I had my first bike lesson last weekend, which was significant because it was the first time I was on a motorcyle – by myself. I have been beating myself up about it for months now. Every since motoboy announced on a trip to Virginia last fall that he had traded in his racing bike for a bike for me. A 1976 Honda CB550. It’s a beautiful bike, and had a lot what I would look for in a motorcycle – its classic, clean, lithe and vintage. But remember, that’s 500ccs more than I am used to.
In the ensuing months, as he totally rebuilt it, cleaned all the pipes, replaced gaskets, painted and pinstriped the gas tank, I would sometimes sit on it on its center stand and think: no way. It’s just so much bigger than my scooter. I couldn’t even manage the kick start once it was street-ready. I certainly couldn’t finagle it back unto its center stand. It was very very heavy.
But in the meantime, I was waking up with lucid dreams that I was on a motorcycle. Granted, scootering season is well upon us, and I have been racking up a lot of miles on my trusty Honda Elite that I have been riding for 10 years without incident. At first the dreams were just tangentially related to motorcycles – I knew I was on one but I have no recollection of the actual mechanics of the thing. And as I started to discuss with other motorcycling friends my worry about being able to master the gear controls (my scooter is “twist and go”) they all scoffed. “You can drive a stick car right? You’ve been riding a scooter in city traffic all this time? It’s a piece of cake.” I still wasn’t sure.
However seeing and sitting on my roommate’s 60s era Honda 160, I started to realize I could mount that puppy. I would sit in motoboy’s garage and practice going through the motions: start, clutch, first, gas, ease. I imagined I would learn on the smaller bike and I was excited about it. The smaller bike, however, has been put into a holding pattern that is motoboy’s garage projects, so it was only a frame for me to gaze upon and fantasize with.
At some point I had the whole dream – I was on the big bike. I vividly remember going through the motions of going through gears – one click down for first, half click to neutral, then up to second and third. I was really riding, and it was an adventure dream. One of my specialties where I have to save lives and conquer the bad guys. I love these dreams because they are built like TV shows and I always win, the sexy heroine.
So at some point I told motoboy I would be ready for a lesson. And Saturday, although I was hungover and feeling a little digestively-challenged, so to speak, I showed up at our pre-arranged time.
We simply wheeled out to the grade school parking lot across the alley from his garage. We got out there, he left it idling on the kickstand, and nodded for me to get on. “Just like this? Just go for it?” Which is kind of what I wanted to do all along. No three hour talk session before we get going. He knew that I knew where everything was. I just wasn’t sure my body would respond to it. My first challenge was just to get it in gear – you can be engaged in first and ride the clutch while gassing slightly to see where that magical place is where the clutch subsides and you get a little movement. For this I could even keep my feet on the ground. After about two goes at this, I was feet up, going forward. Around the corner and back. Probably a good 5 miles per hour. But my main concern was not to drop the bike, so I rode that clutch like a bitch. Soon enough I was grinning ear to ear, going around that tiny parking lot with confidence. At some point I kinda felt like I was on one of those rides at an amusement park, where the car is on a track and all you have to do is not try to hit the cars in front of you. The thing just went of its own compulsion. My next lesson was to find neutral while riding, and try to get into second. I did that no problem, and enjoyed the hum of the engine in second gear intensely. Back to first though to practice my stops. Finding neutral in a stopped position proved elusive, so I just held it in first while I got my next instructions. We did a little stopping practice. Then a break, as it was over 85 degrees in the sun and we were being beckoned back to the garage by his friends working on an old Suzuki.
Upon our break we had someone who had just taken the practical test last week draw us some diagrams of the current road tests. Most of which I learned I had just basically completed in my little jaunt. Motoboy, although a great instructor, proved to be a bad example: not only was he wearing flip-flops and a cowboy hat, but he offered his student a beer. No I would not! Until I was sufficiently finished with the day’s instruction. Bad, bad teacher boy. But he was actually really patient and confident in me.
We used crushed beer cans as markers for a little swerving test, even as a crazy junkie went walking through the parking lot screaming obscenities at motoboy about calling the cops etc. Eventually I got hot enough and took a few laps around the lot to cool down. The result is this video, which I thought I was really showing off for. When I looked at it a few minutes later in his garage I realized it was a video of the sloooowest moving motorcycle in history. But yet – I did not crash or put it down at all, which was my biggest fear.
Enjoy the attached movie which, if you look closely and do not die of boredom, you might be able to see me grin and actually switch from first the second gear. Vroom!