Motorbike

Y’know, I’ve always maintained that my motorbike was really more of a conveyance than a lifestyle. However, I think I’m arriving at a middle ground between the two. Granted, I’m not riding like I used to – that is, everywhere, all the time. But I am riding. A motorbike isn’t meant to sit in the garage and look pretty – it’s mean to be on the road, looking cool.

Honda Shadow Phantom

Or down by the highway.

And the Phantom is definitely looking cool, thanks to all the work I’ve put into it recently. In the past couple of years, I’ve added the Mustang saddle, Highway Hawk crash bars from the UK, Road Burner Street Pro drag pipes, Kuryakyn floorboards (these replace the front footpegs; they are dramatically more comfortable on the highway), a luggage rack, LED lighting, leather control covers, much better forward lighting, and a few other odds-n-ends, including painting the stator cover and speedo bezel flat black (they were gray), and Plasti-dipping the chrome gas cap, now also flat black. I also replaced the intake with a Cobra intake, which also necessitated adding a fuel management system (basically, a computer module that properly adjusts the fuel/air mixture on a fuel-injected bike with modified intake/pipes). Then there was the ancillary project of adding the hitch receiver and wiring harness to the Jeep, so I can trailer the bike when necessary, and, of course, buying the awesome Kendon motorcycle trailer. I have to admit, I found a great sense of satisfaction in getting out and turning a wrench on the bike or the Jeep – my normal M.O. is just to throw money at a project (mostly because of time constraints), but actually crawling around under the bike (or Jeep) has been – I dunno – therapeutic. And, humblebrag, I can mend practically anything, whether it’s my shattered knee deep on a trail, my stupidly complicated home network/automation, or anything in between. I’m handy to have around; just ask – um, well, just take my word for it. And if you have a bike, you need to know how to do things. If you’re not smart enough to be able to change your oil, adjust your brakes, or tighten the chain, do yourself (and me) a favor, and stay on 4 wheels, before you get yourself killed.

Honda Shadow Phantom with LED Lighting

“The question is, ‘How much blacker can it be?’, and the answer is…’none’.” – Nigel Tufnel

Anyway, I was digging around the computer the other day, and I found a couple of original photos from when I bought the bike (I bought it on CL from a guy who had bought it for his galpal, and she ended up not being a “motorcycle person” [or something]; so, less than a year old, very low miles, great price). When I bought it, I immediately added the light bar (the extra lights on the front), windshield, sissy bar/backrest, better mirrors and hard saddlebags. Then it basically sat in the barn for 5 years. Now, it’s just about where I want it. I mean, look at the difference between the above and below photos – that’s the same bike. I’ve taken it from a generic, vanilla street bike to a real head-turner. If you’re into that, anyway.

Stock Honda Shadow Phantom

The first thing I did was remove that ridiculous fork bag, but it had already damaged the fork covers, requiring me to replace them. Click for larger.

This got me thinking about the other bikes I’ve owned over the years. The Phantom is actually my 4th bike, and I think has now become my favorite – but it took awhile to get here.

1985 Suzuki GS450L

1985 Suzuki GS450L

This was the very first one, a 1985 Suzuki GS450L. When I bought this, I knew nothing about bikes, had never ridden one (or even been a passenger on one), and didn’t have a license. I landed in Honolulu in 1986, with no wheels of any sort. I knew a guy who was leaving Hawaii, and had been trying to sell his bike, with no luck. So, on the spur of the moment, on the day he was flying out, I offered him what I had in my pocket – I think $400. He was prepared to just abandon it and let nature take its course, which is not unusual in Hawaii, due to the transient nature of the populace. So, I was like Michael in Grease 2, minus the wheelies and Stephanie Zinone – it needed some repairs, and I needed to learn how to ride it, and learn I did (unrelated pop-culture side note: Rex Manning! – heh). Had some great times riding around Oahu on it; and really, a bike is all you need there.

Acid-washed jeans, Members Only jacket - is there any doubt what decade this was?

Acid-washed jeans, Members Only jacket – is there any doubt what decade this was?

Yep, good times. Even with my non-existent knowledge of bikes, the Suzuki got me where I wanted to go, whether is was Tantalus, Waikiki, over the Pali, or even dangerous Kaena Point. It may have been generic and boring by my current standards, but I guess this is where it all kinda began.

Even an ugly guy like me  with a motorbike can get the girl.

Even an ugly guy like me with a motorbike can get the girl. Or not.

And really, I should have been killed on this bike more times and in more ways than I can count. First of all, at that time in Hawaii…no helmet laws. Sheesh. And my “motorcycle friends” were mostly nuts. We’d get out on the H-1 and open the bikes up, weave in and out of traffic, hit each other’s kill switches (most bikes have a “kill switch” on the handlebars, so I guess you can shut the thing off as you’re getting run over by a truck), and just generally f*ck around. Stupid, dangerous, shoulda-been-killed stuff. And it was awesome.

Mount Tantalus - that Honda Hurricane (in the middle) made my Suzuki look like a turd.

Mount Tantalus – that Honda Hurricane (in the middle) made my Suzuki look like a turd.

On a side note, if you’re thinking that buying and riding a motorbike is a great way to meet girls, I have bad news for you. Unless – maybe – you can find the elusive girl-who-rides-her-own-motorbike. Really, you’ll stand a better chance if you get a cute dog. Although I have two cute dogs, and, well – oh, never mind. Moving on.

No, really. Seriously.

No, really. Seriously.

Eventually, like most people wind up doing, I hung up my helmet, and bought a car – because reasons (let’s call them “blonde reasons”; that is, you can be cool when you’re single with a bike, but when you’re *ahem* not single, the other half of the not-single equation doesn’t really want you being cool any more, and you wind up with a Ford Escort. Seriously.). Ultimately, though, I kinda missed riding, and then one day, this ’76 Honda CB750 appeared on my radar. I wasn’t looking – really, I promise, I wasn’t.

1976 Honda CB750 Four

1976 Honda CB750 Four

A huge difference – much larger engine, more power, but a very old-school UJM bike. If I recall correctly, I paid about $700 for it (and now, these bikes are highly sought-after, and can fetch 5 grand or more). A serious biker’s bike. Manual choke, kick-starter, 4 cylinders/4 carbs. Amazing bike, but I wasn’t really “into” bikes; it was more of a mechanism to get from point A to point B, and I wanted something more modern. Stupid.

1989 Honda Shadow 600 VLX

1989 Honda Shadow 600 VLX

…so, in 1991, I traded in the 750, and bought this 1989 Shadow VLX new from South Seas Cycle. It’s not unusual to find previous model year bikes still on the showroom floor at the dealer; unlike cars, dealers generally keep the previous model years until they sell; the upside is, I got a really good deal. I made a few mods to it – added a windshield, sissy bar/backrest, engine guards, and throw-over leather saddlebags. Nothing really major, just convenience stuff. Had some great adventures on this bike, so much so that I took it with me when I moved to DC.

OK, I feel like I'm not making my point very well.

OK, I feel like I’m not making my point very well.

And then, after a couple years in DC, I traded it in for a new car (a 1994 Pontiac Grand Am GT, if you care)(which you don’t), and my motorcycle career kinda went on hiatus.

The '94 Grand Am GT, which was eventually replaced by the '96 Grand Prix GTP. And yes, I added the stripes, because of course I did.

The ’94 Grand Am GT, which was eventually replaced by the ’96 Grand Prix GTP. And yes, I added the stripes, because of course I did. That car was a flippin’ rocket – the guy I sold it to ended up wrapping it around a telephone pole.

Well, it went on hiatus for the most part, anyway…

Don't even get me started on this one - there aren't enough ones and zeros on the internet.

Don’t even get me started on this one – there aren’t enough ones and zeros on the internet.

What did I just say?

What did I just say?

Now, here we are. Back in 2011, there was talk that gas was going to get crazy expensive, and 15ish years on 4 wheels kinda had me missing a bike. I had always kept my license, so all I needed was to find something I liked. When I first saw the Phantom, I knew that was what I wanted, but because it was a new model, they were not plentiful (and still aren’t). Nonetheless, the Motorcycle Gods smiled on me, and I found one. It was, and is, the perfect bike for me. It has a cool modern-retro bobber look, with a big 750 engine (and that’s perfect for me; even the 600 was good – I have no desire to have a 1300 or anything like that), plus, all that black. They say, “People are like motorcycles; each is customized a bit differently”. Truth. And mine is just about where I want it for the right combination of speed, comfort, convenience and looks. As for me personally – well, let’s just say I’m a work in progress. Kinda like the bike has been.


Now, just ride. “They” also say that there are two kinds of riders: those who have crashed, and those who will. I’m in neither category right now, and that’s where I plan to stay, but life is too short to play it safe. I’d much rather die on two wheels than on the sofa – plus, with any luck, I’ll get it on the GoPro. According to Captain Lance Murdock, bones heal, chicks dig scars, and the United States of America has the best doctor-to-daredevil ratio in the world.

hi-plate

Addendum: After going to all the good trouble of writing all that up there, I had to throw a monkey wrench into the works by buying a new bike. Specifically, a BMW G650GS dual-sport (on-road/off-road) adventure motorbike. I dig it.

BMW G650GS Dual Sport Motorcycle

click for larger

If you’ve been following me – and really, why wouldn’t you – you know I’ve been wanting an adventure bike to go with my adventurous lifestyle. Well, I went and did it, and here we are. Of course, just like the Phantom, it wasn’t enough to just buy it, I had to immediately start dressing it up to do what I needed it to do. Engine guards, headlight guard, more robust pegs, skid plate, tail bag, better tires – all the stuff I need to get to where I’m going in the woods. So far, it’s just been a beast – I’ve been on some pretty gnarley trails, and it’s done great. Now, I haven’t really started to push, because, y’know, winter – but come spring, it’s going to be all-out adventure. Watch this space.


You can see all my motorbike-related posts right here.