Opinion: Love is in the air

In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

It’s not actually Spring yet, but it is the week of Valentine’s Day and the days are growing longer. We’re also past February 6, which is historically the coldest day of the year in Canada, so that’s enough for us at CMG to turn to thoughts of love. Hey – we’ll take what we can get.

If you ride a motorcycle and you’ve ever been in love, the two are probably connected somewhere along the way. For myself, my life expanded as soon as I bought a moped at 16 years old and could start travelling outside the local bus route. The moped failed to impress anyone – I remember trying to do wheelies for a potential girlfriend and realizing I was a dork – but once it made way for a real motorcycle, the stakes were raised.

One month after buying a Honda CJ250 twin for my 17th birthday, and the day after first meeting Lisa Gay, I rode 20 kilometres to the grocery store where she worked and asked her out for a date on the weekend and she said yes. It was one of the happiest days of my young life – I’d not had a real girlfriend yet. This was when I still lived in England, and I rode away from the store with love in my heart and my wrist pinned exuberantly to the stop.

At the first roundabout, with the road lightly damp from recent rain and my new Yokohama tires probably a little greasy, I tipped into the roundabout’s curve at speed, completely lost control and slid right up and over the large grassy centre. I ended up on the other side coated in mud and grass but not yet back on the roadway. The headlight and front indicator were smashed, the mirror broken and the peg bent upward. The bike still ran, though, and I rode it home slowly and fixed it up with duct tape.

Mark loved that Honda CJ250T. Too bad about the broken left front indicator – hey, that’s what hand signals are for, right?

I didn’t mention the incident to Lisa when I called later that week to arrange to collect her for our date. “Oh – my dad says I can’t ride on your motorcycle,” she told me. He rode a bike himself, one of the early Honda Gold Wings with no fairing, and there was no frickin’ way he was entrusting his daughter to a teenager. I don’t blame him, and even then I understood.

Lisa and I went out for a few months but the relationship was doomed. I would ride over to her house, park my bike (still with duct tape holding the indicator together), and then her dad would drive us somewhere and collect us later. It was never going to work.

After Lisa, I dated Caroline Jolly for a few months. Her dad was cool with the motorcycle and Caroline loved riding on it. We would ride all over southern England and discovered the country together: Stonehenge, the White Horse, castles and palaces. I always rode flat out, too. One time, the two of us were travelling on a road with a 50 km/h limit and I was at my customary 100 km/h and a policeman jumped out in the road to flag me down. I almost hit him, but pulled over. He was furious as he strode up to us and wrote me a ticket. “Tell me why I shouldn’t give you a damn good bollocking!” he said, and I shrugged. Seemed reasonable. “The next time he rides like that, you thump him on the back of the helmet,” he told Caroline. “Tell him to slow down!”

I emigrated to Canada within the year and Caroline and I lost touch. Years later I wrote a book, and in 2012, while checking my laptop on the ferry from Newfoundland, I received an e-mail. “At the risk of sounding like a weirdo (which I am not, honest),” it said, “I have to ask you: Did you once take a girl named Caroline for a long bike ride to the White Horse at Uffington one day?” She’d read my book and recognized the similarities and the two of us reconnected. We’re friends on Facebook even now.

I also did eventually slow down, though it took a few more incidents like that for the lesson to sink in. You’ll read about one of the big ones tomorrow, on Valentine’s Day, when we’ll all chip in at Canada Moto Guide to tell you of some of the things we’ve done for love.

Yeah – this piston needs a bit of cleaning up before it starts working again.

There’ve been some successes too, though. When I was working for the Erin Advocate newspaper in the summer of 1987, I met a young woman who worked for the competition while we were both covering town council. I asked her out for a drink afterward and she accepted, and then I rode home on my poorly-tuned Suzuki DR600 to the trailer I was renting. Along the way, a valve broke and dropped into the single cylinder head, blowing up the engine, and I had to push the bike the final distance home.

That weekend, sitting on a milk crate outside the trailer and pulling the cylinder apart, swatting at mosquitos in the heat, the woman turned up in her little Mazda with a six-pack of cold beer. “I thought you might want these,” she said, and at that moment I knew I’d marry her. More than 30 years later, Wendy and I are still together. And I still have the motorcycle, and the buggered piston.

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