I was fifteen the first time someone called the police on me.
I wasn’t doing drugs, destroying property, or breaking the law, but rather, I was disturbing the peace. My brother, some neighborhood kids, and I were doing what we did every late afternoon (as soon as the first of any of our parents got home from work) – riding motorcycles.
This may sound innocent enough, but consider the fact that we had hand-built our motocross track on the vacant land next to our subdivision, directly behind a row of houses. Also consider that we were aboard high-powered, very noisy, two-stroke racing machines designed for closed course competition. Add to this the dry conditions and a resulting dustbowl of dirt stirred up into the air and you begin to get a clear picture of just what a nuisance we were.
We spotted them off in the distance making their way down the old gravel road toward our track – three bright red Grand Blanc Township police cars. Either we were big news, or they didn’t have much to do. At any rate, closer and closer they came, ambling down the bumpy pathway in our direction. We waited our fate nervously astride our bikes, engines off, helmets loosened.
I think it was the fact that we had permission that disarmed them. My father had arranged it with the rich property developer years before. The man wouldn’t put it in writing, he said, but if anyone ever bothered us, just drop his name and that should do it. The developer had seemed pretty sure about it all, and now was our chance to put him to the test. At the first opportunity we duly dropped his name to detective Weaver and his fellow officers. They smiled and nodded and chatted with us before departing. And in that briefest of exchanges, a lifetime of summers was preserved for my future memories.
The next occurrence wasn’t as unsettling as the first. It was only one police car and again, it was officer Weaver. He was a nice guy, and, much to our advantage, he lived in our subdivision. He assured us we weren’t doing anything wrong and he just needed to show up to appease the neighbors. We thanked him as he left, and soon settled in to this comfortable summer ritual. After many subsequent reoccurrences, the police officers knew our names, which houses we lived in, and often inquired as to how we had fared in our weekend races. Each time they were called they would stay a little longer to watch us ride. If I don’t say so myself, we were quite entertaining. Fanatics usually are.
Now that I’m, uh-hum, a little older, I feel more sympathy for those poor neighbors. But I am also grateful for the behavior of those policemen who realized a band of teenagers could have been up to much worse mischief than making some noise and a little dust. Nonetheless, this was my introduction to the motorcycle as a “Rascal machine.” Until that point, the whole rebellious reputation of motorcycles had never occurred to me. Unlike weekend warriors who straddle a Harley to pretend to be outlaws for a few hours, I was interested in motorcycles on a more basic level. I loved everything about them; the mechanics of the engine, chassis, and suspension, the smell of the exhaust, the sound of the power-band through a finely tuned expansion chamber, the feel of the grips in my hands, the exhilaration of power, and the confidence of controlling such a weapon – all of it. Then I discovered racing and fell in love with the pageantry, competition, speed, and sheer thrill of the fight.
At one point during those endless summers I promised myself that I would always own a motorcycle. The concept of outgrowing such a passion seemed ludicrous to me. How could one ever become that old?
I am happy to report that even today with the responsibilities of a middle aged man, my head can still be turned by a fine steed parked by the roadside, or, better yet, zipping by me on an open road. I still like all the same stuff – the sights, the sounds, the freedom.
Enter adventure motorcycling, an idea custom made for dirt bike has-beens like myself. The concept is simple: design a motorcycle compatible with every type of terrain and capable of extreme extended rides, even, in some cases, involving circumnavigation of the globe (with the help of ferry boats, of course). Next, offer all manner of provisioning equipment enabling self-sustained long trips, and you’ve got a new motorcycling category. The bikes are generally of large displacement, quite heavy but stable, and a nice hybrid between on-road smoothness and off-road durability. It’s the old enduro concept taken to the extreme, and who, in their nostalgic throws of motorcycle memories, doesn’t like extremes?
Now, I must admit, I understand the rebellious nature of motorcycles like never before. Against all pleas of common sense, appeals to safety and maturity, and the never ending tractor beam of responsibility, motorcycles sit mutely smiling at all of it. “Come on, you’re not too old to remember. Just have a ride. Hit the open country,” they seem to say smugly. The risks, however, are real. All of us know someone or someone who knows someone who lost his or her life on a motorcycle. It’s nothing to take lightly. But still . . . .
And so, even though I kept my promise and have always owned a motorcycle, I don’t really ride that much any more. The pathetic state of my once sharp skills would embarrass the teenage version of myself who lives only in my rearview mirror. Occasionally I’ll dust off the bike and whip through some corners, but it’s merely a sporadic fancy and not even a hobby anymore, much less a passion.
Recently, though, I hit upon an idea, perfectly suitable to the uncommitted nostalgic like myself, and, by its sheer lack of exposure, would be sure to offer safety through statistics alone, if not in reality. The idea? I would rent an adventure motorcycle while abroad on my Italian sabbaticals. A small aspect of this can be read about in my latest book, A Month of Italy: Rediscovering the Art of Vacation. A more perfect embodiment of the concept recently occurred on a five-day trip with my good friend Tim Marks, who, long-time companion on many of my boondoggles, is also quite capable with a motorcycle. So we rented two BMW 1200 GSs, had them delivered to our Borgo near Siena, Italy, and took to the many open roads of Tuscany. But that’s another story. Stay tuned to this blog for full coverage of our “Towns of Tuscany Tour.” In the meantime, for those of you who share my two-wheeled affinity, may you stay safe; of course, but never lose that rebellious streak to at least occasionally find some open country.
Because . . .
those who ride are Rascals.