SRX! -

John Burns
by John Burns

Torrance, California, March 8, 2002 -- People who claim to know keep telling me MO readers want hard, factual information, that they have no time or patience for columns and touchy-feely features, which if true, makes me a dead man. And anyway I disagree, based only upon the fact that my favorite parts of my favorite magazines have always been the columns and features churned out by the Camerons, Egans, Gordon Jenningses and Phil Schillings of the moto-world--among others (though none I can recall at my former employer Motorcyclist, strangely enough...). Well, we can't afford any of those guys. You're stuck with me for now, and if things go according plan,another underappreciated writer or two I have in mind.

And I was going to add, please feel free to give up the feedback and let me know what you think, but that's stupid because none of you seem to need any encouragement in that department. Thankfully, going pay-per-view has cut down greatly the number of YOU SUX.--jb

Right, we've got a million things to do around here and three of us to do them. I'm moving into stately MO Manor, an industrial edifice which was just purchased by a famous self-help guru who's worth, I'm told, something like half-a-billion dollars. He dropped by last Friday to check out his new property and tenants. With all the cool tools and workspace downstairs in the ex-Buell race shop (including a very nice automotive engine hoist), I definitely see myself hanging around here a lot in various states of old-vehicle filth. So I say to the guy,"wouldn't it be cool to have a shower down here in the shop?"

Senor X is accustomed to being "tuned" by unprofessional tuners.
"Certainly," he says, "will you split the cost?" without batting an eye. What's with the rich anyway? I suppose this means the Arthcitectural Digest style water spectacular/Hef grotto I envisioned is out of the question. We'll be going Home Depot prefab.I kept my idea about the spiral staircase up to the party roof to myself.

Anywho, I cleaned my stuff out of my old office at Motorcyclist, and backed the MO truck up into the shop with a goodly proportion of my worldly possessions, including my old Yamaha SRX-6 "racebike," not that I think I ever actually completed a race on it. I remember being pretty damn excited 13 years ago when I got the ok to buy the thing and do a series of cheapie-racing articles, though. And I did do a few stories--a couple in Cycle World and one in Motorcyclist after I jumped ship, and then I gave birth to the sprog and bought a house and got the chance to ride bikes around the track that didn't want to spit me off all the time--either that or I learned better how not to be spat--and the SRX sat in the Motorcyclist basement and moldered, an object of scorn and derision in the eyes of the moto-sophisticate. Greg McQuide borrowed it to do his first race school, though, and came back beaming, but then that guy pretty much beamed all the time, what a nice kid he was. And then he loaned Senor X to his buddy Jim, who crashed it, left it in some Hollywood garage for a year "waiting for parts" or something, and you get the picture. The poor thing's been passed around like Minime's photo at a "Scared Straight" high school assembly.

Nor did Senor X start out with any advantages in life. Come to think of it, it was only three years old when I acquired it from some disappeared person's storage shed, in Oregon, and it was already covered in corrosion and neglect. I spent a lot of good hours whipping it into shape, cleaning off the mung or at least disguising it with WD-40, and it wound up being a nice little bike, complete with a professionally-built motor with headwork, hot White Bros cam, high-compression piston, Race Tech forkage, etc. Lately, I'd meant to place it with a loving home, but never got around to it. For about a second, I even considered abandoning it for the Motorcyclist crew to trip over and remember me by, but then I went ahead and threw it on the truck.

It took me by surprise, then, to see Mini's and Calvin's expressions when I dragged the bedraggled thing into the MO cave. 1986 doesn't seem long ago at all to me, but Mini was nine when Yamaha imported the SRX and Calvin was eight. They'd never seen one before (and even if they had it would've scarcely resembled my SRX). They thought it was some sort of old Norton or something. That is RAD dude...

It is?

What IS that?!

I gave the kickstarter a couple of kicks, something felt more resistant than usual, and told the kids the show was over and to get back to work (which is cool since Mini's not just a MO employee, he's also the President). A couple of hours later I wandered back downstairs into the shop, saw the bike sitting there, and lost my willpower yet again. A couple more kicks produced negative results, but Mini and Calvin heard and were right there again like a couple of big dogs observing a meat cutter at work.

"Say, aaahhh, who tightened the drain plug?"
The afternoon, in short, wound up being shot, and we let the phone ring as we figured out that the reason it was harder to kick than usual was that all the fuel had drained into the cases (since the petcock had been left on for the last year or two), and so we drained it and made a mess on the rich guy's new asphalt parking lot out back, and put in fresh oil. I have newfound respect for Plummer's racing effort; his Buells never did all that well, but not for lack of having the right equipment and stuff, including a big drum of VP race fuel: we poured some in the SRX tank and quite a bit on the floor. Still no ignition.

After another hour or so of headscratching and putzing, the light bulb went on and Bumpy was deployed--the motorized thing you use to start your racing Buells by spinning the back tire. BAVWHOOOOM! I didn't recall the old single sounding this good, really... Then, of course, we all had to ride the thing up and down the alley out back, thirty or forty times, with our tails wagging, and I swear the SRX was smiling like Thomas the Tank Engine. (While this was happening, the shop also contained a new ZX-12, a 120-horse V-Rod, an R6 Yamaha, etc.)

I'd always told people, whether they cared or not, that I wouldn't be surprised if the 600 single made 50 horses or so, just guessing. Our on-site dyno beckoned. We strapped the SRX down and there it is--52 horsepower, baby! Just as Mini rolled off the throttle after the second deafening run, the drain plug flew out and spat a quart or two of barely-used, warmish Castrol all over the place; thankfully Mini got his left size-13 Steve Madden out of the way in time.

When Burns is on Senor X, he waxes on about his boat. When Burns is on his boat, he waxes the poop deck.
After the spill was contained I had to ask who tightened the drain plug, and I think Mini pointed at Calvin a tick quicker than Calvin pointed at Mini, but it was so close I have to call it a draw.

"Wow," Calvin said, "I guess that thing really needs the safety-wire."

To which I could only observe that stock SRXs don't seem to.

Any way, no harm done and in fact the oil spill only added to the fun and excitement, and in truth I can't remember the last time I spent a more enjoyable day playing with good friends and tools and motorcycles. I also can't help but think the SRX was really happy, too, but of course it's an inanimate object. It heard Mini saying how he wants to go out and race it, what a blast it would be. And it got me remembering I heard the other day that Curtis Adams, of Formula USA fame and the fastest guy at Willow Springs for years, has lately been spotted at WSMC weekends racing his old Honda Ascot single--his first racebike--and having a blast. Last time we spoke,Curtis said he was done racing. Now I can't help wondering if my SRX is faster enough than his Ascot to make up for the talent difference? It would have to be a very ill Ascot.

Say, have I bored you yet? I can't figure out how to get a word count on this new computer and like I said last week, a beauty of the 'net is I'm free to drone on for as long as I want. If you've had enough, you can stop right here, as I feel a slight philosophical wax coming over me.

Don't try this at home! (We only do it at work, ourselves.)
That night I ZX-12ed down to my recently acquired Uniflite sportfishing boat. (Lest you get the wrong impression, I payed for it what you'd give for a good used Camry, and only then because the wife strongly suggested I needed to get my own place to live. Even with the slip fee, it's cheaper than some crumby apartment, you can catch fish off it, and people keep telling me it could enhance my sex life too, theoretically. It would be nice to have a partner, I suppose.)

So I was lounging on the poop deck with a cold cocktail, about nine-ish, listening to the radio and pondering my fate, when a man's head popped 'round and said "excuse the interruption, but this boat belonged to me for 22 years--from '74 'til '96." With a name like Mike Mallarkey, I didn't really need to ask if he'd like a beer, but did anyway for appearances sake. Mike had his wife with him and a couple of friends and they hung out for a half-hour or so, talking about how they'd all played cards at that table 20 years ago--the same one I played cards at a couple of months ago with my friends.

"We raised our kids on this boat," Mrs. Mallarkey said, and I told her how much I already love the thing, and hope to be able to afford it long enough to raise my boy on it too. Nobody teared up, but it was a near thing, for me.

"You know why your bilge keeps filling up don't you?," Mike asked. "You need to tighten those shaft seals."

Shaft who? I have those?

Beautiful curve, or what? Brought to you by a pair of vintage 28mm Mikuni smoothbores.
And he gave me his phone number and told me to call anytime, he knows every quirk on the vessel. So far, I've already encountered several, and Mike's coming down to do the shaft seals Sunday morning.

After the Mallarkeys departed it hit me that Senor X can never be just a motorcycle to me, any more than Midnight Rambler could be nothing but a floating pile of fiberglass and wood to them. I can't look at Senor X without remembering the trip to the AHRMA race in Las Vegas with my nine-month old baby's car seat strapped into the shit Motorcyclist van with tie-downs, half a foam earplug stuck into each of his ears, Mickey Mouse nook firmly in mouth. Er, wife still in love with me. Can't have been eight years ago. No way. And the time I took Jane to her first motorcycle race, and sat her where she'd have a prime view of me performing 70-mph cartwheels down the straight toward turn three. And it reminds me of McQuide, too: Senor X inspired him to go racing, which was the most exhilarating thing he got to do in his too-short life. Now I can't believe I thought, as recently as last week, that I could ever part with the damn thing. There very literally are,in this life, things we can't leave behind.

Doesn't mean I won't consider all reasonable offers.

John Burns
John Burns

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