Everybody has got to start somewhere.
And usually, if you’re living in America, and you are getting your start as a motorcyclist, odds are that start involves some form of slightly beat, slightly old Japanese motorcycle that nobody else wanted.
If your experience was somehow less humble than that, well good on ya, mate — kiss your keys and thank the fates but that’s how mine was.
That’s how my buddy Paul’s was, too.
Of course it bears mention that when I came to my CB750 I was 22.
When Paul came to his I’m thinking it was about 30 years or so later than that.
But no matter.
I’d been riding for close to those 30 years when Paul asked me for a favor.
“Maaan. Dave has been overseas for close to 2 years. He stored this old Honda in my garage.”
“I’ve been riding it.”
“I’ve been riding motorcycles off and on since I was in High School, but I never got a motorcycle license.”
“I figure its time to get legal.”
“There’s a special ‘amnesty’ accelerated Rider Course and Road Test program up at the DMV Saturday — could you ride Dave’s Honda up there and sign me in to certify I didn’t drive the bike to the test?”
I told Paul I’d be happy to.
The appointed Saturday arrived — a perfect clear and cool early summer morning — and Paul showed up in my driveway with The CB.
My old CB had been one of the early 70s Single Cam models — you know, one of the ones that only an idiot would have sold?
Let’s not talk about what happened to mine.
Dave’s machine looked to be about a 79 — a twin cam, but still recognizable in every way, from the slab sided tank, to the saddle with a grab strap, to the twin instrument pod, to the four into four exhaust.
I tossed Paul the keys to my pickup.
I fastened my helmet and gloves on, swung a leg over, and then callendar pages flew around my head in an invisible wind, and it was somehow 1982 again. It was magically as if I had never gotten off of my old CB.
I swear my hair felt longer.
On the 10 miles of highway headed up to the DMV everything was instantly familiar.
Kinda floaty and indistinct suspension. Really small, low effort control inputs including clutch and gearshift activation Smooth, revvy engine with just a hint of chainsaw buzz in the bars and exhaust note.
The DMV came up faster than usual, and the minute I hit the killswitch and the sidestand time telescoped forward back to 2012.
Paul and I fived and then swapped keys.
I gave a look back over my shoulder at the CB as Paul went inside to do the paperwork and classroom work, then I walked back to my truck and drove slowly home.
At about 4:30 that afternoon, I heard the sound of the CB’s 4 shutting off in the end of my driveway.
I walked outside to see Paul removing his helmet and pulling a six back out of the carrier fitted to the bike’s luggage rack.
“Did you get the paper?”
In fact of 22 guys in the class, Paul was the only one who had gotten the paper.
He was more than a little pleased with himself.
Hence the enjoyment of the beers that followed.
During said enjoyment we spent some time wandering through my garage.
We came up to my old /5, which was dusty, and dirty, and punctuated by oil.
“Damn, these things are so cool.”
It might have been that beer talking, but it seems Paul had seen the light.
“Look, man. Put some miles on, now that you’re legal, and when you feel comfortable, come take it for a ride.”
That motorcycle had changed my way of thinking once. Least I could do was pass it on.
Paul didn’t need me to tell him to put some miles on. Everywhere I went in the county over the next month I saw Paul twisting throttle and leading with his chin obliquely into the wind.
He looked like he was having fun.
A coupla Satudays later, I heard that sound of a Honda 4 shutting off, and headed outside again.
“Wanna ride your bike, Maaaan.”
“Cool. I’ll grab the key.”
Now a /5 ignition key is a bit of a visual shock if you’ve never seen one before.
I got Paul in the saddle, inserted said key and and talked him through the controls.
Lights, indicators, horn.
I told him about the dry clutch, and that was it.
“Take a real ride, man. Don’t feel you have to come back till you want to. Enjoy!”
And with that lovely little boxer twin blaat, Paul was off.
I’ve had the /5 since I was 22.
I’d be lying if I stated I was not concerned in any way.
You know what I’m talking about.
But I got myself preoccupied with something else, and some time went by.
I was sitting out on the front porch when Paul pulled the /5 back into the driveway.
Something about him looked…
It took a few minutes for my brain to slowly model the truth out of large random group of possibilities.
Pauls left leg, and Paul’s left sneaker looked, well, dark. Very dark.
Kind of an oily black.
The dry clutch of my brain finally bit as I saw the left exhaust pipe visibly smoking and the darkening of a fair amount of oil down the whole left side of the bike.
“Whooooooooah!” came out of Paul and soon as Paul came out of the helmet.
“I’m smokin! What happened?”
You can’t tell people everything, cause one has to edit for length.
When one bolts a high compression 900 cc top end on to a crankcase whose breathing system couldn’t really keep up with anything over 650, you’re going to notice some things over time. One of those things that will happen is that the dipstick handle on the left side of the motor will be vibrated loose.
You’ll be riding along, and you’ll hear something that sounds like a tiny little bell.
The ringing sound translates directly to the dipstick vibrating in the case as it begins the process of backing out.
If you look down behind your left knee to see this, one just reaches down, tightens it back up and then it doesn’t do it again for weeks, or months, or whatever.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination of course, to figure out how I came by this valuable piece of knowledge.
Problem was, I hadn’t told Paul.
We got him kinda hosed off, provided some loaner pants, and determined that there was enough oil left in the /5’s crankcase that the total downside consisted of the need to move up the /5’s one a decade wash time.
I apologised profusely, Paul Hondaed off, and I’ll admit I didn’t think very much more about it.
One could be forgiven for thinking that this narrative consists of some boring bits connecting these peak experience moments of truth and clarity that always take place in the presence of beer.
It is not your imagination.
Anyway, flash cut more than 2 years later to the grounds of Frederick’s Flying Dog brewery. They’re having a party with J. Roddy Walston and the Business, a band that bused two buses worth of fans out from Baltimore. There’s about 18 different draft beers, 7 food trucks and me and Doris, and Paul and his lady Beth.
We are having a good time.
In fact, never have a seen so many people in the presense of so much beer have such an unfailingly positive vibe kinda experience.
Everybody was on their best behavior.
At one point the talk turned to bikes, and Paul waved his beer at me.
“That time I took your bike….That was frickin’ awesome. After coming off that Honda it just felt so small, and simple, and like it was just made outta one piece of metal. It just tracked.”
“I connected immediately.”
“At a certain point, it started getting a little loose on the gas, but it was soooooo controllable. I just thought it was just part of the experience.”
“Until I didn’t”.
“Cost me a nice pair of jeans and a pair of sneakers, too. Had to throw em out.”
“After I took that ride, I had to get off that Honda.”
“I went right out afterward and bought my Bonneville.”
“I had to. You Bastard.”
I’m really sorry about that, Paul. It did it to me, too
Guess I didn’t tell you about that, either.