Motorcycle.com

Seriously, after a while the parade of hot new bimbos grows old. They’re all great, but they all have their own demands, their own need to have their buttons and controls manipulated in the one certain way that makes them happy – a requirement older bikes just don’t have.

A new Ducati I had last month wanted me to enter its PIN every seven or eight starts before it would turn over. The BMWs are fast for certain, but their instrument panels are always looking at you in an accusatory way; what did you forget to do this time that she’s going to take revenge for later? The Aprilias never turn down the heat, the new Yamaha R1 insists you grovel on your hands and knees just to ride it… luckily the only bike I own right now is an old R1, 17 years old surprisingly enough, which by most definitions means it’s only eight years away from being vintage. It’s not too soon, then, to start preparing to be one of those old codgers who used to put me to sleep going on about their Norton Commandos and BSA Gold Stars. Rage against what? Why not get a jump on it?

Pretty sure the first year R1, 1998, is collectible, especially the red and white one. So my 2000 is the last year of the first generation, with a few minor factory upgrades compared to it. She’s not exactly “original” anymore. But it’s still nice to have a vehicle I’m not upside down on, and it’s also nice to know that whatever it’s worth isn’t enough to keep me from riding the pee out of it whenever I feel the need. Right now, it’s still tough to tell what old bikes will be sought after and which will be just another Wiki page, but I like to think there’s an outside chance my R1 will outpace my 401k and I’ll be able to retire when I’m 112.

New bikes are too perfect. What are you gonna do, replace the factory titanium exhaust system with a government-approved aftermarket titanium exhaust system? Every time I replace something on my old bike, it’s usually for the better. Sometimes surprisingly better. I thought the seat was just higher because of the JRi shock and Graves linkage, but replacing the crusty old Dunlop GP-As with a fresh pair of Q3s has the seat back down where it’s supposed to be. Bliss. The HeliBars raise the grips almost but not quite into naked-bike territory. Now that I know Rossi uses a DID gold chain, I think I need one of those too. I detest loud exhausts on other people’s bikes, but in an increasingly offensive world I kind of like my own. If civility is restored after the election, I can always repack it.

I’ve already written at least a couple times about my Shorai battery, so I won’t do it again. It’s been in the R1 seven years now and continues to crank like a fiend; I’m convinced a big reason my pilot jets don’t clog is because of the tremendous suction the battery provides immediately upon hitting the starter button – even when I don’t start the thing for a month, even with old ethanol-laced gas in the tank that was fresh maybe six months ago? As hard as it is to shave weight off motorcycles (especially sportbikes), I don’t know why new bikes all still come with lead-acid batteries? Anyway, there’s no carb tickling or secret kick sequence on this vintage bike, and unlike your Samsung phone, it’s never exploded even once.

In theory anyway. Speaking of pilot jets, I understand how everything is supposed to work on my old R1. I am totally down with modern fuel injection, too, but there is a certain satisfaction in knowing I still have an application, sitting in the garage, for all the otherwise useless information I retained over the years about how to make carburetors work, and it never involves a laptop. Not that I’ve had to apply any of it since Evan Steel Performance tuned the things to perfection a few years ago. Knock on wood! The absence of any emissions devices helps here, but this thing runs just as crisp as any EFI bike I’ve ever ridden. At least it doesn’t get ridden much, so I don’t have to feel like a gross polluter. Speaking of which, how does the new FZ-10 get 30 or so mpg to my old R1’s 40-plus?

It’s not just the fuel delivery that’s analog in this, the last year before the R1 went EFI, it’s other things too. Even though the classic white tach needle isn’t controlled by a cable like the one in my old Jaguar, you can still pretend it is. And in contrast to the new R1’s fly-by-night fighter jet LCD instrument display, the old R1’s discreet digital readout seems a little ashamed of itself. It only speaks when spoken to, rather than bombarding you with information: MPH, Trip 1 and Trip 2. Not even a clock. I’m certain no terrorist with an iPhone is going to remap my fuel curve or jack up my preload while I’m stopped at a light.

I was deeply hurt and violated when we emerged from O’Hara’s Pub the other night to find my cable lock cut and my new Specialized hybrid bicycle gone. My friend Christine’s pink beach cruiser, which was secured with the same cable, was left sitting there on its kickstand. I’ve never really been burgled before, it’s a terrible feeling and I don’t know how I’d react if somebody stole a motorcycle I loved. Not well. I hope I’m not wrong, but I don’t picture my old R1 being much more attractive to the criminal element than a pink Walmart beach cruiser. I put a disc lock on it anyway and only forget to take it off about half the time.

Ahhhh, in 2000 life was good: pre-9/11, pre Homeland Security, pre-Great Recession… or maybe it was that the www was just finding its legs (I had a dial-up modem that let me work from home a day or two a week! Hang up the phone, hon, I’m online!), and we had no way of knowing how screwed-up everything was? Facebook was also far off in the future, so I had no way of knowing what raving lunatics 40% of the populace are. My closet still has most of my clothes from that era, and I have to say aesthetically I think that first-gen R1 rates right up there with acid-washed skinny jeans, bomber jackets, the Ducati 916 and a handful of other simple and sleek motorcycles. It did before it got crashed and hacked up, anyway. In those days, business was booming and you didn’t need to be able to spell potato in order to try and patent the sound.

I can’t remember a lot of things but I do retain arcane details such as the R1 fuel tank was lowered a bit and ergos adjusted in 2000, for increased comfort, and that they made first gear a little taller… and some other stuff. Various studies have found that riding motorcycles really does keep you sharp, as it requires you to call survival instincts into play that non-riders just don’t. Going beyond that, not having traction control or ABS even requires you to remember not to suddenly whack the throttle or slam on the brakes, and hones what I like to call your “fine survival skills,” which also includes things such as not playing harmonica at the table and not grabbing people by the p***y.

Okay, my bike had a little work to bump it up to its current level of power, but nothing drastic and nothing that made it peaky or finicky in the least. A little more compression, a nice valve job and some carburetor tuning, an Akrapovic pipe and she’s right in the thick of the current naked supersports, if a little slow compared to the latest supersports. True, we have no traction control. But we also have zero power spikes or flat spots to break the tire loose. We also have no ABS, but there’s a drought and see #3.

It fits me, in other words. I know when I see a Bondo-ed K-car covered in duelling scars and Grateful Dead stickers to give it a wide berth; I hope the same thinking applies to people who see my blue bug-eyed sprite approaching, and while I’ve never relied upon a loud pipe to save my life, I suppose it can’t hurt. Is the best defense in the 21st century to be more offensive? Once you reach a certain age, you’re allowed to say what you think. Or you just do it anyway because the world is full of limp twits and who cares what they think about you? My trusty old R1 has suffered a few hard knocks, and as a result of that, it thinks nothing about roaring up and grabbing traffic by the p***y, then roaring off again before anybody realizes… wait, I would never do that!