yours for life, however long that is for you. You have 30 days to make your choice. Hit every dealership in town. Test ride every make, model, year, size, color, type or brand! What would it be? I slung this question around the shop all week and got different answers from everyone. I was surprised by all of them. The bike will break when it’s supposed to, consume gas normally, wear and tear just like any normal bike of it’s kind. But, you are stuck with it. It’s like having the same wife from when you’re 25 and you live in a country with no divorce. You know what’s going to happen in 25 or 30 years. Yes, those parts will start to point south on both bike and wife, sooner or later. The first year of marriage is as anything else, including bike ownership, different than the 20th year. Same with owning a bike. Am I alone on this one? The first ride is giggly inside your helmet, settled into the second year of the comfort of familiarity and the fifth year of ‘Well, she’s at least paid for.’ For those who require guidance here, I’m talking of the bike and not the wife. The wife, is NEVER paid off!

Those of you who know Yvonne know how lucky I am. A classic Latin model with timeless lines and elegant curves, just like some of the classic bikes I own. But, if it came down to it and I have to make just one bike choice, I’d be stuck in a quandry. Modern metric stuff is tomorrow’s junk. Early Harley years are classic but cumbersome and not modern highway worthy. Early British is finicky and maintenance needy while German machinery (BMW) is hard to get parts for vintage and expensive to maintain for new stuff. Living to 94 as I plan, I think that my one bike needs to have timeless appeal, both in function and in appearance. Basic mechanical convenience coupled with styling cues that will last. It also needs to have a modicum of sportiness. Not asphalt burning horsepower, but I need to get there. Japan is out. Who doesn’t look silly on an ‘86 Virago? Italy is out. Ducs and Guzzi’s are beautiful, but where do I get a rear sprocket for one in 2036? I’m going out on a limb here, but the award goes to a very specific model, make and year. For me the winner is “1971 Harley Davidson Superglide.” 1200 cc’s can get me there for the next 50 years, albeit not at blazing speeds but fast enough for me. Lines are classic, and while I’ll have to up my mechanic skills to keep her running through the years, I don’t think it ever gets old. Hell, some styles just never get old. I imagine my wife at 85 years old and picture an elegant and pretty, slim but strong old woman with a great smile and a young attitude. Katherine Hepburn style without the raspy voice! …I wonder if my Super Glide will run on ethanol?

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

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