They say you don’t stop riding because you get old; you get old because you stop riding. Now that I’ve just had my first colonoscopy (a little late), I think there’s a lot of truth to that. At a few times along my trajectory, there were circumstances that conspired to get me to almost stop riding. Luckily, things or people always intervened to keep me from ever quite pulling the plug. Thank you, Jesus.
Just like the technology that makes our MO work environment a huge improvement over the old schlep-to-the-office days, advances in bike tech seem to be coming along just at the right time to make things safer and better than we dreamed it would be when I got started, just about the time the first GSX-R got here 30 years ago.
10. Airhawk and Gel seats
The colonoscopy was actually pain-free and not even totally unenjoyable; I haven’t had so many ladies paying such close attention to my backside since the disco era. Okay, I never did. Amazingly, none of them had ever heard the Eddie Murphy classic, Boogie in Your Butt. You know colorectal cancer is the second most deadly one after lung cancer, don’t you? I decided to get my chute inspected a couple years ago on another MO ride. We were comparing notes in Bishop, California, when a nice woman at the bar turned out to be a nurse who somehow steered the conversation in that direction. You know you’re getting up there when that’s what you talk about with women in bars.
I’ve never ridden on an Airhawk, but I know a few riders who love theirs. I have ridden on an OEM optional gel seat or three, and they’ve always felt well worth the money to my delicate undercarriage. Then there’s the heated seat, the turning on of which on a cold morning is one of life’s top three sensory pleasures.
9. Lightweight, Simple,“Fixed Income” Motorcycles
No wonder old guys quit riding, if all they’ve ever ridden are full-dress Hogs and Gold Wings. Light has always been right in my book, especially when the lightness extends to the price. One of our favorites is Kawasaki’s Versys 650, new last year with rubber engine mounts and other improvements that make it one of the world’s great do-it-all motorcycles for $7,999.
Even lighter and cheaper, and a personal fave of mine, is the Honda CB500X, one of three late-model Hondas to make use of its excellent, fuel-efficient and fab 471cc parallel-Twin. Even with a bunch of upgrades for ’16, the ABS version sells for $6,799, with a claimed curb weight of just 430 pounds. Even though it’s an “Adventure Bike,” the seat’s only 31.9 inches high. If you need lower, the CB500F is almost as hip – and cheaper and lighter still.
8. You Get to Hang with the Kids
A lot of things old people, errr, middle-aged people do to try to remain relevant to the younger generation can be pretty embarrassing and even dangerous. Skateboarding. Twerking. Operating a handheld device. While motorcycles are way more socially acceptable than when I was a tyke, they’re still just antisocial/dangerous enough to keep you in the cool kids club at any age.
7. Electronic Jamming Devices: ABS
When I first came to work at Cycle magazine, circa 1988, the new BMW K100RS had just appeared – the first motorcycle with antilock brakes! (which gave us the excuse to also borrow a new red Cadillac also with newfangled ABS). The new miracle drug did keep the wheels from locking, but it was quite the herky-jerky process, as you could feel the wheels locking and unlocking, the suspension rising and falling, as the primitive computer tried to keep up. Now ABS is mandatory on all large bikes sold in Europe, and it’s optional on nearly every bike sold here – and it usually works so well you don’t even know you’ve activated it unless you happen to see the light on the dash. Lean-angle sensitive ABS is so advanced we still haven’t worked up the nerve to fully “test” it.
6. Traction Control, etc…
Then there’s traction control, which is no big deal most of the time on dry pavement street riding, but is excellent to have in the rain or in the dirt, especially in wet dirt … I haven’t said all I have to say about TC, but I said a lot of it here last year. Not to mention anti-wheelie-over-backward control like the new R1 and others employ, which allows you to amaze yourself by carrying the front wheel a foot off the ground for a hundred yards out of Turn 11 at Laguna Seca. The R1, the BMW S1000RR and a few others employ multi-axis Inertial Measurement Units which help you not crash in 3D!
Then there are the various ride modes many new bikes employ, the electronic suspension that lets you go from plush to battle stations with the press of a button, auto-blipping downshifters, slipper clutches … it’s all ride-enhancing, safety-forward stuff just in time to help out people whose reflexes aren’t quite as cat-like as they once were. In 1988. Okay, never.
Then there’s electronic cruise control. Would you own a car – one you actually go places in – without it?
5. Honda NC700X
Though some complain (including us) that Honda’s shirked its sportbike duties lately, it has been doing more than its share for those of us whose buying power has, shall we say, eroded since the Bush Economic Miracle. I haven’t got the kids on staff to come around yet (since people keep loaning them Ducatis and S1000XR BMWs and things), but this Honda is the ultimate codger/cheapskate bike. So what if it only revs to 7000 rpm, so does a Corvette (or does it?). Get the awesome DCT (upgraded for ’16 with three new Sport modes) and you don’t have to concern yourself with shifting. Sixty-plus mpg is a big deal for people who don’t have a company gas card. The ability to swing by the CVS to pick up the gallon of stuff you flush yourself out with prior to your colonoscopy and stash it discreetly out of sight, is almost the most magnificent thing about the NC (and the 5.8-gallon storage compartment is 0.25-gallon bigger this year!). The ergonomics and ride are impeccable. What a great motorcycle except there’s no cruise control.
4. Electronic Fuel Injection
And speaking of the good old Flying Brick K100RS, there may have been fuel-injected bikes before it, but I don’t remember what they were. If I had a dollar for every hour of my youth spent dicking with carburetors trying to make a vehicle run, run better, run at all, not leak gas, or not backfire and set the hood on fire, I’d be in Tahiti with Fletcher Christian right now instead of writing this.
Even the simplest carburetor, which really is an oxymoron, is a nightmare of spring-loaded intricate parts held together by the softest-available miniature Phillips-head screws yearning to explode across your garage. Why not use four of them, Yoshi? Gummed-up carburetors from non-operation has probably sent more perfectly good old motorcycles to the crusher than any other malady. Now you kids just push the starter button and go. This is my version of walking to school in the snow (though I did that too).
3. Aprilia Caponord
El Capo finished 7th out of 9 in our epic Adventure Sport Adventure Tour-off last September because the other kids (and me too) were awed by the 150+ horsepower of the winners and their latest whizbang TFT displays, etc. That stuff’s important when you’re literally trying to keep up with the Joneses and impress the yokels at stops. But looking back on it from a couple months’ perspective, if I had to pick one to take off on, on my own or with one or two old pals, it would be the character-rich Capo.
Fast enough, great-handling enough on and off pavement, with awesome electronic suspension and the cushiest seat of them all – plus all boxes ticked including slightly archaic cruise control, the Caponord’s the one that speaks to me, the one I remember riding on our epic ride up the coast. It also speaks to the cheapskate in all us old guys at less than $16K.
2. Riding keeps your brain young
Ryuta Kawashima’s paper in the International Journal of Automotive Engineering two years ago backstops what a lot of us already suspected: Riding your motorcycle a lot keeps your brain sharp in the same way that having to run from saber-toothed tigers kept our caveman ancestors on the stick.
Without any doubt, riding a motorcycle is a risk-taking behavior, which should induce emotional and physical stress. Emotional and physical stress has been known to increase the nerve growth factor level in the blood, which is important for the growth, maintenance, and survival of sympathetic and sensory neurons, for protection against various psychiatric diseases, and for improvement of cognitive functions. Although, most of the previous investigations were conducted using animals, the biological and psychological mechanisms related to mental and physical stress can also support our results.
Though I may have lost track at various unpleasant waypoints over the last couple of decades of what a solid Phil Schilling did me when he gave me my first job, I’m now at a place where I can truly appreciate what a lucky bastard I am to find myself having a herd of cute nurses and smart doctors (from India) willing (even enthusiastic!) to inspect my rectum with a small camera, and also to find myself riding the finest transportation devices man has ever created, along the most beautiful terrain (on the way up the Pacific coast to Oregon), with some of the best humans the man upstairs ever created.
While much of the rest of the world is fleeing terrorism, losing loved ones to mass shootings and disease, struggling to feed itself, working to save the planet – my most pressing concerns lately consist of whatever drivel I’ll come up with for next week’s column – after I get back from riding the new Triumph Street Twin in Espana. And everybody who rides a motorcycle, I think, can relate at least a little. God bless us, as Tiny Tim said, every one.