Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Old and New

About six years ago my neighbor made a deal on an old motorcycle from a friend. Being the type of father he is, his intention was to keep the bike until his boys were old enough to ride. But the boys chose to get into other things and the bike languished in his shed. One day I saw the machine in his garage and asked him about it. Floyd knows how I hate to see a grand old machine rust into uselessness and gave me one of those Sicilian offers. One you cannot refuse.
I brought Annette over to look at the bike and she was enthusiastic about it. A few days later it was forty feet further north, in my garage.

Its a black breadloaf tanked Japan bred cafe racer. Factory stock (just the way I like them) right down to the near perfect chrome exhausts. Five spoke painted aluminum rims trimmed with exposed surface edges. A slim bike with hair brush pin striping accenting the tank and tail piece. A meek 550cc's by today's standards, it was as good a choice as any sub 750 on the market in 1980.

I called a buddy of mine to tell him about the bike. I don't know what came over me but we struck a trade and I let him have it for what I payed for it. He brought a trailer, took it home and after a period of a few days called me to let me hear it run.

Something comes over me when I hear an old eighties bike breathe and run again. Just the idle is enough to put a twinkle in my eye. There's the sound of the transmission, the sound of the valves. Something distinct and unassuming about that era of machines. Not necessarily a lot of continuity in appearance, the amazing attention to functional and mechanical detail made up for their sometimes quirky looks. They were meant to be ridden.

We intended to ride together since the spring. Long before this bike entered the picture. But his kids and my kids are at and near the same ages so family and our schedules often mismatched our free time.

The other night we finally made up for that. His wife came home and he headed back into town to my place. 11:30 pm and we were just about rolling out of my driveway.

A note about Loren: He's a night owl. And he loves to ride. So am I. Consequently both of us really enjoy the sounds of stock pipes and overall very quiet motorcycles.

Most people like to sleep during the night. Its easier on the eyes I guess.

We slipped through town and over the Mississippi. Taking the east river road we threaded our way down the twisy two lane that weaves past the river for miles. Beautiful homes with immaculate yards and dim accent lighting. The moon shimmering off the big river which can always be seen as you pass. Tall old hardwoods hanging over us, the fog just beginning to form in some of the valleys of the roadway. Forty miles an hour at a low hum as heard from the saddles of a scooter and a motorcycle.

We made it to a little town which sprang up by a main state highway (or maybe they built the highway because the town was there, I don't know) and stopped to top off and enjoy some gas station coffee. A lady pulled up next to us and could not turn away from the Vespa. She asked the usual questions and at one point I thought she was going to reach down and hug it. After she drove off waving, Loren commented, "You told me stuff like that happens. Now I actually saw it." We both laughed.

We rode in the direction of my farm. Because you can catch a great motorcycle road not far from there and its parallels the Mississippi all the way to Little Falls. Charles Lindbergh grew up there. I don't know why I'm telling you this other than its a neat fact. And you pass a couple museums dedicated to him when you reach the south end of the city from this direction. I always mean to stop there but can't seem to beg myself off the bike as I pass the compound of buildings and sites dedicated to him.

We stopped again. SuperAmerica. Fog was in the headlight beams nearly fifty percent of the time. It was getting a bit cooler. Out in the open countryside temps were somewhere around the low fifties. Some of the valleys might have touched the low forties, I would guess. Not shivering cold, but we were definitely gliding through a steady brisk chill.

I saw what might be the dumbest thing I have seen in a while. Didn't notice it at first but Loren was waiting for me to see it.

Conveniently situated side by side were the grated gas grill propane cylinder container and the ashtray/refuse container. I have nothing to say.

We drank up, warmed again and hit the road back south to home. The long sweeping bends, hills and valleys, seemed like riding on glass this time around. I could hear the slight whine of Loren's bike behind me. See his headlight in my mirrors. The new moon gave a crystaline blue hue to the crop fields to the west and a deep dark blue to the Mississippi on our left. Light sparkling off the gentle waves.

We rode that way back to the tee intersection, split off and made our respective ways home. It was nearly three o'clock in the morning when the Vespa's engine was finally shut off for the night. Hearing the cooling tick made me stop as I entered the house. I listened to it for another moment.

Somewhere in a garage about twenty miles away, another guy was doing the same thing. Listening to an old 1980 Kawasaki KZ550 slowly cool down.

Revived machine, revived rider.

Harv