TWENTY

Twenty years. Two decades. I don’t know which sounds like a longer chunk of time, but it is that amount of time ago, this month, that I purchased my first motorcycle. At times, it seems like only a few years ago that I walked into Stamford Motorsports, in Stamford, Connecticut on a blustery, cold Saturday, and spoke with Rico, the sales manager. Other times, I think, “man, I’ve been doing this for twenty years!” Seems like forever. Many motorcyclists have been riding for forty years or more. I came into it late, and on a whim. Who knew it would become such a large part of my life.

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Finding My Way

My path to motorcycling was unconventional by the usual standards. I didn’t start riding at the age of five. I didn’t cut my teeth riding dirt bikes in the woods and fields. My next door neighbor didn’t “teach” me how to ride. Sure, I rode mini-bikes now and then as a kid. My dad sold them in his auto shop and used to bring one home occasionally. That was short lived after getting busted by our neighborhood cop for riding an unlicensed vehicle on the street, thanks to my little sister ratting me out. Truth be told, I much preferred to terrorize the “hood” on my banana seat Schwinn Stingray anyway.

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Once of legal driving age, cars ruled my motorized interests, but bicycles also fascinated me, specifically touring over long distances under one’s own power. Having always (and still), made physical fitness a priority in my life, bicycle touring and camping held a special appeal.

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With a move to Florida, my bicycling “career” began. Commuting by bicycle was a priority, as my then wife had the use of our one car. Weekends were spent riding with the local cycling club and cycling to parts unknown for camping during late autumn, winter, and early spring. NEVER go camping in Florida in the summer! Never!

Bicycle touring lasted about a year or two. I found that I really enjoyed being on two wheels, and, hell, I was really good at this cycling thing! So good, in fact, that some guys started talking to me about racing and joining the local racing club. Wow! What the hey, let’s give it a go. Now I needed a road racing bike. Over the next year, I saved sheckles here and there, all the while still touring with the touring folks, and now doing training rides with the racing dudes of Ten Speed Drive race team, holding my own on my touring bike. After a bit more than a year, I had finally saved enough money to buy a new “low end” Fuji road racing bicycle.

My first racing bike-Team Fuji

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I thought it was perfect. It fit me beautifully. The lightness! My god, the lightness compared to my touring bike was unreal! With a shorter wheelbase, it felt twitchy at first, but once I got used to it, man, this thing could bolt forward like a racehorse out of the starting gate! And the colors! I loved the colors! Florida colors. Flamingo pink with black accents for the frame, red and black swirl on the handlebar tape. An upgrade of the saddle and a set of light racing wheels and I was ready to go.

Criteriums are blood baths. I crashed twice in “crits” during my career.

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I raced with Ten Speed Drive for six years, gradually working my way up the USA Cycling ranks from Category 5 to Category 2 (USA Cycling categories range from Cat 5 to Cat 1 [pro] ). Then, life circumstances forced a move to Connecticut. I reluctantly sold my Team Fuji, putting my cycling and racing career on hold. Once in Connecticut, I had to re-assess. The racing scene was different here, but I found something that offered me a new challenge: the sport of triathlon.

triathlon-icon-set-triathlete-silhouette-different-sport-event-47854358Once again, I needed a new bike. Running? No problem. I’d been running for years as a staple in my fitness regimen. Swimming? We won’t talk about that. But you can’t do a tri without a decent racing bike. This time though, I went beyond decent. I decided to drop some coin on a bike that was designed totally different and of a new material than anything else out there by a company named after a small bird of prey: Kestrel.

My Kestrel 2oo ES. It sported a monocoque carbon fiber frame with a carbon fork, the first of its kind.

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I upgraded the components from top of the line Shimano to top of the line Italian Campagnolio. I added a clip on aero bar and purchased a Mavic racing wheel set. Total out of pocket cost came to $2500.00. In 1991. For a bicycle. However, today, you can’t even get an entry level carbon fiber racing bike for that money! That Kestrel today would cost over $8000.00! You could buy two small motorcycles with that.

But what a gorgeous work of art! I was in love. The ride was out of this world. Smooth. Responsive. Fast. The entire bike (minus the aero bars and shod with racing wheels) weighed just 19 pounds! I could pick it up with one finger! And it was a looker, garnering attention wherever I rode.

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I raced triathlon for a few more years. I loved the training variety, I loved the racing and the gear driven aspect of the sport. But, after fifteen years of racing I was getting tired, and older. Mentally and physically I was fried. My racing decreased and my recreational riding increased. But I needed something new. Then, my wife decided she didn’t want to be my wife anymore. Every aspect of my life changed direction: geographical, vocational, and recreational. In retrospect, it was all for the better.

Still Two Wheels

So, as you can see, my introduction to motorcycling was anything but the usual story line we hear. Call it what you will, mid-life crisis or whatever, but by the time my wife and I separated, I was drawn to motorized two-wheel transport. There really was no rationale for it. Back in my halcyon days racing with Ten Speed Drive, one of my team mates rode a sportbike. That could be fun, but I didn’t give it much more than a passing thought. Bicycle riding and racing was my all consuming passion at the time.

Now that my world was turned upside down, I needed a new outlet. Bicycling was holding less interest for me, but I still had a love for two wheels. Physical fitness was still a priority. Running and rowing took care of that and also served as new racing outlets. But I needed a two-wheel fix. Enter Stamford Motorsports.

Stamford Motorsports showroom

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I don’t know why, but on a cold, dreary, typical New England winter day in February, I decided to go look at motorcycles. As I walked into the showroom, something hit me: I immediately felt at home. I’m not talking about customer service making you feel welcome and at home. I’m talking about a gut feeling, a feeling that you have arrived, that this is it. Everything just fit. It just seemed right. The feeling got stronger as I walked around the showroom and sat on a few motorbikes. All this before Rico introduced himself.

Being the dead of winter, the dealership was empty. I sat down with Rico talking motorbikes and drinking coffee for about an hour. I was a kid in a candy store. We finally narrowed down the choice of bikes I would like to ride and price targets. Long story short (ha, too late!), I chose to test ride a Yamaha sport bike and a Honda cruiser. I’d never ridden a motorcycle before, but remember from previous posts, I drive manual transmission sports cars and have mastered the art of personal conveyance on two wheels. Off I went.

I hated the sport bike. I didn’t want or need another adrenaline inducing hobby. I wanted a bike I could travel on and see the country. The Honda wasn’t the best machine for that purpose, but it was what I could afford at the time. I would make it work.

My first motorbike: 1996 Honda Shadow VLX 600

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I bought the Honda, along with a helmet, boots, and moto specific jacket. I rode the bike home with the biggest grin on my face in quite some time. The next day I enrolled in the MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) Basic Rider’s Course. I rode every weekend that winter. It was an unusually dry, but very cold winter that year. My riding time was limited to one hour or less before I couldn’t feel the handlebars anymore.

Spring and summer in Connecticut is beautiful, and now my riding increased to encompass more of the state. I bought saddlebags and a windscreen for the little VLX and traveled all over Connecticut that summer.

So I had my first motorcycle. As my personal life continued to unravel, I moved back to Florida to train for a career change, and in the process met my wonderful wife and was introduced to the fascinating world of beagles. Ruth’s pet beagle, Molly, gave me her seal of approval, and our adventure took off. What could be better? Just one thing. Ruth came equipped with her own motorcycle gear having rode pillion with former boyfriends for a few years. She’s not new to this rodeo!

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Our life adventure took off with a move to the upcountry of South Carolina. We rode the little Honda two-up every weekend, exploring our new home state and having a blast. We eventually ventured into the mountains of North Carolina on day trips, and it was on one of these rides as we climbed up to the Blue Ridge Parkway,  that we realized we needed a bigger bike. The little Honda was working hard with both of us on board to negotiate these steep mountain roads.

I loved the little Honda. She was my savior during a tough time in my life. Motorcycle therapy. You never forget your first. We rode her for five years, and then it was time to move up a notch or two. I like Honda’s, and I was becoming a “Honda man.” So that’s where I started my search, and needed look no further. We wanted to travel by motorcycle, wanted more power, a bit heavier bike, be affordable, and of course, it had to look good. We settled on a Honda Shadow ACE 750.

2000 Honda Shadow ACE 750

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I outfitted the “bigger” Honda with a backrest for Roo, saddlebags, tankbag and windscreen. I also invested in a Mustang Touring seat. Customized “shiny bits” and bar lights were added over time to spruce up the look. The Shadow ACE was Honda’s custom classic cruiser at the time. We were ready to travel, and travel we did.

The ACE’s 750cc engine was a strong and reliable power plant. Riding two-up, she gave us power to spare, and when I rode solo, that bike would just fly. We did long day rides, multi-day rallies and moto camping on our Shadow. All riding two-up. Many times we were way overloaded, carrying much more load than she was designed for, but she never once hiccupped. We traveled with our Shadow ACE for five fantastic years and 45,000 miles.

By this time, my riding skills had vastly improved. I now found myself wanting a bike with more power, long distance capapability, more comfort and carrying capacity for myself and Roo, and the ability to really lay it out in the curves of the mountain roads we frequently traveled on. It was hard to say goodbye to our Shadow ACE. A lot of memories were made on those two wheels.

A Grizzled Old Man on a “Wow! What is That!” bike – The ST-ory

By 2003, I was seriously researching a new bike. I also wanted to get out of the cruiser lineup. That summer, Roo and I were camping at Blue Ridge Motorcycle Campground in Cruso, North Carolina, quietly eating dinner on a picnic table, when in pulls a rider on a bike that sounded like a Singer sewing machine, and parks ten feet from us. My jaw dropped. I said to Roo, “what the hell is that?” The rider was wearing a very well worn, filthy, used to be neon yellow,  Aerostich suit. He pulled off his helmet and threw back his long, grey hair. He looked like he just rode around the world on a bike that could do it. He nodded to us and walked to the dining hall to get some dinner.

This isn’t the old grizzled biker, but our guy’s  “Stich” looked even more worn than this! 

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Roo and I scrutinized the guy’s bike while he was eating dinner, and I took notes as we pored over the bike. It was BIG. It had integrated sidecases. It looked like you could ride it to the ends of the earth. It’s engine had four cylinders, for god’s sake, and shaft drive! It was a Honda. An ST1300. I’d never heard of it. But I knew then, this was the motorbike for me.

I read everything I could about the big Honda. I cut out pictures and scoured on-line forums. Honda put the ST1300 out in 2003 to replace it’s popular, but long in the tooth, ST1100. The price tag made my knees wobble: 15,000 large! I started looking at other bikes (used) in the one liter class, but I never totally blew off the ST. I kept putting the thought “out there.”

For two years I squirreled money away for our next “bigger” bike. Finally, it was time for me and Roo to head down to our local dealer and see what they had in the used bike stable. Powersports of Greenville always keeps a pretty good selection of used  motorcycles, and we had been doing business with them for years.

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The first bike we test rode was a Suzuki V-Strom DL1000. It rode well, was comfortable, had plenty of power, and Roo felt good on it as pillion. We rode around for a while, testing the bikes performance at various speeds and lean angles. It definitely made the short list.

Suzuki V-Strom DL1000

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We brought the V-Strom back in from the test ride feeling pretty good about it. I had already tested an older model Kawasaki Concours, but scratched that from the list. It looked like the V-Strom was it, but I just wasn’t 100% on board with it. As I handed the keys back to our salesman, he handed me another set and said, “now I want you to ride that,” as he pointed to the corner of the lot. I followed his finger as my eyes bugged out. There sat a pristine, used, 2003 Honda ST1300! “Just got traded in yesterday” the sales rep said. “Go have fun.”

2003 Honda ST1300

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Oh my god! Roo and I hopped on this “bigger than we have ever rode” bike and took off. Instant love. It was perfect. More power than we would ever use. Smooth power. V-4 power. Comfortable. Stable. Made mince meat out of mountain roads. Capable of max lean angles I would never attempt. Roo said she was super comfortable. It was done. My dream come true. We rode back to Powersports and signed the papers. That was almost ten years ago, and the beaST, as we nicknamed her, is still with us and taking us on new adventures every year.

That’s my story. Not the most traditional way of getting into motorcycling, but I did come by two wheels honestly.

What’s your story? We’d love to hear about how you got into motorcycling.

 It’s a cold, windy, February day here in South Carolina. Think I’ll go for a motorcycle ride. Just like twenty years ago.

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