Wednesday, July 18, 2007

You Can Get It Home Later

At the suggestion of my wife, I am buying a motorcycle.

The process is easy enough. Get the learner's permit. Take the test. Pass the motor cycle safety course. Buy a bike. And it's that simple—except for the last part.

It has taken nearly a year to settle on the make and model. Suggestions from friends, bikers, co-workers, and people I don't even know came in from everywhere. Make sure it has disk brakes. Buy nothing smaller than 450cc or you’ll out grow it. Dual sports are the only way to go. Are you sure you don’t want a scooter? Most were unsolicited, all were appreciated. Regardless, my mere mention of the intent to buy gained me entry into a community that was connected by nothing more than a desire to share a common experience—a love of the road. With all of this advice in hand, I decided on an old airhead. Their style and simplicity appear to be a good match for a beginner. It seems like a bike that won’t be too much trouble with and something that I won’t outgrow after a season.

There are several good sites out there that offer extensive check lists, ratings, and warning signs. I read through them all and had my script down. Look for gunk in the gas tank. Check the seals. Start it cold. Check the alignment. The list got bigger with every new site. I needed a better way.

After a kicking a few tires and taking a test ride or two I came up with my own system. Ask questions, lots of questions. Find out their best experience with the bike, and their worst. Why did they buy the bike, and why do they want another. The best answers come from finding out why people like to ride. Once they open up, you get the answers you’re looking for. Good riders don't want to sell bad bikes.

Worry about getting it home later. If you like it and if feels right; buy it on the spot. I lost out on a great R80/7 in Maryland because I waited too long. The seller's wife decided that she liked the bike and wanted to keep it so that they could ride together. They told stories of road trips to the shore and a long love affair with BMWs. I also got a great tip on a local dairy in central Maryland, Hoffman’s. It had the best hand dipped ice cream I’ve come across in a while. My daughter, who came along, was thrilled. Bill, if you happen to read this, I'm still looking.

Web finds don't sit around. An R75/7 (one of the best I've been told) in NYC could have been the one. Great condition, new tires, recent engine work, it was ready to ride. Did I mention it came with a set of Karuser bags? I found it on a Tuesday and couldn't get into the city until the weekend. It sold on Friday night. Randy, the owner, emailed me with the bad news Saturday morning. I should have taken a personal day.

Both sellers were great. One I met in person, the other via email. I asked a ton of questions. Stupid newibe questions-the kind of questions that would normally get an eye roll and a sigh. They were patient. They sent photos. They answered honestly. Maybe it's the airhead mentality, or maybe I got lucky. Either way, each new experience adds to my enthusiasm.

I'm going to West Virginia to take a look at a 75/6 this weekend. Maybe this will be the one.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Change in Plans

Initially, I planned on moving through the back roads of Pennsylvania in an old F150. The kind of truck you see in the middle of the sticks with a cash only sign for $500. Rusty and faded, new or used, it didn't matter, the old Fords patinaed overnight. I grew up in these trucks.

The green '76 F150 that I learned to drive on still sits by the building that used to house the Big Trout across from Spring Creek. I've been waiting for the for sale sign to show up on it's windshield ever since I moved back home. Then there was the yellow stakebody that needed a can of either for the carb and a brick for the gas pedal in order to start on winter mornings. Summer time humidity would cause it to stall out. You would have to remove the gas cap to start it again. But my favorite was the one Pop had when he was the landscaper at the Masonic Homes in Elizabethtown. Forest green, with a push button start. I remeber being around 4 or 5 and sitting in the cab on summer days with the smell of two-stroke exhaust and freshly cut grass hanging in the air. In the fall it was leaves. Winter, coffee.

These were the trucks that I hoped to find. Trucks owned by old men who still ran trap lines and smoked Pall Mall. The kind of truck that would be perfect for hitting the back roads. The kind that would blend in, disappear. Then gas hit three dollars a gallon. I was going to need another solution.