If you’re like me, you’ve gotta have a reason.
It doesn’t have to be a good reason — it can even be a lame, no-good, pitifully transparent reason.
It can start with the simple — “We’re outta milk — I gotta go up to the market to get some…” — but the list of things you can run out of is effectively endless.
Money. Stamps. Ice cream and chips. Beer. Maybe beer again. Auto parts. A quart of oil.
You don’t feel like cooking and you need a taco, or a sandwich.
The ones that appear compelling are running short.
Double A batteries. Number 10 1 inch long stainless steel wood screws. Flux capacitor shims.
You gots to get a pack of Camel filters. From a tobacconists in Butte, Montana.
And you don’t even smoke.
Yeah, if you live with somebody, and you want to ride your motorcycle, it seems some form of a point of honor to have some form of logical and practical explanation for why you will ride your motorcycle.
It would seem far more emotionally and intellectually honest to just come out and admit that the only real reason is just because you want to and expect to enjoy riding your motorcycle, but humans are funny critters, sometimes.
So we dance around the truth, spend a lot of awkward and inappropriate time staring down at our shoes, and do everything possible to avoid talking about the important things that make us tick.
Yeah, humans are funny critters. Mosttimes.
So the notion of a motorcycle ride that requires no external justification — a thing that exists for no reason other than joy in the thing itself — seems like kind of a golden gift.
In in the newfound quiet of my house, that gift was exactly what I found.
Finn was newly split, in his place down near College Park.
Sweet Doris from Baltimore was consorting with hippies, protesting new and destructive proposed methods of petrochemical energy extraction, operating out of her little camper in Maryland’s Western Mountains of Garrett County.
The temperature had finally fallen — with our string of 100 plus degree feeling 90 plus degree days finally yielding to a far more moderate dry and breezy day in the low 80s. Humidity down, sun out, how could one want to do anything but ride?
So ride I did.
Some people set aside time in their day to go to the gym.
I do this.
I can think of nothing more restorative, more inner peace-producing.
So I grabbed my ventilated leathers — I’m noticing the cuffs of the jacket need moisturization lately from overexposure to salt — and my Shoei and gloves.
I rolled the S backwards out of the garage, swung a leg over, opened a fuel petcock, the choke, and gave this old boxer the finger.
After its recent tune-up-let the bike catches on the second compression stroke, and commences a solid idle, even as I roll off the enrichener.
I give a shove with my left leg, roll down the driveway, and toe the bike silently while rolling into gear. (Try shifting into first with a cold airhead when stationary and let me know how silent that method is.)
I bank the bike left into Brockton Drive, roll open the throttle, and head for the open road.
A lot of times, riding around the valley, a single car where it shouldn’t be — i.e. in front of you, daddio — can put paid to the flow and rhythm of an entire ride.
Today just didn’t feel like one of those days. My luck — with regard to the time of day I selected for this mini-vacation — seemed nearly perfect: too late for lunch and too early for commuters headed home from work. The roads seemed spookily empty on this late August afternoon — it seemed like I had the whole joint to myself.
I head straightaway for Lander Road. If you have an analog motorcycle, and are looking to see just how its feeling, on Lander the Doctor Is In. Lander is narrow, bumpy — sightlines are marginal to non-existent. There are a few positively hairball transitions. The throttle is always either opening or closing — the suspension is always moving at both ends of the bike — engine response and suspension compliance are being concurrently exercised and demonstrated.
This is probably a perfect road for a KTM 390 Duke. On a 1000cc sporting twin, it’s a matter of some delicacy and restraint.
If either the bike or the rider are even a tick off in such tight confines, it’s as easy to see as the ‘Goodyear’ on the side of that blimp, bro.
Today, though, no blimp, no message.
Everything was big boxer smooth sailing.
Coming back up to the highway, I made a full stop and scanned both left and right.
Desolation. Such a rare thing, a thing to be savored these days.
I ran the S deliberately up through the gears, spinning the big motor out through 6 grand of the bike’s 7K redline, me in the zone and focused hard on technique — being precise with the throttle and clutch and being rewarded with hammer on steel spike ringing thonking shifts. I reached top gear for the first time and promptly ran out of room — having to downshift back to fourth to engine brake through the signals and cross the Point of Rocks Bridge across the Potomac and into Virginia. Two more downshifts set us up for the sharp right bank onto Lovettsville Road, and the run up the river.
The high sunshine is filtered through the trees on this road, and the first 3 miles or so are well shaded, as one works sweeping lefts and rights as you climb away from the river. The rhythm of steep uphill lefts and rights encourage liberal use of throttle, and allow one to set the bike on the edges of its Michelins.
The intermediate section of Lovettsville Road cuts back and forth along old property lines — threading the edges of the old farms and estates. There are a few hilltop apexes that would be hard to read if it was your first time down this road.
As the road comes into Lovettsville there is a very, very long straight. It is the only legal passing zone and it is there I encounter the first and last 4-wheeled motorist of the day. My position, speed of approach and visibility are perfect — I line my soon to be ex-friend up, put on my turn signals, flash to pass and roll the throttle with no downshift and simply boost smoothly and safely past.
I bleed the speed off from the pass and then downshift to set up for the tight technical bang bang right left that carries the road onto the Main Street of town. My entry is perfect, I’m on the gas early and working the edge of the tires.
It never ceases to amaze me that such an old motorcycle can feel — both motor and cycle parts — so rigid and of a piece. It doesn’t make any sense that a featherbed knock-off made of steel pipes and this huge lump of alloy should feel and work so solidly, but it’s solid just the same.
I filter through the village, and make the right onto Berlin Pike. I’ve no contention or traffic at any of the Stops, and then we’re rolling back down the hill toward the river.
Professional bicycle races have been known design their courses around the next stretch of The Pike. One motorcycle run down this road and its easy to understand just why they did that. Some bicycle descents are narrow, technical. Loss of traction represents the ultimate hazard. The Pike, though, is different. The hill is steep, the highway is modern — with properly graded, wide, sweeping corners.
As a bicycle racer, this is a rare opportunity to descend as fast as one can in as safe an environment as one ever gets when one is flinging one’s ass down a macadam road at 70 miles an hour wearing little but stretchy underpants.
As a motorcycle rider, The Pike is like a moto-amusement park somebody built just for you. The only thing missing is a place to put your quarters in at the top of the ride so you could do it again and again and again.
So I take the ride.
Most days on The Pike I avail myself of the legal passing zone on the straight descent out of town but by now you know in your soul there is no one to pass.
So I find myself a comfy place with the revs up in 4th gear and give and take speed with the throttle — entrances off the brakes and engine braking and exits rolling back on the gas. The tires communicate clearly through the bars and through the seat.
Leaned well over and exiting a corner — hard on the gas — with my head sitting in the clean air above the bubble it’s as if time elastically rubberbands to an absolute stop.
This is the enlightening moment of the rider’s perfection.
After achieving moto-transcendance, going back to work is awful hard.
Stripping my armor off in the garage, I absorb the lines, sounds and smells of the Old Alloy Mistress — making the metallic sounds of giving back heat, seeping various lubricants tastefully and discreetly.
I remember, as a very young man, standing in the showroom of Baltimore’s Motor Sport Center, looking at what was then maybe a not quite 10 year old used R90S. My response to that spaceship of a motorcycle was a lot like it was to the Farrah Fawcett swimsuit poster that was everywhere back then — it might be fun to look at but there was just no way I was ever going to have either one.
Lately I spend more than my fair share of time thinking about how time seems to have gotten away from me in a way the front tire of my motorcycle never has. You wouldn’t think that time had a big-hairy-completetly-lose-the-front-end lurid slide that is going to decide for you what hard object you are going to hit in it, but time seems to be full of little physics tricks.
I have more than my fair share of blessings in my life, and a lot of other things to be so far thankful for that have nothing to do with motorcycles. But that aside, this timeline has me able to enjoy a motorcycle I never dreamed I’d have any time I want to whether I have reason to or not.
And what that motorcycle make me feel like — the bomber engine drone of flat twin exhaust, coming out of a corner pressed in place by the force of acceleration — is a joy that is its own reason.