Thursday, 31 January 2013

Running the numbers

As I've mentioned before, the biggest challenge I face in this whole motorcycle saga is financial. Motorcycles are cheaper than cars but when you've got almost no money, how much less one thing costs than the other can be academic. I suppose I shouldn't be thinking about motorcycles at all right now – at least, not any more than I think about buying holiday homes in Montana. But I can't not think about it.

So, it seems the best thing to do is try to be practical about what I'm up against – get to know the face of the beast I'm trying to slay. And that means being honest with myself about what all this is going to cost.

The first thing for which I'm going to have to fork out money is training and licensing. There's no getting around those costs, which I've calculated to be £895.50 (US $1,434), based on the prices listed by the 1st Class Rider Training school on its website. You'll note that I've allotted myself four days of Direct Access training. There's always the possibility I'd be awesome and need only three days (thus saving £160 [US $256]). But considering how long it's been since I was last even on a bike, it's wise to budget that extra day; I only hope I won't require five days of training.

That's a huge amount of money, but it will navigate me all the way through the bureaucratic maze to the point that I will be licensed to ride any size bike in the UK. And thereafter the costs become far more variable. I've spent a lot of time thinking about these costs and the word that comes to me again and again is "dependable." I want the best-quality motorcycle and kit that I can possibly afford.

I've got my eye on a handful of bikes, new and used (more on those in future posts), but my absolute maximum spend will be £3,500. Motorcycle forums are full of people criticising one another's choice of bike and saying, "For only XX more you could get an XX, which is sooooo much better."

To which my response is: shut your cake hole. I don't have XX more. If your argument involves me spending even a penny more than I've budgeted, your argument is invalid.

And after that there's the gear. I've got a leather jacket that will suffice for the timebeing, as well as jeans and boots. Yes, I want better gear eventually, but I'm just talking about getting myself on the road. I will need a helmet and gloves, of course. It appears a reliably good (full-face) helmet can be had for around £120, and good gloves for about £40.

So, let's put it all together: ignoring – temporarily – the insurance costs, to get me on a bike and on the road I need £4,555.50 (US $7,295). 

Whereas presently I have just £50 in savings. This is going to be tricky.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Crazy things I do: Play dress up

Even the embodiment of evil knows
it's important to wear a helmet.
Apparently, I should never have been accepted into the motorcycle-theme Google+ community of which I am a member, since I am not yet a motorcycle rider. I don't own a bike; I have never owned a bike. But I desperately want to change that situation, and perhaps that was good enough for the moderators.

I haven't got a motorcycle but I have got a whole lot of crazy. If you've been following this blog over the last month that will have become pretty clear. I think about motorcycles in every waking moment, then I go to sleep and dream about them. And that's a sort of thought process that can manifest itself in some pretty odd ways. Perhaps the most ridiculous effect motorcycling has had on my behaviour is that it has reverted me to my childhood self. So intense is my love for and fascination of motorcycles and motorcycling that sometimes – and, oh Lord, am I embarrassed to admit this – I find myself playing dress up.

When I was a boy, my grandmother made a Superman costume for me, which I wore until I grew too big and it ripped. Thereafter, I spent several years running around pretending to be professional wrestler Kerry Von Erich (it's OK if you've never heard of him – seemingly no one has; which has come as a great shock to me in adulthood because as a child growing up in Houston, Texas, he seemed to me the most important man in the world). But that's the sort of thing children do: they put on costumes and pretend to be something or someone they wish they were. Eventually we get older and grow out of that sort of thing, right?

Wrong.

My obsession with motorcycling is so over the top that I have been known to put on my jeans, Doc Marten boots, leather jacket and snow gloves, and sit there with my eyes closed making motorcycle noises. No, not blatting Harley noises, but the tuned and steady whine of a Triumph cruiser. I open and close my left hand for the clutch, timing it with the roll of the imaginary throttle in my right. I ease into curves, trying to make sure I am fluid in my movement. I imagine potential obstacles and skillfully maneuver past them. From time to time, I'll spot another motorcyclist on this imaginary journey and offer that all-important wave to a fellow rider.

(I am still uncertain as to which is the better wave: the two-fingered gun-style wave, or a loose open hand? Which is cooler?)

I sometimes worry my wife will walk in and catch me doing this. It would probably be less awkward if she were to instead catch me looking at porn.

Monday, 28 January 2013

You know, I know, and they know


I love this. I've watched it about a dozen times so far, and each time it gets my heart pounding. This is what I'm talking about. This is the need. Why am I still inside? Why am I still not on a bike? Why am I not moving, not going, not living?

"You know, I know, and they know the joy that sometimes comes along out of nowhere, rising like a falcon moon across the impossibility."

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The need

This chap really should be wearing some safety gear...
I'm going through hell. I cannot think of any other thing. I don't feel like eating; I can't sleep. Today – truthfully – I've taken the day off work and claimed to be ill because I simply don't have the ability to concentrate on my job. My need for a motorcycle is the only thing my mind will hold on to. 

Sometimes I feel an all-consuming flood of panic and anxiety at the thought of not getting a motorcycle – the fear that this thing I need so desperately might never be attained. I feel nauseous. My hands tremble. In these moments I feel as if my whole world is coming apart, as if I were in the Matrix and some catastrophic event has caused the pixels of my world to break apart. It is that feeling of irreversible doom, like when you were a teenager and your girlfriend would say: "Listen, we need to talk."

Nothing good ever comes of those words. In my experience they are always followed by a break-up or an uncomfortable confession, then a break-up. In the tiny space of time between her saying, "We need to talk," and something like, "I had sex with the whole of the Oakland Raiders, including the special teams coaching staff," there is that terrible rumbling at the foundations of your universe, the knowledge that it's all about to come crumbling down.

That is the feeling that wraps around me at times. When I think of the obstacles between myself and motorcycle ownership I feel that terrible collapsing and some part of me thinks: "Oh Lord, just kill me now."

It is a feeling that sinks claws into the back of my skull and wrenches my neck. My shoulders hunch up, my jaw tightens, a headache builds behind my eyes.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God," I think, my mind spinning in the white noise of panic. "Have I ever before felt this way? Have I ever been so out of control?"

Once. When I was a younger man. I fell crazily, terribly in love with a girl. I wanted to give her the whole of me, make my world hers. I was willing to throw away everything for the joy of waking up to her each morning. She said no and broke my heart. It took years for me to get over and sometimes I feel parts of me are still broken.

All the anxiety and need I felt toward her, I now feel doubly about motorcycling. But this, I know, is something that will not reject me. I simply need to reach out, to embrace it. And it will respond by giving me freedom, possibly even healing my old wounds. Restoring me, making me new.

Without it, I am going through hell. I don't know how much longer I can survive.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The reason


Yes, I know it's just a really long advertisement for a Harley dealer. And, yes, I'm very wary of all the Harley Cult nonsense, but still. I like the video just for the line: "There's a reason you don't ever see motorcycles parked out in front of therapist offices."

Friday, 25 January 2013

Feminine opposition

I first met my wife in autumn 2010, when I was still high on emotion from a U.S. road trip I had taken that summer. My theme song in those days was "Free" by the Zac Brown Band. So, I think it's safe to say she got it. There was never any point at which I was not clear about who I am and who I want to be. The man who needs to be free is the man she fell in love with; she understands.

But understanding only goes so far. Especially when there's no money.

If you are particularly astute you may have picked up that I have another blog, which I've maintained for almost a decade now. I use it to talk about anything and everything, including motorcycles. Why, then, create this blog?

Because she doesn't know about this blog.

I'm always honest with my wife, so if she happened upon this motorcycle diary I wouldn't be upset and it wouldn't contain any sentiment she hasn't already heard. But I feel that waving this obsession in her face wouldn't really help my cause. It is probably better if I just keep it to myself for the timebeing.

Being against motorcycles seems to be a common wifely trait (take a look at this blog post and the comments below). My ex-wife was vehemently against the idea. When she and I lived in California I floated the idea a few times and was told that any piece of paper showing my ownership of a motorcycle would be tantamount to divorce papers. And even Jenn, under the influence of alcohol and peer pressure, can sometimes fall into the trap of rolling her eyes and complaining about silly men and their want of toys.

Any time the issue of motorcycles comes up I can feel her tensing, steeling herself for some kind of battle of wills. But she has said over and over that she is not against such a thing. Her problem, she says, is that she feels a motorcycle is a luxury.

I have given her the arguments about cost, how a motorcycle takes so much less out of one's pocket than a car, but I've not made much progress. When I say I want a motorcycle this somehow translates in her mind as me saying I want her hanging off the back of it - miserable, cold, harried and arriving at dinner parties smelling of petrol*.

In fairness, in light of our current financial situation, just about any expenditure can seem luxurious. But my concern is where her definition of luxury begins and ends. There is no talk of cars being a luxury, nor vacations to the United States or South America. She and I daydream of all kinds of things, but only the motorcycle gets labelled as impractical.

Meanwhile, I see a motorcycle as necessity. Without one, I cannot be the man she married.

-----

*My brother rides a motorcycle and his one complaint is that the smell of petrol from cars' exhaust can get into your clothes. I rue the day I shared this inrformation with my wife.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The universe tells me to calm down

I went to buy a helmet today. I have no bike; I have not taken my CBT. And I have no actual money, just that which credit card companies are willing to lend. But still, I put on my jacket and trudged out in the snow, determined to buy a helmet.

"I'll wear it around the house," I told myself. "To get used to it."

There is some logic in such thinking. When I was 18 and took a training course to get my motorcycle endorsement in the United States, I found myself distracted by my helmet. I was too easily amused by the fact I could sit there and mumble to myself without anyone hearing. And some strange aspect of the whole thing made me feel I was in a pillow fort – I wanted to close my eyes and take a nap.

So, sure, even though training courses here provide helmets and it's a good idea to make sure you want to do something before you go spending hundreds of pounds on it, perhaps it might be smart for me to buy a helmet and get used to the feel and experience of the thing. That way, when I start training (whenever that is) my attention won't be split amongst re-learning to ride and re-accustoming myself to the gear. It might be smart to do that... if I had the money.

"But this is really important," I told myself. "I'll put it on my credit card."

The day before I had almost simply ordered a Caberg Ego online. I had stopped myself with the realisation that I really should know whether something fits before I fork out so much money for it. Better to go to a shop, I told myself, and I planned an excursion to Cardiff's Hein Gericke branch – a short walk from Cardiff Central train station.

This morning I found myself over-thinking what clothes I would wear. What looks cool? What outfit is least likely to give away the fact that I'm totally green? On the train into town I started getting jumpy at the thought of where, exactly, I was going to hide this helmet from my wife. It would seem too frivolous a purchase to her. I felt almost as if en route to a romantic rendezvous. Walking to the Hein Gericke shop my hands were shaking with excitement.

I arrived at the front door and... it was all gated up. On the door is a sign saying the shop has gone into administration (i.e., gone bankrupt). Cardiff's Hein Gericke is no more.

I stood and considered making the walk to Bevan Motorcycles, roughly 1.5 miles away – a bit of a trek in the heavy snow that was falling. As I pondered this, a car drove through a puddle of slush and mud, drenching me up to my groin.

"This is the universe telling you to go home," I thought. "Save it for another day."

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

No tengo dinero

In my mind, I will look this cool on a bike.
As I said in my last post, there are three things standing between me and motorcycle ownership: lack of a UK license, lack of money, and lack of enthusiasm from my wife. The first issue isn't too big a problem, but for the second; I don't have the money to pay for training.

You may have read one or two news stories about this: the economy sucks. It sucks everywhere and especially here in Europe, where in places like Spain unemployment hovers around 26 percent. In her majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland things are a little better, with the most recent figures showing unemployment at about 8 percent*. That's almost on par with the United States, which has a rate of 7.8 percent (and falling), but I think it's a misleading figure because many of us who have jobs are not, in fact, fully employed.

I really like the company I work for (and I'm not just saying that to cover my ass), but unfortunately they don't have the money to pay me for more than two days a week. That leaves me scrambling to pick up extra cash here and there, and there's never enough that I have more than a few coins at the end of the month.

So, even if I could dig up the £800 I think I'll need to go through the process of becoming fully licensed, I then need to get my hands on enough money to purchase a motorcycle and riding gear. Then I'll need to produce enough on a month-to-month basis that I can actually maintain and operate the thing. Bikes are considerably cheaper than cars, yes, but the upfront cost is still daunting.

Over the past few weeks I've come up with a few possible solutions to the issue of finance, which I'll talk about in some future post. But ultimately I think getting a motorcycle will still involve some level of borrowing. That will be something difficult to sustain and it will in no way appease my wife, who is the third and final obstacle. More on her next time.

-----

*In Wales, where I live, the unemployment rate is higher - just above 10 percent. In the boroughs to my immediate north and northeast the rate is 17 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Additionally, there is research to suggest that official figures paint a too-rosy picture in Wales and, in fact, things here are much worse.

Monday, 21 January 2013

But it's not that easy

So, I've come up with a clear and compelling case for getting a motorcycle (I'll go crazy if I don't get one). And I can even produce solid evidence that motorcycle ownership is a responsible and practical thing to do. In the United Kingdom, especially, motorbikes are a wise move in terms of transportation because they are (generally) cheaper to insure, cheaper to maintain, and cost less in taxes and MOT*. Add to this the fact that they require a fraction of the petrol (gas) that a car would use and they are not only cheap but environmentally friendly**.

Indeed, as far as commuting practicality is concerned, one can't help but feel that to not own a motorcycle is downright foolish. And yet, I don't own a motorcycle. The obstacles in my way are threefold:

1) I'm not licensed to ride a motorcycle in the UK.
2) I don't have a lot of money.
3) My wife isn't all that fond of the idea.

The first issue is easily fixable. I've trained before; I can train again. The system in the United Kingdom is quintessentially British in its circumlocutory bureaucracy, but a motorcycle license can be attained within a handful of weeks - faster if the rider is particularly keen. But, unfortunately, to do this "is gonna take money," in the words of George Harrison. Whole lotta spendin' money.

The Cardiff region has a handful of reputable training schools, with 1st Class Rider Training being the one I'm leaning toward. I like it because Andy, the owner of the school, is a former cop (which makes me think he'll be well versed in the laws). But also, from his blog and Flickr and Facebook accounts one gets the sense that he's genuinely pleased when another of his students succeeds. I'd like that kind of support.

I've calculated it will cost roughly £800 (U.S. $1,285) to go from beginner to fully-licensed rider. That's a sum that makes my eyes go funny. There's a possibility I could turn out to be a super amazing student, somehow remembering perfectly all I was taught 18 years ago, and thereby not need as much training, but I think it's wiser to expect the worst.

So, the first issue standing between me and a motorcycle is exacerbated by the second issue. And that second issue is a motherhugging mountain of an issue. So much so, that I'll save it for another post.

-----

*For those of you reading outside the United Kingdom, MOT stands for Ministry of Transport. All motorised vehicles have to pass a rigorous yearly MOT test to ensure they are road-worthy.

**That's based on the simple equation that less consumption = less waste. Some people will counter this argument by pointing out that motorcycle engines don't burn as clean as those of cars. That's true of older motorcycles, certainly, but modern bikes face increasingly stringent environmental standards, so the green argument is ever stronger for motorcycles.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

What happened

Hunter S. Thompson
Last time I wrote, I told of how I got my motorcycle license at age 18, but thereafter never rode. I had gotten my certification in a place with bad weather most of the year and I had neither the money nor storage space to own something I would have used so very rarely.

When I was 22 years old I left Minnesota for the slightly better weather of Northern Nevada, but married a woman who had a strong idea of who and what she wanted me to be. What she did not want me to be was one of those guys who zips around on a motorcycle. She was convinced I would get myself killed. And I wasn't able to convince myself she wasn't just a little bit right. Especially when she and I lived in San Diego, California.

San Diego is conducive to riding about 360 days a year, but it is home to countless military bases, which means a lot of people who make bad decisions involving motor vehicles. You may have heard that motorcycles have killed more U.S. Marines than IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. It is misleading statistic because the issue is not really with motorcycles but Marines. People who are trained to fight and die are, by nature, not going to be too precious about their own mortality.

San Diego has some horrific highway accidents. But the reason for those accidents is usually the vehicle operator rather than the vehicle. This kind of splitting of hairs, though, offers little help in the face of a wife's opposition. The issue was buried and forgotten. But then a few things happened.

When I was 30 years old I moved to southern Wales, where it almost never snows and where the roads are smaller and the traffic generally slower than in the United States. When I was 33 years old my wife left me. When I was 34 years old I drove from Minnesota to Texas and realised I love my home country. A few months later, I met and fell in love with a girl who was far more willing to accept me as I am, rather than as she wants me to be. When I was 36 years old I read Hunter S. Thompson's Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.

Part of being American is holding the innate (and admittedly ridiculous) need for freedom. That's a word that gets thrown around a lot and I think it manifests differently for each individual. For me, part of being free is having the ability to get up and go, the ability to roam. In Britain I have no car - just my feet, my bicycle and public transportation to take me places. That's not enough. I am not free. I am not myself.

About three months ago I realised all this. The source of my unhappiness became clear. And it became clear, too, that a motorcycle could save me.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

What I am - part II

In my last post I mentioned that I am naturally longwinded. As if proving my point, I started to tell the story of the beginnings of my motorcycle obsession but then had to cut myself off because I had reached the self-imposed 500-word limit for posts.

In that post I told of my doing poorly in high school and posted, too, a picture of a 1985 Honda VFR, with the caption "No Fat Chicks." It's a picture and caption that doesn't make sense in that post because they don't have the context of this story:

As summer grew closer in my senior year of high school, all my friends were full of thoughts and ambitions about what they would be doing after graduation - what amazing and far-away colleges they would be attending and all the incredible things they would be doing. Whereas my head was filled with the increasingly impossible-to-deny realisation that I was going nowhere. I wasn't going to graduate and I felt awful.

It was sometime during all this that I found myself chatting to one of the guys I worked with at the local supermarket. He had a white Honda motorcycle that was very much his pride and joy. I'm afraid I don't remember exactly what kind of Honda motorcycle it was. He told me, but it was just a slur of letters and numbers to me. I remember, though, that it was a 1985 model and on the tank he had placed a large sticker that read "No Fat Chicks," which, to a Midwestern suburban teenage boy in the 1990s, was the height of wit.

This guy was cool*. His bike was cool*. A kind of cool that I felt easily superseded the uncoolness of failing to graduate high school. I decided then that I would get my motorcycle license as proof to myself that I really could do something if I put my mind to it. I bought a helmet and gloves, threw on my all-leather letterman jacket, and enrolled in a rider training course. By the end of the summer, I had earned my motorcycle classification and in the process built up the confidence to push hard and finish high school. Just a semester after all my friends had done so, I, too, went to college.

That was more than 18 years ago. And strangely, I never again rode a motorcycle. Life happened, as they say. Minnesota is a snowy and icy region that can be a tricky place to ride as much as eight months out of the year. Money was always tight. And eventually I married a woman who swore she would leave me if I ever got on a bike. Up until a few months ago I would have thought the desire to ride a motorcycle was in me long dead.

In fact, it was just lying dormant all that time...

-----

*Not really. There is nothing cool about a "No Fat Chicks" sticker.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

What I am

No Fat Chicks.
In my last post I described this blog as "a tale of the journey from what I am to what I want to be." There are so many things I want to write about, but I'll do my best to keep it all under control. One of the ways I plan to do that is by imposing a 500-word limit to my posts.

We're talking about an obsession here, and you bet your sweet tushy I can go on and on and on and on and on (and on) about motorcycles. I could easily and happily sit here churning out novel-length tomes on motorcycling, motorcycles and so on. But who - apart from me - would want to read it? Part of the reasoning behind a public forum like a blog is to share the experience. Perhaps someone else will find comfort in knowing there is a person just as sick for motorcycles as they are. Perhaps others will be able to offer advice or commiseration. To make it more palatable for them - for you - I will try to rein in my longwinded nature. 500 words or less. And no more than one post per day. I promise.

(Yeah, we'll see how long I hold to that promise...)

So, anyhoo. On to the question of what I am. Or, rather, who I am. My name is Chris Cope. I live in Penarth, Wales - a small village sharing a border with Cardiff, at the very bottom of a sticky-out bit of western Britain. I'm originally from the United States, though, and the longer I live here (6.5 years, so far), the more happy I am to let people know I'm from there. Homesickness has that effect; it crystallises in the mind all that is special to you about the place you left.

The place in the United States I'm pining for tends to change depending on my mood. I was born in Texas but came of age in Minnesota. I miss both places, but more often than not Minnesota - and specifically the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis and Saint Paul - comes out ahead.

I went to high school in Bloomington, Minnesota - a suburb on Minneapolis' southern border and home to the Mall of America. I graduated in the same class as USC head coach Lane Kiffin. Or, well, I would have. I wasn't the most academic of teenage boys and ended up having to spend six months in an intensive catch-up programme after all my friends had graduated and moved on to college. It wasn't my finest hour. But I tell you about it because it's an experience that set the scene, creating the conditions that would ignite the very first spark in my motorcycle obsession.

The story of that spark, though, will have to come later. I've reached my 500-word limit.

Monday, 14 January 2013

The beginning

If I felt this way toward a girl there would be incrimination; restraining orders would be issued. People would look at me with their best serious faces, speak in their best concerned tones and say: "Chris, you are sick. Very, very sick. You need to get help."

Authority figures and neighbours would stare me down in judgemental disgust. I would find myself uninvited from social gatherings. Acquaintances would slip away, and I would learn who my very truest friends are. They would be the two, maybe three, people who would come and grip my hand and implore me to get over this thing - let this obsession pass.

But what I'm thinking about - what I'm obsessing over, what's filling my thoughts in every single waking moment - are motorcycles.

I want one.

I need one.

Is there a stronger word than "need?" That's what has its claws in me.

Being obsessed with motorcycling is a more socially and legally abiding thing - no one's going to throw me in jail simply for wanting to ride - but my desire is no less crippling. I feel sick with need. Without a motorcycle, as I am now, I feel I am in a rapid state of deterioration.

The illness is physical. I can feel in my arms and chest and shoulders and legs an actual, physical aching for the sense of freedom a motorcycle can provide. But almost certainly most people would say the root of the issue is psychological: I am the victim of some kind of mental disease. And what do we do with mental illness? We treat it with words. We talk it out. We keep a journal.

This, then, is my journal - my motorcycle diary: a tale of the journey from what I am to what I want to be.