I prefer to dwell on the beautiful moments of motorcycling, but the pastime has its dimmer moments too. Not that I’ve seen much, I do my best to keep far from trouble, but there are stories–short ones, mind–that spoil the worry-free image I typically portray, and which I haven’t shared before.
I’m proud to say I’ve never really nearly crashed as a fault of my own, but early in my riding life, close calls as a result of other people’s driving happened with some frequency. (Nowadays I catch their mistakes before they make them.)
I was lazing home on Highway 1 after a day in the hills, still nervously new. Gliding downhill toward a stoplight, I gradually applied brakes and–
Screeching tires, clack, handlebars wobble and brake lights flare feet in front of me.
The man in a Volvo behind me didn’t spot the red light, blasted past me in my lane and clipped my left handlebar with his mirror, jerking my grip. As if the first attempt on my life hadn’t satisfied, the driver then slammed on his brakes directly in front of me, forcing an evasive swerve.
I ended up in front of the Volvo, the driver keeping 50 feet back from me through intersections as if I was a bomb about to explode (I may have).
I’d owned the DR350S for all of about 1,000 miles when I wondered if a ticking sound on hard revs was a new problem or just the 20-year-old motor’s way of working. I took a chance because, fuck, I really wanted to ride the thing on my favorite North Bay route.
The long slab ride, a necessary evil before North Bay’s finest, was nearly over when it happened. Uphill chugging, throttle pinned, nervous ticking and then quiet. The motor died at 65 mph on the 101 freeway.
I’d saved the bike from stalls before by slipping the clutch and bumping it back to life (if I forget the petcock, she’ll die while rolling–I’m used to it). But this time was different, and instead of the motor coming to life the rear tire stopped dead. Fish-tailed in the number three lane with my riding buddy behind me, who later confessed, “I’m glad it wasn’t me.”
And somehow I kept it up. Coasted to the shoulder, shook out my shorts and gaped a bit at the DR, not knowing what went wrong. (I later learned the bike had run dry on oil and the piston seized. That the DR was still able to bring me home is a bit of a wonder.)
Summer after-work evenings spent riding the hills happened more often last year. On one such trip, I ventured south on the pink thumper, reveling in empty miles of turns rushing me to the coast, diving under the setting sun, a moment so serene I-kid-you-not it waters my eyes to indulge the memory.
The joy soured lightly as I joined Highway 1 for the casual traipse north. Any slack in the throttle elicited a rapid bubbling pop from the exhaust, and I avoided shutting the throttle completely until I hit a stoplight near Half Moon Bay. Then she died.
No amount of roadside prayer would bring her back and the nearest suitable overnight abandonment lot was miles away. I shoved the bike two miles, rang up the then-fiancee, and scheduled a tail-between-the-legs pickup in town. Pure coincidence revealed a bike shop just across the street from where I planned to leave the bike. That’s how I met Wolfgang.
I decided that dating your own age is a much better idea than riding a motorcycle your own age. I should add that, without any mechanical attention whatsoever (because I haven’t the talent), the bike did come to life when I tried it with the choke pulled out fully. The bike had spit off necessary hoses and it still fucking worked.
I don’t know why it’s so difficult to get my buddies to go riding, but I jump on every chance. One buddy–let’s anonymously call him Nick–got his license years ago but keeps putting off buying his own bike for various made up reasons. So I let him ride the DR.
We’d planned to go out one November weekend but woke to a soggy morning. No real rain, just the sort of choking fog that drenches every exposed thing in the outdoors of San Francisco. Nick rang me up to gauge my level of concern. “None.” I wasn’t about to give up on a ride.
Alice’s came, slowly, and we enjoyed a lonely breakfast in the hills to ourselves. Cold, wet, and loving it, outdoor seating under gas-burning heaters, pine scent heavy on the condensed sharp air.
Back on 84, heading toward the coast, I took it slow while Nick re-acclimated to the DR. I kept Nick in my rear view, creeping over the mist-slicked, needle-strewn asphalt. One mirror check later and Nick wasn’t in sight. I stopped and waited and pondered the worst.
I looped back to catch two men helping Nick pick up the DR from the side of the road. He’d low-sided coming out of a turn at 20 mph, and slid gracefully to the shoulder just as two men in two separate trucks arrived from two separate directions, perfectly timed to help.
The DR suffered some scratches, a snapped clutch lever and busted mirror and indicator on the left side. Nick suffered a boost of adrenaline. His textile gear did its job.
After some prodding of the kickstart and flat denial that the bike was broken, the DR huffed to life, unstoppable. Nick rode 40 miles home, and didn’t complain until the end that a tweaked triple clamp required contortion of the handlebars just to ride straight.
I’ve thrice been pulled over by officers of the law, and ticketed only for the lamest offense. Seventy mph in a 65, please. The other two offenses were perpetrated on my darling pink motorcycle:
1) Two twits clogged the two-lane uphill freeway climbing out of Pacifica at under the limit so I pulled a shady pass between them. The officer claimed I didn’t indicate, I asked if he was sure, he told me his camera would prove it and he was so certain he let me go.
2) Blatted by a Harley-mounted motor cop near the office and he chased me into the parking garage. He insinuated I broke the speed limit for alleys, even though I hadn’t been in an alley, checked my tail section with a biased eye for infractions (there are none), and then told me to slow down in the parking garage because the speed limit on private property is 5 mph. Someone should tell the boys at Laguna.
One of the great surprises of moving offices into The City was the congested cluttered clusterfuck that is a San Francisco Giants’ home game. The ballpark is a block from the new digs, and the street it’s on is also the most convenient route to the freeway.
I tackled the chaos on the 250, pulled up behind a motor cop riding a DRZ400, and followed the officer between stalled lines of cages piloted by out of town idiots.
One of the idiots opened her car door just as the motor cop split by her. Clipped the front of his bike and sent the man down, hard, between stopped cars in the adjacent lane. I paused, shocked. The cop was buried under 350 lbs. of motorcycle and LEO equipment. I jumped from my bike and lifted the dual sport off of the officer’s legs, he already jabbing in his shoulder-mounted radio, furious and probably embarrassed.
My ear plugs kept me from understanding much of what the officer said, only making out that 1) he wasn’t talking to me, ergo 2) he didn’t offer a thank you. The face of the woman driver was much easier to translate: “What have I done?”