The Silence Amidst the Roar

When I talk to people about riding two up, and particularly about our long weekend getaways, a question that often comes up is, “Do you have an intercom in your helmets so that you can talk on those long rides?” To which my answer is inevitably, “No. Absolutely not.” Which often gets an odd look. “You mean, you ride all that way together without being able to talk to each other?” So let me try to explain.

First off, on a practical, logistical level, the Concours is a sport touring bike. It’s not a big, noisy cruiser, and it certainly doesn’t have that extra distinctive assault on the ears that Harleys have. (Which is explained succinctly here if you’re interested. Also, that may be the most politely I’ve ever described the sound of a Harley).  So when we’re tooling around on country roads, we can absolutely have brief conversations if both our visors are up and the road’s empty enough for F to turn a bit and talk over his shoulder to me.

When we get out on the highway, clearly those conversations aren’t possible — but that’s okay. It’s actually kind of nice to have a bit of solitude inside your helmet, to be together with someone but also alone with your own thoughts. Since I’ve got the easy job as the passenger, I enjoy that time to relax and soak in the scenery, to find that place of silence amidst the roar of the engine and the wind. Sometimes I talk to myself. Sometimes I sing. (You can really belt it out inside a helmet at 70 mph.) Sometimes F sings, and I know by the way his helmet bobs about a bit when he does.

And besides, we do talk to each other, the entire time we’re riding. It’s the pat of my hands on his waist that means that I’m ready to go once I’ve gotten on behind him. It’s the tap on his shoulder to indicate we need to turn, or leaning forward to point to an exit sign when I’m navigating. It’s a point from him when there’s something he wants me to see, and a squeeze from my knees that says, “Yes, I see, thank you for sharing.” It’s the bike itself joining the conversation, and hearing what it says via pitch and vibration, like listening to a leading partner when dancing. It’s F putting his visor down before a stretch of curves or hills, a silent “Oh, this is about to get really fun.” It’s his left hand leaving the handlebars to clasp my shin, his arm snugged about my knee that says… well. I don’t think I can even translate that one into words, and even if I could, I think it would be words that are ours alone.

helmets

 

via Daily Prompt: Silence

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The Great Fall Getaway

It was 90-some degrees and 200% humidity here in Michigan the first week of September. It’s like Labor Day hit and Summer said, “Wait a minute! I’ve got until the 21st, not so fast with your pumpkin spice, you’ve still got some sweating to do.” It’s hard to imagine that in 4 short weeks or so it will be 50 degrees, grey skies, and freezing rain. But it will be, because F and I are planning our Fall getaway together on the Concours.

It never fails. Every Fall sweeps in to Michigan all blue skies and crisp breezes and sun highlighting the magnificent oranges and golds of the trees as they turn.  It’s time for cider mills and pumpkins and sweater weather, but mainly just because you want to wear a sweater, not because you really have to. It’s perfect. And then whatever October weekend we’ve set aside to head north to enjoy it all, Fall suddenly says, “Sooo, I’m taking the weekend off, but don’t worry, Winter’s gonna pop in and cover my shift.” So, my apologies in advance, Michigan folks, but we’re planning our annual motorcycle Iditarod. We’re not exactly sure where we’re going or which weekend we’re going yet, but don’t worry, you’ll know. The morning the furnace kicks on for the first time, you can say to yourself from within your warm cocoon of blankets, “Ah, K and F must be on their way up north.”

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Meet the Bikes

“I have a couple of bikes.”

“Bikes? Like bicycle bikes, or motorcycles?

“mmrrrbikes.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

*sigh* “Motorbikes.”

“Like, mopeds? Or motorcycles?”

“Um, motorcycles. Yes, I have motorcycles.”

Somewhere in the midst of a marathon conversation leaning up against my car late at night, this exchange took place. It was the last night of the 2012 Renegade Theatre Festival, at which I’d performed my one-woman show, LONG GONE: A Poetry Sideshow. I’d tried to slink off without going to the afterparty as soon as I struck my set, but I’d been spotted by one of the organizers, so off I’d gone to stand around drinking boxed wine and feeling uncomfortable. I didn’t really know anyone there. I tried to escape again and got caught by an animated gaggle of actors just inside the door to the place. Across the doorway from me was an interesting looking guy, about 50ish or so, who was clearly also trying to escape, and we ended up having an amusing, wordless exchange about the actors who were blocking the way. A well-timed eyeroll and eyebrow waggle can say a lot.

Once I finally popped through the crowded doorway into the much-needed fresh air, I once again stood around uncomfortably — until Mr. Interesting introduced himself. Despite both trying to escape, once we started talking, F and I were the last two to leave. (And the rest, as they say, is history.) And somewhere in the middle of that wide-ranging conversation, somehow we stumbled across the topic of motorbikes.

We both had very different internal monologues underlining that exchange, though. His went something along the lines of, “Well, damn. Here comes the disapproval. Guys my age aren’t supposed to have a garage full of toys and go wicking it up on sportbikes.” He hadn’t exactly always had the best experience with others’ opinions of his motorcycling life.

Mine, however, went something along the lines of:

giphy

I’d ridden two up before, but it had been a looooong time. I missed it. And here was this interesting guy and he had motorcycles, too? WIN!

Once he realized that I wasn’t running away screaming, F became much more willing to talk about his motorcycles — at which point I admit that my internal monologue shifted to, “Wait. Wait wait wait. Sportbikes? Crotch rockets??

Like most people who haven’t been around motorcycle racing, the only impression I had of sportbikes at the time was of irresponsible frat boy types zipping through traffic on the freeway in their shorts and sandals, their t-shirts flapping away behind them. I couldn’t reconcile that image with this 50ish guy in front of me. (Sidenote: Most people can’t. He gets a lot of doubletakes when he takes his helmet off. Sidesidenote: Shortly after the sportbike revelation in this first conversation came the news that he was, in fact, 62. This guy was full of surprises.) I’ve learned a lot about motorcycles in the past 4 years with F, and I have a new appreciation for sportbikes — when they’re in the hands of a truly capable rider. Which F just happens to be.

F & his 1995 Honda CBR900RR. In case you couldn’t tell it was from the 90s by the color scheme.

A couple weeks later he rode his Honda to meet me for lunch in Ann Arbor, and I have to admit, I was impressed. It wasn’t until I went to his house for the first time, though, that I met his other bike. This one… this one clearly had a special place in his heart. His eyes got kind of faraway and dreamy when he talked about Suzi.

I once referred to this bike as his other woman. “Oh, no… no, no, no,” he reassured me. “That’s not how it is at all.” And then, just as I started to relax:

You’re the other woman.”

1985 Suzuki GSX-R

1985 Suzuki GSX-R. Yeah, I’m keeping an eye on you. Maneater.

 

So yes, I learned to appreciate F’s sportbikes. But that still didn’t mean going out for a spin with him. Don’t believe what you see out on the road, or even the fact that these bikes have seats and footpegs back there. The back of a sportbike is not a smart place to be, and there was absolutely no way that either of us would even consider that. So, one day that fall, F borrowed a friend’s big cruiser and we went for our first ride together (a day that I think will get its own post at some point).  Suffice it to say that one ride together was all it took to convince both of us that we needed to find a way to do more of that. The following May, we followed a Craigslist ad up to Cass City (I’ll give you 1 guess where we stopped to eat) and brought home our future:

2006 Kawasaki Concours

2006 Kawasaki Concours. Home sweet home.

I knew the second he caught sight of it in the driveway that he wasn’t leaving without this bike. But I also figured he’d still want to go through the motions of a potential buyer trying to decide. After lots of questions for the seller, F asked if he could take it for a test ride. I proceeded to stand around making idle chitchat that included, “Boy, he’s taking a while out there, isn’t he?” and some nervous laughter from the seller.

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’m pretty sure it’s a good sign. And that he won’t have need of a two up bike after all if he leaves here on it without me.”

When F came back and took off his helmet, the look in his eyes was the one when he’d first spotted the bike times about  20. “So, could we take it for a quick spin together?” he asked, trying to sound like he wasn’t already mentally making room for it in the garage at home. I put on what little gear I had then (a leather jacket and gloves and an old used helmet) and hopped on — and proceeded to immediately learn that a sport touring bike is a lot different from the cruisers I’d been on.

This bike was much narrower and not built to give the passenger a cushy ride (they call those things “queen seats” on cruisers for a reason). What it clearly was built for was handling and speed, and I was going to need to learn to ride a lot more actively on the back of this than I ever had before. I was more in touch with the bike and the feel of the road under the tires. It required work from my legs so that I didn’t go sliding into F when we stopped. I was going to need to really learn to lean into curves. I wasn’t going to be just a passenger tagging along, but an active participant in the ride.

This was a whole new kind of two up. And man, was this going to be fun.