Tim Kessel talks about his love for his wife and collecting classic motorcycles.
Having just celebrated another wedding anniversary — my 27th to be exact — I must accept the fact that I am a living dichotomy. Monogamy and stability have been the earmarks of my marriage. Tempestuous philandering has ruled my relationship with motorcycles.
If I were to recount the full list of motorcycles that have spent time in my garage, it would read with the same seeming endlessness of the biblical “begats” in the Old Testament. Rest assured, I will only recount a few of my 2-wheeled trysts. Since this is an exploration of my double life, I will start with the first motorcycle that involved my then-future wife.
The year was 1979, and I had $350 burning a hole in my Levi’s 501s. I was 18, and fully enamored with the tiny ball of fire, Cheryl. I threw a couple of tie-downs in the back of my dad’s old Ford truck and headed with Cheryl (clad in her cutoffs and halter top) south from northern Arizona to Phoenix to buy a dirtbike. I visited several used motorcycle shops, and was starting to get frustrated. My $350 was beginning to look woefully inadequate. However, near the end of that hot Phoenix summer day, I found a race-worn 1976 Suzuki RM250. After a spin around the sweltering parking lot, I was sold. The loud, smoky, unruly 2-stroke was going to be mine.
I offered the salesman $300, and with a smirk, he accepted. I was so blinded by passion that I promptly handed him all $350 and was ready to load up the bike. It was Cheryl who whispered to me that I had just over paid. Embarrassed, I asked the guy for my $50 and headed back home.
What could be better? I had a sun-tanned beauty sitting beside me in that Ford — her blonde hair dancing in the open-windowed breeze. In the rear-view mirror, the RM’s blonde tank glistened in the Arizona sun. This was an 18-year-old’s version of heaven.
The next year, Cheryl and I enrolled at Northern Arizona University. I sold the RM and bought a 1975 Honda 550 four. Cheryl still sports a burn scar on her calf courtesy of that Honda’s right muffler. We married before our senior year of college. We both knew what we wanted, and it has worked — love, friendship and monogamy.
Back to the dichotomy. Through more than a quarter century of marriage, I have had affairs with dozens of motorcycles. Some were short flings that flamed out quickly. The Norton Commando was beautiful, but incompatibility doomed the relationship. I think my instep still hurts from kickstarting the old Yamaha XS650. My 6-foot 3-inch frame looked like a parade Shriner on the Ducati 900 CR. The Kawasaki ZX10 (with stage 3 jetting) was an exciting exercise in frustration.
Some of the affairs lasted a bit longer. The pearl white 1987 Honda VFR 700 was almost too accommodating. The silver 1985 BMW K100 was a long-trip lover. The jet black Triumph Speed Triple 900 was my longest motorized relationship. However, while I was trying to stay faithful to the Triple, my eyes were always wandering.
I have gone to great lengths to satisfy my infidelity. I have driven 600 miles to Salt Lake City for a BMW GS-PD. I have delivered a pristine BMW R100 to Albuquerque to free up funds for a Moto Guzzi. I bought a Triumph Sprint ST on eBay and had it shipped from Montana like a mail-order bride.
Through all of this, there has been Cheryl. She is not a motorcyclist, and is only an occasional passenger on any of my motorcycles. I know it may be hard for her to understand my lifelong obsession with motorcycles, much less my seeming quest to own every make and model known to man. However, through all of this she has, without questioning, endured stacks of motorcycle magazines, Cycle Traders and newspaper classified sections with targets circled.
Self assessment is in order. I am a faithful and attentive husband, and I am a hopelessly philandering motorcyclist. It is a running joke with my neighbors as to what motorcycle I’ll roll out of the garage on a Sunday morning. However, it is always the same woman walking out the front door to pick up the morning paper.
Where is the lesson in all of this? It may be that symbiosis is best achieved when there is a clear understanding of root differences. All I know is there is a Kawasaki in the garage that should be worried, and a woman on the front porch who isn’t.