Happy hands and the open road

There are a lot of things that bug me about my fellow motorcycle riders.
One thing that really gets under my skin is the practice of greeting other riders on the road with the stupid little two-fingered wave.
It’s not that I’m antisocial or afraid to take my hands off the bars. It just seems insincere. And lame. Why don’t we wave to cars, for instance? Don’t most of us drive cars, too?

Sign of my times

And everyone knows you don’t wave to every person on a bike. If you’re like most people you’re selective. You wave to people in your “tribe.” Harley riders wave only to Harley riders. All others confine their greetings to non-Harley riders.
Then there are people (like me) who don’t want to wave but feel obligated. I feel guilty when someone waves at me and I blow them off, which I do sometimes.
So here’s an idea, one that’s been said by others before me: stop waving. Don’t do it. No mas.
Let’s save our mutual admiration for the cantina down the road where we’ll buy each other beers.
That said, there are some meaningful hand signals that we all should continue to do, especially when riding in groups. You see a road hazard, you point it out for the rider behind you with a hand or foot. Speed trap ahead? Slap the top of your helmet to warn oncoming riders. Turn signal left on? Open and close your fist to the person.
And there are many others. Perhaps one of the oldest and most expressive signal is one I’ve been using since junior high. Piss me off enough and I’ll show it to you.
Or, you can check out this website, which has a great guide to hand signals. Here’s the link: www.bestbeginnermotorcycles.com/motorcycle-hand-signals

Married with a motorcycle on the side

My wife isn’t what you would call a huge motorcycle fan.
She doesn’t enjoy riding. And she’s not crazy about the fact that I do.
It’s not a matter of fear or safety. Sometimes I get the feeling she’d like to see me crash. Just a little. Something to teach me a lesson. Maybe leave a small scar.
No, her issue is one of money. Bikes are expensive. Every dollar spent on parts or gear is one less dollar to throw at our bills. Or a Hawaiian vacation.

Warning: Threesomes not conducive to marriage

Because I want to stay married, I don’t push it. And when it comes to owning bikes, I buy used and stick to just one.
It’s a bit of a problem because it is so hard to find a bike that’s good for everything. Dual sports will always come up short on the street, crotch rockets aren’t comfortable for long distances and cruisers are boring. Sport-touring bikes seem a logical middle-ground but I’ve found they don’t quite satisfy either.
My wife, meanwhile, is not the least bit sympathetic to this conundrum.
And she’s not alone in her indifference. Fellow riders are constantly grousing about their inability to spend freely. To achieve the Ducati-BMW-Harley trifecta.
Of course, many spend money secretly. And the all time champion of such deceit is a riding buddy I’ll call Tom.
Tom, a painting contractor, developed a small fetish for Buell motorcycles when the
manufacturer announced it was ceasing production.
At a dealer close-out sale one sunny afternoon, Tom wrote a check for not one but three Buells, putting a more than $30,000 dent in his bank account with a quick stroke of a pen.
For some reason it didn’t occur to him that his wife would soon be wielding her own pen over a stack of divorce papers. As a stop-gap measure, he had the bikes delivered to a rented storage unit until he could figure out how to break it to her.
But instead of coming clean, he just … kept the bikes at the storage unit. Forever. Whenever he wanted to ride, he would make up an excuse and head for his bike pad. Kind of like he was having an affair.
Maybe that’s what we’re all doing in some small way.

How not to buy a used motorcycle

It sounds too good to be true — and it is.
The description of the nifty sport-touring bike hits all the right notes: One-owner, garage-kept, low miles and dirt cheap.

One man's garage queen ...

My heart leaps as I guide my cursor to the tiny pictures on Craigslist and scan the posting for a phone number.
It’s perfect. Just what I am looking for. And it’s only an hour’s drive away.
So I call. Get the dude’s voicemail. Leave a message. Is it too early on a Sunday morning? Nah.
I settle in to wait for his return call. But after staring at my cell phone for five minutes, I jump in the car and head in his direction. He’ll call me while I’m on the road and I’ll get first dibs on the fine machine.
Sure enough, my phone rings a half-hour later and it’s the dude. He’s willing to show the bike right away. Sweet!
I ask a few quick questions, scrawl an address on a piece of paper and hang up the phone.
I’m feeling very good about this. And before you know it I’m at the exit.
That’s when the fun starts. The neighborhood is dicey and dude’s house is no different. A couple of slammed Civics and a ridiculous monster truck are out front. There’s an empty bottle of malt liquor in the gutter. I knock on the door and dogs bark.
Could a decent bike come from this?
The dude appears. He’s about 20. He says, “Hello sir. The bike’s over here.”
He lifts a tarp and there it is. It’s hard to recognize as the same bike in the pictures. But it is the correct make and model.
Close inspection reveals the bike’s got several major oil leaks, bald tires and lots of little scratches and dents – the kind that don’t show up in pictures. The exhaust looks modified and the rear fender looks like it was cut off with a hack saw. The license plate is mounted vertically, under the fender well.
Within 60 seconds I’m ready to leave. I don’t even want to hear it run, much less test ride it.
The dude is talking, though, and I don’t want to be rude. He’s explaining a special modification that increased the horsepower. Something about a dyno test.
“This thing is faassst,” he says with a knowing smile.
I act impressed, nod approvingly when he fires it up and then … say good-bye.
“I’ll call you.”
Of course, I’m lying and I feel a twinge of guilt as I put him in my rearview mirror.
But more than anything I’m kicking myself for my impulsiveness. I didn’t ask enough questions up front and violated my own used-bike buying rules. Insist on pictures. Ask about maintenance records. Never, never buy from young, wannabe-racers. And try to stick to bikes in fancy-schmancy neighborhoods.
As I drive home I think of these things. I’m going to get this right.

Test-riding a midlife crisis

I thought I wanted a Harley. But two things happened.

First, I saw the price tag for used bikes. The going rate for a late model Road King in the Bay Area is upwards of $12,000. At that price you’ll get something that’s 7-10 years old with no less 20,000 miles on it.

$13,000 fixer-upper?

It’s a hard reality borne out on in weeks of Craigslist research. There are a few “bargain” Road Kings to be had for as low as $7,500 but you get the impression they’re tired machines that have hauled one too many fat men on one too many poker runs.

It gave me pause, especially considering the relatively short lifespan of a Harley.

Still, I was not deterred in my pursuit of the mighty Hog until one other thing happened.

I rode one. Or three, actually.

Salesmen at two local dealerships were kind enough to hand me the keys to three bikes: a 2002 with 25,000 miles for $9,000 and two ’05 Road Kings – one with 35,000 miles and the other with 64,000 miles — for about $13,000 apiece.

My impressions were not good. Coming off a BMW, it was immediately apparent that these bikes are not built well. It seems Harley uses cheap materials and things don’t fit right. Cables aren’t routed well and sheet metal seems tinny. Function is an afterthought.

Certain American cars of the 1980s come to mind.

Riding a Road King is no less a disappointment.

The 2002 rattled and coughed as I wrung it out on a country road. I instantly ran up against bike’s rev limiter. And I wasn’t going much over 60. The newer bikes were slightly better but they too seemed clunky and slow. The one with the lowering kit scraped its running boards in the parking lot.


I voiced my concerns to the affable salesman, who nodded as if he’d heard it before.

“True, true,” he said. “But you gotta remember, you’re not just buying a bike here. You’re buying a lifestyle.”

As he spoke, an elderly couple in leather chaps and vests strolled by. They started talking to another guy wearing a black Harley T-shirt.

I’m not looking for a new lifestyle, I thought. I’m looking to ride. And you know what? A Harley just won’t do.