“I have a couple of bikes.”
“Bikes? Like bicycle bikes, or motorcycles?
“I’m sorry, what?”
“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:
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. 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. 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.