Reader’s Stories: Motorcycles and I

INTRO – Editor ‘arris

Reader and CMG Reviewer, Ferris Argyle originally wrote this piece for our long lost print arm, OMG, back in August ’98. Appologies for the time that it’s taken to get to CMG, but it’s still very relevent .. except for that fact that his GSXR750 was stolen this summer by some scumbag.

Ferris and GS1000G

I have ridden through summers and winters on a variety of motorcycles ranging from two-stroke dual-purpose bikes through cafe racers and and tourers, and what has kept me at it despite the minor accidents, second degree frost-bite, and countless cold and hot hours, is the feeling of living, of being in the moment, one-hundred percent there. This is as true of the glorious moments in perfect weather on a Virginia highway, or corner after corner with knee down at Ontario’s Shannonville track, as it is of sitting at the side of the road jury-rigging a loose brake caliper in Niagara Falls, or staying a shade above frozen riding out to Lake Scugog to watch ice-racing.

It’s a feeling common not only to many motorcycles, but to many sports. It can be found rock-climbing, sparring, sailing with the gunwale in the water, just as it can be found on cruisers, dirt-bikes, cafe racers and tourers. The nuances vary, but the person experiencing them is the same, and my vocabulary of sensations, at least, limited (just ask my old girlfriends). Luckily, my memory is also short, so when I get on the bike for the first time in the spring, it has much of the excitement of the first time. And so it is with new sports. When I tried dirt-biking for the first time after 7 years of street-biking, I couldn’t believe I’d let it wait that long. Exploits which would land you in the bone-wagon on the street can be rescued with a heavy dose of throttle in the dirt.

The GS450L – in touring trim

So to those trying to decide what type of bike to get next, I say get something which will allow you to do things you haven’t done before. If you had a tourer, get a cafe racer, or vice-versa. My first bike was a Suzuki GS450L cruiser, my current bike a 750cc GSXR750, and my next probably a Fireblade, or a V-Max if I can get one with the right mileage at the right price, both to allow me to do more of the touring which I used to do on my Suzuki GS1100G with Vetter fairing and Krauser hard bags, and later on a Hurricane 1000.

Lately I’ve been riding around town at insane speeds, and I’d like to get back to riding to and from distant destinations at insane speeds (pay U.S. cash instead of having points deducted, a fair trade). I have maps of Vermont, New Hampshire, upstate New York, and Maine criss-crossed with highlighter as I recorded my exploration of the state’s secondary highways a decade ago. The 12-hour day I spent driving through Vermont in the pouring rain, hardly able to see the highway through my windshield is now remembered fondly just because it was a memorable experience; the discomfort of wringing out feet soaking-wet despite plastic bags in a fog-bound hotel with an alleged 100-hundred mile view for which we paid the earth, now an abstract rather than a sensory memory.

Touring moments which stand out:

Crossing New Hampshire in an afternoon after seeing a Hurricane 1000 go by the gas station at which I had stopped for gas, and food. I thought the rider would make a good travelling companion; I was right. He was also from Ontario, and we traversed the state on secondary highways where speed was governed by traffic and ability rather than speed limits. I was able to keep the front fender of my fully-loaded GS1100G on his back wheel most of the way, turns included. If he happens to be reading this now, I still doubt his explanation of having too wide a rear tire.

Particularly memorable was opposing traffic moving to the left as we passed slower traffic, allowing us to ride the center line past all the offending cars. And also, less pleasantly, being pulled over on the Interstate in Vermont just after crossing the border and losing my co-rider as we took different entrances onto the highway. I was riding at 160k in traffic in an effort to catch him when I saw the red cherries in the median strip; I suspected they were for me, and as I slowed down, they moved out into the left lane, then the centre, then all the way to the right, forcing me onto the shoulder. The trooper yelled at me that he would have run me off the road if I hadn’t stopped: seemed a little harsh for speeding. Then another trooper pulled up behind me, jumped out and demanded whether I was having fun. I already had to pee, and the fear only made it worse; these were movie-style troopers with shaven heads and wide-brimmed hats. Turns out trooper number two had been following me for three exits with his lights on. Luckily for me, he had been clocking me continuously, and his last mark was as I was slowing down for the trooper ahead. I never did find my erstwhile companion.

While we were stopped at a light in New Hampshire, my co-rider had asked me if I always rode like that, so I told him about being unjustly pulled over the day before in Maine for failing to yield to an emergency vehicle. An ambulance with its lights on had been hogging the left hand lane on the Interstate at just a little over the speed limit, so I passed it on the right. Seems he got pissed off and radio’d ahead for police interception. And I got the failure to yield! Bastard.

After that outburst, I realize that the other defining element of motorcycling is freedom. While this is not a revelation to anyone who’s seen Easyrider, it is easy to forget, but is brought into stark relief when constrained by gratuitous law-enforcement. Resentment still burns deep when I pass the site of tickets issued years ago by police looking to prove a point or raise revenues rather than increase road safety and the smooth flow of traffic; police officers happy to lecture me that I shouldn’t rely solely on my front brake since I could go over the handle bars, and use as authority the fact that they have been riding a police Harley Davidson for years. You can bet these clowns have never been on a race track, have never pushed the limits of their bikes, and probably need to use the back brake on their Harley because the front is better suited to a push-bike. I would really like to tell these self-righteous law-enforcers to spare me the lecture and get the hell off their bikes for their own and everyone else’s safety. But since they are giving out the tickets, you are made to feel like Kenneth AuYeung must have felt when faced with Constable Downer: frustrated and without recourse (Who? Oh yeah, that famous film … book … err thingy – ‘arris).

So I will close with a call to arms: down with oppressive law-enforcement bent on preventing quick motorcycle travel rather than dangerous car drivers, down with exhorbitant premiums set by insurance companies seeking to get bikes off the road to limit the payouts caused by car drivers (their main business) running into motorcyclists.

A number of years ago a small rally was held outside Queen’s Park to protest excessive premiums, in conjunction with the Ride for Sight. What we should really do is use Queen’s Park as the jumping off point for the rally. It’s little to ask in return for the funds motorcyclists raise through this event. An annual rally of thousands in downtown Toronto would garner untold media attention and bring home the true size of the motorcycle lobby. Plus, it would be enormously satisfying to take Toronto back from the coffin-drivers, if only for a morning.

Ferris Argyle

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