*American Motorcyclist 5/2007
Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Couey
There comes a time in a relationship when parting becomes the necessary, even logical thing to do. For riders, guys especially, the time we spend with our bikes is less "ownership" than "relationship." Over the years and the miles, a bond develops between us and our machines. It's difficult to articulate exactly why this is so.
In most cases, riding is viewed as a solo activity. Whether it's a ride through spectacular natural beauty, a vigorous prosecution of hairpins and switchbacks, or simply time spent clearing one's head, the experience is an internal one. Ronald Reagan once said, "The best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse." Change "horse" to "motorcycle" and most riders would sagely nod in agreement.
A motorcycle, despite our willful anthropomorphizing, is a mechanical construct; an engineer's vision executed by an assembly line. The unenlightened insist that it is a soulless collection of metal and plastic parts. But riders can feel the collection of parts rise in concert and transcend themselves to a higher plane of existence, taking us along for the ride.
Riders change, acquiring more skills as time goes on. The bike that was such a challenge to us in the beginning now seems to be unable to follow us to the places our skills can take us. "Upgrade" is the operative word here. Our habits change, as well. At first, maybe we were content to commute and take rides in the country over the weekend. Now perhaps we feel the horizon calling and need a bike that can haul camping gear and a couple changes of clothing. Also, we have a desire to share the things we love with the people we love, which means that person needs to have a comfortable place to enjoy the ride. Whatever the reason, we will find ourselves one day ruminating about Making a Change.
I found myself in that spot over the past two months. My bike, a 1995 Honda PC800, has been my constant companion for the last 8 years. In that time about 75,000 miles has receded in the rearviews. The bike still navigates twisties like a micro surgeon and the engine still hums like a Swiss watch. With new shocks, springs,and cables, a measure of the machine's youth has been restored. But my wife, whom I readily admit to loving more than my motorcycle, has continually expressed her desire to accompany me on my trips. She has never been comfortable on the PC, complaining that the seat was too hard and the wind kept trying to rip her half-face helmet off of her head. So, with 94,000 miles showing on the clock, I made "The Decision."
I half-heartedly posted an ad on our group's website. Almostimmediately, the e-mails began coming in. One potential buyer from Western Canada dropped out based on the reality of distance and the onset of winter. Others wrote and asked polite questions, and never came back. Then I received a note from a fellow in a town that was only about 40 miles down the road. And on a cold November afternoon, he appeared at my front door, a delightful individual with a ready smile, full of anticipation.
We went to the garage and after several minutes, I fired up the engine and with some trepidation, watched him ride off down the street. It was similar to the first time I saw a young lad take one of my daughters away for an evening of movies and fun. While he was gone, I nervously puttered about the garage. My hands were busy, but I was at war with myself. It was hard to think about that empty space in the garage. After a period of time, he returned, wearing a big smile. My heart sank a little. He shut down the engine, swung off the bike, and after some conversation, looked me dead in the eye and said those fateful words, "I like what I see." We haggled, settled on a price and shook hands. He would return in a week to pick up the bike. He then said something surprising. "I'll need you to ride the bike to my home, because I don't think I can find anyone to bring me up here." I felt like he had unintentionally tapped into the emotions I was feeling. He was giving the chance for a farewell ride. Of course, I accepted.
After he left, I went into the house wearing a sad look. My wife looked at me and asked what had happened. I mumbled, "He wants thebike." The silence of the house was broken by her shriek of joy. "Now we can get that insulation done on the house!" I looked at here with surprise. It felt like we were selling a church in order to pay off a credit card. I guess it is hard to mix the magical with the mundane. Of course, she was right. Our outrageous heating bills from last winter made this a very necessary thing to do.
Later, I went back out to the garage, got out the polish and lovingly gave the bike a beautiful glow. As I worked, my mind went back over the years, remembering all the special times. The time in Colby, Kansas, getting caught in a surprise late-season snowstorm. And the night I pulled into my campsite at Two Harbors, Minnesota after a 700-mile day to find Lake Superior aglow with the silvery touch of a majestic full moon. I remembered the group rides I hosted in Missouri, looking back to see a line of 16 motorcycles following us along the Weinstrasse in eastern Missouri. There was the marvelous and gentle rhythm of the road through the Flint Hills of Kansas; the plains of Texas and New Mexico under a bright summer sun. The Rockies, the Sacramentos, the Alleghenys. Tombstone, Arizona; Estes Park,Colorado, the Keweenaw Peninsula in Upper Michigan, Lake Erie, and the penultimate experience of Deals Gap. All the places that had feasted the eyes and touched the soul the bike and I shared in that somehow indescribable way.
Finishing up, I stepped back, taking in the bike. In a way, I was saying goodbye and thanking this machine for all the wonderful days we had shared.
That last ride down the Pennsylvania Turnpike was perfect. It was a glorious sunny day, so unusual for November in the Alleghenies. I rolled through the gentle twists, the bike gliding effortlessly. All too soon, the ride ended, the transaction was completed, and my wife and I were pulling away. One last time, I looked back, seeing the bike's new owner regarding the machine with that quintessential new bike owner's grin. My sense of loss was tempered by the comforting feeling that the bike had gone to the right owner, one who understood the magic.
Come springtime, another bike will occupy The Sacred Space in the garage. More trips will be made, more places will be visited, and many more miles will unwind in the rear view mirrors. Another relationship will be forged.
I guess in the end, it's not just the bike; it's the ride that makes the magic.
And it's that magic that makes riding an unforgettable act of spirit and passion.