Nov 5, 2007

Packin' It In

Riding in a group of motorcycles, or riding alone? I've ridden a motorcycle almost daily since I threw a leg over my first bike in 1992*, so I know what I like, let's put it that way. I know it's cool to ride with someone else, sometimes a lot of someone elses. Heck, I've seen Easy Riders several times and even ridden the River Road where they cracked up, but I have never seen the attraction of riding with a pack of other riders.

Don't get me wrong, I've ridden in big groups and had a lot of fun with it. I've even lead groups of riders before, back when I used to work for the motorcycle shop. Even got to take out what was at the time a brand new Honda Valkyrie to lead the bunch, which was a blast. Honestly though? It's not my bag. I'm neither a motorcycle leader nor a follower. I prefer to set my own route and speed.

When you ride with a pack, you're limited by the skills of your weakest rider. If Joe Yamaha can't take a 40 mph curve at 60 mph comfortably then nobody should be knee-dragging. If elderly Yojimbo Suzuki doesn't like to drive more than 5mph over the posted limit and you end up in a 30mph zone the pack is either going to lose coherence when the heavy throttles leave or is going to turn as one and fall upon the slow member and rend him glove from jacket. Er...yeah.

And one more thing before I get into my story, though not my only beef with pack riding--weekend riders. You know the type: middle-aged guy, brand new Harley Super Extra Duper Wide Glide Extravaganza Dyna Fattie Custom, leathers so squeaky new you can still smell the dye and he rides like he's balanced on a three-legged saw-horse. In short, a poser who is a definite danger to himself and everyone around him. And for some reason this guy always wants to be in a pack, perhaps with the intention of taking out as many other riders as they can when they go down. I can only hope.

This weekend found me headed back into town to pick up a package we had left at a store while shopping earlier, and wanting to get in and out of town as neatly and cleanly as I could, I took Betty.

And since it was a pretty Fall Saturday, the roads were thick with weekend Harley riders. Me? I just kept my head moving and was just that much more careful, got to the store, retrieved the package and got a wild hair to go by the bookstore with a leftover gift card.

I made a fast dash in and out, and found myself leaving the parking lot in a mixed pack of six Harley guys and a pair of sport bike riders. I figured I'd ride along for a little while because, especially in busy Saturday traffic a pack is much more visible than a single rider, no matter how dangerous the pack might be. So, I tagged along, and had a really nice eye-opening: this group, this rag-tag pick-up group knew how to ride, for the most part.

The best part? The differences. The Harley Guys were typical Harley Guys: at every traffic light they had to repeatedly whack the throttle open to rack their drag pipes, had to pose in various and dramatic ways while riding (the "one hand steer" comes to mind, where the left arm is held straight down,) and then there was That One Guy. He was the King Poser. Not only did he waste half his day's ration of gas with useless full-throttle runs and sitting-at-the-light glass-breaking throttle whacks, he'd go into a spasm of GQ model poses every time he'd stop. I swear, he did everything but get off the bike and look vaguely toward his watch and vaguely at the setting sun.

The sport bike pair was the most fun. Both were wearing full swag--racing jackets with padding, boots, jeans and gloves, the works. Made me proud, after seeing so many fraternity boys shred themselves when they lay one down wearing cargo shorts and a pair of flip-flops. He was riding a monstrous CBR, and she was astride a much smaller but still very sporty Suzuki. I could tell she was the new rider by a certain lack of smoothness but I'll give them both this--he was being very careful to give her hand signals and little visual reassurances, and she was doing her level best to stay with the group, and doing a fine job of it.

And then there was me at the back of the pack, the daily rider, the cocky one. *g* Yeah, I'm not humble when it comes to bikes. I've put my time in at the MSF courses, done my fair share of riding in winter and summer, rain and shine, and come out stronger for it. I don't park Betty when the temps fall below 70 nor above 90, and a cloud in the sky doesn't frighten me. So, I relaxed, fell into my spot in the back and watched it all unfold.

Truthfully? It was a lot of fun. I liked being in a big bunch, a group brought together by a love of two wheels, a gathering of nonconformists. I relished the combined thumps of five V-twin engines and the tearing-canvas snarl of a pair of race bikes, and underneath me the quiet thump and rumble of Betty's 113 cubic inch V-twin. I loved the fact that they were all smart enough to travel in a zig-zag pattern in one lane, so that each bike had a fair share of the lane and a good three second space cushion between their front wheel and the bike in front of them. I was pleased that the pack leaders kept to the speed limits (mostly) in town but let it roll on pretty freely when we got out of the city limits. I got quite a lot of laughing done at King Poser's "Look At Me!" antics, and my heart warmed at the sight of this young guy being thoughtful enough to set a really fine example for his lady friend, a new and impressionable rider.

I was ready to follow them to wherever they were eventually headed but my turn-off came all too soon and I had to make the last five minutes home alone, but I had a smile on my mug. I had my faith restored in the pack, at least a little bit, and the callouses rubbed off my heart just a touch. Am I going to find a pack to ride with now? No. What happened was one of those little moments that the Universe likes to surprise us each with. I drank my cup close to the bottom, left the dregs and pushed back from the table, happy.

And the next time you're in town and see a black-on-black Roadliner Midnight with a big lunk of a guy in bug-spattered, care-worn black leathers and a flashy red and black helmet, pull up alongside and give me a high-sign. Maybe we can ride along together for a little while.

This was taken the day I brought my first bike home, a brand new air-cooled 1993 model 600cc Yamaha Seca II, in Deep Metallic Green III. The best four thousand dollars I EVER spent.

This is me thirteen years later, the afternoon I brought my Betty home. Brand new 2006 Star Roadliner Midnight, an air-cooled 1850cc V-twin in Classic Black. Same spot on the same driveway, many more miles under my tires.


Scott from Oregon said...

Those Harley short pipe guys with the twitchy throttle hand deserve an ass whipping.

I mean, WTF? Who wants to listen to that shit?

Mickelodeon said...

This is an awesome post. I could totally "see" the various cast members you described.

Betty is a beautiful bike, BTW.

Vulgar Wizard said...

The two or three times I've been able to ride with my dad's "pack", I've learned their rules . . . go at your own speed, do what makes you comfortable, we'll all meet up at the end of the road before we turn left or right so we don't lose anyone. And they stick to that. If we ride down a long winding road with a dozen bikes, at the end you can be sure they'll be piled up waiting and counting heads. Nice pack, I think.

Irrelephant said...

Scott, I think the pipes are to make up for penis lack. That's just me, of course.

I'm glad I did well, Mickey. I try hard to really strike a chord with my readers; it's only fair, I mean, you guys invest time and attention in me, the least I can do is give you some quality to invest that time and attention IN.

VW, you need to steal your dad's bike and I'll ride wit' ya. *G*