Billy Joel, The Barn Job and the Long Highway — Conclusion

It is pointless for me to bore you with tales of manly man adventure involving bulging biceps and tire irons. Or how for as long as I’ve owned airheads, the only way to get rear tires removed has required my sweetie Doris to pull the wheel while I leaned the bike over. Tales of manly man adventure hardly ever involve folks named Doris.

It is similarly unimportant for me to regale you with tales of how unskilled I am at the fine art of installing innertubes in an undamaged manner, having already established my bona fides as a well-intentioned but semi-skilled mechanic.

Suffice it to say though, that after no small perturbation, the bike found itself with new Michelin Pilot Activs where it required them.

And it was no small sense of anticipation that I fastened the Shoei’s chinstrap and tightened the retaining straps of my elkskin gauntlets when approaching the final checkride. I’d been working, more or less continuously, to return this bike to mechanical wholeness for the better part of 7 months, to get this motorcycle back to a state of mechanical perfection which, frankly, I had never known.

I volunteered to run to the supermarket for some ingredients we needed to make the next two evening’s planned meals.  With Frederick about 8 miles away, and some creative indirect routing, we could really run the beast through its paces, and know what we really had. With a completely refreshed driveline that worked, fully functional lights, instrumentation, luggage and fairing, and fresh rubber, it was go time.

Horine Road leads away from my house, and down towards the Potomac River. Like all of our local roads that follow streambeds, the road has flat, technical twisties that are great if you know ‘em, and can be hairy if you don’t.

I know ‘em, fortunately.

The last few corners before the road T-stops into MD 464 start as sweepers and then progressively tighten up. It’s a good way to triage one’s skills and see if this has the potential to be your day or it definitely isn’t.

So far, this was seeming like it was my day.

Even with the reserve one sensibly leaves with new rubber installed, the S was just eating it up. The new skins were allowing the bike to change lines like a bicycle – rolling in and rolling out was absolutely effortless. Once on line, the bike held it.  Drives out had a new authority – torque was getting directly to the contact patch without the waste that the now remedied transmission bearings, bad lash and slipping clutch had been squandering.

A brief blast up through the gears on 464 put me on the top of Lander Road. Lander is another one laner that leads down to the C&O Canal, and is incredibly technical. The game here is elevation — all of the corners — 120s, 220s — have apexes that are either at the bottoms or the tops of hills.   The trick here is to manage drive and make sure one’s lane position doesn’t put you too far out into the lane where you could become a pickup truck hood ornament on one of the many blind spots. You also need to be prepared to take an occasional whack in the shin or a forearm with a small errant tree branch in order to play this game.

This is really one of my favorite roads. On a modern supersport, especially any kind of multi, you’d be in way over your head – it would be too much bike on way too little road, and that kind of big power would be a more of a hindrance than a help. But on this little goat path of a road, the S is in its element – changing speeds and directions constantly – the agility and torque of the S was made for this. After about the fourth or fifth hairpin with a little wheelie punctuation on a low speed exit, reality itself seemed to take on an other-worldly quality, with all of the things within my sight seeming as if they were lit by some light from within.

Lander Road is only a short ride, and was too soon over.

Maryland 464 leads from the top of Lander down to the Potomac River and US15. There was a time, back before Frederick County became another poster child for bad planning and overdevelopment, when US 15 was one flat, arrow straight perfectly smooth piece of pavement with nobody driving on it between the Point of Rocks Bridge and US 340.  Before I left Baltimore to move here, I spent a few months commuting over this road, mostly on my /5, but once in a while in my departed 1971 8.0 Liter V-8 Cadillac. I can remember being behind one car out on this stretch of highway, taking the pedal to the floor for a two lane pass, and feeling the Gs as I got pressed back in the seat heading for somewhere well north of where the 120 mph speedometer ran out of numbers. I had that road to myself, and lots of room to stretch out.

Things are assuredly not that way anymore.

Congestion and development have dropped a few traffic lights where there weren’t any, and even a traffic circle is now where MD 464 drops in. There are still some straight stretches with great visibility, but one usually has lots of company.

But today, remember, was shaping up to be my day.

When I hit the traffic circle I had to sit for quite a while waiting to get my opening. When the gap finally appeared, I got in the gas, beat the northbound traffic to the entry to the circle, and found open pavement ahead as I shifted up and straightened the bike out headed up the highway.

I took third gear out to about 7000 rpm – thonk!

Fourth gear bit hard and I shifted to top at about 4200 – thonk!

I leaned forward slightly to get the bottom of my helmet inside the protection of the fairing, and went to the stops.   The hammering of each power pulse smoothed out as the rpms rose through 5000. With the revs up, instead of feeling like it was straining for every additional ounce of speed, the power and acceleration of the bike picked up momentum. Things got smoother, and the power and acceleration continued to build.

As the speedo quickly swung through 105 mph, and feeling like there was more than plenty left, I rolled out of the throttle.  This was, after all, a 40 year old motorcycle, and how much there was left in there was something I just really didn’t need to find out.

I already knew everything I’d come here for.

***

I’m sitting at my desk looking at an old Maryland MVA Title Certificate. It lists the date of issuance as July 7, 1994, and the mileage at time of issue as 74,115 miles. It has taken more than 20 years and close to 60,000 miles for this bike to finally close back in on the potential perfection that it had in it when it left the pen of Hans Muth and the Spandau assembly line in Berlin back in November of 1974.

It has been liberating to move beyond spinning wrenches in anger. I’ve spent most of my free time since putting them back in the toolbox stacking firewood.  I’ll admit I did do some wrenching, but it was to disassemble and regasket the woodstove that keeps my house warm in the wintertime. My biker intuition tells me that I had no time to spare in completing that job, as compared to the pace of the work to complete the R90S.

It was 47 degrees yesterday morning when I rolled the S out to go to the office. For a guy that thought it was still summer this was kind of a shock to the system, and made the cup of coffee I skipped a lot less important. As a refurbishment that started out with the notion of having a great bike to ride through this summer, I get the sinking feeling I’ll be lucky if I sneak in 5 good rides on it before I’m looking for Heidenau Knobbies and some snow chains for my LT. But seven months of productive work to get this bike where I always wanted it seems pretty insignificant over the 20 years of road we’ve shared.

***

There are lots of ways that one can get high.

One way is for me to really kiss my mate Doris, who still playfully loses her cool with me when the rush she provides proves overwhelming – even after 30 years – and I end up knocked down to my knees, sputtering, gasping and giggling because she’s just still too nice for me to fully process.  Lots of folks don’t get to have that for 30 days, much less 30 years. I appreciate it for the unique blessing that it is.

The best champagne in the correct amounts can bring on a feeling that transcends mere alcohol. I have champagne and its cousin, cognac, to indirectly thank for some of the more fun, poorly considered (if considered at all) and transformational moments in my life.

As someone who deeply loves music and poetry I know that they, too, can be transformative – playing back whole universes and multiple lifetimes of memories and emotions that can also fully sever one’s relationship with the ground. There are songs and poems that I find so powerful that I cannot hear them without being moved to tears.

Heck, even a little herb, and getting all irie, mon, will sometimes do the trick.

All of these highs are perfectly right in their correct place and selected time.

But then there are those days.

Those days of grace where this story started, and to which now we come full circle.  Those days marked by runs down stretches of winding road where time itself slows down almost to the point of stopping, and where an old machine – now made new – and I communicate seamlessly with no intermediaries, no filters and no boundaries.  Where what skill that I have developed in my years in the saddle turns the physics of acceleration and braking, the edges of tires, footpegs and bars into something that is so close to flight that local raptors sometimes fly alongside to play as I ride. Where my emotions, my spirit, fly freer and higher than anything else I know.

And instead of being the end of the long highway, the very next time this boxer motor booms to life is really just the beginning.

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