Confessions of a Moto-Maniac

I wrote this in way back in 2004 and a lot has happened since but it is still a fun look back in time.

Prologue

The thought crossed my mind, as thoughts sometimes do, that if I were rich I would round up a pristine example of every street-legal motorcycle I have ever owned.  Wouldn’t it be fun to just have them around as a monument to my lifelong passion for two-wheeled contrivances?  I could turn my garage into a shrine!

Ah, the garage.  Wouldn’t it be nice just to be able to find my garage?  Actually I can see the outside of it but opening the door is like finding a portal to another dimension.  Perhaps you’ve seen a picture of a small building with an open door, through which you can see the interior of a large palace.  My garage is just like that — only opposite.  The garage looks spacious from the outside but once inside the intrepid adventurer finds no safe place to stand, let alone move about.

Then the thought crossed my mind — as thoughts are sometimes wont to do —  I wouldn’t actually have to be rich.  What’s this?  Two thoughts coming so close together!  This must mean something.  This must be my DESTINY!  I have only had six street-legal bikes and I still have four of them.  I’m almost there.  If only I could manage to clean out the garage and make room for a couple more.  What’s a measly six motorcycles when I once put the count at thirteen bikes in the garage and its environs?  At least half of those belonged to my kids and of course they didn’t all work.  Maybe the kids could help me clean out the garage.  Where are those kids when you need them?  This whole garage conundrum is their fault anyway.  (I delude myself.)  How dare they move out and leave a lot of useless stuff behind?  When I’m dead they’ll just have to come and clean it out, just like I had to clean my old stuff out of my parent’s garage when they died.

When it comes to having a clean garage full of pristine motorcycles, I really am dreaming.  Besides, another challenge looms dark on the horizon.  Even if I could locate the missing cycles…  Even if I could perform some magical garage exorcism I’d still have to get the two missing bikes past the German Border Guard.  “Oh, hi Vicki.  Nice day isn’t it.  What do you mean, ‘What is that big lump under the tarp?’  No, I don’t think those look like handlebars sticking out.  Do you?”  Some risks are just not worth taking.

Chapter One – The Sickness

Talk about a dream come true… The day I bought my first bike still dances through my memory like a sugarplum fairy.  I’ve done exhaustive research on this subject and found that no other kid in the entire history of kid-dom ever wanted a motorbike more than I did.  My poor teenage body was wracked with want.  I used to ride my bicycle to the local hills where enviable young brats rode their Yamaha 80’s and Honda 90’s up and down over little trails in the dirt, leaving behind excruciatingly beautiful tracks with their knobby tires.  I would stare longingly at those tire prints, trying to imagine the feeling of power as the rear tire digs into the dirt and the lucky rider is thrust forward with no physical effort or peddling.

In the days when any vacant lot was fair game for some two-wheeled fun, one such hallowed riding spot was Skyline Drive.  It had some great little hills and benches imprinted with a spider web of bike trails.  It was on this very spot that feared moto-knight, Terry Wadkins, was reputed to have jumped his Greeves over the head of an unsuspecting rider. So help me God, a Greeves! (reverently spoken with quavering voice)  The very name of this savage beast sent shivers up the spine of any young punk mounted on a Japanese trail tiddler.  I was so desperate I would have settled for a Honda step-through Tail 90, which was almost a girl’s bike!  …anything that would have put a throttle twist-grip in my hand and leave behind a glorious legacy of tire tracks in the brown dirt.  When even the most humble bikes promised two-wheeled nirvana, the sight of classmate, Terry (brat) Swystun, riding his custom-painted Honda 250 Scrambler, with its lusciously sonorous twin side-pipes, was just too much injustice for me to bear.  Oh, the ache!  Even when there were no motorbikes around on Skyline I could feel the presence of two-wheeled ghosts and hear the distant song of internal combustion hanging in the air like the final notes of an Italian opera.

One memory that remains especially vivid is that of a midsummer evening in 1965 when my cousin Darrel, another life-long motohead, gave me a ride on his Bridgestone 90.  He had bravely ridden the little ring-a-ding thing 100 miles from Othello to Wenatchee.  If I close my eyes I can still savor that warm evening air as we crossed the bridge and I felt the exhilaration of being a teenager “on the town,” free from parental constraints, drinking in the fresh, wide-open feeling that can only be had on a motorcycle.  The door had been opened; my destiny was set. Suddenly all things were possible.

The big roadblock here was a different German Border Guard who went by the innocuous sounding appellation, Mom.  You’ve seen the movie A Christmas Story, right?  No wonder I relate so well to Ralphie, in his lust for that Red Rider air rifle, only to be told, “you’ll shoot your eye out.”  Ralphie was only nine years old when his dream was fulfilled and he was entrusted with a firearm.  I had spent years watching kids younger than myself, gleefully tearing around on Tote-Goats and trail bikes.  At the ripe old age of sixteen I was in possession of a driver’s license and an Oldsmobile but still no motorcycle of any kind.  I felt like I had been sentenced to life as a Benedictine monk.  OK. I know what you’re thinking. Bring out the violins.
After months of cunning, calculated, arm-twisting, along with some gentle persuasion and shameless whining, I convinced the “border guard” that a “little” bike couldn’t be anything but harmless.  With a sigh of resignation Mom finally uttered these blessed words: “Oh, I guess it’d be alright”.  Hallelujah, Amen! The border cross-arm gate had suddenly swung upward … for me!  I was a free man.  I played it cool though, waiting until out of sight around the corner before doing the “Toyota Jump” (or whatever we might have called it back then) and throwing a fist into the air.

Chapter Two – The Chrome Bullet

My brother Keith put me in touch with a guy who foolishly thought he no longer needed his beautiful little Honda S90.  What sleek little numbers those were.  Somehow Honda managed to morph their demented notion of a motorcycle frame (pressed sheet metal) into a gorgeous little black and chrome bullet.  Not a very fast bullet, mind you, but it nearly kept up with cars on the highway.  Shortly after handing over a small wad of 1967 dollars I found myself in a most euphoric state, cruising down the road from Cashmere at near 60 miles- per-hour on my very own cycle.  It had rained a little that day and the air blowing up my nostrils smelled so sweet.
The bike I’d love to have today is the S90, just the way it was on that heavenly day.  But the motorcycle world was a different place then and real dirtbikes were scarce – especially small, inexpensive ones.  I didn’t appreciate what a classy mini-sportbike the Honda was and, in desperation, tried to turn it into a dirtbike.  The call of the cow trail was strong and my friends were desecrating their S90s as well.  Off came those slender little silver fenders.  On went the giant rear sprocket.  Replace that low hanging muffler with a straight-tube side-pipe, complete with Snuff-R-Not.  Actually, in my case, I was too cheap buy the Snuff-R-Not and merely wadded up some copper wire from my dad’s scrap pile.  Cramming the wad into the end of the pipe quieted the thing down enough to escape notice by the police.  A fashionable alternative to crunching one’s stock rear fender when looping over backwards on a hill-climb was to cut a piece of thick aluminum sheet and bend it into a disposable rear fender.  Knobby tires and dirt-style handlebars completed the transformation.  Dare I say that the Honda was starting to look gnarly?  No, I’d better not.  Wadkins might be listening.

Later on, this would seem a poor excuse for a dirtbike but those halcyon days spent with friends, exploring the hills around Wenatchee on  the Honda were priceless.  I was finally making my own tire prints in the dirt but was too busy having fun to look back and notice.  Maybe some pathetic kid on a bicycle was doing that for me.

On the day that I traded the Honda in at Johnson’s Cycle, I looked at the thing sitting there in the parking lot.  It was just another bastardized Jap bike and I said goodbye without remorse.  Did the new owner get the original parts I had removed?  I don’t even know and, at the time, couldn’t imagine why anyone would care.  Years later his Dad might have found them in the stuff junior left behind in the family garage.  “Ah, I can just fit these old fenders into the garbage can along side last night’s pizza box.”  So, what was it that would persuade me to part with my Holy Grail of moto-fantasies?  Well, that story starts a couple of years earlier – 1965 to be exact.

Chapter three – Spanish Fly

I was still the kid on the bicycle, having ridden to town to visit motorcycle shops.  Keith had just bought his first bike, a 250cc Ducati Monza road bike, which he promptly tried to modify into a dirtbike.  See how mixed-up we were back then?  These bikes are sought-after classics today – if you can find one with its parts intact.  Inside the tiny Ducati shop was the heady atmosphere of moto-mania and I was drawn to it like a bee to honey.  Proud new owners of gleaming Italian machines were wheeling their mounts in and out.  The motorcycling boom years of the sixties and seventies were getting underway and ordinary folk were discovering the intoxicating elixir of combining a lightweight motorcycle with a beautiful spring day.  In that simpler time before helmet laws and driver’s license endorsements, all you needed in the way of special equipment was a pair of sunglasses.

My career as a walking database of motorcycle performance statistics was just getting off the ground and I was accumulating bike brochures wherever possible. Being a young wannabe biker and also poverty stricken, and my concept of engine size back then was in a different realm.  Actually, everybody’s was.  A 250 Ducati was a “big” motorcycle and a Triumph Bonneville was otherworldly.  Harley?  Well, they weren’t really the same species were they?  Their tires looked like they came off a Chevy Nova, for Pete’s sake. They were for crusty old farts who fought in WWII.

In the Duc shop that day was a copy of Cycle World which had a test report on a wild-looking thing with fiberglass body parts called a Bultaco. (Imagine me trying to put the accent on the first syllable)  It’s a 250 … but wait.  Look at the acceleration!  This thing is quicker than a 650 Triumph!  How can this be?  The Bultaco Pursang/Metisse was a Spanish bike with a frame and elegantly integrated yellow bodywork designed by two British gents named Rickman.  You can’t get much more exotic than that.  I bought the magazine (my first) and I still have it in my eternally expanding collection today.

About the same time I bought my Honda S90, Johnson’s Cycle became a Bultaco dealer.  I believe this was at the urging of Keith’s good friend, Larry “Short” Greedy.  I could take a side trip here and wander back to the day Short pulled up at our house on his brand-new Triumph TT Special.  Yes, he was riding that glorious, short-piped creature on the street with only a license plate and brake light to make it “legal”.  That was all that was required for daytime use.   But, of course, he had the requisite sun glasses.  The memory of that bike idling in our driveway with its front wheel throbbing up and down with the beat of its twin pistons makes me all twitterpated even today.

OK, back to the future past.  Keith reported his first Bultaco sighting to us in great descriptive detail, as is his custom.  My mouth began to water and I could feel the onset of destiny.  A real, designed-from-scratch dirtbike.  Better than any converted roadster.  Better than a Honda Scrambler even.  These were the days when motorcycles were made out of metal.  Bultacos had classy polished aluminum fenders and all the right dirt-riding features.

First on my wish list went the Bultaco Lobito 100.  I was riding a 90 and this would be a step up.  But the real story was the handling, the off-road prowess, the plush, long-travel dirtbike suspension.  Do I hear someone snickering?  Remember this is nearly a decade before the monoshock.  I had just bought the S90 so I figured it prudent to just save my money and wait for the right time to start mentioning larger motorcycles around the “border guard”.  I continued to work for my dad as an electrician’s helper and soon I felt that the Bultaco Campera 175 might be within financial reach. Now we’re talkin’ size.  It was the fall of 1967 and I was in an art class with Greg Parsley.  It didn’t take long to find out that he was planning to buy a Campera.  I was saving most of my $1.50-per-hour wage while scheming over various pieces of Bultaco literature. (Which I still have in my file)  The mighty Matador 250 was the zenith in their street-legal dirtbike lineup.  The ad line read: “The stump jumper you can cruise on the road”.  It was what we would now call a dual-sport but leaned heavily toward the dirt.  Back then it was a bike that could, and did, win the famous Six Days enduro – a serious woods bike.  But it was so “big” and nearly $900 with tax.  Best only to dream a little.

But then something happened.  My friend Bill  (who rode, what else, a modified S90) lived in a new apartment complex.  They had moved in before the place was even finished and the parking area was still just fresh brown dirt.  A neighbor had just bought a new Bultaco Matador and promptly sprayed the luscious black-and-red gas tank with a can of flat-black paint because he “liked the color.”  It looked so menacing and when he opened the throttle in that dirt patch the forward thrust was, quite frankly, astonishing to 90cc riders like Bill and I.  And then there were the tire prints left by that big meat 4:00 knobby.  I was left reeling.  Dang!  There ain’t no 175cc toy in my future.  From then on it was the relentless march of DESTINY.

When I hung out with my friends at the Arctic Circle Drive-in, I would lean up against my ’58 Olds and watch them waste their money on pop and fries.  Not me.  That money will buy some part on my Matador.  Dad talked me out of buying a used Matador that fall and I’m glad.  I’ve only purchased three new vehicles in my life and one was a 1968 Bultaco Matador.
No tear was shed that day for the abandoned S90.  Where the Honda merely plodded along, me and my Bultaco roared up the local hills.  Five minutes after leaving my house I could be standing on top of Saddle Rock, surveying the valley of my youth.  We had a lot of fun together.  One day while doing a bit of 4th-gear-roaring, the gear broke.  Greg Parsley helped me tear down the motor and effect the repair.  I remember that, at his suggestion, we baked the cases in my mom’s oven to expand the metal for reassembly.  “What’s that funny smell?”  The Matador had a pretty hideous looking headlight and the bike wasn’t much fun on the road anyway, so off came all the street equipment.  From then on I just rode stealth from my house to Dry Gulch and the freedom of the hills.  The Bultaco was sold in 1971 to help finance my two-year church mission.  But there is a whole other story between here and there.

Chapter Four – Ya ma ha too hot

With the street stuff striped from my Matador I was left with no road bike.  This will never do.  My friend Willy Winstanley had a street bike.  Funny thing was, he was only fifteen and his parents didn’t know he had it.  He hid it at my house until he noticed a few too many miles gathering on the odometer.  Did I mention that it was a beautiful green 500 Triumph?  I can still feel that mellow, throbbing pony underneath me.  I should have bought a Triumph but instead fell victim to the allure of a bike I had read about in the magazines.  Yamaha had brought out a two-stroke, twin-cylinder, 350cc bombshell called the YR1 Grand Prix.  What is a YR1, you say?  It was forerunner to the famed (or infamous) RD series.  It had a chrome-sided gas tank like the S90 but not quite so aesthetically pleasing.  It was reputed to be faster than Willey’s Triumph so I was on the prowl.

I found a local girl who had one and convinced her to let me take her (the bike) out for a spin.  By now Willy was riding legal and he led the way up Stemilt Hill.  I soon discovered this bike had a characteristic none of my previous bikes had.  The brakes actually worked!  Unfortunately I made this discovery on a decreasing-radius corner while trying to keep up with Willy.  Can you say “rear wheel lock-up and subsequent high-side crash?”  As in, flying off a steep bank into a rock-infested field.  We had to chop the rear fender off with a hatchet so I could limp home.  The girl was not happy.  Turns out the bike was on long-term loan from her old boyfriend who was still making the payments, so he was more than happy to sell the bike to me.  I fixed it up and thus began a crazy year in the annals of my moto-life.  The Yamaha was rather manic in personality.  The motor was a big bundle of razzmatazz and loved to go fast.  In fact, that’s all it really wanted to do.  Willy’s Triumph was a strong runner and our bikes ran pretty even in a drag race but his didn’t mind being ridden gently.  I should have bought a Triumph.

When my friend Jim Younkin showed the slightest interest in getting a bike, I pounced immediately and began feeding him tasty morsels of information about another bike I had my eye on.  Yes, it was the very one-and-only, fabled Bultaco Metralla.  This was not to be a good combination.  (Ted+YR1)X(Jim+Metralla)=TROUBLE.  But we were young and only had our whole lives to lose.  The best way to describe the Metralla is to say that it felt like being astride a large razor blade.  Bultaco had built a championship-winning road racer and then decided to bring it out as a street model with minimal conformity to civilized conventions.  Actually it was well mannered enough on the street but was a very effective tool for carving a corner.  For a 250 it would really honk too.  And honk is the right sound effect.  “Whip ‘er the chocolate,” as the Brits would say, and that two-stroke motor would pull and honk like a big goose.  My Yamaha would beat it in a drag race for sure, but out on the open road Jim and I were a certifiable hazard.

I hope the statute of limitations has run out for what I’m about to divulge.  Jim and I thought it would be fun, and perfectly acceptable, to ride the forty miles to Lake Chelan at the greatest possible speed whilst lying flat out on our bikes, Rollie Free style.  If you’ve seen the photo of Rollie setting the land speed record of 150 miles per hour on a Vincent, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  He couldn’t get to 150 with his clothes on so he stripped down to slippers, a bathing suit, and a bathing cap and lay down over the bike with his feet straight out behind him, hanging on like a one big handlebar streamer.  I wonder if there was a Mrs. Free.  “Hi honey, I’m home.”  “How was your day dear?”  “Oh, fine.  Got a little windburn though.”  Trouble is, I can’t blame our antics on Rollie because I didn’t see this photo until later in life.  There were a couple of differences too.  We wore clothes, and while he rode on the Bonneville Salt Flats, we rode the entire trip on the highway centerline.  That way there was no need to worry about when it was safe to pass.  Also, our average speed to the lake was only 105, not 150.  My friend Steve Currit claims to have seen me whiz past that day.  But we didn’t meet for another year, so I was wondering how he figured that was me on the bike even before I told him the story.  “Who else would it have been,” he said.
The Yamaha motor used to say things to me, such as; “Do you want to speed up or slow down?  What’s with all this in-between crap? Make up your mind.”  In an ill-considered attempt to appease the unruly thing, I developed a riding technique for city streets which went something like this.  Open the throttle a good bit and run up thru the gears, which resulted in fairly hard acceleration.  Said acceleration continued unabated until a corner or stop sign called for a lower speed, where I then hit the brakes.  This would have been fine had I been the only living soul in town.  After a year of this sort of thing the statistical probabilities caught up to me … in the form of a black and white police cruiser.  Actually the cop said he had a hard time catching up to me.  I was sedately motoring up Crawford Street (a 25 mph zone) in my usual manner and didn’t realize he was behind me doing 80 mph and watching me pull away from him.  Lucky for him I needed to make a right turn onto Okanogan Street.  Well, the jig was up.  In a case like this they don’t just write you a big fat ticket and drive away.  After bailing out of jail, appearing in court, and pricing high-risk insurance, I tendered my driver’s license and was back on a bicycle for the next three years.  This gave me plenty of time to think about my next motorcycle.

Chapter Five – Seriously German

There was, and still is, a whole other approach to this motorcycling thing.  Some people actually look at the scenery as they ride, if you can imagine.  Some even go on long trips to exotic lands.  I had read about a certain odd-looking bike of uncommon smoothness and reliability.  If your name was Danny Liska, for example, and you wanted to ride from Finland to South Africa, you’d want to be on a BMW R60/2.  These things were famous for swallowing continents whole and asking for another helping.  Danny and others like him made many such trips on the old /2.  They would run forever on putrid, third-world gasoline and if they did break, you had a good shot at fixing them alongside the road.  They weren’t particularly sporty.  If you’re looking for a four-wheeled equivalent, don’t think BMW 325.  Think 1954 Massey Ferguson tractor.  But I was tired of bikes that went out of style and got beat by the following year’s new crotch rocket.  I was ready to settle down and I wanted a bike I could keep for the rest of my life.  Wasn’t that a quaint notion – some vestige from the 18th century perhaps?  When was the last time anybody made anything to last a lifetime?  It might have been 1969 when BMW rolled the last of the /2 models out of its Munich factory.
Upon returning home from my mission I started saving for that very bike.  After working for three months I placed an ad in the Seattle Times and got one response.  I rode the bus to Seattle and was met by the owner of a nice example of the last Earls fork model.  The old Beemers have a personality and mystique all their own.  You have to be in the right frame of mind to fully understand and cozy-up to them.  There is a kind of Zen consciousness and harmonic interplay betwixt man and machine, and when you hit the right frequency, all becomes quiet serenity and world glides by as if you were rafting down a lazy river on a warm summer day.
At the time I had dreams of riding my BMW to South America and Alaska. Before the year was out however, and for reasons I cannot fully comprehend, I was thinking of getting married instead.  The next summer, while still kid-free, my wife and I made one very memorable trip through Montana’s Glacier National Park and across Alberta.  Something about riding a fully laden BMW up the Journey to the Sun Highway made me want to experience it from every angle.  I wanted to stand by the side of the road and watch us chuff by, recording the sight in my memory.  The bike was in its element.  Men have long dreamt of places that they’d like to explore. Some very fastidious German engineers and factory workers helped make a lot of those dreams come true.
Throughout the seventies and eighties the Beemer and I traveled together and became the best of friends.  I wish I could say we ventured far afield and explored strange lands but after that Glacier Park trip we mostly made short trips around the Northwest.  I always said that I could depart on any long cross-country trip with complete confidence that the BMW would get me there just as reliably as any new bike.  I just never did it.  Had to stay home and keep an eye on what those kids were putting in the garage.  In recent years I’ve talked of selling her – being careful not to let her overhear or even read my lips. (Think HAL9000 in the movie 2001)   Vicki says she’s afraid if I get rid of the BMW, she might be next.  Not a chance.

Chapter Six – She wore a red dress and spoke Italian

As the years marched by, I had little interest in any of the Japanese motorcycles that came and went.  I didn’t want a frenzied rice rocket that begged to be revved to the moon in order to extract enormous power.  I didn’t dare risk a repeat of the Yamaha debacle.  I was only interested in new BMWs.  Then in 1987 I read a magazine test on a modern exotic called the Cagiva 650 Alazzurra.  A wealthy Italian industrial family, the Castiglionis, had rescued Ducati from impending doom and changed the name to Cagiva.  The Alluzura was wrapped in attractive bodywork and, rather than a nervous four cylinder motor, it had a galloping V-twin.  I thought to myself that this might be a modern bike I could live with.  Somehow I had missed the whole Ducati V-twin era during the 70’s and the legendary racing successes of Paul Smart, Mike Hailwood, and Old Blue.  I may have read about the revered old 900SS but never considered giving up the reliability of my BMW for some finicky Italian job with a narrow board-like seat.  I was comfortably ensconced in my Zen thing and felt lucky to have found a bike I could keep “forever,” and which cost me almost nothing while I was raising a batch of kids.
In the late eighties another bike caught my eye.  The Castiglioni brothers had built another beauty with full fairing that was even more seductive than the Alazzurra, and this time used the Ducati name.  The 750 Paso was something to behold.  The descriptions I read of its motor, with a pounding heartbeat and throaty baritone voice, were definitely having an effect on me.  I began to wonder what it might be like to have a bike that could be shifted with a snick rather than the Beemer’s characteristic crunching noises, which cause passers-by to look for gear parts falling onto the road.  Another bit of info I had previously filed away in memory now came to the fore.  While attending a world championship motorcycle Observed Trial in the mid 80’s, I had actually seen the illusive V-twin Ducati.  A guy in our group had put 100,000 miles on his Duc.  This was not uncommon for a BMW but was impressive for an Italian bike.  I later bought a coffee table book called Dream Bikes with full-page photos of gorgeous motorcycles.  All but one were custom creations from around the world.  The lone production bike that made the editor’s cut?  Ducati 750 Paso.  Dream was right.  I was pouring every cent I had onto the building of our new home and a brand-new motorcycle seemed a distant fantasy.  I’m a pretty good daydreamer however, and the Paso figured prominently in a few of them.
One fine day in 1992 an amazing thing happened.  From the very voluptuous lips of my amazingly wondrous wife, Vicki, fell these blessed words.  “I think you should buy a new bike.”  To borrow a line from Forrest Gump… “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.”  Vicki, I take back every syllable of that border guard remark.  I’m also smart enough to know not to let the embers die on an opportunity like this.  Time for a foraging excursion to the bike shops of Seattle.
Actually it was more of a B-line for the BMW shop at Green Lake.  Practically speaking, only a new BMW made sense.  The shifting was much better now – no worried looks from people on the sidewalk.  I was curious about two models and tested them both.  First came the K75S.  Nice modern look, peppy three cylinder motor, but …” Are you sure this is a reciprocating, internal combustion engine and not something built by General Electric?”  I guess that smooth little whine is just what some people are looking for but I’m kind of used to a bike with a heartbeat.  Next, I’m roaring around Green Lake on a R100GS.  Now, this is more like it – the familiar thrum of an opposed twin. I could feel every reciprocation, but in a mellow, soothing way.  As if it was taking one side of an enjoyable conversation.  The GS is a sit-up-and-take-in-the-sights kind of motorcycle.  It has the stature of a two-wheeled Great Dane.  I was tearing around on what amounts to a 1000cc dirt bike and loving it.  Time to get serious and make a decision.
On the next trip I brought Vicki with me to help choose the bike that may have to last the rest of my life. (Where have I heard that before?)  First we rode the GS and both liked it.  Then I ask if there are any Ducati shops in Seattle.  This had the edge of heresy about it but I just had to satisfy my curiosity and find out how they really looked and sounded and felt.  Bellevue Suzuki-Ducati had several to choose from.  By now the 750 Paso had evolved into the 906 Paso and again into the 907ie.  Massimo Tamburini’s blood-red bodywork made this thing a rolling work of art.  It also looked to be the only Duc with a rear seat anyone would want to sit on.  I had to make sure the impetus for this foray into the modern bike-world could accompany me on a ride.  Soon I was charging up residential cul-de-sacs around Lake Sammamish at unmentionable speeds and this stocky little raging bull was playing Vivaldi though the pipes.  How two cylinders manage to sound like the distant drum roll of a Boss 302 V-8 winding up on high-octane gasoline, I don’t know.  This Italian Stallion was sex on wheels.  I’ve never had an extramarital affair but this was beginning to feel like one.  Would my beloved Beemer, waiting faithfully back home, ever forgive me?  Oh hell, who cares?  This feels too good.  “Mama mia, help!”  “No, don’t.”  Whew!  The guilt is too much.  I’d better go back and pick up Vicki.
The following week found me in an excruciatingly enjoyable, nail biting, brochure shuffling dilemma.  The GS or the 907?  Passion or practicality?  Blood-red lust or earthy adventure?  Paganini or Wagner?  Vicki finally tipped the scales with a seductive comparison between riding the Ducati and making love.  See?  I’m not the only one.  The Duc has been in our garage for almost twelve years and proven to be an utterly reliable mistress.  In my more mature years I don’t dare mention any of the numerical details of our romps together but she still sings my favorite arias.  As a postscript, Keith bought that very GS a week later and we enjoyed some fine rides together.  A fitting reconciliation of German and Italian mechanical philosophy.

Chapter Seven – Maytags and Pipe Dreams

Since I am rambling on in chronological order, have I unwittingly saved the least interesting for last?  I haven’t counted the Beta and Fantic trials bikes I’ve owned because they are not street-legal and fall into an unfortunately obscure corner of the biking world.  I also bought a Honda XR600 dirt bike and made it street legal.  Kind of the opposite of what we did in the 60’s.  It was a surprisingly competent beast on tight trails but I wanted electric start.  A couple of years ago I bought a Suzuki DRZ400S, a modern dual-sport of the highest order of practicality and function.  The European dirt bikes may be more exiting but when I am deep in the forest and far from home, I want something that flat works and the DR works like a Maytag.  In the dirt it works so much better than the old Bultaco it might as well have come from different planet.  It’s also quite pleasant around town or on a quick dash into the countryside.  The E-start is so nice.  I no longer have to wear heavy boots and wonder if I’ll be lucky enough to get a cold kick-start, like I did with the big XR.
But such is the state of modern machinery.  Do we really miss the romance of temperamental contraptions of bygone eras?  A few nostalgic souls may, but I think there is still a pallet and canvas for artistic expression in the modern motorcycle, if the designer has the vision to put it there.  When I visited the Guggenheim Museum exhibit, Art of the Motorcycle, the first bike to come into view was Tamburini’s latest masterpiece – the MV Agusta F4.  Such a superb example of a modern mechanical expectation – run like a Maytag, sing like Pavarotti, and stir the soul as exquisite visual art.  Those staggered pipes running out from under seat look like they belong to a cathedral organ.
Three of the six bikes were sold long ago, so how is it that I only need two to complete the collection?  I was driving down Red Apple Road one day and spotted a Bultaco Matador identical to my old bike.  It was perched on top of a tree stump in a front yard, as if to ensure my notice.  I stopped and rang the door bell just to see why its owner had it on display.  He was hoping someone just like me would come along and give it a home, free for the asking.  For now it languishes in my storage shed awaiting a possible restoration.  While it would be fun to find the Yamaha YR1 as a memento of my stupid years, it was really Willy’s Triumph and Jim’s Metralla that stole my heart.  The S90, on the other hand, was such a little jewel it would look great hanging on the wall in my den … if only in my dreams.

The End?  Don’t count on it.

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One response to “Confessions of a Moto-Maniac

  1. Hey thanks for a great blog

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