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Back in the Saddle Again

There are an infinite number of ways to find joy in life, but rarely do they just drop into your lap. It’s like sitting on the couch with your head hung in sorrow because you’re hungry, but not getting up to go get some food. You will stay hungry until you get up and go get some food!! Likewise, if you are sad or bored or unhappy, you will likely remain in that state until you get up and do something about it….

I am certain I have written of my lifelong saga with motorcycles once or twice, not in great detail perhaps but certainly have mentioned it. I had always wanted a minibike as a kid; ever got one though. But my dad offered to make me one. He took an old bike of mine and an old lawn mower engine, manufactured a frame for the motor, and cobbled together a motorized bicycle. He had a spool machined that mounted on the engine shaft and sat on the rear tire, spinning it. But to do so, the entire engine had to be mounted to the side of the wheel – well off to the side – a lot of weight to be hanging off the side of a bicycle (a point which we will revisit in a moment). And of course, you can’t start the engine with the wheel engaged or it will just immediately take off, so the engine mount was hinged so you could raise it (and the drive spool) and lower it on and off the rear tire.

Much like the Titanic, the virgin trip was also the final journey. I climbed onto the bike and quickly fell over. A 3HP engine weighs 30-40lbs. That is a lot of mass to be hanging fairly far off-center of a two wheeled vehicle; too much as it turned out – at least initially. I learned to lean far over to my right to counterbalance the engine and eventually was able to maintain my balance.

Next, we started the engine – all good. I had to hold the lever so the drive spool was up and off the tire while starting it and once it was running and that was a little awkward but not impossible. The magic moment arrived and I lower the lever to engage the engine. The bike did an instant wheelie and down I went; too much power too quickly. Dad made some adjustments while I grabbed a couple of Band-Aids and we tried again. I rode for a some small distance – maybe 50’ – but at the time, it was lost on me due to the sheer terror of it all. I was leaning as far as I could to my right, gripping the handlebars with white knuckles, unable to let go in order to reach back to grab the lever to disengage the engine from the tire, accelerating all the while.

The bike dad had chosen had solid rubber tires, not air filled. Solid rubber tires do not really adhere well to the rim, they basically rely on force-fit friction to hold them in place. That works great for normal usage on a bicycle. That does not work great when an external force is exerting torque on the tire.

After that endlessly long 50’ ride of terror, the torque of the drive spool managed to separate the tire from the rim and suddenly the ride was over. I never did see what became of the bike and engine after that; it just vanished from my life and was never mentioned again. In hindsight, it really was a novel concept – a good effort of home engineering. But there were just too many issues in the initial design. I think given a lot of time and testing and modifying it might have ended up as a viable design – maybe. But for whatever reason, we just walked away from it. I have often wondered if mom might have had a word or two with him over using me as the crash-test dummy!

I finally bought a motorcycle when I was 19 or so; a Honda Dream 305 I think it was. Problematic from the start, it was dead more than running and I am not sure I got many miles on it at all. I quickly went to a on-off road bike – a Suzuki TS-185. I really had fun on that bike since I could run trails and dirt as well as blacktop. Never had any issues with it and really would love to have it again.

I eventually yearned speed over trail riding so I bought a Honda V45 Magna: a liquid cooled, shaft drive, 750cc V4, ride of a lifetime. It was quiet and smooth and quick and fast and nimble and had such road grip that I think it had claws for tires. I absolutely loved riding that bike – anywhere, anytime. I have never owned any vehicle I loved more than that bike. But life moves on and so did my Magna; for a lot of reasons, I stopped riding it and eventually sold it to a kid that desperately wanted it for far less than it was worth.

After some years passed, I had been really missing riding, so I bought a Yamaha Virago 400cc V-twin. It was a nice bike, mild and nice to ride, but nowhere near as much fun as my Magna. But it was still riding and I still greatly enjoyed it. In fact, once I bought it I rode every single day through the spring, the summer, the fall, and into the winter. I rode it to work right up to our Christmas break, except in snow or ice. Not long after that, I was promoted to a job where I had a gate pass for facility access and motorcycles were not permitted on the facility. So I parked the bike in the driveway where it sat for a couple of years until some guy stopped off and asked if he could buy it; I gave it to him.

And that was my last motorcycle. I mentioned getting another one for years, but time after time was flat out denied by my wife: “no motorcycle for you – they are too dangerous”. While I am an adult male, over my years I have learned that something like this really is a joint decision. So I have been relegated to periodically begging, asking, pleading, and otherwise trying to win the 2nd vote needed to once again own a motorcycle; all to no avail.

Until recently. Over time, she had begun to soften a bit on the whole idea and had started to agree that a dirt bike was possibly not out of the question since it did not involve roads, cars, and traffic. As you might know if you are a regular reader, I just bought my grandson a 125cc dirt bike. And my comment to her after taking him to ride it for the first time was that I really needed to get one of my own so I could follow him to keep him safe. And she agreed! She actually agreed that I should have a bike as well to ride with him.

It arrived last week. Nothing fancy – a 150cc dirt bike. Much like his 125cc bike, it arrived in my driveway in a crate, requiring some assembly – a few hours in total. Then just throw some gas in it and fire it up! Crazy – bike in a box!! It is a decent dirt bike, from the perspective of someone who hasn’t ridden a bike in 25 years – or ridden a dirt bike in over 40 years. My grandson and I went riding in a sand pit last night and it was really great to be back riding again. I did go down – we both did – pretty much inevitable when riding in deep soft sand. But of course, it is deep soft sand so you’d really have to work at hurting yourself!

It gave me joy to be riding again, but doubly so to be riding with my grandson. It will be a memory that I will carry to my grave. But it didn’t happen by accident, it happened because I found a way to make it happen. And this is true with so much of life, you can’t sit on the couch miserable because you are hungry – you have to get up off your ass and go get some food!! Stay well dear reader.

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