Categories: Features
November 22, 2017
| On 1 year ago

Skidmarks: New Bike High

I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist.

—Tammy Faye Bakker

I just bought me a new motorcycle, and man do I feel good.

I feel good settling into my new ride, learning about what it can and can’t do, what it needs to be better, and how much time, money and hassle it’ll take to get there. I feel so good, in fact, that I’m surprised I haven’t bought more new motorcycles over the last few decades. Sure, I’ve bought dozens of used bikes, but used-bike high isn’t the same as new-bike high, unless it’s your first bike, in which case it’s first-bike high, a different thing entirely. But why does buying a new bike feel so good? And why don’t more people do it? There would be a lot less murder and mayhem in the world if they did.

Folks used to be really into buying new cars and motorcycles. In Olden Times, you were a Buick Man or a Chevy Man or a Studebaker Man (ladies let the big strong man do all that complex car-selection brainwork) and you would buy a new car every year or two. My great-grandparents, Abraham and Ada, would take the train from Vallejo to Detroit every other year, buy a new Cadillac, and drive it home. Amazing, right? They were born in tiny, muddy shtetls in Hungary in the 19th century. Talk about class mobility; it’s like Beverly Hillbillies, but with Jews.

On the other side of the family, Grampa Louis would buy his new Caddy with similar frequency, not only to show that he had made it (“it” as in achieved success – he didn’t build Cadillacs, although if I was a factory worker that made Cadillacs, I would definitely buy a Cadillac so I could say, “Look, I made it!” and confuse people) but because he was a terrible driver and very hard on his cars. He would eat ice cream cones and other messy foods while driving and throw trash into the back seats, and his first act as a new-car owner would be to park close to a telephone pole or parking meter and swing his door into it, giving his new purchase a sizeable dent. “Ha!” he’d say to whatever grandchild had witnessed this crime, “now I don’t have to worry about it.”

Oh skylark/Have you seen a valley green with spring/Where my heart can go a-journeying/Over the shadows and the rain – Lyrics by Carmichael/Mercer

My mom’s dad, Grampa Carl, was a Buick man through and through, and I don’t remember seeing him drive anything more than a few years old. Those must have been the days to be a car salesman. I can just see Grampa Carl, toothpick in the corner of his mouth, brown Sears Action Slacks and yellow short-sleeve button-down poly-blend shirt as the salesman, resplendent in checkered slacks, white loafers (with a little gold chain on each one) and bright sportcoat walks up to him, long salt-and-pepper hair and bushy sideburns waving in the hot, dry Sacramento breeze.

Carl flicks out his toothpick, kicks a tire and asks, “Say, does the Skylark come in beige? Or just taupe? How about sand?” The salesman puts a chummy arm over Grampa’s shoulders and says, “Well, let’s head to the office and crunch some numbers.” Soon he would be driving to his wholesale carnival-supply store in his new Skylark, doubtless filled with that new-car high.

I don’t get new-car high at all – in general, cars suck compared to motorcycles. But I understand why we used to buy cars so frequently and why the U.S. automotive market verged on collapse in the ’70s. Reliable, cheap, sturdy and fun-to-drive imports arrived, and suddenly cars lasted for 10 years or more. Same for motorcycles, too, by the way, although it took about an extra decade for Japanese motorcycles to be as seamlessly reliable as Toyota and Honda cars. Some ’80s UJMs stayed on the road for 30 years with minimal maintenance, way too long in the case of the Suzuki Madura. Like roaches or Dick Van Dyke, they won’t die and there’s no reason to replace them.

This Madura ad from 1985… where do I start? What does the hot dog mean? Why the golden retriever? Why is the ground wet but the rider dry? I have so many questions! The accompanying ad copy wrote that the Madura would “hurl you into the future of motorcycling,” although I’m pretty sure most motorcyclists hate being hurled. I know I do.

So now drivers and riders aren’t getting new-car or new-bike high every couple of years, but fortunately medical science has stepped up and provided us with chemical mood-stabilizers like Prozac, Lexapro or cheap (yet drinkable) Trader Joe’s brand blended Scotch. No longer burdened with the need to buy new every two to feel good about themselves, American consumers keep their rides longer. I know guys who have never bought a new motorcycle, probably thanks to medicinal marijuana.

I’m no stranger to chemical mood enhancement, but I think I like new-bike high (NBH) more. NBH suffuses you with a feeling of invincibility as you exploit your new machine’s strengths. Suddenly you can accelerate like the Flash, or ride comfortably all day, or lap Laguna Seca three seconds faster without breaking a sweat. You become an A-list celebrity amongst your riding buddies and passers-by. “What’s that! I didn’t know they made motorcycles! Is it fast?” The other night I just sat in my garage and stared at my new purchase and all I thought was, ‘Wow, that’s mine.’

Of course, much like kittens, that euphoria will fade and turn into an actual relationship, one that will require work and commitment. It may not work out at all – the other bikes I’ve bought new had new owners in a few years – or it may last until the bike is sold at your estate sale. But sooner or later you’ll choose: Another new bike? Or more Prozac? Prozac is cheaper, but NBH is a unique rush that can’t be beat. Ask your new-motorcycle sales representative if it’s right for you.

Gabe Ets-Hokin is VP for consumer self-testing at Merck Pharmaceuticals.