As of April 27, 2020 for the first time since sometime in early 1969, I do not own a motorcycle. That one brief hole in my motorcycle life between early ‘68 and late ‘69 was due to the distraction provided by young marriage and the struggle to provide for two people without any marketable skills. This time the break is going to be more long-lasting.
All of last summer consisted of a discouraging bout with ocular myasthenia gravis and constant double-vision. It was the first year in 50 in which I did not ride a single mile on a motorcycle. This year, I had reason to hope I might get another year behind the bars and my eyesight might stay under control for a bit. After all, it’s twenty-twenty, right? But the double-vision came back early and mean this March and so did my steroid prescription. At 72, adapting to being one-eyed and that eye not being particularly reliable is proving to be a daunting task without the complications of motorcycling. Odds are good that I will lose my driver’s license if it continues; and I should. My father had the same disease at the same age and, in the end, a brother-in-law optometrist was forced to take away Dad’s driving privileges after he had rear-ended four cars in four different crashes in 18 months. I DO NOT want to be my father. All last spring and most of the summer, I limited myself to very short daytime drives to necessities and my eBike just to avoid that fate. So far, this year, my vision is under control for about 10 hours a day. When I get tired, the left eye starts to wander. Bless you prednisone.
It appears that my motorcycling has become one more of “grandpa’s stories.” But between now and then, I estimate there were close to a million miles on two wheels. I “estimate” those miles because I mostly didn’t think about them while they were passing under my feet. Between 1965 and 1983, the motorcycles I owned might have come with odometers but that device along with the rest of the console, lights, reflectors, fragile stock fenders, factory levers and footpegs, factory exhaust systems, suspension parts, and large parts of the motors ended up in the scrap pile of unnecessary or insufficient stuff that came between me and successful off-road competition. I bought my first real street-legal motorcycle in 1983, a 1979 Honda CX Deluxe, and put 130,000 miles on it in a few short but intense years. A succession of sport bikes, small tourers, dual-purpose, and adventure tourers followed. I think the fewest miles I put on any of my motorcycles might be the last one, the Yamaha WR250X only had 17,000-some miles on the odometer when I admitted defeat and watched it roll out of my driveway.
Obviously, I’ve been preparing for this for a while. Way back in 2016, around the time I re-took the MSF Expert Rider Course, I wrote rant “#148 Creating A Baseline” for my Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly column. I wrote (to myself) back then, “Nothing about being able to take a low speed left-hand turn and stop with the front tire in a box is demanding in any way to a competent motorcyclists, regardless of the bike. Nothing about weaving through some widely spaces cones and making a right hand turn should confuse or confound a half-decent motorcyclist. Making a moderately quick stop from 12mph in first gear is not complicated. A 12 mph “swerve” around a huge fake obstacle ought to be second nature. If anything on that test baffles you, either your motorcycle or your skills are totally out-of-whack.” 2017 was the first year I racked up more bicycle miles than motorcycle miles since I was a kid. So, I created an evaluation for myself, “So, every March from here out I’m going to go through the old routine but after an hour or so of practice, I’m going to run through every one of the nine BRC exercises and the day I can’t do all of them ‘perfectly’ (no cones hit, no lines crossed, fast enough, and clean enough) the bike goes up for sale and I’ll fill the space in the garage with a small convertible. I might buy a trials bike, but that will be the end of my street riding days.”
This spring with the world wobbling between one and multiple dimensions I realized I couldn’t see well enough to even score myself competently. I wrote up an ad for the WR, put it on Craig’s list, and waited for cash to arrive. I did, a few weeks ago, wander over to the parking lot where I used to teach the Basic Rider Course and take the test on my eBike. I did ok, but riding a 70 pound, 20-mph-max eBike competently is a world away from a 300 pound 50hp motorcycle, let alone a cruiser, big touring bike, or even my old V-Strom 650. At this point, I think my motorcycle stories will all be told in past tense and there are lots of them left to tell. Like my oldest daughter’s tee-shirt used to say when she was a teenager and I was still a young man, “I only wish I could ride as fast as Dad remembers he did.”