This move to Seattle has been exciting, but not without its ups and downs. One of the downs is the cost of the ferry ride from the city over to Bainbridge Island where I work ($560 a month!). Clearly, the only cost mitigation option available to me was… buying a motorcycle. ($210 a month!)
It started off as getting a scooter. And then maybe a Royal Enfield cafe racer. But then, for (almost) the same money, I could get the bike I’d always dreamed of, a Triumph.
So, now we’re buying a motorcycle. I pulled together the cash, took the safety course, got relatively comfortable on two (motorized) wheels and headed up to Triumph of Seattle to pick up what I thought would be my bike. I tried a test drive…and couldn’t get it out of the parking lot. I had essentially done the equivalent of taking a driving course in a late model Honda civic and then marching straight into the Ferrari dealership to pick up a Modena. Or an Aston Martin if we’re carrying this analogy down to the proper country of origin.
Anyway – I didn’t feel good about the bike, and a work friend told me that a motorcycle doesn’t grow on you. If you hate the color, you’re still going to hate it in three months. If you don’t like the style, as soon as you pull up next to someone at an intersection, and they’re on the bike you really wanted, you’re going to park that thing in the garage and pout til you sell it.
My new friend at the dealership asked me what I really wanted. I wanted a standard (I’d been looking at a cruiser). I wanted a Bonneville. And I wanted a blue one. He looked at me skeptically – “blue?” BLUE. “Come with me,” he said, and I followed him out back to where they kept the recently acquired used (previously enjoyed) bikes.
“She came in on Saturday.” He motioned to a blue and white Bonneville with a gold pinstripe sitting in the lot. “Only 2900 miles.” Further discussion revealed that I could make the numbers work, swap the black seat for a brown one, and that she had British Customs Predator pipes, which made her growl, just a little. I liked it.
After a few test starts in the back alley, I took her out onto the street in north Seattle. I cruised the neighborhood in first, got comfy, kicked her into second, and got cozy. Once in third, she purred (growled) at me. Hello, kitten. This was my bike.
Now, a quick(ish) aside about motorcycles (if you don’t know already) – there is no checking out when you are on a bike. You have to do everything. You are essentially driving a manual transmission with your hands – clutch with your left, front brake with your right – and feet – shift with the left, brake with the right. There is a lot of finesse to feathering the clutch off the line out of first, easing her up into second, cruising in third, pushing her into fourth (or fifth, but I haven’t even gotten there yet). The thing that I love so much is how analog it is. I have fuel injection, sure, and a couple of lights that tell me if I’m in neutral or need gas, but other than that, everything is done on feel. And when you’re feeling your way down a busy city street at night, there is a rush of adrenaline that is equal parts video game, staying safe, and the blood pumping joy that is riding a bike.
You are connected with the machine and your surroundings on a completely different level than you are in a car. There is wind. There are smells. You can’t talk on the phone, can’t text, can’t drink coffee or eat breakfast, read the paper or put on mascara. All you can do is ride your bike, and that’s a very good thing – because all you really want to do is ride your bike. I am constantly exhilarated and terrified, overjoyed and hyper-aware. It’s a heady mix – one that doesn’t just beg your attention, it demands that you be at once in and of the moment in a way that I could only pray to Shiva that I might someday achieve within the confines of my yoga mat. I am so alive and awake – right here, in the now, looking ever ahead and barely staying in the farthest reaches of that second before the next. When I left the dealership sans bike (while we finished paperwork) on Tuesday night, the thought of getting back in a car – ugh. How boring. What do you even do while you sit in a car?
But I survived. And came back yesterday to pick her up – she’d had a bath and beautiful new brown leather seat installed. And we went through the pre-ride checklist, I was handed the keys, she was mine. 865cc of pure ZEN. Poetry on two wheels. We headed down the street to Seattle Used Bikes for their monthly BBQ, and I learned that bikes come pre-equipped with friends! Something I had had an unusually hard time finding in Seattle. Everyone was excited to meet me and wanted to hear about the bike! I was so happy to find that there is such a great community around motorcycles here. I made it home and ate some carbs and did my best to fall asleep despite my elevated heart rate.
I woke up today like a kid on Christmas morning. An hour earlier than usual. I made breakfast and a pot of coffee, packed my bag, went out to the street to grab the cover off of my bike and was antsy to get on the road. I got her started, let her warm up a bit, pulled the throttle a couple of times to make sure we were both awake, and made it without incident to the ferry station (I did stall out once at an intersection when the woman behind me honked as soon as the light turned green, and she scared me so bad that I dropped the clutch and had to restart).
I shut the bike off to speak to the ferry attendant, purchased my pass (SO CHEAP!), and went to start my bike. And nothing. Lights, camera, nothing. I pulled to the side and started to sweat. A nice man on a Kawasaki tried to help, but I was stranded. We pushed my bike onto the boat and I crossed my fingers that she’d start once we got across the sound.
No go. The WSF employees, however, were more than happy to push start my beautiful Bonnie for me, and then take a few laps around both decks to “make sure she got a good charge on that battery.” I think the bike enjoyed the showboating as much as the ferry guys. Anyway – crisis averted, and I was off with a round of applause from all the cyclists and other motos waiting to board. (I’m pretty sure being a redhead on a classic Triumph bought me some points with all the folks whose commute I’d delayed by about ten minutes – when in doubt, smile and wave, smile and wave!)
Five miles to go, and hopefully no further drama.
Well, the woman in the minivan who pulled out in front of me as I was turning onto the street where my office is forced me to slam on the brakes, and I stalled on the hill. Started her once, twice, aaaand – dead again. So close to the finish line.
Two Bainbridge Island police officers saw that I was on a “disabled vehicle,” kindly helped me push her to the fire station across the street, and after a couple of failed attempts at a push start, waited for me to lock her up and gave me a ride to work. In their patrol car.
So, here I sit, at my desk, cold and sweaty, with my bike locked up at the fire station down the street, having been delivered to my office by the cops. I’ll probably get more work done since I didn’t roar triumphantly (a-hem) into the parking lot this morning, and then get to show her off to everyone, but I am tired, slightly embarrassed, probably going to buy a battery starter at lunch, and determined to really learn zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. Emphasis on the maintenance.
There was a moment, ever so brief, when I thought I may have made a huge mistake. I thought of the warm (boring!) safety of my 4Runner, and wondered if I’d rather be there as I pushed my bike against morning traffic, sweating profusely in my helmet and trying to keep a 400 pound machine upright.
But as I stood outside on a brisk fall morning, getting to know my local law enforcement and smiling when they asked about the exhaust, complimented her classic lines and the beautiful blue and white two tone paint, I realized that it was fine. There wasn’t anywhere I’d rather have been, except maybe riding her up the hill to work, not a minivan in sight.