Bonding with your motorcycle
In love, one and one are one.
—Jean-Paul Sartre

Spring is good.

Even here in the Land of Perpetual Riding, spring is a thing that happens, though it may be a more-subtle transition than where you ride. Instead of green shoots pushing their way through patches of melting snow, the rain just sort of tapers off and the sun stays out later each Sunday. You can put away your rainsuit and heated liner and wear your Aerostich or leather with just a light insulating layer, and you feel more confident in the corners marked SLIPPERY. True, we don’t have to take the snow tires off our cars, remove the storm windows, de-ice the dog or whatever horrid things you snow-dwellers have to do when it finally gets warmer, but I know my mood improves when I can ride without worrying about getting my crotch wet.

If you feel you need more information about Turbo Tom, it’s pretty much all in this photo c. 2000. There are so many layers of Wrong here that BMW owners will likely burst into flames just looking at it.

And it was with this improved mood that I finally realized I just might like my new motorcycle after all. On the way to breakfast, I blasted off after the first pack of riders and waited for the second pack to catch and pass me as usual, but they never did. Where did they go, I wondered? Did somebody crash? Did they run afoul of law enforcement? Meanwhile, the bike felt lighter than before, responsive where it once seemed wooden, and instead of the powerband feeling like it had infinite (and intimidating) torque, I could now sense where flat spots and other foibles lay. And to think I scoffed at the boys on the Facebook group for recommending I re-map the ECM. Who could possibly need more power, I thought? Now, I wasn’t so sure.

At breakfast, Turbo Tommy dropped by my table to see how I liked my EBR. He was surprised my relationship with it was warming but still wary. He told me it takes time for him to bond with a bike; about two years on average, but when he does, he loves it and sticks with it until it dies from either violent or accidental death.

The bonding, it is happening.

Huh. That may be the problem. For many years, I’ve traded in and sold my bikes with abandon, rarely keeping anything longer than a year or two. After all, I told myself (and anybody who would listen), I’ve been faithful to my long-suffering spouse for decades now, so why shouldn’t I satisfy my wanderlust by experiencing as many different motorcycles as possible? There is no reason (besides time, money and garage space) why you can’t be Hugh Hefner, but with motorcycles. Or so I thought.

Turbo needs two years to get comfortable with his bike. But once he does – look out. Dirt, pavement or racetrack, he’s brilliantly smooth and blindingly fast. That only comes with limitless trust in your mechanical partner. And how can you trust it if you know you’ll give up on it if it’s not perfect? And why would it give its best to you if it senses you’re not trusting it 100%?

Intellectually, I’m well-suited to know that no bike is perfect, as no person is perfect. I realize now that people who are single deep into middle age are often single by choice. Not a conscious choice, but because they think if they just keep looking, keep dating, keep swiping left, they’ll eventually find the perfect fit.

Can you just jump on a bike and do this? Or do you need to bond first?

And then there are those who think they can modify their way to moto-perfection. We all need to modify our bikes. But are you modifying it to enhance its good qualities? Or are you modifying it to be something it’s not? Making a cruiser into a sportbike or a tourer into a café racer may sound cool, but there’s something creepy about it, like a guy getting his wife to wear his ex-girlfriend’s prom dress and then act out scenes from Pretty in Pink. Ick.

My original plan was to keep my EBR for a couple of years and then sell it, but maybe I should do things differently this time. After all, will there ever be a better open-class, gas-powered naked sportybike from an American manufacturer? For $8k out the door? Probably not. And even if there will be, would I go any faster on it? Have more fun? Make better memories? I doubt it.

I have bonded with a few bikes, and those are the ones I remember. It’s not the bike, it’s the rider, goes the old saw, but let me add a new thought: It’s not the bike or the rider. It’s how the two perform together. Let’s see where we go.

Gabe Ets-Hokin is the curator at the National Limerick Museum in Scottsdale, Arizona. He once met a man from Nantucket, whom he immediately hired.