Knock on wood…
One should always preface a story about a vintage motorcycle with this expression. For all the praise I plan to bestow, I want to protect myself from the superstitious jinx that could afflict my old Honda, which I refer to as Ole' Blue. And believe me, I've heard my share of horror stories where the guy brags endlessly about his dream "this" or "that" only to be left by a guardrail cursing the Lucas design or kicking an innocent stator cover. Fortunately, throughout this riding season I have racked up several thousands of reliable miles in a relatively short time, confirming my faith in the brand which revolutionized the motorcycle world in '69. My ride, a 1982 Honda CB900C, clocks something in excess of 32,000 miles. It's no mistake my CB is a close cousin to the original CB 750, which was recently named the motorcycle of the century. So with history rotating at 5,000 times a minute and pumping a 4 note tune, I hope I am able to entertain the imagination and inspire the likeminded, while striking a common chord amongst moto-enthusiasts.
"What do you wanna do?"
"Wanna go to Pittsburgh?"
"Ah … ok, sure."
Sometimes the best ideas have the shortest incubation period. And being that we were a little short on dough, my wife and I decided to save a little in fuel by taking the bike. From Charleston, W.Va., to Pittsburgh is something like four hours. Actually, it should take four hours. I did it in record time … seven and a half hours. Much to my wife's displeasure, what I thought on my Rand McNally would shave 50 miles, turned out to add more miles than my wife's posterior could manage. Yet, Ole' Blue didn't seem to mind; he piled on the miles with incredible ease. All the while my wife was questioning my sense of direction and doing what a wife does best in these situations … In any case, we made it to Pittsburgh in time to see the Blue Man Group perform and then grab a bite at the Hard Rock Café. After rounding off our weekend through downtown Pittsburgh and the Warhol Bridge, we headed a true four hours home in the saddle.
The next week I headed east to Richmond, Va., on Ole' Blue, which is about 750 miles round trip. Again, Blue did not disappoint as I cruised 70 mph with effortless ease and perfect rhythm. There is something to be said about a manufacturer who is capable of making a product that runs probably as good today as it did when it was rolled off the showroom floor some 30 years ago. But as all of us know who have vintage motorcycles, caring for and maintaining classic iron is an art form, from ritualistic starting procedures to careful and complex carburetor synchronizations. One minute you're heaping endless praise highlighting your ride's quirky and timeless character traits. The next moment, you are hurling all sorts of slander only seen in obscene graffiti that would make your mother cry. Yet through thick and thin you will stand by your ride at the next Quaker Steak and Lube bike night. Then before you can adjust your clutch cable or tighten chin strap …
"What in the world? ... Start! Come-on! ... Don't do this, not now!"
Your heart drops to the ground. Your mind is running through all sorts of potential mechanical issues. Maybe my coils went … Maybe the carbs aren't getting fuel … Did I flood it? You curse, fling insults and talk as though a Craigslist posting may be in the near future for the old bird. Now is not the best time to be stranded. You're 300 miles from home, you have places to be, deadlines to meet, and Mr. or Mrs. "Reliable" has decided to take a nap. OK … stop … calm down … think it through … what did I do different? Nothing! Tension is building. Your palms are sweaty. You feel your reuben sandwich from lunch churn a few extra times in your gut. You try not to crank endlessly as you don't want to drain your battery. You say a short prayer. You caress the tank emblem and plead like it was the last time your ex walked out on you. Please … Wait, you've gotta be kidding me, "False Alarm" … You throw the kill switch to "ON." Of course it starts immediately. You ask forgiveness for ever doubting, your confidence re-assured. Then scanning your surroundings and feeling like a complete dork-o, hoping no one observed your newbie like stupidity, you ride off, attempting an unsuccessful wheelie to resurrect your pride …
These things happen to even the best of us!
After my return from Virginia my wife and I celebrated our anniversary weekend whitewater rafting a couple hours from home. Again Ole' Blue delivered a no-complaint trip, even though he was saddled two-up with 100lb of additional luggage (my wife's Mary Kay cosmetic collection is humongous). Yet, the trip wasn't without incident. Imagine yourself on the Space Mountain rollercoaster in Orlando, with Beetle Juice as the ride's Grand Marshall. I'm not even taking about whitewater rafting. I'm taking about our taxi cab driver who apparently took driving lessons with Uncle Fester and Lindsey Lohan. While clenching on for dear life, her driving provoked our interest in what the Motor Trend Safety rating was for a late ‘90s Ford Windstar. The experience made whitewater rafting seem like "It's a Small World" tour (you know, the kiddie boat ride at Disney where they sing that annoying song the whole time). Anyway, we made it back home without a scratch and had a new appreciation for quality driver's ed. instructors.
Days after, Blue took me round trip again through Virginia, all the while I shuffled through my iPod songs as we cut between the Appalachians. There's nothing like a bit of "Seven Nation Army" matted with a 4-into-4 exhaust note to get your blood pumping as the sun rises above the Blue Ridge. Or maybe a little Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere Man" to keep the tempo up as you clock interstate slab doing your best to locate and avoid Bambi. The worst though is when one of my wife's songs somehow gets slipped in there, like Salina Gomez or Justin Bieber. Yet, I can't deny it; I sing every word ‘neath full-face helmet. I mean who's ever going to know, right? "I love you like a love song baby …"
Even after all those miles, Ole' Blue had yet to face his toughest challenge …
"Beep, beep, beep … BEEEEP!"
"The National Weather Station has issued a severe storm and high winds advisory for …"
While Ole' Blue avoided a direct assault from the flying carnage and the friendly fire projected from the junk in the bed of my pick-up it sat beside, Blue could not muster the strength to face the winds headlong, and Blue went down for the count. A rapturous gust must have caught him off guard, causing him to break his windshield, torque his handlebars, scuff his engine guards, smash his saddlebags, spill his fuel on the ground, and ultimately add a point to his character column. But in the end, Blue was as good as new after a few wrench turns; proving his recovery with a jaunt to Cincinnati, two-up.
Toss in a couple more all-day round trips and I notice that apart from my own stupidity, Ole' Blue has delivered in excess of 10,000 trouble free miles since I purchased it a calendar year ago. I consider that a milestone for any retro ride. For all the trips I've taken on it, it has never left me stranded. And for some reason a motorcycle (even more so a classic motorcycle) has a certain way to cement a trip or adventure to the long-term memory lobe of the brain. I can only wish for more miles like the one Blue has delivered. Readers out there that have an old crock, say a BMW R90 or Kawasaki GPZ 550, probably have similar insight. Yet, anytime we throw a leg over the seat, moments before depressing the start button, there's a little whisper, a whisper that taunts our faith. It scoffs in the face of years of trusty service and thousands of miles. We push it aside as years of riding bliss flash before our eyes in an instant. We can't help but wonder, and then we realize; this is the price we pay for vintage ecstasy …