It had been way too long since my last good ride.
Life, as you’ve probably noticed, has a way of interfering in the things that most give us pleasure.
Heading up Maryland Route 67, which is a mostly unremarkable road, except that it is uncharacteristically straight for hereabouts, I found myself bottled up behind some nondescript sedan, who for no discernable reason, thought that a 54 mile per hour cruising speed made perfect sense on a road where the custom is likely closer to 80 than 50.
I was not pressing — 67 has lots of opportunities to pass, and one would no doubt present itself shortly.
When it did, I was methodical.
Turn signal on — Two flashes of the passing beam — and then, with no downshift in top gear, smoothly and gently roll the thottle open.
Downshifts are for the weak.
My thinking was that in these kinds of open spaces, that any lack of brutal acceleration would not be material, that there was plenty of space to complete a leasurely overtake.
Sometimes I think too much.
Starting from 55 miles an hour and perhaps two car lengths back, my R90S went quantum — first at one location, then displaced in time and space with no apparent time in between. By the time I had fully ‘assumed the position’ — right arm fully extended, leading with the heel of my hand — the bike was instantly beside the left front fender of the car, with the mechanical speedometer needle swinging briskly through 85 and still heading north.
What had supposed to be a ‘leasurely overtake’ had turned out to be a brutal dispatch.
After allowing for plenty of room to clear the passed auto, I gently rolled back out of the throttle to a more rational setting and countersteered the bike to bank back into my lane. At about 6000 rpm in top gear the R90 motor was in its happy place — glass smooth and willing to take throttle to spring towards racetrack speeds effortlessly.
41 year old motorcycles shoudn’t be able to do this.
All of my life and workplace stresses had been effectively dispatched along with said nondescript sedan.
Over the sound of the wind in my helmet could be heard a distinctly audible sigh.
Had this been a bad 1970s movie, I would have next been seen sitting smiling smoking a Camel.
I’d spent part of the morning in my office, turning a set of new NGK spark plugs over and over in my hands like talismans. I’d pulled the plugs the night before to take a reading, and it was clear that they could use to be replaced.
I’d pulled my old Chilton’s manual out to check my memory of airhead spark plug gaps — a memory that checked out at .6 to .7 mm. With my Dyna ignition amp and Bosch Blue coils, I’m able to push a slighly bigger gap that the airhead motor can definitely use. Maybe I’m supersticious, but when the plugs came out of the box at a perfect .715 mm it felt like a good omen.
When finally clear of work, I’d spun the new ones in, torqued ’em down, and then pulled the electrode caps I didn’t need and snapped the plug wires back on.
With my gear on, I’d fired the motor and headed for the curves.
Horine Road, which leads away from my house, has a series of connected corners that set up a rhythm. Maybe I was a 100 miles an hour short of Valentino’s speed, but I was instantly at ease, the R90S just strightening it all out — using the road from stripe to stripe with no efffort or thought on my part.
These curves were like the first few tentative kisses — gentle but hinting at heat to come.
I headed down Lander Road — my favorite one lane cowpath — jumping off bumps, taking occasional smacks to the shins, elbows or helmet from the overgrown brush springing from our plentiful early summer rains.
I dropped down to the River at Point of Rocks, and headed west up Lovettsville Road.
Despite being the tail end of rush hour, I found myself and my motorcycle strangely alone.
Lovettsville Road is a true rider’s road — with hills and a mix of technical corners — some that turn in in ways that challenge one’s cool — bursting over hilltops with the turn in point unseen.
The pace of the ride slowly increased — the intensity picking up.
I drove at corners harder. My breath started coming in shorter gulps. I was starting to work up a sweat.
For no reason I could discern at the time, I found myself imagining the sounds of ‘Beck’s Bolero’ in my helmet.
Down the Berlin Pike back to the river we went, the S and I, rocking from one tire edge to the other, accelerating and slowing, slowing and accelerating, just living in the tilting horizon and the rhythm of the road.
Across the Potomac we picked up MD 17 and picked up the pace again. With good heat in the motor I wound out my gears, and trusted my tires carrying more speed in. Through the loose stone walls of Coatesville, and back into Burkettsville.
Up Gapland Road we climbed, higher and higher. I made the blind right into another of my favorite secrets, Townsend Road. Townsend rides the edge of the ridge through Gathland State Park, looking across more loose stone walls towards the battlefield and Antietam. When it gets back to the valley floor Townsend rides between hedgerows, the banks obscuring the view around corners, raising the stakes of vehicles you cannot see, while a bumpy surface keeps one’s wheels and suspension working at maximum intensity.
Between surface, and corners, and the need to focus on being well positioned on the road and ready to instantly respond, the S and I were as busy as busy could be — stimulated to our limits.
Townsend Road drops one out on Maryland 67, where I turned onto a straight empty highway, and ran the bike up through the gears, revving high and shifting hard, and settling in to an extended smooth rpm cruise, until I came upon that nondescript sedan, and that climactic, accelerative moment where we first began.
Back at home, I found myself in a chair, boots off, feeling euphorically drained, and doing my best to drain a bottle of Lagunitas Equinox Oat Pale Ale.
This ride, for some reason, had taken on a quality that I’m not sure is entirely good for the rider’s overall focus. My manifold accumulated stresses, though, had been thoroughly dispatched, and the beer had nothing to do with it.
The Love of My Life, Sweet Doris From Baltimore, has often teased me about my alloy girlfriends that live in the garage. Its not a conception to which I’ve given much credence.
Damn her and her infallible man-simplifying instincts, though.
She might be righter than she knows.