June 2, 2004

Katspanker Got Some Wheels

sm24_1_b.jpgLet me be the first to say to you what you are sure to hear many more times than you like: "Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down." It sounds pretty stupid and it is, unless you stop to consider the alternative. You are scared. You should be; bikes are downright scary. Riding a motorcycle sometimes feels like being a kitten in a herd of wildebeest. But to those who hear the siren song of a tuned exhaust, they are irresistable. Welcome to the club.

sm29_1.jpgIt is appropriate that in this commencement season you are about to embark on what promises to be a great adventure. Motorcycling at its best can be just about the funnest thing in the world. Moreover, it is altogether unique; driving a truck is kind of like driving a car, but motorcycling is nothing like bicycling and even less like driving. A friend of mine (who, interestingly perhaps, later went completely insane) compared it to flying. Freedom becomes you, and motorcycles are all about freedom. You don't need a place to go, because getting there is all the fun. That, and pulling up on your cool ride. I look forward to hearing about your adventures, as you take one of the DC area's many creekside parkways as far out as it goes. The woods, the curves, the lack of traffic. Suddenly, familiar roads will have new criteria by which to be judged. The world itself seems different: you smell the smells and feel the sunlight dappling on your back.

Your 1966 Honda 160 Scrambler is awful cute, and it is a great bike to learn on. Light enough to pick up if you have to, yet speedy enough to get you around town just about as fast as anyone can. Old Hondas are tough. My Trail 90 is about the same year (1967), and I had a green and white CB 350 back in the day. Yours should be at least as indestructible as mine, given the occasional spot check.

smb1_1.jpgYour bike is older, and it needs to be looked after. I expect that you will religiously check your air pressure each week and change the oil at least once each season. Check the battery level often, and top off with DISTILLED water if need be. If the tires that come on it are original or noticeably older than the tires you see on contemporary bikes, please change them. Should parts ever seem expensive, think about how much a visit to the ER (or permanent loss of full functioning of a body part or two) will set you back. Get a can of 3 In 1 and oil all the cables. Each spring. Helmet and gloves, always. A nice 3.4 will look appropriately retro. And think eye protection, esp at night.

sm31_1.jpgBikes are not without their frustrations, so get to know other motorcyclists, especially ones who also ride old small Honda twins -- they are an invaluable source of info on parts, potential problems, and the occasional story. The internet has made this kind of information sharing much easier, but there is no substitute for real live chitchat. As the ad they used in the 60s says, "You meet the nicest people on a Honda." Get acquainted with your friendly neighborhood Honda dealer. The folks out at Aspen Hill across from Home Depot seemed nice enough. It is a good sign if they come out to take a look.

A word of caution, new motorcyclist: Your new old vehicle will give you the super-power of invisibility to other motorists. Pay attention to who is not paying attention. Assume that the car waiting to turn left will move into your path at any moment and anticipate what you would do if it starts to move. You will see danger everywhere. This is not paranoia but merely survival. City biking is mentally and physically exhausting.

sm1d_1.jpgFinally, take the class. I know that there is a long waiting list for it and that it uses up a weekend, but people who take the class really do die less frequently than those that don't. Going down is without a doubt the worst part of motorcycling, even if you manage to survive. You will save on your insurance if you take the class. Plus I hear it is a great place to meet chicks. Not that you are looking.

So godspeed little katspanker with the perfect eBay rating. Be cautious, be aware, be safe. We hope to have you in the club for a long long time.

Posted by webs0080 at June 2, 2004 9:04 PM