Early in my career I met an Indian fellow at work named Ravi. Ravi liked to hear about my various car and motorcycle projects. Ravi filled some significant holes in my world history education. He helped me understand the role of the British empire in the 20th century from his Indian perspective. The most important thing Ravi taught me was about how India gained it’s independence. He gave me a copy of Freedom At Midnight – and my understanding of the world instantly expanded.
I always suspected that the British history in India somehow influenced Ravi’s interest in my British cars. At the time we knew each other, I still had the blue ’67 Mustang, both MG’s, and my first motorcycle – a Suzuki GS450S. Ravi commented offhand that he suspected that I might have more wheels than shoes. I went home and counted – he was right.
My parents (mostly my mom) were adamantly against motorcycles. They weren’t crazy about convertibles or Volkswagens either because of their inherent dangers. Convertibles couldn’t protect you in a roll over, and Volkswagens didn’t have engines in front to shield you in a crash. I snuck various rides on friend’s bikes while still receiving my parents’ support – but it didn’t take too long after my emancipation before I bought my first motorcycle.
With almost no experience on motorcycles, I rode poorly compared to my friends who had ridden for years. Yet I felt instantly at home on two wheels – and while I always rode more slowly and carefully than some of my kamikaze buddies – we rode the backroads of California almost every weekend with acceptable weather. The experience and skill came as the miles accumulated.
Within a few months of owning the small Suzuki I felt the need for something larger. I traded the 450 for the biggest and “baddest” bike Suzuki sold. The Wes Cooley inspired GS1000S. Its aggressive look generated a comment of a female colleague who wanted to ride on it with me to lunch: “So, do you have issues with your masculinity?”
A third Suzuki, the radically engineered GS750ES, followed three years later. I don’t recall a single mechanical failure on any of my Suzuki’s – except for one or two flat tires. The 750 was such a good bike I still look for a decent used one on eBay from time to time.
As my experience and confidence grew I began to take longer motorcycle trips. One particularly grand adventure was a ride to Seattle on the 1000. A motorcycle riding buddy at work arranged for us to meet in Seattle with our bikes and have them loaded aboard a company ship for a ride back to California. I was just learning about having better motorcycle riding apparel – and a volunteer group providing hot drinks at a rest stop in Washington offered very welcome relief from the cold wet ride.
With an eye to longer riding opportunities and a lust for more sophisticated riding machines I bought a BMW R100RS – the most sophisticated sport touring motorcycle in the world at that time. While it had way more mechanical problems than all three of my Suzuki’s combined – I regularly road it from San Francisco to Los Angeles and other similarly long trans-state trips. My record of miles covered in a single day on a motorcycle is 700 miles riding from San Francisco to my grandparents’ home Corvallis, Oregon, using highway 101 as much as possible. I have never been more exhausted as when I arrived at my grandparents’ home at the end of that day.
I probably had my most intriguing experience on two wheels on that long ride to Corvallis. When I crossed the Oregon state line I slowed to stay within a reasonable approximation of the speed limit. On my previous ride to Seattle I had learned that the Oregon highway patrol used radar guns, and I wasn’t anxious to get another ticket. Soon after I rode through the town of Gold Beach, where the mouth of the Rogue river empties into the Pacific ocean, I was passed by a rider on a Honda. It’s common for riders to join up together on the highway for safety and camaraderie, but I felt this rider’s pace was sure to result in a traffic citation.
An hour or two later, I rode through the town of Coos Bay, where ships were being loaded with wood chips and pulp for export to paper and wood product mills in Asia. As I rolled to a stop at the second or third stop light, the speedy Honda rider came up from behind me and we rode together to the northern city limit. (I later learned that I had gotten ahead because the Honda rider had indeed gotten a ticket.) As the Honda pulled away from me as we left the last stoplight in town, I noticed something peculiar about the rider’s boots. The shape of the boots’ heals were wrong – they were too tall and narrow to be a man’s boot. The idea that the helmet concealed a woman rider aboard the speedy Honda was irresistible. I kept pace – traffic citations be damned.
I rode along with the slim heeled rider for several miles before we both pulled over to introduce ourselves. The rider was indeed female, Kim Fredrick. Kim had been visiting her boyfriend in Gold Coast, and was on her way home to Portland. I suggested we ride together to Newport where our paths would diverge. There are good seafood restaurants in Newport – I offered to buy us dinner.
Over dinner I learned that Kim worked as a UPS delivery truck driver, and hoped to attend a seminary in the San Francisco bay area some day. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses (way before email) and I floated the idea that someday she come visit the Bay Area – as I had two bikes, and the area offered a plethora of wonderful riding opportunities. A few months later – Kim took me up on my offer. We spent 3 days riding a different direction each day from my apartment in San Francisco. We stayed in touch for a year or two. I even lent her the BMW once in Los Angeles after I had moved there.
I had the Suzuki 750 and the BMW when I moved to Los Angeles, but I began to ride them less and less. I had a young family to attend to – and the Los Angeles highways were an unpleasant experience on motorcycles. My last significant ride before I finally sold my two bikes was a ride up to Berkeley to visit my sister Ruth. I took the scenic route up the coast, a route that took me through the farming village of Guadalupe. Guadalupe seemed populated by hispanic immigrants – as evidenced by the numerous Mexican cantinas and western wear shops. As I rode past the last cantina, my BMW’s rear tire found a package staple – one that might have been used to seal a case of lettuce grown in the local fields.
BMW intended you to ride their motorcycles on long adventures, and equipped my R100RS with a flat tire kit, tire irons, and an air pump. It wasn’t until I attempted to dismount my tire using the 4” long tire irons that I learned that the BMW engineers had a sick sense of humor. There was no way to get enough leverage to lift the tire bead over the wheels rim with 4” tire irons. With no cell phone (also not invented yet) and no local motorcycle shop in town, I headed to the cantina across the street where 3 or 4 Japanese crotch-rockets were parked. I introduced myself to my riding compatriots, and one of them offered to take me and my rear wheel about 20 miles to a motorcycle shop in Santa Maria for repair. The ride on the back of the racer at blinding speeds still wasn’t fast enough considering I had my right arm looped around the BMW’s 20+ pound rear wheel.
I paid the rider’s bar tab when we made it back to Guadalupe with my repaired tire, and I headed on to Berkeley as the north wind began to pick up. By the time I made it to Ruth’s apartment, I was exhausted and fell directly to sleep on her couch. In the morning when I woke my tongue felt dry and bloated like a baloney, and the arm that carried my rear wheel felt like it had exploded.
Not long after that trip I sold my two bikes to pay down enough debt to afford lease payments on a Lexus LS400. I had been following the creation of Lexus and Infiniti in the automotive magazines for several years before they debuted. In a city of freeways like Los Angeles, the big comfortable LS400 seemed like a better option than buying a larger house that we were also considering. Over the year we had the Lexus – we never once regretted that decision – even though selling bikes and other cars finally swung the balance back towards having more shoes.