First Love

There are lots of things they say about your first time round.

Of those not even half of them are remotely close to true.

What I can tell you though is that you never ever get over it.

At least I didn’t, anyway.

***

My real flesh and blood girlfriend for life, Sweet Doris from Baltimore, has always joked with me about my alloy girlfriend.

My 1973 R75/5 Toaster Tank is that Alloy Girlfriend. She was and is, my first true moto love.

She was not my first motorcycle, but she was the first one that really got under my skin, and since them my life has never been the same.

***

Spring was late showing up, this year, but once rolling it came up quickly. So quickly that the internal combustion rituals of spring — oil change and a blade for my Honda mower, defrost the Toaster — all felt hurried and disorienting.

Those that know me will recall tales of the Toaster’s cold bloodedness.

It’s not surprising, really, that BMW’s first electric start motorcycle might not have been perfect right out of the gate. Within two production years they had changed the gearing on the starter from 9 teeth to 11 and changed the overall pitch on the engine flywheel as well. And gone to a more powerful starter motor.

All likely very good and necessary changes.

Good and necessary changes that my bike doesn’t have.

Add an engine hopped up to higher compression and a 900cc displacement that wasn’t yet in production when this bike was made, and you have a perfect recipe for no-startie.

Add to that a ‘starter protection relay’ that was also later redesigned — I think another spider lives in mine — and the fact that I routinely tell people that this bike runs demonstrates a high level of hopeful thinking on my part, at least after a long cold winter.

So I’m out in the driveway, having aired up the tires and turned up the petcocks, choke lever and the /5’s Aerostyled Ignition Pin.

I’m mashing the old style black Hella starter switch, and what I hear is a relay that isn’t passing enough juice downstream to really trigger the starter solenoid. There’s all kinds of bad ineffective clattery noises.

Some suitable water for the wet cell battery, some quality time with my Craftsman battery charger, and a second attempt.

“THWAKKKK. WoomphWoomphWoomph PuttPuttPuttPut-cough-Putt…

The funny thing, if there is anything remotely funny about this, is that after the first high drama event in the spring, I usually don’t have another lick of trouble out of it for the entire naked bike riding season.

Believe it or don’t.

***

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So after strapping up the ol’ Bell 500, with her classic cap style peak visor, and strapping on the elkskins, I rolled the old girl of the stands and drifted down the driveway.

In a troll through my neighborhood, everything felt good — tires right, clutch and brakes biting, engine taking throttle well and spinning easily — so I made the left up the Jefferson Pike toward town.

These days, it seems Jefferson’s days could be numbered. This tiny country town has at least 3 sizable new residential developments being constructed, and down the other end of town is a mixed use development called the ‘Jefferson Technology Park’ which I’m not yet convinced is verifiably real, thinking that such an idea is more likly some blowback from somebody’s failed Phamacological accidents of the late 60s or early 70s.

Why this matters is that there are so many excavations — water, gas, electric lines, internet –cutting up what used to be a quiet county highway used mostly by tractors that the road currently drives more like the fifth stage of the Dakar Rally than the MD 180 of recent memory. Trenches, dirt, loose macadam, pea gravel and an uneven surface to say the least.

Its a damn good thing I’ve got decent dual sport tires and enjoy riding standing up.

***

At the other end of town I turn up Holter Road, and three quarters of a mile later, that is all a bad memory.

Two miles into The Valley, there’s a sweeping uphill right, and I get in with the revs down a little, under the torque peak in fourth gear, and the Toaster just leans in and carves. The bike is so small, compared to more modern rides, and moving it around underneath is so low effort and has such a low roll moment it feels more like a bicycle. I get a fairly large throttle opening dialed in, and the revs just rise and the torque just keeps swelling up. The breeze is coming through my Vanson mesh, moving the hairs on my arms around. The sound of the exhaust starts to bounce back from the walls of the Valley, and that’s when it hits me.

The French novelist Marcel Proust wrote about eating a certain kind of delicate cookie, and having the flavor trigger a reverie of all of the experiences of his entire life. In Remebrance of Things Past À la recherche du temps perdu— was a story of how a subtle cue, a series of somehow related sensory inputs, could somehow encapsulate and trigger the replay of one’s entire exisitence.

The Alloy Girfriend — coming up on the pipe on a perfect spring afternoon — was that subtle cue, that delicate cookie, that triggered the reexperience of more than 30 years of a riding life.

The first tours across New Mexico and Arizona. Crossing the pass late at night on US60 East of Albuqueque and exiting a corner into a swarm of Kangaroo rats — all millions of their eyes reflecting headlights as they ran around in tiny circles until the bikes were too close to change course and then running straight off the side of the road. Me and my buddy Doug rode through miles of them and never struck a single one.

A run-in with a massive free-range Brahma bull on a New Mexico mountain gravel road — miles and miles from anywhere — that came out just fine but could have gone horribly pear-shaped in half an instant.

Running the fine gypsum sand out to a campout at a place we were told was called Saint Alonzo’s Canyon, where when the sun went down and the campfire light came up, the walls of that tiny box canyon revealed a Biker Genie — turban and all — etched into the wall and emerging from the smoke when he could not be seen at all during the day.

The road through the Canyon of the Salt River outside Phoenix when my light came on labeled ‘BMWs are about corners’ and where my cruiser riding friends eventually caught up.

Riding screaming two-up wheelies with Doris around the cobblestones of Mount Vernon Circle when we first started dating. Camping off the same bike with her in Sandy Hook Maryland — now essentially in our back yard — bedroll, cooler, tent and clothes all somehow boxed and bungied on.

How this was a bike I might not have today because I’d been tempted to sell on several occasions but she wouldn’t let me because it was the bike we’d courted on.

Yes, Doris has a sister. No, you don’t want her. Really.

Riding the black ice and sliding through to tell the tale.

Having a car on a country highway blunder out in front of a school bus that I happened to be passing at the time, rolling the throttle open and passing in between their front bumpers as if I had meant to do that, without so much as a risen heart rate.

Many afternoons spent sliding though the corners in the grey dust of Poffenburger Road — the glee I experienced the first time across the steam ford on Siegler.

This bike had saved my life more than once, and had given far more to me than it had ever threatened to take.

***

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Then I was standing in my driveway, with the Ignition pin in my gloved hand, silence all around.

I don’t really remember the ride back to my house, and I feel compelled to emphasize, as a public service, that I cannot endorse, no matter how much proper protective equipment is involved, the riding around of one’s motorcycle in a transport of trippy Proustian reverie as considerable maiming injury and actual trans-temporal cessation of existence can reasonably be expected to result.

Although in my direct experience, the outcome was more than passing pleasant.

It never ceased to amaze me how a seemingly simple mechanical object — that chrome tanked motorcycle — can be both the conduit and the trigger to re experience all of the most significant events of a riding life. How the emotion that it conjures up — the love — can survive a life of relationships that have held and those that evaporated. Can survive multiple other motorcycles and vehicles and trips to there and back again. But needs only one perfect spring afternoon, a country road, and an enthusiastic roll of the wrist to bring it all back at once, and to make it all feel new again.

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