on the bike again
It was one of those things: yer hangin’ out havin’ a few pops and somebody asks if you’d be interested in doing something that at the time might not seem so crazy-I’ve committed to going bungee-jumping and skydiving in the past while under the influence and when reminded later—when stone cold sober– I denied ever having consented. I’m sure you’ve done that, right? Hasn’t every body?
So I was at the Cowboy Palace and Jeff Yapp asks me if I can ride a motorcycle-and I can, it’s just been a verrry long time-and I say (truthfully) “I grew up on one,” Which is accurate and it’s also accurate to note that I have not sat on motor-driven cycle of any kind (outside of an ATV which I nearly killed myself on in Canada in 2002, but that’s another story) in many, many years and I have never held a license to do so.
But Jeff is riding to/at Sturgis w/ Toby and maybe some of Toby’s business people and this (at least come tax return time) would be a business trip and would I like to go?
Under the influence of a few Budweiser’s “HELL YEAH.”
Now the next day the logistics of the whole undertaking seem a lil’ insurmountable, I’m in L.A. at the moment. I’m on my way to NY, and I’m a TN resident…that’s’ one consideration, the next consideration is I haven’t sat on a motorized cycle in????…the time it will take to get Sturgis is another and the cost of doing it is a biggie; actually at first it’s my biggest concern and then I’m thinking “how can I afford NOT to go?”
So I fly to NY and I get to my mom’s and I do some research on-line and make some calls and the folks atGowanda Harley in NY are very helpful but NO I can’t just get a license in NY if I live in TN and that becomes the major issue and I wonder if I can’t just be a bandit on this thing and NO, that won’t work. I can’t rent one like that and If I did and there were problems I’d lose my house so I call Boswells in Nashville and yes, they can get me licensed if I go one-on-one with and instructor and again cost is an issue and again “how can I afford NOT to go?” So I sign up for one-on-one with their guy and I call Black Hills Harley and I reserve a bike and I get plane flights and I’m all set. Or so I think.
I get back to Nashvegas late Monday night. Motorcycle school is the next morning It starts raining during the night and I’m thinking they’ll cancel class and with no time left to get a license I’ll be royally screwed: the plane, the bike is paid for (or I should say it’s been charged to my credit card) and If I can’t get certified in the next two days I can kiss my money goodbye. The weather in the morning has not improved. This ain’t heavy rain but it’s steady rain, I’m thinking the class won’t happen, but they call me at noon and say to show up at one regardless of the rain.
So, did I mention I haven’t been on a motorcycle in a loooong time?
I would have liked to have gotten in a lil bike-time time before I split NY. Randy’s buddy Bumby has a Honda he’ll let me ride, but the weather there was god awful in the days before I headed back to TN and it didn’t happen. Joe D has a dirt bike but I’m not comfortable asking him to let me play on it. So I’m getting on a big bike (or so I expect) and I’m doing it cold.
I show up to Boswell and Kelly-in-charge-of Riders-edge takes care of hookimng me up with gloves and a helmet-I could go cheep or I could go hip-I opt for hip. And I start doing the math and WOW…I better have some fun on this trip is all I know. The “hip” helmet is so much smaller, why does it cost more? And I’m not a clothes hog but they’ve got a pair of steel-toe biker boots that are just bad-ass looking and I ask to try ‘em on and they’re comfortable as hell so, what’s another buck-and-a-half?
MAN, I better have fun.
Kelly introduces me to James, my instructor. James himself has opted for SAFE in his riding attire: full face helmet, orange reflecting rain wear (very heavy duty) florescent chartreuse long-sleeve shirt that says “can you see me NOW?”
James is from California, is a musician himself and is very enthusiastic about his job. He asks me a lot of questions we talk about Merle Haggard and he and offers a lot of advice and I nod my head and say “yup” alot and we take baby steps with the throttle and the clutch as though I’ve never ever been on a bike before. It’s a matter of finding and finessing the clutch’s friction-zone while adding throttle and getting a sense for what the engine is doing. This stuff all comes back like yesterday. After a few exercises designed to deconstruct the whole throttle/clutch thing I’m allowed to get’r moving and put both feet on the pegs. Again, it all comes back like it was yesterday. I was worried that maybe I wouldn’t remember or sense when it’s the right time to shift-more like I knew it and felt it right away. And it all good, except, did I mention I grew up riding dirt bikes?
Did I mention I haven’t been on one in a loooong time?
James starts putting me through the paces out there in the rain: clutch control, brake control, balance control, and again, it’s all pretty good and pretty natural. A few times I turn the bike around tight and counterweight without really even thinking about it and its like “you’re a natural” and I end the day on a high note after hours of riding around the parking lot. The next day I return with a lot of confidence and we start off where we left off and it’s like I’d forgotten everything I’d learned the day before and now I can’t make the tight turns with out dropping my feet off the pegs and I get frustrated and tighten up and my previously great form all goes to shit. I’m trying to make these figure eights and I’m over thinking it and I know it and it’s fun either way but I’m swearing under my breath and finally I try to cut a tight left turn on a slight grade at slow speed and I lock up the front break and drop the bike right there. Signal broken. Me just fine.
“What happened?” say James. Not mad, just patient.
“Um, I was trying to establish the performance parameters of this machine..and now I think I know what they are.”
Again, I’m overthinking. I’m trying to recall what it was like when I was such a little kid and my dad bought home that Honda 125 and set me up on it. How the hell do you teach an eight year old how to shift gears? My father would hold the handle bars for me and steady the bike as I gained speed and then LET GO. I’d ride around the field behind our cottage and when I wanted off I’d ride by and he’d grab the handlebars back and hop on.
Did I mention what a cool dad Big Bill was?
I remember him teaching me to give’r gas going up and throttle down going down. Use the back break when you have to and the front break when you need to, Listen to the engine, pull in the clutch and kick her up with the left foot when she revs and let that clutch out gentle.
I was EIGHT.
Now here I am many, many years later and there’s probably a lot that James dissected in my technique that Big Bill would have never picked apart, but then who cares if you dump a dirt bike? After hours and hours of practice James tells me I’m ready and it’s time to go through the course with the clip board and I manage to pass the test with only one li’l glitch (so I crossed the line a little on the figure- eight?) . And I take the written test and ace it and I go right to the DMV and get my license and I’m sitting here in Kansas City waiting to go onstage and I’m looking at the knap-sack I’ve got packed in the back and the helmet and the boots and that biker jacket that I’ve had forever that I’m actually going to wear riding a motorcycle, and it’s like HOLY SHIT I’m really going to Sturgis the day after tomorrow..and I’m getting on a Harley and riding halfway across Montana by myself.
I must be friggin’ nuts.
I bet Big Bill’s proud.
P.O. Box 160780
Nashville, TN 37216-0780
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