“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
Judging by the vote tallies following our most recent presidential election (if not by the actual polls), more than half the voters out there were unpleasantly surprised on that historic Tuesday night. In fact, I can tell you the minute of their disappointment, within an hour or so. It was about 8:30 PST when I personally, and with a sense of profound relief, found we still had a quarter bottle of Jameson’s left in the kitchen cabinet, next to the coffee filters and a stale box of Joe’s O’s we stash up there because it’s the only place the slightly too-tall box will fit.
Mock me for backing the losing team, if you must, but eight years ago it may have been you frantically searching behind forgotten boxes of breakfast foods for your favorite medication, and in eight (or four) years you may be searching yet again, if democracy is still a thing. In any case, some may think themselves lucky recreational marijuana is now legal in California and other states.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and if you’ve ever wanted to hear the sound of seven million people weeping uncontrollably, this time of year is a nice time to visit. The last week has been one of the most remarkable orgies of self-pity I’ve ever participated in, and keep in mind, that, as a Jew, self-pity is basically a lifestyle. Luckily, I have motorcycles.
Motorcyclists tend to be realists, and as realists tend to be pessimists, always longing for things they can’t have. They ask for an affordable V-4 Honda sportbike or a truly sporty Harley-Davidson, or a charismatic Italian sportbike that doesn’t require a loan from the World Bank to finance. “Where are the cool, small-displacement bikes you can only get in Japan?” say the letters-to-the-editors writers. Where are the comfy, all-day bikes that handle like 250 GP racers, accelerate like a Saturn V booster and weigh under 400 pounds with luggage? How about that 500-mile-range electric motorcycle that costs less than a weekend in Tijuana? Where’s my jetpack? It’s 2016 and I want my Goddamn jetpack!
Well, I think I can speak for the OEMs and tell you to go to the kitchen and pour yourself a big, steaming cup of STFU. Set your way-back machine and join me in recalling when motorcycling kind of sucked compared to today. How so? Well, remember…
Tires? They were all bias-ply and came in two tread compounds: slippery and not as slippery. Slippery lasted for 2,000 miles, and not-as-slippery lasted about 15 full revolutions of the back tire. Oh, and tubes, you had to worry about tubes. Remember when your tube would suddenly lose all air pressure going 80 mph? No, you don’t. Because if that happened, you would either die or not remember what happened, because helmets sucked, too.
Electrics: Yes, I remember points, as I had an old BMW Twin until I abandoned it behind a tire warehouse. Funny how points disappeared right around the time Baby Boomers started to need reading glasses. If you’ve ever had to clean and gap the little bastards you’ll know what I’m talking about. How about headlights that fade to nothing on trailing throttle? Do you miss batteries that last either four uses of the starter, 22 soundings of the horn, 90 turn signals, or some combination thereof? Oh, but you can rebuild the Furfleton relay on a 1961 Thruxburg Champion Cup, you say, but these newfangled electronic black boxes, you can’t fix ’em. Yeah, except you’ll never need to. Unless you’ve done something to deserve it.
Fuel Injection: Gosh, I sure do love pulling the carbs off a 1975 Honda CB500, especially if it hasn’t been done since 1976, said no person, ever. Of course, that joy is miniscule compared to the hearty fun of stripping tiny screws, breaking off emulsion tubes and somehow accidentally ingesting some of the mercury from your manometer (don’t ask). And then you get to put the things back on the rock-hard carb boots, which is a lot like trying to repackage a TV into its shipping carton, but less fun.
Brakes: Remember pulling that awesome stoppie on your ’69 Bonnie? No, you don’t, because it had drum brakes and period tires (see above) and the only way it would get the back wheel off the ground under braking would be to ride into a deep hole. You’d be more likely to stoppie a Pontiac Bonneville. Today we have great brakes, even on cheap-o budget bikes, brakes that would stop circles around even the most mega-bucks GP bikes from the ’60s. And for as little as an extra $300, there’s ABS, which has saved my life more times than I probably deserve. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re such an awesome rider that you don’t need ABS. Until you do.
Cheap Fun: In 1970, a Honda CB350 had an MSRP of about $700, and a Triumph Bonneville was $1,700. Both of these motorcycles, although fun in their time, were objectively shitty by today’s standards. If you could ride either of these slow, buzzy piles for 3,000 miles without needing a major service or just leaving you stranded to die of thirst, you were doing pretty good.
Adjust that CB’s pricetag for inflation, and another 103 bucks in 1970 dollars (which could also get you an ounce of Thai stick) would put you on a KTM 390 Duke, which is so much better than a CB350 it’s like comparing a pair of Viet Cong tire sandals to an executive jet. And for about the same price in 1970 dough as the Bonnie, you can now buy a new Yamaha FZ-07, an impossibly fun motorcycle that can do anything and could probably go 20,000 miles without an oil change. No wonder roadside assistance plans are so cheap.
See what I mean? Things aren’t that bad. And if the election went the way you wanted, they’re better than ever, right?
Now, where did I put the scotch…
Gabe Ets-Hokin is the Trump administration’s appointee for Undersecretary of Transportation, department of Elephants, Alpacas and Manatees. He expects a tough confirmation battle.