Observations from the Road – Youthful Dreams Come and Gone
Cash in hand, I watched as the delivery driver rolled my mighty GSX-R1100 into the back of his truck and then supervised while he fussed and fidgeted with the tie downs that would hold the bike steady on its final trip out of my life and into someone else’s. When the driver was done, I walked around the truck, gave each strap a pull to make sure that everything was right and then watched as he climbed into the cab. As he paused momentarily to check his map, I looked at the wad of bills in my hand and once more at the bike in the back of the truck. I could still stop this, I thought, but deep in my heart I knew it was better this way.
I had spent more than 20 years as a motorcyclist and the big Suzuki had been the culmination of many years’ hard work. Back when the kids were walking like Egyptians, I had followed the rules and started small. Around the time Hair Metal gave way to Grunge I stepped up to a Suzuki GS850 and rode that for almost a full decade prior to moving to Japan and dropping all the way down to a 250cc racer. By 2005, I had moved back to the States, then Jamaica and now, headed back to Japan, I was ready to go big again. This time, I decided, I wanted a liter bike and the one I found was perfect: a ’91 GSX-R1100 SACS bike in Yoshimura red and black.
Silly as it seems now, my decision was based almost entirely on youthful dreams and unicorn farts. The GSX-R1100 had been the bike I had wanted when I was young but had never been able to afford. Getting one now would be an affirmation that I had finally “made it.” It would be tangible proof that I had achieved everything I ever wanted and could now live my life according to my own rules. There was no longer any need to compromise. I had the experience, I had the ability, I had the desire and now, I had the means. I would not be swayed. It was an almost perfect storm.
The early ’90s was a dangerous time to be a motorcyclist. The demand for ever lighter, ever faster motorcycles had surged just a few years prior and the manufacturers had responded by shoving huge, powerful engines into lightweight frames that sat upon finicky, complicated suspensions. With rider’s aids like traction control, ABS and slipper clutches still firmly in the realm of science fiction, it was up to the rider to make everything work together. Not everyone was able to get it right and, to be frank, there is a reason why so many people owned “street fighters” back in the day. These were not bikes to be taken lightly.
As hard-core as a plain old GSX-R would have been, without meaning to I compounded my problems by choosing a bike that wasn’t stock. In my own defense, of course, the old GSX-R had sat alone, unloved and lifeless on the dealer’s showroom floor for so long that I’m not sure anyone truly knew what it was anymore. The signs were there, a stainless four-into-one exhaust and some racy looking stickers on the fairing, but they merely hinted at what might be concealed within and I gave them little attention. Test rides aren’t allowed at most Japanese dealerships so I took a gamble and bought the bike because of its clean condition and the small number on the odometer. It wasn’t until I got it home that I found out that there was more there than met the eye.
It was, I think now, a middle aged man’s wet dream; the product of someone who had sworn, once upon a time, to own the angriest, fastest street-legal race bike he could build. Whoever he was, he had both time and money to throw at the project and in my mind’s eye I imagined him as a Japanese businessman. He would have been nearing middle age in 1991, I thought, young enough to still want a fast bike but old enough to fund such an ambitious project. Once he actually had the bike in his possession, however, it seems that he found little time to use it and, over the course of a decade, only managed to put 9,500 kilometers on the clock. Perhaps the bike frightened him, or perhaps he was just too busy to really enjoy it. Whatever his reasons, eventually, he decided to sell.
Like a wild stallion the big Suzuki was simply unwilling to tolerate any rider who was anything less than its complete master. Unlike some bikes, the kind that lull you into a sense of security and then bite you when you least expect it, this bike had an almost supernatural aura of menace about it. It was the kind of bike that told you in plain, bold terms, every time you dared to sit upon it that it fully intended to kill you the first time your attention wavered. Riding it was difficult at first and my prior experience probably saved me a half dozen times in the first few weeks I owned it. But I kept after it, day after day, gradually working up to the edge of the envelope and then reeling it back in as I gradually learned the bike’s idiosyncrasies. Each day I was able to take it a little farther, go a little faster and, little by little, we became one.
We had some adventures, that bike and I, and together we spent a couple of happy summers exploring the countryside of Western Japan. Specific stories will come later in this series but I can tell you now that I spent many a sunny day on the road, short shifting to reduce the bike’s glorious howl as I rolled through small farm villages, and then dropping back down into the lower gears as I wound the bike out on the narrow, twisting roads that followed the course of some meandering river or wended their way over some rugged mountain pass.
In 2007 I relocated to Okinawa and the big GSX-R came along. The tropics would seem a perfect place to own a motorcycle, but because of the heat and humidity I elected not to use it as frequently as I should and one by one, those small decisions to take the car instead of the bike put me on a path from which there could be no return. For a rider to truly be in control of such unbridled rage, he needs to be at the top of his game. The second he slacks off, he opens himself up to disaster. Getting and keeping your edge takes hard work and consistent seat time and the minute you stop honing your edge, your skills begin to deteriorate. By choosing not to ride, I had stepped on to the slippery slope. It could only end one way.
Selling the big GSX-R was fraught with its own set of problems, not the least of which was finding the right buyer. Sure, Okinawa was crawling with young military guys looking to drop their deployment pay on fast machines, but most of those guys had scant interest in a bike that had been built when they were babies. I ran an ad on a local website and got a couple of tire kickers and some young guys who were bold talkers, but no one serious. The ad ran for weeks with almost no interest, but eventually the right guy turned up. He fit the pattern, a responsible and alert Marine Corps Sergeant in his mid-30s with a fair amount of riding experience. He knew what he wanted, of course, and I could tell by the faraway look in his eyes that his mind held the same unfulfilled desires that I had once felt myself. There wasn’t much haggling and we quickly struck a deal. Rather than leave the bike with me while he completed the necessary paperwork, he sent someone to collect it.
The driver eventually decided the best route, stashed his map book under his seat and slipped the rig into gear. I followed on foot as the truck made its way onto the road and stood watching from the end of the driveway as it disappeared into the distance. Had I been a more educated man, I might have recalled some quote from Shakespeare to mark the big bike’s exit from my life but I could only stand amid the swirling diesel exhaust and watch as the truck drew farther away. The fumes burned my eyes.
About the Author: Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for nine years, Jamaica for two and spent almost five years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.