“Superman don’t need no seat belt.”
Why do you love your motorcycle? You do love your motorcycle, don’t you? Otherwise you’d get rid of it and find something else, right? Even for those of you with many bikes in your stable, there’s one bike that you really adore. That adoration may not be deserved or rational (or even explicable), but it’s real, and it’s probably based on one thing that bike does better than any other. Its superpower.
As I slither through the second decade of my moto-journalism career, I’ve tested more motorcycles than I can remember riding. In fact, when Trizzle reposts one of my stories I wrote when I was the captain of the tempest-tossed ship that was MO, it’s like I’m reading them for the first time. I’m surprised at how little I remember of these models, but I’m unsurprised at how the OEM representatives in the stories are so cheerfully certain of how very, very special that particular model is. “The 2006 FZ-1 will change the standard-motorcycle market as we know it! From this day forward, let us shout from the ramparts and proclaim our great victory! The FZ1 is here! The FZ1 is here! THE FZ1 IS HERE!”
Ten years down the road, all I remember is that some communications-department underling unwittingly authorized an open bar at the hosting hotel, funding my graduate-level research in exotic single-malt scotches. “Glargmoragie? That sounds delicious! I’ll try one of those, too!” The complex fragrances and flavors of those $25-a-glass scotches still linger in my brain’s pleasure centers. The nature of the FZ1 I rode? All I remember is the snatchy off-idle throttle response and feeling unusually sluggish that morning.
But don’t be sad, Yamaha fans. The media event for the FZ-09 was more memorable than the hospitality, even if Yamaha’s press guy was careful about letting me talk to the bartender unsupervised (“So what’s the oldest you have? Anything from the 19th century?”). That bike has a superpower: it’s got an unmatched character-per-dollar ratio and a half-crazed hooligan edge. It’s not for everybody, but when people like the FZ-09, they really like it.
Motorcycles need not be exciting or edgy to have a superpower. Honda‘s 599 is as bland a commuter as can be, but people loved those things, maybe because it was sort of rare in the U.S.A., but likely because it’s so companionable, like a small, floppy dog that just likes being around its owner, no matter where he’s going. “Oh boy!” it says, tongue lolling, “we’re going to ride to work in the rain! Again!”
Sometimes, though, a superpower really is just super power. Why do so many people love their ‘Busas and ZX-14Rs? Why did people fall all over themselves to buy a Kawasaki H2, plunking down $25,000 sight unseen? Because those bikes are really, really fast, way faster than any mentally stable individual needs for street (or racetrack, for 99.99% of us mortals) riding. As the Grateful Dead said, “Too much of everything is just enough,” and let’s not forget that Joseph Stalin may or may not have coined the phrase, “quantity has a quality all its own.”
But not every superbike is loved just for being super-powerful. The third generation of crushingly powerful liter-class superbikes that started cropping up in the mid aughts, like the ZX-10R and the GSX-R1000, offered reliable performance previously only available to World Superbike and MotoGP riders for the price of a base-model Nissan Sentra. But that performance came with a price – a reputation for being, let’s say, challenging to ride. Is the 2004 ZX-10R’s superpower that it accelerates like an F-18? Nah, lots of motorcycles do that. The superpower is that it makes you feel like a superhero every time you complete a trackday or Sunday ride without calling an insurance adjuster. “Good kitty,” I say before I board a second-gen GSX-R1000, its intake whining menacingly. “Nice kitty. No highsides today, kitty.”
Even cruisers and touring machines have superpowers. Riding behind a competent (if loopy) rider on a Gold Wing reminds me of one of those Jerry Springer episodes where a morbidly obese woman starts twerking with a small man. Other than requiring more room to maneuver, both woman and ‘Wing go just as well on the dance floor or twisty road as their svelter cousins. And don’t tell me you’ve never had a surprise dice session with a Harley rider that made you stop, pull over and make sure your tires were properly inflated.
But we know the superpower that some rides have. Nobody buys a show-stopping custom Harley or MV Agusta (the kind that comes with a wristwatch) because it’s practical, reliable or even remotely rideable. They buy them because they attract attention, in other words, a ______-magnet, where you can fill in the blank with a word that was once only used to describe cats. I’m pretty sure I have never owned such a vehicle, two or four-wheeled variety, although a homeless woman with a remarkably long mole hair did once ask me for a ride on my 1982 Yamaha Maxim 550.
Which brings us to my motorcycle, a Suzuki SV650. Its superpower? I can ride it to my heart’s content without guilty feelings about spending money I should be stuffing into my kid’s college fund. I’m uninterested in the p-magnetic aspects of a chromed and clattering Harley or a sonic-booming sportbike. Similarly, you’re uninterested in the Ant-Man-like humility of my SV. But at least now you know why I wear Suzuki Underoos.
Gabe Ets-Hokin von Sacher-Masoch is an Austrian writer and journalist, who gained renown for his romantic stories of Galician life. The term masochism is derived from his name.