My Motorcycles

I got my first motorcycle, a very battered Honda CL-175, in 1973 when we moved from town to a house in the country. I’d never much liked driving a car and a friend (whose youth was much more reckless and misspent than mine; to be fair, his youth was more reckless and misspent than that of most people who survive to age 30) suggested I get a motorcycle.

I was amazed to learn that I really like riding a bike. I haven’t driven a car since 1988, because in North Carolina it’s practical to ride almost every day if you don’t mind being rained on. If it’s more than me alone going somewhere, then generally the other party or parties drive. One of the major virtues of a bike for me is that if I screw up, I’m unlikely to hurt anybody but myself.


In 1974 I got the 1973 BMW R60/5 I’m standing with in the picture. I don’t want to anthropomorphize something that was obviously Just A Machine, but we taught each other a great deal. I ran her three days a week (when she was out of the shop), going into Chapel Hill to check my post office box. Listen to Dave kickstart his Beemer (125 K wav file). She’s been out of service with an intractable electrical problem for years, but I just haven’t had the courage to dispose of her.

Ever since the earliest days of the CL-175, I’ve always had two bikes. (Motorcycles spend just as much time in the shop as sports cars do: even a basic bike is a high performance machine.) Save for the Beemer, they’ve all been rice-burners.

My current back-up bike is a Suzuki GS500E. It’s small and light but remarkably capable. I’d thought of it as the equivalent of my original CL-175, but to my utter amazement, it’ll hold a comfortable 80 on suitable roads. Here I’m coasting down the driveway after picking up the mail in town.

Suzuki GS500E

For some time I had a Kawasaki Concours. I don’t any more because when a Kawasaki dealer screwed up the maintenance, Kawasaki told me they don’t stand behind their dealers. When I paid another Kawasaki dealer to fix the problem with OEM parts, the cams had a bad heat treat and began flaking. Kawasaki wouldn’t fix that either. I decided I wanted a bike that worked, and Kawasakis do not work.

If any of you have seen Patti Perret’s photo of me in The Faces of Science Fiction, that’s my first superbike: a Suzuki GS1100E. The chain drive was a hassle and the wrong cross-wind at 80 mph could set up a speed wobble that darned near gave me heart failure the first time it happened; I quite sensibly traded it in on a better bike a few years later

But you know, I missed that 1100. Sometimes you get something that just works for you, even if you couldn’t in a million years explain why that should be so. Suzuki hasn’t made the GS1100E since 1983–

But what they do make is the Bandit 1200, which has all the virtues of the GS1100E, without the speed wobble. I don’t think it’s quite as pretty as the GS1100E, but it’s nice and as well as speed it’s got the acceleration and handling which a sport tourer does not. I find it’s not a big deal to lube the chain ever 200 miles or so.

Bandit 1200

You do sometimes get second chances, with bikes and in life more generally. And sometimes it really is better the second time around.

India ring


This ring is an image of Narasimha. To ISKCON devotees, he’s an avatar of Krishna; in orthodox Hinduism the connection is with Vishnu. He is a protection when going into danger, which the Hare Krishna friend who brought me the ring back from India considers riding a motorcycle to be. (I’m a very careful rider; but sure, there are risks.)

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