My ability to foresee my future is subject to several rather significant limitations.
Starting with the limitation that I just can’t in any way do that renders the other limitations less significant.
I have a long list of things that I would like to indulgently spend a great deal of time doing because of how much I would deeply enjoy them.
On that list nowhere does it appear that I should love to spend hours upon hours ministering to a small motorcycle with a powerplant consisting of exactly half a Harley.
So, both predictably and surprisingly, here we are.
I don’t know where the time went, really.
When we bought the Blast home for Finn, there was still a foot and a half of snow left in the shaded parts of my front yard from this year’s DC-area snow-related disaster, ‘Snowzilla’.
What was that, six months ago?
Hell, I remember the night Finn was conceived like it was yesterday.
What was that, 19 years ago?
I keep getting ahead of myself.
When the Blast was acquired, one of the reasons for its selection and acquisition was that Finn was expected to use it to navigate the University of Maryland’s College Park Campus, where he would enter their Architecture School in the fall.
Finn remarked, when we first toured the campus, that U Maryland’s campus appeared to be roughly fifty times the size of the town of Jefferson, where he’d grown up.
For an 18 year old country kid, it was a bit of a shock.
In observing how transport worked or did not on the campus, it became clear that the folks that had easy access to mobility and parking were the ones on two wheels, and the smaller the better. I kept seeing blond preppy coeds on pink or red Vespa-style scooters and they uniformly looked like they hadn’t a care in the world.
A car parking permit ran 5 Franklins plus a semester, and that pass was a license to hunt but no guarantee of success — parking was sparse on the campus and citations were frequent. The main parking lots were at the back of the campus where access to the rest of campus was so remote that one might have to grab a bus to get to your class from your car. A car at College Park was, in short, like the frog with a bicycle.
The motorcycle or scooter permit runs about $80 a semester, and every major building on campus has a small dedicated moto-lot behind the building. Those lots run about 20-30% utilization — you can always get a spot.
The Architecture building has 18 motorcycle spaces located beside its loading dock off the Studio level of the building.
Even Finn’s Momma Sweet Doris From Baltimore didn’t need to be sold on the idea.
It was as plain as the nose on each of our three faces.
So at one point a few weeks back I found myself contemplating the Blast, and trying to think of everything it would need if it was going to become a truly useful engine and exist without drama far away from the confines of Shamieh’s Garage and Decrepit German Motorcycle Museum.
It was going to need its brakes flushed and serviced, and a spark plug, as both were likely OEM factory 2002 Original Equipment.
The OEM rearview mirrors were a joke — their selection was based, I suspect, more on their ability to support the bike when it was dropped on them on the training range than it was for any consideration of seeing things behind the bike. And with 34 horsepower, seeing thing behind the bike is material.
It was going to need some sort of luggage, to allow the transport of lunch, of a book or two, and a bag or two of groceries. It was going to need some sort of U lock. The bike had come with the normal complement of absolutely zero tools. And since my charger was staying here, it would need some form of battery trickle charger for use in the event of Snowzilla’s return.
It turned out, unsurprisingly, that it would also need a new battery, which it considerately requested from within the comfy confines of its garage.
The brake service, given the bike’s compact and naked design, required more time to get my Bleeder down from its box on the garage upper shelf than it actually required to perform.
The spark plug, a nice new NGK, replaced what really turned out to be the OEM Harley Davidson plug that had been in there since the first time that motor was started in 2002. Getting the tank off to access the plug — given that it had never been off before — was a bit more baroque than pulling the /5’s tank, but then again everything else is. The difference in the bike’s throttle response and overrun behavior post plug was as dramatic as anything involving a Blast ever is.
For bags I played specsheet junky, as is my wont. Space is kind of at a premium on a motorcycle with 16 inch front and rear wheels. I ended up ordering a set of Ogio soft bags — they appeared to be the right size and shape, and had some cool features like a two inch expansion zipper and built-in hidden rain covers.
When the bags came out of the UPS and were fitted, my fettler’s brain was spinning at high RPM.
On cruisers, soft bags are always accompanied by a fender mounted bracket that keeps the bags from swinging inward into the spinning bits.
On the Blast, that interface was far more limited, but not totally impossible. I realized that the Buell’s unusual subframe structure placed the passenger pegs in exactly the correct position so that a strap run over the top of the frame and between the passenger pegs would effectively close off that space. One Helen@Wheels packing strap mounted under the bags, and the front bag strap under the saddle and the rear strap on top of it yielded soft luggage that was solid and effectively locked in place. As a bonus the Ulock we procured fit like a glove in the small compartment inside the lid of one of the Ogio bags.
Putting a tool kit together for a Blast is a non-trivial excercise, given that the bike was assembled from both metric and SAE versions of the parts bins, making identifying the proper wrench sizes a matter of some unnecessary drama. A trip to the Harbor Freight catalog yielded a combo Metric/SAE wrench set which would be filtered down to the sizes required, a multibit screwdriver, and adjustable pliers, and some allen wrenches.
Undersaddle space is at a bit of a premium, and trusty BMW vendor Kathy’s Journey Designs made the only tool roll compact enough to fit in the space.
I also ordered up a miniature Battery Tender trickle unit, which came complete with a weather-capped connection pigtail that could be wired to the battery and left hidden but accessible wherever the bike provided cover. These things are so sanitary and efficient I found myself wondering why none of my motorcycles had them.
I thought of silly details — a top up quart of oil, a small shoprag. Into one of the softbags went my Grandfather’s – Finn’s Great Grandfather’s — rolled steel Connecticut-made funnel that was the only one we owned narrow enough that would allow us to add oil to the Buell’s in-frame backbone oil tank.
So these little projects consumed much of my time — evenings, weekends. It didn’t feel so much as racing a deadline as it did that as long as there were projects left to complete that this motorcycle, and more importantly, its rider, wouldn’t yet be ready to go.
So I wrenched on, not so much in hopes of finishing but in the hope against hope I actually never would.
But I did finish, a day or three before Finn was scheduled to move his clothes down to College Park to move into his new place, and get ready for the start of school.
Both Finn and I put miles on it, making sure all the new additions had a chance to go past acceptance test or infant mortality failures.
The bike was starting well, running well, stopping well, and was as ready as it was going to be.
Now we were going to have to see what we could do to get me ready, if such a thing was possible.
I’d hoped that Finn and I would have had the chance to take a longer trip this summer. Events like the difficulties we’d had finding him a place to live at school, lousy weather and illness had conspired to see that that hadn’t happened.
Doris and I discussed me moving the bike down to campus, since all of the available routes involved at least 60 miles of threading the middle of the DC-metro area’s most congested interstates. We ended up with them taking a stationwagon load of clothing and personal effects down to College Park in the morning, with me planning to ride down and catch up with them when I’d finished with work for the day.
That day, would of course turn out to be a total end to end frenzy of continuous meetings that never gave me so much as a minute to think.
I have a vague memory of Doris and Finn waving to me from the house’s front door as they headed out towards our Ford. Several hours later my phone finally hit the proverbial cradle and I finally had a moment to consider my little journey.
Finn had remarked to me at one point that he really wanted to wash his motorcycle. As the Blast had been spending more than its fair of time being wrenched upon and serially disassembled it did look a tad greasy and a little the worse for wear.
Being a motorcycle of very very little surface area indeed, it took me all of 15 minutes to pull out a hose, a bucket and perform the miracle spitshine.
The Blast looked more confident for the effort. An effort which Finn would no doubt appreciate.
The day was another in a series of those DC Summer Days. It was right around 90 with a relative humidity of about 70%. I got my favorite pair of Sidi City boots — an unlined leather boot that breathes pretty well. Mine are on their second life, courtesy of an old Italian cobbler that works out of Damascus, Maryland — he put on a set of Vibram soles meant for Law Enforcement Officer boot applications which has rendered them totally suitable for my usage.
I grabbed some mesh riding pants, my Vanson ventilated jacket, and chucked a drinking water bottle full of ice and a little water into one of the Ogios. I locked the front door, buckled in, and headed for the BP up in town.
I wanted to make sure I had a full fuel load for my extended journey. I was glad I had finally removed the lawyer-placed “Do Not Overfill The Tank” Ikea-style warning graphic sticker from the top of the tank because it allowed me to feel a whole lot better as I willfully and gleefully overfilled the tank with an entire gallon of premium fuel. I figured since my immediate intention was to go straight out and consume fuel at the maximum rate allowed by physics that whatever small problem that overfilling might entail was going to be a problem that would be of very short duration.
After that very brief delay I was rolling up the ramp onto US340 and ‘Dynamometer Hill’ that leads out of Jefferson. With a full fuel load and some heat in the engine I slowly rolled the big single through each of its gears towards the east and the Interstate.
It’s funny how making progress is just somehow different on big single. While things happen objectively somewhat more slowly there is an inexorable torquey quality to the way revs and road speed inevitably build.
Riders I talk to assume the Blast isn’t really suited to road speeds.
I explain to them that it’s geared seemingly impossibly high, with 5th gear being useless until well above 70 miles an hour. It really finds a comfy spot in top at 77-80 miles an hour. Which really isn’t bad for a sub-400 pound motorcycle with little tiny wheels.
Finn has put on a little over 1200 miles since we brought the bike home. With just over 3K showing on the clocks I can’t help but get the feeling, beating down the highway, that this motor isn’t really fully broken in yet, still feeling tight and not yet freely spinning. I’m here to do my bit in seeing it gets there.
Having made it east of Frederick I headed up I-70, happy for some open space in traffic — everybody’s headed west in the afternoon — and the air moving through the venting in my gear.
In the zone in top gear I was free to let the mind wander.
I can’t believe that Finn, everybody’s buddy, kid most likely to wander off into stand up comedy had essentially already left home, his sister and brother having gone before him. It will be spookily quiet back in Jefferson, with all of our children and their friends and their lovers eerily missing from our space and from our life.
I can’t believe our littlest one will be living on his own, near a huge college campus, working on learning his own art and trade, with this motorcycle to carry him around.
That he will leave that place an architect — which is good, because I already strongly feel I will need a smaller new home.
I can’t believe that much time has gone, with three lives started and into full flight.
It will be somehow sad, a time of change, with Doris and I alone with each other again. We put everything we had into our children, and although I’m not silly enough to think we’re ever done, we’re mostly done with setting their course through an uncertain world.
I have no doubt Doris will cry when we have to drive home.
Me, I can’t cry because I can’t see in the dark with tears in my eyes.
The Blast gets more comfortable the longer it spends at speed. I lope across I-70 then pick up Maryland 32. 32 cuts through former farm country — a two laner with no traffic lights — a shaded relaxing 50-60 mph run though fields and woods. I cross greater Columbia and cut towards I-95, where I Blast up onto the US East Coast’s Maine-to-Florida monster mother road. It’s probably just before 5 o clock and while congested, its moving, and I even spend time — amazingly — left lane passing and working through traffic down the road. While there’s not much available up above 80 I never feel like I’m a sitting duck, never feel exposed on this or by inference, I suppose, any road.
When we hit the DC Beltway, the world predictably ends.
Volume spikes amazingly and traffic slows to a crawl. In the stop and go the Buell quickly demonstrates an unsuspected strength. Its lightness and silly torque mean that it rumbles along off the throttle, rolling at silly slow speeds and never needing the brakes. Where my BMWs are a handful this bike is a laugh — practically threading traffic with both hands folded behind my head.
In the lanes to the left of me were two high strung performance critters — a big dude on a custom painted copper-colored Suzuki Hayabusa and a member of the Vanity-Tagged-More-Money-Than-Sense-Club in a brand new winter white colored Ferrari 458 Cabriolet. I can’t possibly imagine a single place on earth where either vehicle could have been more impractical, more uncomfortable and more out of place. If you love a car the way a 458 deserves to be loved, this is the last place on earth you would ever take it.
I could see Busa-dude eyeing me, wondering what that miniature sportbike was that made this traffic look easy, when his shoulders and clutch hand were already well along in their burn.
After a few miles of the slow roll, Kenilworth Avenue came up, and I finished my run — about 65 miles in all — down to the entrance of Finn’s new place. I got into the empty parking garage, and ran up the ramps to the fourth floor where he lives. I’ll admit that gassing it going up the garage ramps made me come to understand why The Motor Company will never die.
I pulled up next to my Ford, kill switched it and shed gear as fast as I could.
I put my leathers, gloves and helmet in the back of the wagon, and downed much of the water from my bottle.
I walked around the Buell to make sure it was still buttoned up and shipshape after having been blasted across the state but I needn’t have worried — everything was cool. I’d need to put my faith in Eric Buell, Willie G and the Motor Company that this machine would continue to look after our precious son.
The rest of the evening was kind of blur — some diner food, some groceries, and some driving around, trying to find the best routes to school.
And before Doris and I knew it, we were dropping Finn off and back together in the Ford.
“I can’t believe he’s all grown up, Greggie. He hade fun of me for crying in the car most of the way down.”
“I can’t believe it either, Girlfriend. Don’t get me started, too. Somebody here’s gotta be able to see.”
In my Ford on the dark highway I felt strongly the fabric of time. My hand holding Doris’, with a blank page for our future — waiting, expectant.
I spoke to Finn on the phone the next evening.
“Took the bike over to campus today, Pop. Parked in the architecture lot and got my student ID and my parking pass. This bike is perfect for this — I’m not going too far and I’m not going very fast. I love this motorcycle. Thanks for setting me up, Dad.”
“No problem, Snorky. Ride safe. Learn good. Somebody’s got to design me a greener smaller house.”
Doris and I have done everything and all we can for him. We will miss him in ways I cannot imagine and cannot describe. May he have nothing but blue skies, trailing winds open roads and smooth pavement ahead of him.