Head Shake – Idle Musings on Riding Through Life

An intensive care unit (ICU) is a great place to think – there is so much time on your hands at all hours of the day and night, and you get to meet all these really nice people. The problem is you really can’t focus on much, the shadows dance against the wall and change. I blame it on the Dilaudid, or Plato, or life itself. Much of my waking hours early on were filled with a kaleidoscope of images from the past, in some cases the distant past: people, places, and bikes for the most part, and questions.

Head Shake – Evolution of an Ideal, June 22, 2016

It all started over in that ICU. Somebody or something hit rewind in that place, and it all started over.

So, it’s 2018, and I’m going to go get a new Kawi, one with saddlebags so I can pack a change of clothes, and an adjustable windscreen so I might stay out of the weather a bit.

I can cover some ground and see things. It’s nothing that is going to win any superbike challenge or put up staggering dyno numbers. It will never see a trackside tire vendor, it will never be safety-wired, it will never see a checkered flag, a five minute sign, or a waving yellow. It wasn’t meant to win that way.

But let’s go back, back when things were simple, back when it was de rigueur to ask before sitting on anyone’s bike, before bikes became tools under awnings next to pit row, when they were traveling companions of a different sort. When the world was still new, when you’d never heard of a five-angle valve job, when changing girlfriends might be a topic of discussion rather than changing race tires.

Racing and street, two completely different world views, street will happily coexist with racing, racing will not happily coexist with anything: It wants all your attention, all your money, all your time, it wants everything, and if it takes root in the right host, it will have it.

“Racing is life, everything that happens before or after is just waiting” – Steve McQueen. Steve knew what he was talking about. Racing kills street riding.

It doesn’t take much for the addiction to start, an occasional regional podium here, then a national win there, shiny things to take home only to go chase another shiny thing.

Racing makes bikes into tools, not passionate objects of desire but platforms to win on, the point being to cross a start/finish line first. I formed long-term marriages with street bikes before racing, with all the practicalities that go with that. I had affairs with race bikes, sharing them with others, living in the moment, then moving on.

When they wouldn’t or couldn’t do the job, I set them aside and got another. Street bikes I lived with, for better or for worse, rain, snow, sleet and glorious sun. Race bikes I met up with for weekend flings; furious, dangerous, high speed flings. A world of high-highs and low-lows that burns with the intensity of F&L race fuel; an intensity that cannot last forever. Life, entropy, and time intrude; inevitably the day arrives when you are not packing the trailer to leave for the track, and you are left with yourself and what was. Maybe you come to in an ICU, but I digress.

An idle mind soon finds itself wandering to things like household chores, Russian porn, and the Consumer Price Index, things that are of mild interest to me and probably little interest to anyone else. My first new street bike I bought was a 1978 Yamaha SR500, it was the motorcycle that got me hooked on street riding. It cost me $1850, and strange as it may sound today, I pulled a loan to pay for it, a sum that might be a down payment today. To wit:

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, the dollar experienced an average inflation rate of 3.44% per year. Prices in 2018 are 286.49% higher than prices in 1978.

“In other words, $1,850 in 1978 is equivalent in purchasing power to $7,149.99 in 2018, a difference of $5,299.99 over 40 years.”


Looking for a new way to win at the world’s pace, for the paltry sum of $1850 in 1978 dollars.

The advertised price on the Versys 650 I just put a deposit on was $7,075, brand new, current model year 2018, ABS, hard bags, more displacement, fuel injection, and all.

Do you see the rationalization techniques and the lengths I will go to justify a new bike purchase? Unless you were born a Rockefeller, that is what any savvy motorcyclist learns over a lifetime of defying reason – risking life and limb, love bugs, minivans, truck tire recaps in the fast lane, and hail storms – to travel about on two wheels. That is a better bike for less money than 40 years ago! You can’t not buy it.

Live today, for who knows what tomorrow may bring, or something like that. I haven’t strongly desired a new street bike since 1982, until now. Oh, I have bought them, but I haven’t lusted after one, racing took precedence. But I’ve rediscovered my youth, a fitting revelation in the same year I finally met my birth parents and a brother I never knew I had. I’m returning to the “uncarved block” – Pu, it is a Chinese word meaning “unworked wood; inherent quality; simple” – in a moto-Taoist way. I feel, if not young again, at least more alive with a young heart and a future. I’m back to where I started.

Quite literally, the last couple years have been an awakening, emerging from an ICU alive when I had always taken for granted that living was a given, I found my family, which has been an experience I thought I had some grasp on, but the depth of which I could not imagine. In a couple really profound ways I learned there really is no sure bet on tomorrow and, maybe most importantly, that there is much to love here. I looked into my mother’s eyes for the first time since 1961. I came back to where I never should have left. I’ve done my job, I got back here.

Cross-cultural winning redefined; content, hopeful, living and riding, wherever the road goes, whatever the ride.

I really wanted to live and dream again, not just accomplish tasks, or save for a tomorrow that might never come. I wanted to visit loved ones I might never have seen. More than simply putting one foot after another, I wanted to win again, but not on the track, just at living, at being. And not in some striving sense, just to try and simply see what happens. And I’ve never known how to live successfully, happily, without riding. I have ridden through life, the whole thing is just a touring story. You all have as well; you have your touring stories, too.

So, it’s 2018, and I’m going to go get a new Kawi, one with saddlebags so I can pack a change of clothes, and an adjustable windscreen so I might stay out of the weather a bit. I want to see how this story ends.

Ride hard, look where you want to go, and keep your eyes out of the instrument pod.