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My Great American Motorcycle Journey Part 1

February 7, 2018

After my extended hiatus from biking ended in 2015 with my wife and I passing the US IMF test (read more about that here), I was left with the obvious question. What bike to buy?


This is not normally a proposition that would be viewed as a chore, but, us usual, I turned it into one by agonizing over the details. If my thought process was written out as 80's BASIC computer programming code, it would look something like this:


10 - My wife and I have passed the test (yay us) so its time to get a bike to share in order to hone our skills. However, she’s only 5’3 so we are going to need one with a very low seat height and its got to be light weight.

20 - But there is a high chance that she might not want to ride on the road (or at all) given where we live, so should maybe I should just get something that would suit me.

30 - WHAT would suit me? I’m not even sure if I want to ride myself in this crazy place and I know nothing about recent generations of motorbikes as I’ve been out of the loop for years.

40 - I’ve got to hit the net and get up to speed. Research, baby research. 

50 - I’m liking some of these adventure style bikes - theres lots of choice in the used market and they should be good for urban riding. Hmmm they have high seat heights though and what if my wife DID want to try it out on the road after all?

60 - Goto 10




This dithering went on for way too long until, over a mediative bowl over of raisin bran, I decided once and for all that I would get something we could both ride as there was a chance (admittedly a small one) that my wife might enjoy the experience and I’d score a riding buddy!


And lo it came to pass, that on that same day I ran my eye over a Yamaha Virago 250 on Craigslist and decided that it could be a fit. Super low seat, very light weight, reliable and best of all, it didn't have ‘250’ written on the side, so there was a chance that a good chunk of people might think it was a bigger capacity bike. I know, its sad, but I’m afraid to say that was a part of my mental process. 



I called the seller and asked him if it was in good condition. His response ‘you won’t find too much to whine about’ didn't exactly endear him to me, but I’m made of stern stuff, so my wife and I set off to meet this charming fellow and his Virago 250. Tony (for it was he) singlehandedly runs a bike shop at the far end of an industrial estate at the far end of New Jersey, and he turned out to be a diamond. The store was divided into three areas - one part full of all the trophies, pictures and memorabilia that he had accrued over a successful racing career, there next was the main bike showroom with an eclectic mix of used sports bikes and cruisers, and at the back was his work shop with which was dotted with various machines in differing states of repair. TV’s mounted in the corners were playing what looked like a VHS loop of various bike races from the 80s/90s and there were assorted bits of body work and exhaust piping adorning the walls. It was a motorcycling man den and I loved it. 


Tony was a fascinating guy to talk to but looked a little uncomfortable when my wife asked him if he had a ‘ladies room’. He said ‘well……I have got a room…’ and gave her directions. When she returned she looked a little white faced but I gather the trip fulfilled its objective.


The Yamaha in question looked in good condition and my wife was feet flat on the ground when sitting on it, so money exchanged hands and the little Virago became the first motorbike I  ever owned in the USA.


The ride home was an intense experience - not because of the bike, as it was just about the most docile device imaginable, but more because it was the first time I had ridden on the road for twenty years. In many ways the sensations were familiar, although, having not felt them for so long, they washed over me powerfully. There were, however, profound sensory differences that took some adjusting to - principal among them being 'scale'. I did the bulk of my bike riding in the UK on country roads with a couple of forays into various UK cities. Here, I was perched on a tiny bike, my backside just 27 inches off the tarmac, in heavy traffic on the 4 lane I95, with planes thundering into Newark airport over my head. I felt like an interloper in a habitat much more suited to high velocity SUVs and thundering 18 wheelers towing their buffeting wakes. It was the moto-motive equivalent of the bull run in Pamplona, with me as one of the white clad runners about to be swallowed up by the stampeding bull pack. I had started thinking that this wasn't such a great idea after all when the the bike started spluttering and cutting out at about 65mph. I spent long panicked seconds before realizing that I needed to switch it to ‘reserve’ as it was getting low on gas. A memorable ride for all the wrong reasons. 


I soon grew in confidence piloting the Yam around more familiar and forgiving roads. It was a willing little device - despite being just 250cc’s, the v twin layout gave it a little bit of go and made it sound more brawny than you might expect from a quarter liter bike. Eventually though, it had to go, as my wife had decided that riding a motorbike around urban New Jersey was not something she needed in her life. I can’t blame her. I occasionally feel the same way! For me though, the motorbike bug had bitten again and I was hooked. So, it was time to stop riding round on my pretend 'big bike' and get myself something with a little more road presence. The Virago went back to Tony and I welcomed a Honda NC700X into my life. 


If you want to catch up on my Great British Motorcycle Journey that led me to this point, it can be found here part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5


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