Monday, December 16, 2013

The First 60 miles or What the Full Throttle Was I Thinking?

Have you ever tried to lift a 600 pound motorcycle back to its upright position while fuel spills over the pavement faster than your ego spills from your head? Five minutes earlier I had signed the paperwork for my first motorcycle. Now it lay on its side in the dealership parking lot whilst I struggled to get it back up on its kickstand. Gas continued to pool out around the engine--I was reminded of the scene in a crime show when someone lying on the ground from a gunshot wound and their blood is oozing out around their skull.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time...

I had taken a two-day intensive training with 10 of the 16 hours spent riding around a track and learning how to safely maneuver a bike amongst painted lines and cones. The class was well worth the money and I cannot recommend it enough for new riders. If you successfully pass the BRC (Basic Rider Class) you receive a certificate for your motorcycle endorsement meaning you don't have to take any further training or tests to receive the 'M' designation on your license.  You do, however, have to spend 3-hours at the DMV waiting for the damn designation--but that's the topic of another blog. I should also mention that this was the process in Georgia and the process in your state or region may vary.

Tony Sarrecchia's first adventure on a motorcycleThere are, of course, significant differences between the BRC and TRW (the real world).  In the BRC you are on a closed, flat, course; just you and twenty other newbies (or refreshees). You learn on a 250 cc bike. For the uninitiated, a 250 weighs a little less than 300 pounds and is fairly low to the ground. My training bike is pictured to the left.  The instructors are thorough with basic skills like acceleration, deceleration, stopping, shifting and turning; they cannot cover all aspects of riding--like starting on a hill or any type of incline. While they do stress to 'ride like your invisible' or, the corollary, 'ride like everyone is out to kill you', they can't go with you to buy that first bike. They do advise that your first bike will select you and don't spend a lot of money on that first ride.

So now I was ready to make that first bike purchase. I spent days on Craigslist, Motorcycle Shopper and want ads looking for a bike. My price point was 3K and I wanted something bigger than a 600. I believed the riders who told me I would outgrow a 600 quickly. I also wanted something Jo would feel comfortable riding on the backseat (which was kinda silly considering the instructors said we should wait at least 1000 miles before we put someone on the backseat—and Jo thinks that number may be closer to 2000).

I visited local dealerships: The very nice and patient sales lady at Harley almost had me convinced that an Iron 883 would be perfect me. Sure, it was 8k and brand new, but, she said, 'it fits you so well.'  And it did. The weight felt right, the seat was comfortable; and nothing quite sounds like a Harley.  However, it was brand new and 5k more than I wanted to spend. See, I was really looking for something I wouldn't feel too bad dropping once or twice and getting marred and scratched. Dealership after dealership, bike after bike, it didn't feel right; or it was too expensive; or it was too light, or needed too much work. Then she walked into my life.

Tony Sarrecchia's first motorcycle
Hello, Sexy!
Oh my. It was a 1999 Triumph Trophy 1200, 35,000 miles, with fairings (a shell that reduces air drag) and saddle-bags (technically “panniers”). True, it is a sports-touring hybrid and I was really planning on a cruiser, but damn--it was hot looking. And the price was perfect. I sat on the bike and started it. The salesman offered to let me take it and him for a test ride, but I was not comfortable having someone backseat with me.

The bike was a tad high--and it's center of gravity was somewhere up near the top of the gas tank; higher than the most cruisers. No problem though, I had my license (which, I earned during the BRC test in the rain), it was a bike and bikes can be bossed.

Tony Sarrecchia's first motorcycle
You know you want to ride me!
Settlement day came, I signed the paperwork, the salesman handed me the key and banged the gong (apparently, a tradition in the dealership where I bought the bike was every new sale rings the gong--something about an angel getting their wings). From the dealership floor to the lot where the Silver Ghost waited I had visions of myself zipping down the highway and cruising into my neighborhood on a steel horse: morphing from a middle-aged writer with an iPad to an outlaw with a six-shooter. 

Then I stepped into the Georgia heat and saw her standing there. I was ready to mount my steed. I just needed to snap my helmet and I would be ready to----wait--how do I make that attachment? There shouldn't be this much strap hanging down. It was a T, no--ummm, a D loop. Shit...Everything I learned in class was gone! I struggled with helmet, trying every combination of the strap until I gave-up and Googled it on my phone. Deep breath...I can do this. With a little effort, I got my helmet on my head and secured. Now to pull the bike out of the lot…

And the fuel continued to spill.

I wasn't sure what happened. One second I was on the bike--feathering the clutch, starting to accelerate--next I thing I knew I was fighting to keep my balance and then we were down--my turn signal in pieces on the ground. I tried lifting the bike with my back--and slid on the gas, landing squarely on my ass.

"Help you, sir?" One of the guys who worked in the dealership pulled up and saw my struggle.

"Sure." At this point, I was no longer a middle aged writer, but an out-of-shape senior with delusions of becoming a steel horse cowboy. The sales guy lifted the bike--with some struggle I noted with a dull satisfaction--and cut the engine. He suggested I let it sit for about 5 minutes. We gathered up the remains of my shattered turn signal and dropped them in the pannier.

Fifteen minutes later I was back on the bike. Kicked it into first, slight twist on the throttle, feather the clutch--wait--this is too fast--squeeze the front brake! Squeeze the front brake! Oh shit--not again....

It happens in slow motion. First the bike begins to wobble and I plant my foot and try to push the bike the other way--then I overcompensate and the bike starts to tilt--my stomach tightens but brain knows it's already too late. The bike topples past the point of no return and the best I can do is slow the fall. This time it's the other turn signal that is knocked from its housing.

Gravity: 2 Tony: 0

At that point, I took the dealership up on their home delivery option. When Jo saw me pull up in a pick-up truck, she assumed I'd already been in my first accident. No, I explained, I have a problem staying upright.

In the next 60 or so miles, I dropped the bike about eight more times. Enough that I thought I should just trade it in for something a little more my speed, like a Big Wheel (tm).  But, I stuck to it--this bike was not going to beat me. After hours of research and watching on-line videos, I picked up a couple of tips. It wasn't easy, but now, some 500 miles later, my confidence level is such that the only place I am likely to drop the bike is on an uneven surface where my foot cannot get enough purchase to prop the bike. As long as the temps are above 30 degrees or and it's not raining sideways, the bike is my first choice of travel.

Tony Sarrecchia's first motorcycle
My ride. Note the different turn signal from the photos above.

Monday, December 2, 2013

I rode my motorcycle in the rain

536: That's what my odometer read on the way to the bus stop this morning. It was a rainy 45 degrees. And I was on my motorcycle. My motorcycle! The 536 miles represented not only the miles I put on my bike, but also the total number of biker miles I had under my leather boots. It was the first time in a week I had my bike out and, even though it was a short ride in uncomfortable weather, it felt good. Almost a Zen-like experience.

My adventure in biking began as an innocuous conversation with some friends. The husband had just bought a scooter and was telling my wife and me the benefits of such a purchase. Later, after the dishes were cleared and Jo and I were lying in bed I asked her what she thought of me getting a scooter. She said, 'You're too big for a scooter; you'd look like a dork—why not just buy a motorcycle?’

Now--stop everything and reread that last sentence. My wife had just suggested I buy a motorcycle---nay, not just suggested but encouraged the purchase! This was one of those moments when a husband can respond with a wimpy 'do you really think so, honey?' Or the more positive assumptive 'I think I'll look in to that.'  My response was a bit more enthusiastic: "Hell yeah! Tony's getting a motorcycle.'  I don't recall if I did the nerd-guy dance of victory or not, but I did make a mental note to buy Ryan of the scooter a drink next time I saw him.

Understand that I have wanted a motorcycle since my 20s, but some aspect of responsibility, flawed fiscal planning, or just Jo's cautious admonition stayed my hand. This night it was as if everything lined up correctly and the gods of the steel horse were smiling on me in all their chrome and leather omniscience. 

The next day I contacted several friends who have been riding motorcycles for years to get their opinions on brand, style, size, type. I felt like Ralphie talking about his BB gun.  The advice I received varied from start out with 600 to 'you'll want at least a 1300 on those Atlanta interstates.' Shadows and Triumphs seemed to come up often as suggested brands, with several friends recommending Harley with an almost religious fervor and others just as adamant anti-Harley acolytes. It was during these conversations that I learned bikers are kinda nerds too. Sure, it wasn't Batman versus Iron Man fandoms, (Iron Man, obviously), but Harley Davidson versus the world. At this stage I hadn't even sat on a bike since my 20s, but I was collecting a metric ton of facts, opinions and just plain silliness. What did become clear, however, was that there is infinitely more to consider when buying a bike than when buying a car.  Either way, the adventure was about to begin. 

Next time:  Miles 0-60 or What the Full Throttle was I Thinking?