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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

The allure of Big Red

1989 Ford Mustang GT convertible
I've mentioned before that strange, short period in my life during which I was a professional actor, driving a convertible Ford Mustang and going out a model. No, really. That was my life. In the mid-90s I was living the dream. Not necessarily my dream, mind you. In fact, I wasn't very happy with any of it.

The model, for one thing. Sure, she was pretty to look at but her little-boy physique when disrobed sort of creeped me out. On top of that, she possessed a rice-cake-fuelled mania that made her diplomatically challenging (i.e., she was unpredictably annoyed by every other thing I said or did) on the best of days.

Acting, too, was not as much fun as I wanted it to be. From a professional standpoint it is 98 percent stress, 2 percent fun. You think of nothing but how on earth you are going to earn your next paycheck, and you keep weird hours with weird people. One of my better "friends" from those days would occasionally get up mid-conversation, go stand with his nose to a wall and hum to himself.

The Mustang was probably the most tolerable aspect of life. That was a good-looking car. Mine was an '89, which wasn't exactly the heyday of Mustangs in terms of aesthetics, but the engine sounded right and it looked cooler than anything my friends were driving (1). Despite that, in a rather short period of time (just a few months) and to my surprise, I discovered it was a car I didn't really enjoy. I didn't like the seats, I didn't like my view of the road, I didn't like how it felt on the highway, I didn't like the convertible top, and so on. It just wasn't me; none of it felt right.

Eventually I sold the car and bought a GMC Sonoma 4x4 that had no air conditioning. And I. Loved. That. Truck. With. The. Whole. Of. Me.

I drove the hell out of it –– Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California. I lived in that truck for days at a time. She took me everywhere I needed to go, everywhere I wanted to go. She survived several girlfriends, one of whom accused me of loving the truck more than her. Which was true.

That I have no photos of the two of us together (the truck and me, I mean) makes me deeply sad. In the end, the Sonoma was stolen from outside my apartment in San Diego, and I was advised by the police that it was not even worth looking for. I like to think she is still alive and running today, somewhere in Mexico and making someone as happy as she made me.

But I digress. The point is this: experience suggests that although I may really like the idea of something, I may end up not actually liking that thing. Which is why I often think the bike I actually want, deep down, is a Honda.

I suppose that's not too surprising. On this blog I've sung the praises of the CB500X and the NC700X, as well as lamented the absence of the the CTX700 from the UK market. And in my mind, every bike I consider finds itself being compared with the CBF600 (on which I took my Direct Access), regardless of whether the comparison is fair. Hell, I have even found myself daydreaming about getting a Deauville.

I fear I may let you down, Chris.
Hondas are good bikes, there's no denying that. But they don't look very cool. Even the new CB1100 –– though it's certainly a step in the right direction. Hondas don't growl. They are not the type of bike that induces that fire-engine reaction in non-motorcycling males (2). Hondas are not cool. They are not badass. They struggle to meet the Chris Jericho test.

But then I think to myself: they're reliable as hell. For the same price as a Triumph of questionable age you can have a Honda from the past seven years or so that has ABS, lower insurance premiums, and higher mpg. 


I'm not Chris Jericho; I've never even attempted a moonsault. I suppose I'm more of a Lance Storm guy.


Lance Storm is one of Jericho's best friends. The two trained at the same school in Canada and moved up through the ranks together until the strength of Jericho's character really started shining through in WCW (3). By all accounts, including that of Jericho, Lance is the better technical wrestler. He built a reputation as being stalwart, capable of always producing a solid match. But he never had the flash or character that makes a pro wrestler great. He wasn't cool; but he was reliable as hell.


My Sonoma wasn't cool, but it was reliable as hell. Maybe, in its own way, reliable is cool. Especially where a new rider is concerned. I want a bike that starts every time, a bike I can ride and ride and ride, a bike that won't sap me of my almost negative funds. So, maybe what I really want is a Honda.


–––––


(1) Maybe. The definition of "cool" is nebulous. My best friend drove an enormous 1974 Mercury Marquis. In it's own way, that car was infinitely cooler than my Mustang.


(2) My wife has correctly identified the fact that every man wishes he had a motorcycle. For those without a bike (and that includes me these days) they are left to stare: jumping up and turning their head when one goes by, just as when they were kids and fire engines would zip past. 


(3) Chris Jericho is my favourite wrestler. I met him once and I still count that as one of the best days of my life. So, obviously, I know a hell of a lot about the guy. Sorry to bore you.

Comments

  1. Yeah, the Hondas don't look as cool. My ST1300 has often been described as looking like a morph between a motorcycle & scooter. But so far, after riding it up to Alaska and back, over mud, dirt, and gravel, and 61,000+ miles, it's not ever been in the shop aside from getting new tires and scheduled maintenance.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think this is defeatist talk - get a Bonnie!

    I've been thinking about getting my motorbike licence for a while now. During my (far too) extensive trawling of the internet I came across your blog. I love Triumphs. Madly and utterly. I have a picture of the America pinned to my wall to inspire me to work for it, although I find myself daydreaming about it a bit too much. This all started when a Triumph Rocket roared past me a few months ago. It scared the hell out of me and I fell in love.

    I went through pretty much the same thought process as you I think. Insurance on a Triumph was a bit steep, so thought about the Enfield Bullet, but eventually realised that in terms of quality it's a different league. I've now re-set my heart on Triumphs. I think I can get a second hand one in solid condition for about £4,500, then maybe insure it by instalments. I need it for commuting and for the occasional visit home from London to Wales (which the Enfield is NOT up to), and from what I've heard Triumphs are reliable, so I'm hoping it'll last me a good long while.

    I'm planning on sitting my CBT in the next few weeks and then getting the theory done before jumping into a Direct Access Course. I enjoy reading your blog 'cause I know I'll be in the same situation as you (hopefully) by the end of the summer, and you've really helped me iron out my plan to get my licence (I was originally going to get a 125cc for a year or so).

    I hope you find a bike soon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's that price that kills me. For the same you can get a brand new CB500 or a really good condition NC700, both of which go faster, have better brakes, better gas mileage and lower insurance premiums.

      Delete
  3. Chris:

    When I started riding I had several used Hondas, over the years. Then when I decided to buy new, a friend told me to look at Suzuki. They were not necessarily the best at anything but their engines are bullet-proof and they are super reliable bikes. I have a soft spot for Suzukis and I bought a new Vstrom in 2009 and love it.

    Before you settle on a particular brand, make sure you have a trusted dealer where it is convenient to go to.

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard loads of good things about Suzukis. The word "tank" comes up quite often.

      Delete
  4. Just regarding the sound: you can get a different exhaust system. Some sound pretty gnarly without being obnoxious.

    Honda makes good machines. ANY machine is going to be a compromise. It might look tough, but it'll be slow. Or it's the fastest production bike built but looks like an alien suppository. Or it's fast and sexy but tends to burst into flame while parked in the garage.

    When you finally pick a bike and bring it home, you are going to love it, whatever it is.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Chris,

    Your first motorcycle will always be your first. She will be your love, your best friend and your mistress. She will always be a legend in your heart.

    Much like the way you love your beautiful wife you will love your bike ~ not because of the brand but despite it.

    Ride what your heart yearns for and ignore the naysayers. Who knows why they say nay. . . but who cares? I can't hear them at 90 mph.

    Smooches,

    Sash
    www.sashmouth.com

    ReplyDelete
  6. " She will always be a legend in your heart. "

    Truth.

    I would just about kill to have the Yamaha whatever-it-was I got to spend a summer riding as a teenager. And that thing was a chromed turd I had to hot-wire because the ignition key broke one day.

    Other tangential truth: motorcycles, like boats, are female. That's not sexism, that's just the way it is. My car? A dude. My Triumph? Sexiest sex kitten that ever purred sexily in shiny black. My VX800 was a bit of a tom-boy, but still distinctly a girl.

    By the way, regarding Bob's comment above about Suzuki motorcycles: for a good while, the stock answer everyone I talked to gave when asked for a recommendation for a first bike was a Suzuki SV650. I'm sure someone somewhere doesn't like them, but that person is an asshole.

    ReplyDelete

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