Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bikers, Liars, Tires and Twits

In my past life as a lawyer, I used to privately say that I never cared much about what my client told me about his or her case.  At least that was true during the initial conference.  What I was more interested in was “how” they told me what they thought was important.  I learned more useful information about the client just observing them than they could ever tell me.  Since I never knew much law, it was good that I early learned that it was rare that the outcome of a case turned on what the law was. I figured out that most cases were decided on who was lying, or was lying the least, or who was the better liar.  Cynical?  Sure.  But true, none the less. Studying my client’s body language, their mannerisms, tells, and listening to their speech often yielded significant information about them, particularly as to their truthfulness.

Motorcyclists are similar to the clients.  What they tell you they are going to do and what they actually do are often far apart.  Most people who buy a motorcycle do not buy it for what they are actually going to do with it.  They buy it because of what they dream of doing with it on some distant date. Sadly, there is a serious disconnect between reality and fantasy.
suited up for action!
 Many motorcyclists I am convinced are dissatisfied with their lives and decide they can change their personas or self-image by buying a particular bike and what they envision are the articles of clothing that will buttress their delusion that they can change their character or self-image.  Buy the right bike and the mandatory clothing and any Caspar Milquetoast can change into whatever he wants to change into for at least a couple of hours…and just as easily shed that same image by putting the bike in the garage and changing clothes.  Pitiful, really.
There is no better proof of the correctness of my observation than checking out any Harley-Davidson clothing store.  You will notice that I did not say Harley-Davidson motorcycle shop.  This is because HD is not so much interested in selling bikes as it is interested in selling the clothing that management wants the biker to think that he or she must have to complete the Harley-Davidson “look.”  There are a limited number of people who willingly spring for a $25,000 Harley-Davidson.  However, there untold millions who will pay $25 for a Chinese t-shirt with the Harley logo on it.  Corporate profit is the name of the game.
He's got the look!
Another example is my neighbor down the street who has a really beautiful Harley-Davidson that is loaded with chrome.  The other day I saw him polishing it.  I commented that I had never seen it dirty.  He said that he had just returned from a bike trip to Daytona for Bike Week.  I commented that the bike looked pretty clean for a 2000 mile trip.  That was when he told me that he and his buddy trailered both of their bikes all the way.  They never rode them a single inch until the trailer rolled into Daytona.

 I commented that it would be easier and less expensive to throw their “biker duds” into a suitcase and book a flight to Daytona where they could rent a Harley-Davidson and ride around on it.  If you think about it, he and his friend do not even really need to own their bikes to “make the scene” at Daytona.  Just show up on a rental.  I am thinking that if Harley-Davidson wanted to make even more money on these posers, they should open a rental biker clothing store.  Then you could rent the clothing, rent the bike, and, if it was Las Vegas, rent the babe to ride on the back.  It is logical, if you think about it.

Bella, Sophia
Lest you think I am down on Harley-Davidson owners, let me tell you about an equally ridiculous bunch.  Ducati owners.  ( I am one.)  For those of you not familiar with this brand of motorcycle, let me say it is often described as the Ferrari of the motorcycle world.  True enough.  Like Sophia Loren, Ducks are very expensive, very fast, and have at least as many curves as Sophia’s got. (Or had, anyway.)  They are almost always flaming, Italian red or screaming yellow.  And most of them never see the road.  It is said the half of the Ducks made in the last ten years reside in the living rooms of their owners. (mine spends all winter beside my bed in my bedroom.)  This is similar to most Porsche owners who simply bought the car because they are a status symbol, and which rarely escape into the sunlight from their garage-tombs. 

We call such cars and motorcycles “garage queens.”  I am positive that most Ducati and Porsche owners are scared to death of their machines and secretly recognize they can only ride or drive them in a straight line.  God help them if a curve should appear!
Ducati babe
The riding attire of Ducatisti is as ridiculous as Harley-Davidson owners. (Note that I did not say Harley-Davidson riders; if there be any, they are few.) Ducati owners have custom made, tailored, roadracing leathers, particularly if they have a svelte babe who will ride on the back or, better yet, has her own Duck.  The leathers always have all of the advertising sewn on, just like the current factory Ducati rider or Valentino Rossi used to wear.  Of course their leathers are spotless, display no rips or tears, and have never slid down the track and slammed into the fence or guardrail.  Their helmets are carbon fiber and color matched to their leathers, as are their boots and gloves.  The rubber pucks or nylon sliders in the knees are unscarred.  They don’t drink beer, either.  Only white wine, which they sniff a lot. Like they can tell the difference in what they are drinking and Thunderbird.  Give me a break.
Ma and Pa on the road
No dust on ME
 I could go on about the Gold Wing riders (accurately described as Winnebagos on two wheels and always ridden by fat owners and their equally round wives, connected by intercoms and pulling a stupid trailer containing God only knows what, often on a Wing converted to three wheels) or Triumph owners (lost in the Fifties and Sixties and dreaming of epic road wars between the Mods and the Rockers,

Started it all
 Or Steve McQueen jumping the fence in The Great Escape; sorry to tell you this but Steve did not do the jump, Bud Elkins did, or Marlon Brando on his Triumph)  or Honda, Suzuki or Kawasaki sport bike riders (riding 175 mph bikes, wearing shorts, sandals and no shirts or helmet, with a short shorts and halter clad, nubile young thing hanging on for dear life on the bike)  I could go on, but what is the point.  I have insulted about everybody worth insulting, haven’t I?

I won’t even start about Harley-Davidson and Ducati dealerships.  Both are housed in Lexus dealership-like buildings.  The floors are polished and the showrooms are brightly lit to show off the bikes.  The service areas are strictly off limits to the customer.  The mechanic’s tool boxes are meticulously organized and outlines of specialized tools are painted on the walls.  Frankly, the work areas have more in common with a hospital operating room, than a real bike shop.  And make no mistake about it, these are not real bike shops.  Not by a long shot.
Every moderately sized town has a bike shop.  It is usually hard to find, as it will be in an out-of the-way location.  It will not be in the high rent district, either.  It will probably be located next to a railroad track in the industrial part of the town.  The building will be the survivor of many different businesses, until it finally houses the bike shop, which has probably been around for thirty years, having survived the slow deaths of several different motorcycle manufacturers.

 The main entrance door will be fortified with iron bars on the inside, with wire mesh over the windows.  An industrial strength garage door provides for direct access to the shop area.  The floor will be slick with engine oil and brake fluid.  Here and there will be a pile of sand soaking up an oil spill.  The tire balancer will not have been cleaned since it was installed twenty years ago.  The roll around mechanic’s tool boxes will be covered with decals, a girlie picture or two, and filled with clean tools which show signs of years of use.

 The work benches will be filled with used, discarded parts and engines in various states of being repaired or rebuilt.  Newspapers will be duct taped over open cylinders waiting for the installation of a head, which is getting its valves reground and the guides replaced.  Tubes of Loctite and gasket sealer will be leaking onto the bench.

 The bike lifts, the motorcycle equivalent of an operating table, will be scarred and bent, and covered in road grime.  The lighting will be dim in most of the shop, except over the repair areas, which are brightly lit with fixed and movable xenon or LED lights.  This is a real motorcycle shop for real lovers of motorcycles.  Posers, and they know who they are, do not fit in here.
My favorite bike shop has an added bonus.  It has permanently installed amplifiers and a couple of old guitars.  If you just want to hang out and play a little, so be it.  Want to play while you wait for your bike to be fixed?  Fine.  Want to show off and teach the latest blues lick you learned?  All work will cease while you astound with your gritty fretboard work.  Don’t like their guitars?  Bring your own.  It doesn’t get cooler than that, does it?  I think not.
The bike shop owner is always a radical individualist.  The straights would say they can’t handle a “real” job.  The bike shop owner would respond by saying, “Why would I want to?”  The owner will always be dressed in stained jeans, which are not necessarily dirty, just well worn.  A folding knife in a belt sheath is always ready, as is a rag for wiping off a part.  Frequently the owner will have a .32 pistol on a clip inside his belt.  (For unruly customers or a statement against Obama, the Annointed One?)  He will be wearing oiled soaked leather work boots, not Italian loafers or Harley boots (see previously described dealerships.) Foam hearing protectors will hang around his neck to protect his hearing during test run ups.

 A micrometer is always close, as is a tire pressure gauge. The owner’s hands are testimony to hundreds of tire changes, innumerable engine and transmission rebuilds, rewiring jobs, and the tweaking of carburetor jets.  Those tasks will have left his hands wrinkled, scarred and burned.  But those hands and ears are like just like  those of a good physician.  He can diagnose a problem just by listening to the internal workings of a sick motor. You can tell when you ride your ailing machine into the work bay of a real bike shop that your bike gives a sigh of relief, knowing that it will soon be well and back on the road healthy as ever.
When you find a bike shop like this, know that you are on hallowed ground.  There are not many left.  Never argue over the bill.  That is insulting to everyone.  A tip is not out of order, either.  After all, who else is going to come and get you 50 miles away when your steed goes on the fritz?  Who else is going to diagnose your problem by cell phone when you are 450 miles away and be right?
Let me tell you a true story. 

My friend from college, Dale Mitchell, and I were running Deal’s Gap in North Carolina on a Sunday.  Dale was riding his Buell (a Harley performance model) and I was on a BMW R100RS.  All of a sudden, the Buell just quit.  Deader than a doornail.  Dale and I fiddled with it for a while with no success.  Then I got the idea to call my friend, Dave Moody, who runs Moody Cycle Sales in Kokomo, with his brother, Jay.  They did not sell Buells, but I knew they knew about Harley motors and carburetors.

 I called Dave on my cell phone and described what had happened.  Dave responded by saying he was pretty sure we could fix it there on the side of the road.  He asked if I was riding my BMW.  I told him I was.  He told me to get the tool kit out and assemble the flat blade screwdriver.  (BMWs used to come with wonderful tool kits which would allow the rider to fix almost anything right where it broke down, which was rare.)

 Then he told me to find a medium sized rock.  We found one.  He told me to place the screwdriver blade on the middle of the four-sided float bowl and gently tap all four sides, using the rock.  We did.  "Now try to start it," he ordered.  Unbelievably, it fired right up.  We thanked and thanked him for saving our trip and asked what was wrong with the bike.  He informed us that the Harley carb was crap, that Dale needed to put on a Jap Mikuni, and that a piece of dirt had blocked the main jet.  Tapping the float bowl had knocked it out of the jet.  What’s that worth to you, sport?  Note that this was on a Sunday, done free of charge, and would never have worked if Dave had not known I was riding my BMW.  That's what I mean by a real bike shop.
 And what about real bike riders.  They know who they are.  They are all different.  Some are crazy, some are pretty normal, and all have an unbridled obsession about motorcycles in general and theirs, particularly. ( I did 15,000 divorces in my day.  Never once did I have a client willing to give up or sell his bike.  I did hundreds of bankruptcies, many of which had a paid off Harley as an asset.  The bankruptcy judge’s job was to grab any sell able asset, sell it and distribute it to the creditors.  Never once did the judge go after a Harley.  I always thought it was because the judge had a Harley, too.  Not true.  He said he had learned that no biker was ever going to willingly turn over his ride and that it just wasn’t worth it.)

 It is easy to spot real bikers.  Just look at their bikes.  They are not spotless.  This is because they get ridden.  Oftentimes, every day to work.  I used to drive mornings to court 20 miles up US 31.  Almost every time, I would see a woman I know riding the opposite way to work as an electrician at Chrysler on her vintage BMW.  Even in the winter with snow on the ground.  The serious Harley and Gold Wing guys talk about their trips to the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park and to Los Angeles.  Believe it or not, they ride in the rain.  Imagine that!

 One of my friends, who is the most hardcore biker I know, rides a 250 cc Suzuki.  It has 80,000 miles on it and the engine has never been apart.  A little ride for him is to Alabama or Florida…in any season.  What a man!  The bike does not look like much, but it is meticulously maintained by its owner.

  I know Ducati guys who run Deal’s Gap fully expecting to lay it down and prepare for it.  They do not care if the bike gets dinged.  It is repairable and might be made better and faster than before the skid.  No matter what it costs to fix it, they will pay the bill, just so they can throw it away again, all in the quest to go faster.

 I have never seen a stock Triumph.  Those riders always personalize their bikes.  Maybe a new exhaust, maybe an Ace Café sticker, maybe a sticker that reads “more speed vicar”, or maybe clip-ons and rear sets.  Such coolness.  If you don’t know what these things are, then you are not a Trump jockey.

 The BMW guys have stainless steel bags, GPS, and a compass, because they are known for taking the back roads, all the way to New Mexico, or Mexico, wherever.  Every sport bike rider knows where every curving road is within 100 miles of his garage.  And knows just how far the bike can be pushed on all of them.
So what’s the point of this Motorcycle ramble?  There probably isn’t any profound point to be made.  Other than that, at least for me and most other bikers, motorcycles command our attention, which almost borders on obsession, they get under your skin, you study every one you see, and you are always on the lookout for your next one.  After all, you can never have too many motorcycles…or guitars...  There is always the promise of the next one or the endless love for the one you have right now.
Mike out.


  1. Love the stories about the Gap. I know Morgan loves clearing his head by riding his bike. Glad you've had so many great memories on yours!

  2. Our son Garrett has found his new BMW keeps him sane during these challenging times. I understand a bit more why now, thanks for the insight Mike!

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