Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey
Two years ago, I sold my motorcycle. For those who don’t ride, I’m not sure I can clearly convey the emotional trauma of such an event. The years and miles that unroll ‘neath man and machine really aren’t “ownership” as much as “relationship.” As riders know full well, you may own the machine, but the machine possesses you.
So, you ask, why sell? Well, the bike had 95,000 miles and, truthfully, I was ready for a new machine. The plan was to wait until winter had subsided, then “spring” for a new ride. Unfortunately, some high-priority expenses laid claim to the meager resources allocated for the bike.
The realization that I would be bike-less for the summer hit hard. For me, riding is not an exercise in transportation. It is an experience of the heart and soul; a spirit freed from the mundane to fly free from horizon to horizon. The roar of an engine is the siren song of the open road, the call of freedom…
Yeah, I know. Blah, blah, blah….
So I did what most men in my situation do: I moped. I became a skilled professional moper. If there had been an Olympic Moping team going to Beijing, I would have been its captain. Predictably, this drove my poor wife bananas. Last June, she took pity on me, and in one of her extremely rare moments of rash decision-making, she suggested that we rent a motorcycle and take a trip together.
What followed was a marvelous 6-day adventure on a Honda Goldwing (bells and whistles included) through the mountains and seashores New England. We had a great time, although I learned that it was far better to have the world’s most vociferous driving critic at an arm’s length, rather than draped across my back. (That helmet slap really gets your attention.) I was ecstatic, thinking this was the thing to put the bike purchase over the top.
Last August, however, we realized that her car would have to be replaced. Her ride, a once-elegant 1992 Park Avenue Ultra has run the gauntlet of four teen drivers and now looks like a good candidate for a Demolition Derby. Bowing to the inevitable squeeze between needs and resources, I glumly surrendered to the necessity of putting off the bike purchase for yet another year.
Hoping to forestall another outbreak of the mopes, she brightly suggested, “If you want to ride that badly, just take my bike.” I blanched in horror. Her bike is a 22-year-old Honda Helix scooter. I protested that it needed repairs before I could entrust it to my 60-mile round trip commute. Usually, this works, since she hates to see me spend money. But I had underestimated her resolve. Affixing a steady gaze, she intoned, “Go ahead.” The Clint Eastwood tag line “Make my day” went unsaid, being perfectly superfluous in this case.
I took the bike to my trusted wrench, Jake, the magician of Cernic’s. He accepted the machine with his thin face wearing the grim look of a surgeon who knows that the odds are against this particular patient. He seemed to understand perfectly when I whispered, “Take your time – please.” But although Jake is a fellow “guy” he is a complete professional and all too soon, I received the slightly apologetic call that the bike was ready.
A few days later, I stood in the garage staring morosely at the Helix. Finally, with one last longing glance at my manly, hairy-chested (but gas-guzzling) 4-wheel drive SUV, I climbed aboard. The engine, nursed expertly by Jake’s skilled hands, turned over instantly. Instead of the accustomed throaty rumble of a powerful V-twin, I heard the scooter’s wimpy-by-comparison lawn mower “putt-putt”. I rolled on the throttle and slowly headed north.
Despite the struggle in climbing hills, it really wasn’t too bad. Once again, I enjoyed the wide-open feeling of life on two wheels. And after only a few miles, I discovered that, doggone it, I was actually enjoying myself.
My dilemma now was how to hide this rediscovered joy from my wife, lest she conclude that I’d be permanently happy with the Helix.
Returning to Somerset, I passed a gas station, the parking lot filled with a crowd of iron and chrome, out for an afternoon ride. I caught the eye of one of the do-ragged, black-leathered riders. Raising my chin in the time-honored male challenge, I blipped the throttle of my mighty scooter. He responded, first with a look of incredulity, then a laugh, starting deep within his ample belly and spreading throughout his large frame. We all shared that laugh, and I pulled away to a chorus of waves. Yeah, I decided, this might not be so bad after all. Curiously, I felt I hadn’t surrendered my macho manliness. After all, two wheels are two wheels.
And besides, with the volatility of gas prices these days, 65 miles per gallon is pretty hairy-chested stuff.
Update: A few months after writing this essay, I was riding home after work when I noticed that the engine was laboring. Fortunately, I was less than a mile from home, so I continued to limp in that direction. Once in the garage and out of the bright sunshine, I saw the garish red light marked "OIL" glowing in the instrument cluster. I pulled the dipstick immediately only to discover that it was bone dry. Leaning down, I saw the cause of this disaster. The drain plug for the oil pan had somehow worked loose, allowing the oil to leak out. The engine was completely and totally fried. This turn of events puzzled me, for I had checked the oil that morning before leaving, and the weekend before I had performed my monthly bolt-and-screw-tightening maintenance. After I had considered all the possibilities, the scooter's advanced age, and it's apparent growing disgust at hauling my not-inconsiderable mass up and down the highway, I came to what could only be the final conclusion:
My Honda Helix had committed Scootercide.