My First Bike
Dad sold his motorcycle while I was still very young, and I had pretty much forgotten all about the adventure those days meant to me. For some reason, he never got around to selling his helmets. Perhaps he was holding on to his glory days, when he felt younger, more alive, viscerally virile. Whatever the case, those helmets collected dust for years. Until one day… they were just gone. Kind of like my misspent youth.
Through high school and my first year of college, the memories of carving the countryside with dear old dad lay dormant. They were buried beneath layers of cars, girls, partying, and too many illicit substances to admit that I had anything to do with. Riding was a distant memory, and I was too caught up in other interests to notice. At 20, I was hired as the resident DJ at a club called Mother Fletcher’s in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Let me tell you, it was a helluva job! For five nights a week, I was the man behind the music at one of the most popular and well-known clubs in the entire state back then.
Location is everything, and Mother Fletcher’s was dead center of the action in Myrtle Beach. Every night, thousands would pour through the doors to drink, dance, and see the girls. And each night there was either a bikini or wet T-shirt contest. Yours truly had the enviable task of hosting these contests. It was rough work, playing music, hosing down hot girls, and basically being the ringleader for the nightly debauchery, but hey, a guy’s gotta make a living, right?
There is simply no other feeling that can compare to the soul-cleansing rejuvenation you get from cruising down the highway on two wheels.
One of the unique/weird things about Myrtle Beach is that beginning with Spring Break every year, every week has a different type of crowd. Spring Break brought the college kids (obviously) followed by families over Easter. There is a bit of a lull, but then it picks up again in mid-May with Harley Week, followed by (I am not making this up) Black Bike Week. While the Harley riders roared into town on thundering V-twins, the (predominately) black bikers came screaming down the Grand Strand on sport bikes like Ninjas, R-1s, or Hayabusas. If the annual rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, is the mecca for he Harleys, Black Bike Week in Myrtle Beach is on the bucket list for every crotch rocket with an extended swing arm and nitrous oxide bottle.
Thousands upon thousands of bikers descend on the Grand Strand every year, lured by the sun, sand, and waves… and the fact that South Carolina has very relaxed helmet laws. Basically, if you are over 21, you don’t have to wear a brain bucket. So, they come pouring in from all over the East Coast to ride, to drink, and most importantly (to them) to party! For those two weeks, the bikers outnumber any other tourists ten to one, and they bring every type of two-wheeled transportation you can possibly imagine.
That first summer when I saw the hordes rolling into town, I was amazed by the bikes I saw. Most of them were just average bikes, and there were certainly some show-winners too. But what kept my head on a swivel was the sheer number of motorcycles in one place. Growing up in Lenoir, motorcycles were the exception, not the rule. In Myrtle Beach though, the bikes were everywhere; on the highway, on the strip, on the sidewalk, stuck in the sand, you name it! With so many bikes to ogle, I couldn’t help but recall the vivid memories that had lain dormant for so long. I absolutely had to have one!
I made okay money, but I was living paycheck to paycheck in those days. So I didn’t have a lot to spare for a second mode of transportation. I searched the newspaper classifieds but couldn’t find a bike I could afford. Keep in mind that this was in the mid-90s, so there was no Craigslist or Cycle Trader Online. After I exhausted all my efforts, a friend of mine offered to sell me his old Yamaha XS650. It was rusty and desperately needed some TLC, but it was what I could afford. So I handed over a grand total of $500, and I finally had a bike of my own.
My friend had to show me how to work the clutch, and how to change gears. I tentatively rode around the neighborhood for a few weeks to get the hang of starting, stopping, and changing gears with my foot instead of my hands. It was such a different experience than driving a car with a manual transmission, but I grasped the concept soon enough. And I felt comfortable enough with my hand-eye-foot coordination to ride to work within the first month. That little bike was not a particularly good looking machine, but it got me around town just fine. What it lacked in style, it made up for in maneuverability and convenient parking. Rather than rolling around the block four or five times searching for a parking space within walking distance of the club, I could simply pull the bike up on the sidewalk, easy-peasy.
Myrtle Beach is predominately a tourist destination, and that means most businesses close up shop for the winter, including the Mother Fletcher’s. In the fall of 1995 when the club closed down for the winter, I started collecting an unemployment check. I could have probably moved on, and gotten another DJ gig in another city, but I really liked Myrtle Beach and I didn’t want to leave. The unemployment check was paltry compared to what I was making at the club, but it paid the rent and kept food on the table. Meanwhile, I had a lot of free time on my hands, which also meant I had a lot of time to ride.
I lived south of the city of Myrtle Beach in Surfside, and explored every nook and cranny that I could find. I would ride for hours with no particular destination in mind. With the sun on my face, and the wind in my hair, I couldn’t think of any place I would rather be in the world. It brought back all those nostalgic memories of riding with dad, riding off to nowhere. Only now, I was in control. I was the one who decided where I was going, and it was glorious!
There is simply no other feeling that can compare to the soul-cleansing rejuvenation you get from cruising down the highway on two wheels. Some people drink, others do drugs, there are even those who talk about runners’ high, but to me, the catharsis that comes from riding is magic. That is the core of why I ride. I don’t like a lot of the bells and whistles on most modern bikes because they are distracting. I don’t need a 300 watt sound system, heated grips, or excessive amounts of chrome. Like they say, “Chrome won’t get you home.”
Don’t get me wrong, I tinker with my bikes just as much as the next guy; more probably, but I try not to make any changes that would detract from the way the bike was engineered to operate. I don’t understand the guys who build $50,000 “trailer queens.” Bikes are made to be ridden, not hauled around from show to show. My Yamaha wouldn’t have won any trophies, but that didn’t matter to me at all. All that mattered was how often I could swing my leg over that bike and hit the road.
As it turns out, I have owned several bikes since then, and I still feel the same way.
Up next – My first project