Why we ride — Part 2

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.

why-we-ride-004
Mother Fletchers was a legendary landmark in Myrtle Beach for several decades.

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.

why-we-ride-008One 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.

why-we-ride-003
Black Bike Week – yes it is actually called that. 

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.

why-we-ride-011
My first bike was a Yamaha xs650.

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!

why-we-ride-001
Some people drink, some do drugs… I ride!

 

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

Advertisements

Why we ride — Part 1

My interest in riding motorcycles began as a child, when I watched my father return from his daily commute on a relatively urbane import bike.  Looking back on it now, I realize it was nothing spectacular, but to me, at that point in time… it was thrilling! He would pull roar into the driveway on two wheels, gun the motor a few times to let us know he was home, and wait for me to run down the stairs so he could rev it a few more times before he shut it down. It was as if he rode in on the dragon he conquered every day.

kawa-z440-ltd-1980My dad was (and is) a practical kind of a guy who spends money only when necessary. He goes to garage sales on the weekend looking for old fishing poles that aren’t too far gone, or maybe a set of well-worn wrenches that don’t have too much rust on them.  Just last weekend instead of putting new shutters on the house, he carefully took the old ones down, sanded them carefully, coated them with several layers of primer, resprayed them into a color of mom’s choosing, and reinstalled them himself.  He is handy, self-reliant, and thrifty to a fault.

The motorcycle was far from a luxury item; on the contrary, it was a practical means to an end. He was a department store manager in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Woolworth’s was a retail company and one of the original pioneers of the five-and-dime store. It was arguably the most successful American and international five-and-dime, setting trends and creating the modern retail model which stores follow worldwide today. These days, I don’t think you could find a Woolworth’s anywhere in the continental us, but at the time, it was a  pretty good gig for dear old dad.

His daily trek to work was anywhere from 30 – 45 minutes on country back roads, and the practical side of dad reckoned that a motorcycle got better gas mileage than a car. So, he saved money by braving the elements to make the ride there and back.  As the manager, he was expected to dress a certain way, slacks and a tie at a minimum, but rather than wear them, he packed them, along with his lunch, in a homemade wooden box bolted to the back of the bike. He was usually gone before I went to school in the morning, but I eagerly anticipated his  triumphant arrival each evening, when I would beg to climb aboard so we could slay the dragons together.

kawasaiUsually, the answer was no; he just wanted to come home and relax after a day at work. However, there were a few times on the weekend that he and I would hit the road. The few times he let me ride on the back of his motorcycle were simultaneously terrifying and thrilling . I was only 10 or 11 years old, and the bike seemed so powerful and beautiful to me.  The burgundy paint was deep and richly layered while the chrome glistened in the sun.  I don’t exactly recall what kind of helmet dad wore, but the one he had for me matched the bike and had a bubble-screen face shield. I vividly recall him weaving the strap through the double D-ring fastener underneath my chin, securing it tight enough to hold the helmet in place, but not so tight that it choked me.

1980-kawasakiHe held the bike steady as I climbed on and got comfortable, then he would swing his leg over and thumb the starter.  When the engine roared to life, the adrenaline rush that hit me was like a drug, powerful and intoxicating. I trusted Dad implicitly, but the worried look on my mother’s face and the protests she made about me being too young to ride on the open road made it all the more exciting. Dad would reassure her calmly that he did this every day, and that of course he would ride slower than he normally did. Of course he would take it slow around the corners, and absolutely, he would be back before dark. She would wring her hands and watch us until we were out of sight, as if her gaze would keep us safe from harm. I know she was just being overprotective, but once we made it around the first corner away from the house, we were off like a rocket!

kerr-scott

I couldn’t see very well since I was so small, but I didn’t mind. I was out on the motorcycle!  With my arms wrapped around dad’s waist for security.  we would wind our way through two-lane back roads for hours. I don’t recall ever going anywhere in particular, but we did cruise around the Kerr Scott Reservoir, occasionally stopping so dad could stretch his legs or so that I could use the restrooms at a campground near the lake. But of course, the destination wasn’t why we were riding at all; it was all about the journey to nowhere. Riding just to enjoy the ride, the road and the beautiful weather.

parkwayfall4_0Growing up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains meant we enjoyed all four seasons. Lenoir is a small town; not like one-stop-light small, but small enough that I remember when the first Taco Bell was built. These days it’s best known as a mid-way point for the Bridge-to-Bridge bicycle race leading up to the Tour De France. We lived outside of town, in the Kings Creek area, which had no stop lights, no fast food, and plenty of curvy roads. The summers are hot and humid, but the fall is absolutely stunning. The temperatures start to drop in mid-September, and by mid-October, the trees are in  their full fall regalia. Lush greens make way for brilliant reds, vibrant oranges, and intense yellows. This time of year is pretty much the perfect time to be on two wheels, especially if you have this kind of scenery to appreciate.

The wind chill at 50-60 miles an hour meant I needed multiple layers to keep me warm, but huddled there behind dad was the perfect spot for me. The gentle rise and fall of the miles as they passed never lulled me towards sleep as it might in the back of mom’s station wagon. It was invigorating, I always felt more awake, more in tune, and more alive on the back of that bike than I did anywhere else. It made other aspects of life seem as if they were moving in slow motion, and boring in comparison.  It affected me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined, and it is why I still ride to this day.

Next time…

A bike of my very own!