Customization and Me

It was pretty close to a year ago when I sold my Yamaha WR250X, my last motorcycle. The WR might not be my “last motorcycle,” depending on health and eyesight, but when it left I no longer had a motorcycle in my garage for the first time in 45 years. (I also had a little pause in motorcycle ownership between my last dirt bike and my first street bike.) During those 45 years, there were extended periods when I drove a car so infrequently that friends wondered if I owned one. (I did, but it was my wife’s primary transportation.) I commuted to work every day, to school most evenings, did most of the family business by motorcycle, and took what vacations I could afford on a motorcycle. I really did expect to die as a motorcyclist, not necessarily in a crash but at least with a bike in the garage ready to go somewhere if I survived the next day. But I hate owning stuff I don’t use and in early 2019 I sold my Suzuki DL-650 and in 2020 I sold the WR250X. Both motorcycles had barely been ridden the previous year and great machines need to be used and enjoyed.

IMG_20180626_201217_646When the V-Strom rolled on to the new owner’s trailer, I felt like I was watching my last great customization job fade into my past. I know, if you are a chopper guy or a thousand-points-of-LEDs guy, my V-Strom does not look customized at all. I customize my motorcycles the same way I used to customize my guitars or my home. Everything I do is purely to make me more comfortable. Loud pipes make me miserable, especially after a few hundred miles of that noise. Awkward gynecologist chair seating (feet-forward and reclining) makes me both uncomfortable and nervous, since it is insanely unsafe and incompetent. Fancy paint jobs are pointless, since I’m going eventually end up on some degenerating backroad and, probably, on my ass at some point in every trip. All those decals on the right front of my V-Strom cover up a nasty piece of Dempster Highway road rash. They also remind me of the places I went on that motorcycle and some of the great relationships I made as a motorcycle journalist; especially Aerostich and Andy Goldfine and Harold and Giant Loop. But there were many others who were not only friends and advisors, but who made everything about my adventure on a motorcycle special. 

The V-Strom and WR had custom seats, one from Sargent and one from Seat Concepts, my favorite handgrips (Oury Single Compound Street), and extra large and aggressive foot pegs since that’s where 99% of my body contacted the bike. Riding the V-Strom was the most comfortable, familiar, dependable, and enjoyable experience I have ever had traveling by any means. I would put my time on the V-Strom above first class airline travel, a suite on an ocean cruise, or a stateroom on a trail; and I’ve done all three of those for comparison.

Both bikes had customized suspensions, with an Elka rear shock first on the V-Strom and later on the WR being the best investment I ever made on a motorcycle upgrade of any sort. I did minor fork upgrades on both bikes, too, but the rear shock was overwhelmingly the biggest improvement. Maybe not obviously, but I spent a lot of time optimizing the suspension for my weight and riding style and that made a ton of difference, especially when the terrain was extreme and I was less than at my best.

Like most adventure touring folks, I had great luggage (GIVI on the V-Strom and Giant Loop on the WR250X) and had hidden at least a half-dozen places on both bikes for emergency cash and credit cards, identification, and a backup cell phone. I had power connections for 12VDC heated gear and 5V USB ports for GPS and device charging on both bikes (ports were scattered across the front and back end of the V-Strom including a laptop charger port in the rear case). My “house of choice” for the 12 years I owned the V-Strom was a Lawson Blue Ridge Camping Hammock, which I still think is the ultimate way to swing if you are camping any place that has fence posts, trees, or anything you can attach a rope to at points around 10-12’ apart. I have never slept better than in that tent after a 1,000 mile day on the road. The hammock took up about 1/2 of one of my GIVI side cases or most of one side of the WR’s Giant Loop Coyote Bag and it was worth every inch of storage space it used. I bought and tried out a bivi tent for one local trip on the WR and that tent has sat unused in my garage ever since. For almost a decade, I kept the Coyote Bag partially loaded for a fast weekend getaway and I was unable to give that bag away with the WR when I sold the bike.

The V-Strom had 4 tool storage locations and the WR had two and I always carried a tire patch kit and the Aerostich Compact Tire Repair Kit with Mini Compressor anytime I traveled more than 100 miles from home. That kit lives in my wife’s Honda CR-V now. I’ve done tire repairs in the middle of nowhere, swapped out a gravel-drilled oil filter on a South Dakota country dirt road, repaired drive chains practically everywhere, and done basic maintenance at practically every filling station and campground between Nova Scotia and Baja, Mexico with my tool and repair kits. Literally, that bit of bike customization has saved my life a bunch of times.

When the WR rolled away, the saddest thought I had was “I will never put that much work into personalizing a motorcycle again. That might be true, but I do have a half-dozen watches out for a Suzuki TU250X and as long as my eyes keep working half-reliably I could end up back on a bike again. However, the last couple of years has put a guitar back in my hands more than since I was actively a working musician in the late-70s and I’ve done some customizing. A friend gave me this old Ibanez in a pile of pieces a couple of years ago and I spent a good bit of this past winter making it mine. I, literally, have nothing invested in this guitar but the cost of paint, strings, a strap, and lots of time. This is the best picture I’ve managed of the guitar, that damn high gloss paint job really makes getting a good picture tough, and it is all me all of the time. I totally redesigned the neck, added two pickups and some trick wiring (every trick I know, in fact), and spent hours getting it setup for my “style” (or lack of) playing. So, until I have a motorcycle to fiddle with, my customizing jones is going to be directed at guitars and that damn basement whirlpool tub my wife insisted on.

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