2016: A Sneak Peek

 

2016-01-03 BANNER

(not a motorcycle)

 

2016 promises to be the best moto year yet.  We don’t have full details yet, but here is a sneak peek at what 2016 will offer:

 

2016 will be 12lbs. lighter than 2015 and have 15% more torque – that’s more grunt and go than any year this decade.  To manage that power, this year will also have improved brakes and upgraded suspension.  Combined with better ground clearance and a higher-revving mill, 2016 looks to be a hell of a ride.

 

For optimal handling, 2016 will have three centers of gravity: one low, one high, and one “floating” CG that will be continuously controlled by the onboard computer.  The rider can select between four modes for the floating center of gravity: “Cruising,” “Bopping,” “Hooning,” and “Flay.”  It will also feature the first on-the-fly adjustable wheelbase, which will let you convert from a cruiser to a sport-naked with just the touch of seven buttons.

 

The riding position has been redesigned by Swedish furniture craftsmen, and the “rider’s triangle” has been upgraded to a “rider’s pentagon” with the addition of knee and elbow pegs.  The passenger handlebars are also a bold new touch.

 

2016’s ride-by-helmet interface will provide direct input from the rider’s brain to the onboard computer.  You just have to remember to think in Russian.  Rider’s thoughts will become property of the manufacturer under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and may not be reproduced by the rider.

 

This year will be available in seven all-new special edition paint schemes, including three with flames.  Actual flames.  Be careful.  There will also be a Dead Celebrity special edition, but it has not yet been announced which dead celebrity it will be.  We are hoping for Harpo Marx.

 

For styling, 2016 has definitely gone the naked neo-retro-chopper/bobber-scrambler-tracker-hillclimb-wall-of-death route.  The styling says, “heritage,” but also says, “what the hell am I doing?”

 

Optional features include a chrome seat and calfskin gas tank, fully opaque windscreen, carbon-fiber tires, and right-side kickstand.  The ultimate add-on for 2016 will be the dual side cars, which are mounted on both sides of the machine for that P-38 look.  Little decorative propellers for the noses of the sidecars are also available.

 

Will 2016 be the ultimate ride?  With so much innovation, there will certainly be some bugs to work out, but we think this years looks like it will be a real blast and we can’t wait to get it on the street.

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Stop Imitating Outlaw Biker Gangs

Since last week’s shoot-out between the Bandidos and the Cossacks in Waco, Texas, many bikers – or perhaps they’d rather be called motorcyclists – have been making protestations that the actions of these outlaw biker gangs do not represent the attitudes, lifestyles, and actions of most people who ride motorcycles. True enough.

They say that this incident puts us bikers (I’m just going to say “bikers”) in a bad light. That it casts a shadow over the rest of us. Well, I don’t think most civilians have any confusion between the typical biker dudes they see every day and outlaw gangs, any more than you might confuse, say, your neighbor’s basement home-brew set-up with an underground meth superlab. But I guess I could see the point.

They say that they want to distance themselves from this harmful image of outlaw culture. This is where I have to throw a bullshit flag.

If we’re so all-fired keen to distance ourselves from the stigma of outlaw biker gangs, why do so many bikers go to such lengths to imitate them? The hair, the vests, the chaps, the boots. Not the mention the type and style of motorcycle. The entire persona of many ordinary bikers is, intentionally or not, overtly derivative of the outlaw biker archetype. Even the loud pipes: most bikers who have drag pipes have them because they convey that dangerous, outlaw image. It’s not a performance thing, and it’s honestly not a safety thing.

The most blatant homage to the outlaw biker gangs are the club vests and patches that explicitly imitate the style of the gang, complete with club logo and chapter rocker. The most obvious example is the Harley Owners Group (HOG – one of the least clever backronyms of all time). HOG is a corporate-sponsored community branding and marketing effort, which is the polar opposite of an outlaw biker gang. HOG is to a biker gang what the “by Mennen” jingle is to Jimi Hendrix. Yet they, quite brilliantly, co-opted the exact iconography of the gangs, triggering the same psychological mechanisms of tribal loyalty and converting them into brand loyalty. To the untrained eye, a HOG chapter pulling into a Denny’s looks an awful lot like some bad shit is about to go down. At the Denny’s.

Even more bizarre are the riders who sport “Sons of Anarchy” gear. It’s not just a fantasy, it’s a fantasy of a fantasy. These really belong more at ComiCon than at a bike rally.*

There is nothing wrong with regular motorcycle clubs, but so many of them use these vests and patches it reinforces the unstated assumption that the only “real” bikers – the most legitmate bikers – are the outlaws, and that all the rest of us are just varying degrees away from that pure core. That’s what’s really wrong with this.

The appeal of the outlaw is very real, powerful, and completely understandable. For most of us, that’s part of what got us into motorcycling in the first place. There is a genuine delight in terrifying soccer moms. It’s the cowboy, it’s Johnny Strabler, it’s Han Solo. Every romantic hero plays by his own rules, right?

Well, we are undercutting that independence instinct when we spend so much effort imitating members of some other group. We have to acknowledge that what biker gangs are doing and what the rest of us are doing are completely different things. We don’t have to emulate them because we really share nothing in common with them.

Many ordinary bikers already feel that in some ways they’re on the fringe. There’s something in us that is not like our peers. We are doing something not that many people do, something that our friends or family may not understand or approve of. We invest time and money in something that is dangerous and impractical. This, too, is part of the appeal. For much of life, we have to fit in, but as a biker we can be comfortable as an outsider. But again, being an outsider is a completely different thing from human trafficking and running guns and drugs.

If you truly want to be in an outlaw biker gang, then that’s what you should do, but recognize that it is not a life of freedom: it will take a tremendous commitment and sacrifice, including possibly losing the relationships of the people you care about most. I doubt most of us are willing to do that.

If you don’t want to be in an outlaw biker gang, then drop the affectations and stop whining about getting a bad rep from the outlaws.

You have to pick one or the other: you cannot both have and reject the outlaw biker fantasy. This is like someone who dresses as a knight at a Renaissance fair complaining that they don’t want to be associated with the negative stereotypes of European nobility.**

The world of bikers is one of amazing biodiversity. So many types of people and machines, different backgrounds and reasons. A lot of histories and stories. And for the most part, we’re all cool with each other. Even people from backgrounds who would otherwise not interact are generally decent and accepting in the context of bikes. There really are not a lot of rules to “how to be a biker,” and that’s part of what’s so great about it. Maybe the one universal tenet is that you need to be yourself. Be your damn self. You don’t need anybody else’s approval to be a biker, and you certainly don’t need to emulate a group you don’t actually want to join. It’s so much easier to just be yourself.

*I don’t mean to dis on the ComiCon folks. They at least are generally aware of what is and is not a fantasy, and they’re usually pretty cool.

**Again, nothing against the Ren Fair guys. Joust on!

A New Year in the Garage

Set the thermos on the workbench: coffee with Jameson’s. No work today; I just came out to the garage to “tidy up a bit,” my own preferred personal euphemism for doing nothing at all. It’s the first Sunday of January, but not too terrible cold for a’ that.

 

The only actual task I have today is to take down last year’s Garage Calendar (Rachael Clegg’s delightful, beautiful, sexy, and witty Milestones TT calendar) and put up this year’s (images of engineers rappelling off buildings from Wiss, Janney, Elstner; sexy in a very different way). I’m very particular about the selection of the annual Garage Calendar ever since I got the droolworthy 2010 Zero Engineering calendar.

 

So, January. Janus is the Roman god of beginnings and transitions. He has two faces, looking forward and backward. He signifies that every beginning is an ending and blah, blah, blah, whatever. January isn’t actually named after Janus, it turns out, but it’s close enough, so we’ll go with it.

 

So as we look forward to another year of, by the grace of Jupiter, riding, wrenching, tinkering, drinkering, revving, leaning, and getting home alive, it’s worth an hour or two to inhabit the garage, have some augmented coffee, and reflect.

 

Everything in the garage is put away so neatly now, as it never is during the season. Drawers are closed; King Dick wrenches are aligned on the wall in soldierly fashion; mower and wheelbarrow parked under the stair; hoses coiled; Triumph tarped and parked. It’s really quite pleasing to observe, and the temporary neatness masks all the undone projects nicely.

 

Of all the things still incomplete, I’d have thought I would have gotten the BSA on the road this year, but over there is the frame, and over there are the wheels, and under that sheet is the engine, and in those boxes… oh, boy. Look at that bucket full of nuts and bolts. This isn’t even at square one. It’s square zero.

 

Time to get realistic and realize I need to call in some help. Instead of lofty, hifalutin’ New Year’s resolutions, let’s be realistic this time. Sure, I’d like to be able to say I did it all myself with tools I forged myself from locally-sourced organic iron, but let’s get real. Let’s put ego aside and do what’s best for the project and give us the best chance of getting her on the road.

 

It takes some combination of time, skill, and money to complete any project. My resources of all three are limited. I’ve decided to decide that I can spend a little more money and borrow an expert’s skill. Do I lose a little authenticity? (maybe) Am I getting older? (yes) Well, I’m OK with it. I know I would enjoy doing more of the work myself (if I had the time), and I would surely learn a lot on the rebuild. I also know that, like everybody else, I’m going to be working my ass off this year and I can’t always put a bike rebuild first. “Others have excuses, I have my reasons why.”

 

This will be a good year. Maybe by giving up a little of my self-improtance, I’ll get a little more done and be a little less manic. Maybe I’ve had enough augmented coffee. (nope)

 

Well, the calendar is up. I guess I’m done here. Here’s to kicking the starter in 2015.

Are You a “Biker”?

Well, are you? What do you call yourself? Do you call yourself a “biker,” or do you avoid that term? Do you call yourself a “motorcyclist”? Do you just say you “ride a motorcycle”? That’s a convenient way to distance yourself – to take the identity out of the activity. You just happen to ride a motorcycle, but it has nothing to do with who you are. Well, if it has nothing to do with who you are, why do you do it?

 

Most people who ride don’t call themselves “bikers,” but we should. We should use it, embrace it, own it, be it, and we should give exactly fuck-all what anybody else thinks. Take this epithet, this malediction, and make it our black honor banner, our sacred blasphemy.

 

There are two main reasons people avoid calling themselves “biker,” and they’re both wrong: because they think they’re too good for it, or because they think they’re not good enough.

 

Let me explain. The first group doesn’t want to be associated with the criminal dirtbag connotations they think “biker” carries with it. They ride a sophisticated piece of liquid-cooled metric engineering, not some loud, greasy, low-slung lead sled. Well, just how high is the saddle on that sport-tour-venturer that you can’t step off for a cold one? The moniker doesn’t come with a criminal record attached, and nobody is going to make you put fringe on your jacket. We might have our share of sketchy santas, but I don’t see investment bankers avoiding calling themselves “investment bankers” after 2008, and they have a lot more to answer for than the bikers of the world do. Likewise sales managers, priests, mayors of Detroit, PR flacks, doctors, news anchors, or any other damn group you care to mention. No small deviant minority defines you, unless you can’t define yourself.

 

The second group thinks they’re just not enough of a biker to call themselves that. Like you have to be fully dedicated to the biker “lifestyle,” whatever that is, in order to be worthy of the term. Like somebody is going to call you out for not being a “real” biker because you also own a car, or because you have a full-time job. This is understandable but wrong. All subculture groups are keenly aware of authenticity – who really belongs and who is a poseur. Bikers are probably more hung-up on authenticity and validating that you’re one of us than any group since Cold War spooks. But it’s not a club, and you can’t be kicked out if you don’t have a long beard or leather vest. Authenticity does not equal stereotype.

 

Let me say that again: Authenticity does not equal stereotype. Being a real biker has nothing to do with your patches, belly, or dental hygiene. It has everything to do with a love of riding. It has to do with motorcycles. It’s a thrill that you know and love – that you are bewitched by – if you are a biker, and you don’t if you’re not. If there is a litmus test for who is a “biker,” that’s it. And that’s all.

 

Whether you’re metric, standard, or Whitworth; whether your heart beats like a potato or fibrillates in four beats; whether you belong to a Laborer’s Local or a yacht club; whether you’re an iron-butt or a weekend-warrior; whether you carve canyons or drag downtown; whether you’re whiskey or cognac, we at least share that one thing. We don’t have to all be brothers, but we are all bikers.

 

We need to hang together and respect each other. I am seeing a general decline in biker courtesies – things like stopping when you see another bike stopped on the freeway to see if they need help, leaving space for another bike in parking spaces, falling into a stagger formation when you happen to be riding along the road together, even something as simple and silly as the “biker wave.” Bikers should at least show each other a little class, and it starts with embracing that identity.

 

It needs to be said here that some bicyclists have started calling themselves “bikers.” This must stop. As I have written elsewhere, there’s nothing wrong with riding bicycles, which is a fun, healthy activity for kids and adults, as long as you’re not an arrogant ponce about it. We should be cool with the cyclists, but we can’t let leave our name for them to pick up. We are the bikers.

 

We are the bikers. Do not be ashamed or shy. We are strong, not evil. We take risks others don’t and are rewarded with benefits they cannot imagine. Chasers after the ineffable, the inexpressible. Handlebar philosophers and bug-spitters. There is no one type. We may not have anything in common but this: we are the bikers.

The Barn Find BSA

I’ll admit it: I was vulnerable. I was in a weakened condition. In a rare fit of fiscal responsibility, I had sold my ’71 Triumph Tiger the previous summer. It was the perennial project bike. It was beautiful and wild, old and naughty. Like Helen Mirren. It coughed and smoked, and had other vices. It had needed me, and I needed a bike that needed me.

I had the ’08 Bonneville, of course, but bikes are like horses: they don’t thrive when they’re kept alone. They need a companion. One bike in a garage is a lonely, lonely sight. Scott Colosimo, the Cleveland Cyclewerks guy, says you have to have at least three bikes: your daily rider, your special purpose bike (whatever your thing is: racing, off-road, touring, etc.), and a project. At that moment I was down to 1 for 3.

Jump back five years. A friend of mine, who rides an ’81 BMW, had told me about his friend who happened to be a prominent architect and had this old BSA in the back of his garage. The story was, the guy had bought it in England, rode it around Europe for a summer, brought it home, and parked it. When my eyebrow raised, my friend had said, “Forget it. He’ll never sell it. He’ll probably to give it to his son.”

I happened to meet the guy once, and I waited four seconds before bringing up the bike. It was clear my friend was right. I received a disdainful look when I hinted that if he ever wanted to sell… It was like I had asked if his wife would mind if I called her in the event of his demise. Clearly the bike was a talisman to him. I totally understand that. It’s part of him, part of his youth. He may not have ridden it since before I was born, but he definitely thinks about it.

These things aren’t transportation – they’re part of our identity. Who am I to offer him a fistful of dollars for his identity? So I dutifully forgot about it.

Then last year, the spring after I sold the Triumph, I got an e-mail out of the blue. His son wasn’t interested in the rusty old thing, and he wanted a good home for it. Attached were four photos. When I opened the attachments, I heard the Sarah McLaughlin music from the SPCA ads. It was a three-legged dog, waiting for that big-hearted person to adopt it. The bike was pleading with its big Lucas headlight, and I could almost hear it wimper. Oh, I am a softie.

“Of course we’re not going to buy this thing,” I told my wife, “But we have to go look.” God bless her, she acted like she believed me.

We went out to his house with a tool kit and a flashlight. We had to unbury the bike a bit to get at it. A 1970 650 Lightning. It wouldn’t roll, so I crawled over it in the little space in the back of his garage. I pushed the kickstart lever with my hand – it kicked over, and there was even some compression. I looked in the inspection ports – it looked brand new inside. 5,000 miles on the odo. The clutch worked, and it shifted cleanly through the gears. It had oil and half a tank of what used to be gas. It was like he had just parked it for the week, and a week became 40 years. It was a time capsule. It was the Well of Souls. A cobra hissed at me, and I waved my torch at it.

There were other things, too. He was an architect – I’m an architect. His son’s name (I’m not kidding) is Carter. His last name is my maternal great-grandmother’s maiden name (also not kidding). He parked it in the summer of 1972 – the summer I was born. Now, I don’t believe in fate or superstition, but I am not above using coincidences to justify what I already want.

After the inspection, we sat and had some iced tea. He had all the papers, including the original bill of sale from London. He had a price in mind that was just more than I could possibly do. I kind of knew I was kidding myself to come out there, but I said I’d think about it. That night I called him, and he could tell by the tone of my voice what my answer was. I wasn’t playing hardball or negotiating. I just couldn’t buy it. I told him I’d probably be able to help him find another buyer.

A few days later, he called me again. He wanted the bike to have a good home; he didn’t want it to go to someone who would just re-sell it right away. He offered me a price I could not refuse. I know he could’ve gotten more for it without too much effort, but he cared more about the bike than the money. It made me feel that accepting it was a solemn duty. I didn’t hesitate. I was being asked to volunteer for a special mission. “I’m your man, captain,” was the only appropriate response.

These things are not machines. They are crucibles, chalices for our effervescent intoxicating spirits. They respond to us and test us. They change us, and we want to pass it on. Some guys would have forgotten about the old thing in the garage, or would be glad to be rid of it. Not this guy. He cherished it, and even if he hadn’t turned that throttle in 40 years, he is still a real biker as far as I’m concerned.

The next Saturday, I got a few dudes to help me physically lift it onto my trailer. All went smoothly, and I was ready to leave the old guy’s driveway in a few minutes. His wife took a picture of him sitting on the bike. We shook hands, and the generational conferring was complete.

I brought it home and called my neighbor to help me unload it. He is a great guy, and, just as importantly for this, strong. He came right over. He took one look at the BSA and said, “Whatsa matter? The other bike didn’t have enough problems for you?”

Yep.

An Open Letter to Every Person I Meet Who Finds Out I Ride a Motorcycle

Let me stop you right there, nnnnn-kay? I can tell by that little intake of breath what’s coming next. Thank you in advance, but I already know that motorcycles are “dangerous.” After nearly twenty years of riding on the streets, I am aware; your telling me now will not be a revelation. It is not an insight into my lifestyle that has remained hidden from me until this, the moment of epiphany when you shine the light of outsider wisdom on my foolhardy choices.

There are ways I can minimize the risk – by riding defensively, riding sober, knowing my and my machine’s capabilities, etc. – but I also know there are some risks that are simply beyond my control. But you know what? There a lots of risks in life that are beyond my control. We’ve become so pathologically risk-averse that for most people it is inconceivable to assume any additional risk no matter how much joy you might get back in return.

You want to know what’s truly dangerous? Not taking any risks. Hanging out with like-minded middle-of-the-roaders. Absorbing the same brain-ossifying shit from media factories every day. Jogging. Putting helmets, flotation devices, and auto-deploy epi-pens on your kids every time they leave the house. Passivity. Not paying attention to where your car, or your life, or you country is going.

If you don’t get that, that’s OK. I’m not trying to convert anybody, but here are a few tips to save us both a little aggravation:

You don’t need to tell me the horror story about your uncle’s buddy who wiped out his chopper while drag racing at some hooligan rally. That just makes me wish I were talking to your uncle’s buddy instead of you. He sounds pretty cool.

Do not – do NOT – tell me about the time you almost Sausage Creatured a biker because you “couldn’t see him” or he “came out of nowhere.” I have never known a bike to come out of nowhere, but I have seen plenty of cars pull a Crazy Ivan and pull into a lane occupied by a biker or make an impromptu unsignalled left turn in front of an oncoming me. If you’re expecting me to share your outrage at the temerity of bikers to be in the lane you want, you’re more deluded than a goldfish with a passport. I can’t make you see bikes. I can’t make you hang up your phone. They won’t let me mount a .50-caliber machine gun to my bike. So really, there’s not much I can do to change the outcome of your anecdote, so save it for your coreligionists who also have stick-figure families and giant softball stickers with the name “Tailyr” or “Flynn” or “Shyly” on their rear windows.

I do wear a helmet, as a matter of fact (along with other protective gear), but the fact that you “certainly hope” I wear a helmet is so condescending it makes me want to ride a tricycle completely naked doing doughnuts in your front yard screaming Beastie Boys lyrics at midnight. Trust me, you do not want that. My buttocks are extremely pale and unsightly, especially in moonlight.

Please, do not complain about bikes parking in car parking spaces. Where are we supposed to park? If they let us park up on the curb like in Europe, we would totally do that, and precious few parking lots have motorcycle parking areas. Most cops already have a hard-on for bikes, so parking anywhere but in a designated spot is asking to be impounded.

 

Yes, I know, some bikes have very loud exhaust. Maybe it’s obnoxious, but at least you knew they were there, didn’t you? They say loud pipes save lives. I don’t know if that’s true, because there hasn’t been a serious comprehensive study of motorcycle safety since 1981, the poetically named Hurt Report. And yes, I know, at one point you probably saw some kid riding his 600cc sport bike at 100mph doing a wheelie down the freeway. He’s a squid, and he’ll either grow up or just take care of himself. Some bikers do crazy things. Anti-social things. Unsanctioned things. I don’t represent him, and he doesn’t represent me – that’s the great part of being a biker. I could be a Lowbrow Weirdo or Antoine Predock or Lyle Lovett or it just whatever.

If you’re really so all-fired concerned about my safety, don’t preach at me. Just do me this one favor: pay attention when you’re driving. Keep your greasy fingers off your touch-screen dashboard, put down your phone, use your turn signals, and lay off the booze before you get on the road with me. You take care of your part, and I’ll take care of mine.

But hang-gliding, man, that shit is crazy.

XS650: A Love Story

XS650

I’m not telling you this story because I think it’s unique or special. Just the opposite: I’m telling you because pretty much every biker has their own version of this story, and if we were having beers together, I would want to hear yours.

Take a look at this picture. That’s my brother on the Yamaha, circa 1982. I’m in the background playing catch. I remember when this picture was taken, and I can tell you I was more interested in that bike than the ball. I never did get any good at throwing and catching, but the bike changed my life.

Remember that this was before everybody had a bike. Riding was still pretty fringy. In the Cleveland suburbs where we lived, you didn’t see a bike on the road every day, and if you did, it was usually a scary-looking Hephestus riding it. A Harley shop was basically a garage where you could buy bikes, and there weren’t very many of them. You generally “financed” a bike by saving up for it – I’m sure more than one cat paid the sales tax on his first bike in change. “Factory custom” was still an oxymoron. I don’t mean it was “purer” or “better” – just that things were different 30 years ago.

The bike was cool and dangerous, which I was not. I could pretend to be Indiana Jones or Han Solo, but this was real. My brother and I didn’t have a lot in common then, but we were both misfits in our own ways. He had a well-honed loathing for everything high-school and suburbia represented, and I was just plain awkward. Everybody wants to be a misfit now, but it wasn’t like that then. If you weren’t in, you were out. We were each privately dealing with our parents’ bitter divorce in our own ways; I think we both wanted to get away, and he had a Millenium Falcon.

When my brother went to the Marines, the Yamaha stayed, and I grunted into adolescence. This bike was the girl-next-door obsession, only she lived in our garage. Instead of peeking through the curtains into her bedroom, I was stealing glances on my way out of the house. It was always there, full of potential energy, like a rock perched over the town. It was a naked singularity that warped time and space around it.

Then one day when my brother was home, he tossed the key at my feet and said, “You dropped the key to your bike.” The clouds parted. Golden sunshine streamed onto that spot on the shag carpet. Hosts of angels sang “Get on the Good Foot.”

“The key…” he repeated, “to your bike.” I was incredulous. I think I even forgot to say, “thank you.” All I could do was look stupid. He was out of the Corps and in grad school at this point, and I know he could have used the money he would’ve gotten from selling it. I’m not sure what prompted him to give it to me. Maybe he knew I secretly coveted his possession. We’re not one of those families that “talk” about their “feelings;” we spoke through deeds. He had just said what he needed to say.

The bike needed some work (not much) after sitting for several years, and I tinkered at the carbs with some advice from my brother and his friends.

I was alone with the bike when I bump-started it down the driveway. I let the clutch out, it took off. Suddenly I was going way too fast with no idea how to turn and only a vague notion how to stop. Everything went out of my head. I was a muppet hanging on in a hurricane. I degaussed my brain.

I managed to resist the urge to put my feet down, which would’ve been disastrous. Down the street, over the curb, I stopped in a neighbor’s treelawn, stalled, dripping in terror sweat. When I rebooted by brain, something was different. Some of the neurons had been fried and had re-wired themselves. The change had happened. You know what I mean. You remember when it happened to you. You unlocked a lost atavistic pattern, poked the ancient lizard in your medulla. The T-Rex smells the exhaust, and he knows you’re burning his bones. He wants them back. You’re going to give them to him. You will be his high priest. You will sacrifice dinosaur bones for the thunder lizard. For me, that cul-de-sac was the Road to Damascus.

I couldn’t bump-start the bike in the grass, so I had to slowly and awkwardly muscle it into the street. When I couldn’t start it again, the coy rebuff just fed the fever. Teasing bitch. I pushed the bike home.

I fooled around with the bike all summer. As it was, I never got past second base with that XS – riding it around the block. I had no money, tools, or skills, but I was fascinated by the machine and its potential. I went off to school that fall, and a few years later we sold the bike and I went into the Navy.

If I had that bike now, I would have it tuned tighter than a banjo string, and I would beat it all up and down Cleveland. It would scream. Our safe word would be “There is no safe word.” XS650s are timeless; they’re still cool, maybe moreso than they were back then.

I didn’t have it too long, and of course I regret selling it, but it doesn’t really matter: the change was done. The mental mutation would not be reversed. Two years later I got another bike and haven’t been without one since. I was never able to replicate my brother’s menacing slouch, though. I just look tired when I try it.

I think we put a lot of energy into thinking about who counts as a “real” biker, or what bikes we approve of, or who is worthy to wave to. Are we part of some mystical brotherhood just because we’re all on the road? Is that guy a poser? It doesn’t fucking matter. It’s not a club, and we don’t have to match. You don’t even have to like me. We just have that one thing in common: that kink in the brain that happened the first time a naked singularity passed through it. Sometimes people get it, but it passes by. It works itself out. Sometimes it just gets kinkier and twistier. You’re a carrier. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a big dude on a Road King or a hipster on a CB350. You’re a high priest of the thunder lizard.