With Dale McCoy
The entire phylum of American men can be broken down into three distinct classes: Those who own a motorcycle (havabikes), those who want a motorcycle (wannabikes), and those who mask their true feelings (fraidabikes).
The fraidabike group is statistically insignificant and generally considered more of an anomaly than a true class. What’s more, a significant portion of this group consists of former havabikes who have been “scared shiftless.” For these reasons, I won’t spend very much time discussing the fraidabikes.
The wannabike class encompasses the majority of American males. This class consists of myriad families, genera, and species, the bulk of which can be broken down as follows:
Too young for a bike, too old for a bike, too broke for a bike, and the largest group of all… too married for a bike. Most of the guys classified as wannabikes have not been exposed to Craigslist, nor have they mastered the “look how much gas I’ll save” argument. Having spent the majority of my life as a wannabike, my heart goes out to these disenfranchised folks. With gas currently at four dollars per gallon, I strongly recommend that married men approach their wives with the Craigslist / gas savings one-two punch. It worked for me. My original mathematical calculations, using the Obamacare formula, showed that a motorcycle would pay for itself in just under 3 months. Since that original estimate, the time frame has been adjusted slightly upward. Recently revised figures show that after paying for the bike, taxes, title, transfer, inspection, insurance, tires, brakes, oil, incidental medical expenses and miscellaneous parts, I only need to drive my motorcycle back and forth to work every day for the next 73 years to break even. Now there’s a return on investment that I can live with! There is also, of course, the priceless bonus of having moved up the food chain from wannabike to havabike.
Havabikes are generally considered to be the happiest class of men. These men are divided into two basic families according to the type of motorcycle that they ride. There are street-bike riders and there are dirt-bike riders.
The street-bike family includes the Harley, Crotch Rocket, and Chopper genera. Harley owners occasionally ride dry roads on sunny days, but are most often found in the garage working on their bike, in the yard polishing their bike, or on a bar stool talking about their bike. Crotch rocket owners, sometimes referred to as organ donors, can be found flying low over well maintained highways. It is not uncommon to hear them go by without actually making visual contact. There are no old crotch rocket riders, and middle aged survivors normally morph into fraidabikes. Chopper owners ride stripped down wildly modified machines that often hurt for comfort and always hurt for maneuverability. What choppers lack in function they make up for in style. Although they are the coolest bikes on the road, along with crotch rockets, they share the dubious honor of helping keep social security solvent via reduced participation.
The dirt-bike family taxonomy subdivides by engine type and includes the two-stroke, four-stroke, and cause-a-stroke genera. Two stroke riders enjoy extremely fast throttle response in the upper end of each gear. Four stroke riders enjoy more constant torque throughout the entire range of gears, and cause-a-stroke riders enjoy cutting through retired folk’s back yards.
Like most men, I have always loved motorcycles. As a young child, I had the bittersweet pleasure of owning a Honda Trail 90. That bike was 90 CCs of pure unadulterated mediocrity on a frame that looked disturbingly feminine. It was fun to rides as long as nobody was watching. I used to ride with (or well behind) my friend Jimmy. Jimmy had a bored-out two stroke motocross monster of a bike and spent 60 percent of his time waiting on me and the other 40 percent laughing at me. According to my therapist, it was during the “Jimmy” years that the seeds of my Yamaha Envy were planted. Those seeds grew for another 35 years before I was finally able to kill them with the purchase of my very own YZ 250F. As I recall events, Jimmy would occasionally compliment me by shouting “You Show Unmatched Cycling Capability!.” As time progressed, Jimmy shortened this to an acronym and would simply holler ”You SUCC!”
I currently own two motorcycles. ( I have a great “how I’ll save gas” speech, and I am very familiar with Craigslist!) Both are considered dirt bikes, and bike # 2 actually is a dirt bike. I use bike 2 to help my doctor afford vacation, and I use bike 1 for going back and forth to work…. to save gas. Incidentally, I have found that aside from being illegal to ride on public roads, cornering poorly, and vibrating most of the cartilage out of my joints, true dirt bikes perform quite well on the street. Street bikes, however, tend to be less versatile.
Bike # 1 is a 1984 Honda XL350R whose general design and suspension were inspired by armored vehicles and pogo sticks. It weighs slightly less than a Buick but does not handle the trails quite as well. I purchased the Honda three years ago and it is the inspiration for this story. On my inaugural ride, my son Joe led me through the woods to a menacing looking hill littered with rocks, ruts, and what appeared to be bone chips. After waiting for me to catch up, Joe pivoted on his bored-out motocross monster and asked me if I could make it up the hill. I had a flashback to my old buddy Jimmy shouting his favorite acronym, and unhesitatingly answered “Yep.” Joe proceeded up the hill with little trouble and I followed close behind, quickly gaining speed while slowly losing control.
I must digress at this point to ask if anyone else has noticed that the world has been speeding up over the last decade. The change was very subtle at first, but I can no longer ignore it. Increased earthly speed has resulted in the illusion that my top running speed, my catlike reflexes, and my quick wit all appear slower than they did just a few years ago. Even the print on this page appears slightly blurry as it races by. Curiously, holding the print at arm’s length appears to mitigate the speed slightly. I only mention these things because I am sure that under normal conditions I would have made it up that hill.
I hit third gear at the bottom, and as I screamed up the hill, the bike began bucking wildly as it jumped rocks, stumps, and large bone fragments. At some point, I totally lost control, wrecked, and scrambled to safety. Joe ran down, shut the beast off and asked “what happened, and why were you screaming?” I explained that the bike was obviously possessed, and that I would make another attempt after completing a few unfinished prayers. As I picked up the bike, I was slightly dismayed to see that the aluminum brake handle was broken off. My dismay intensified when I realized that I would need to ride back down the hill without the brake handle. It was a short but very exiting flight to the bottom.
We made it back home, went to the bike shop, purchased and installed a new handle, and returned to the base of Bike’s Peak. I opted to make my second assault on the hill in second gear. Three quarters of the way to the top, the devil returned and down I went. Chalk up brake handle number two. Two hours later, after purchasing all of the aluminum handles our local shop had to offer, I made my final attempt for the day. By some fluke of quantum physics, the world slowed down long enough for me to conquer Brake Handle Hill on my third attempt. Over the course of the summer, I broke two more handles on that hill. I promised myself that the next year would be different.
Enter bike #2, the Yamaha YZ 250F. With modern high tech suspension, lightweight aluminum frame, and whiplash inducing speed, Brake Handle Hill was reduced to a slightly rounded mound. I was able to cruise right over rocks, ruts, and whole femurs. That is, right up until our final day of riding last year. Sometime during late summer, an 8” log fell across Brake Handle Hill (or was placed there by the retired folks). Once more, Joe waited for me at the bottom, pivoted on his bike, and asked “can you make it ?” “Yep.”
There is a theory among daredevils that you should “go big” or go home. Insufficient inertia or lack of intestinal fortitude can result in a jump coming up short, an incomplete flip, or an unfinished rotation. Lack of speed, just like excess speed, can have painful consequences. I decided to go big.
I am now keenly aware that the go big theory should be applied judiciously.
I had the bike wound out in second as I hit the 18” log. Note that in algebraic terms, YZ to the second gear is equal to XL to the fourth. At the moment of impact, my front tire was slightly less than perpendicular to the 28” log. This can be expressed as follows: ( Premium suspension + slippery surface ) x ( angled approach + high velocity) = rapid rotation. As I cleared the 38” log-shaped take-off ramp, I found myself sideways and gaining altitude. Moments later, one part of that situation rapidly reversed, and it wasn’t the sideways part. This brings us to our second suspension formula: (Premium suspension + sideways landing) x Rapidly spinning rear tire = (airborne rider – bike). Upon touchdown, the bike’s suspension re-launched my body on a vertical / North vector as the rear tire launched the bike on a horizontal / East vector. It was the first period in my life that I actually had time to ponder the fact that I was airborne with no vehicle contact whatsoever. I could see the 48” log way down below me just before my trajectory went negative. My landing scored low, with my head at approximately 180 degrees to the preferred angle. I have never encountered a more abrupt stop in my life.
After marveling over the fact that I was both conscious and un-fractured, I took a few moments to ponder the symptoms of a ruptured spleen. Once I was reasonably sure that internal bleeding was minimal, I cautiously re-mounted the bike. On the way down the hill I reached for the front brake handle. Damn……