~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Old Pardners, New Friends

1938 Indian Scout

When I was 16 years old I got a job as a janitor in a large dry cleaning business. To say that it was inglorious work would be an understatement. Sweeping floors and cleaning public restrooms when you are 16 has a way of teaching humility (a trait nearly unknown to 16 - 19 year old boys) while motivating you to find something better and driving home the value of a good education. It also provided $15.36 a week take home pay which was enough to afford a my first bike.

Part of the dry cleaning business was rug and carpet cleaning which was performed on big hanging racks out behind the main building. It was a wet, heavy, dirty business. The guy who did the work on that side was named Dale. Dale was a rough man probably about 50 or so, a chain smoker, thin, profane, and always with two days growth of beard on his face and creases around his mouth and eyes that made him look ready to yell at the dumb, skinny kid who pushed the broom. What made Dale more memorable to me than other people I worked with there at the cleaners was his ride, his 19-old something Indian Scout with the flathead motor.

The battered Scout was like Dale, worn, faded but dark, thin in the middle, rough everywhere, loud, a little scary. Dale looked at home on the Indian, perfect in fact. They were partners in the truest sense. When he'd leave at the end of the day the Indian always started on the second kick and with a fresh cigarette in his mouth Dale would loop around out the dirt parking lot disappearing down the street. He did it so smoothly too, the starting drill, the kick, the jockeying of the throttle while the bike warmed up, light the cigarette just before moving out. There was a grace to the whole departure and grace wasn't a quality that you would have ascribed to Dale thirty minutes earlier as he wrestled wet carpets on the drying racks. After so many years together the movement an old motorcycle and a scruffy man was more poetic that the either of the two could be on their own.

I asked Dale about the Indian a couple of times and he rattled off some stuff about buying it after the war and never wanting anything else. I wish I'd paid closer attention. The Indian did what it needed to do and did to Dale's liking so there was no need to change. As he told me once "There ain't nothing equal to this Indian."

As best as I can remember the Scout had a foot clutch and a hand shift, the throttle was on left side and the spark advance was where the throttle is on a modern bike. Dale explained it all to me one day, how the spark advance was set for starting, how it was reset as the engine warmed or you rode faster. This was nearly incompressible to a kid riding a modern 1967 Japanese bike. Dale never offered to let me ride his Indian and I never asked to. I offered once to let him ride my little Yamaha 60 once and he laughed.

When I bought a new Kawasaki 1600 Classic back in November of 2003 I had this notion that I would keep it for a long, long time. I wasn't riding that much then and figured that the Kaw would last maybe forever or at least until I was finally too old to swing a leg over it anymore. It would become like Dale's bike, an old veteran transporting me around, the bike and rider both relics and obsolete but still interesting and worthwhile in their own way. We'd be a team, two characters rolling down the highway ever so politically incorrect in a world by then populated with tidy fuel cell powered electric safety bikes. I might even stop shaving.

Turns out I'm not as old as I thought...inside my head, anyway.

I rode the 1600 mostly on weekends, rarely to work, and enjoyed the feeling of not just riding but proceeding down the road. It seemed to fit where I was in my mind a couple of years ago. And perhaps it was some foggy memory of Dale and the Indian and importance of being smooth that would lead me out to empty parking lots on occasion to practice low speed turns, starting, and stopping. I value smoothness on a bike more than sheer speed. Yes, after nearly 40 years of riding a little basic maneuvering practice is still a good thing to do now and again. There was this chance that the Kaw and I would be together for a long, long time and I wanted us to be good partners.

Then came the Italian temptress, Aprilia. First came the Falco, Viagra-on-two-wheels and next the slightly more sedate 98 horsepower Caponord. My partner, the Kawasaki, sat neglected more and more. And more. I felt guilty. We'd had something special for a while so I began riding the Kawasaki a little to keep things working right and the battery charged. I was struggling to maintain the relationship. I told myself I'd take a long trip this year on the Kawasaki. But when I rode it on the weekends it felt sluggish and unresponsive and it always took me 30 or 40 miles to feel at home again on the bike. It was Aprilia that had my heart.

When I walked out into the garage it was the Italian babe that drew me, not the big, comfy cruiser. Is this how a sultan feels when he adds a new wife to the harem? Do the other harem women suddenly look less enticing, less in need of attention, dare I say it, a little dowdy? At least the Kawasaki couldn't complain or cut my throat as I lay sleeping after a long ride with the Aprilia.

In truth, the Kawasaki 1600 is a wonderful bike with excellent power, good handling (for a cruiser) and a relaxed riding position and low seat height that makes it in many ways an easier ride that the Aprilia. But I'm not into relaxing right now, at least not when I ride. I like going fast, I like triple digit sweepers and the ability to slow to 5 mph and ride off the road to whatever point out in the dirt that looks interesting. The Caponord is flexible, ready, willing. The Italian sweetheart will do things with me the 1600 won't. I'm a cad, I know but that's how it is.

So the time has come to send the big Kawasaki to a new home, a home where it will ridden lots more and perhaps become and old Indian to some future Dale. It's the only decent thing for me to do. I have no new home yet for the Kawasaki but if you're interested in making your own memories with a big cruiser, rolling up some miles, becoming a partner to a distinctly unfussy and pleasant bike, drop me a note.


NOPCKL said...

That's the best classified ad I've ever read ...

And an excellent illustration of why I can't have a Duc, or a mistress. For one; I'm too cranky and set in my ways. For another; I'd end up neglecting my wide comfortable Road King my analogous mate.

Excellent blog. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Left Tampa last night headed to Daytona for Bike Week on my 2003 Vulcan 1600 Classic. I only have about 10K miles on it, but it's been in the shop way too much. Last night it overheated and I hat to trailer it back home. The engine is a mess! It keeps super heating the coolant - due to a problem with the head. SO FRUSTRATING! Glad to hear you enjoye yours. Keep riding & be safe.


Anonymous said...

reading your blog is as easy as that old Comfy Kawi 1600. It's a pleasure.
You have a gift, keep typing!

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