The Ride

The Bandit and I sidle up to the gas pump, rumbling. I’m still getting back into the groove of motorcycle-related processes, getting used to a new bike, getting my feet under me again for things I’d done a million times years ago. I fumble with the tank bag, forget the tank cap needs to have the key in it to close and lock, have to look for the sidestand.

As the tank fills, I feel the cold gasoline radiating its chill into my thighs; it’s a refreshing burst of coolness on this hazy, late summer day. A full tank of gasoline; so cool and full of potential. It whispers promises of miles romped and sights unfolding, of fields of wheat and hay, of bugs and sunsets.

The heat index is 104, and the Bandit’s 1200cc engine will not abide a cool tank for long. Before I am even five miles down the road, the gasoline is quietly baking my recently-cool legs. It is a completely acceptable price for freedom.

This is our first ride since she had a bunch of maintenance work done to bring her up to spec. Too, she’s sporting new shoes: Pilot Road 3′s – a miraculous new-to-me dual-compound tire which carries promises of its own – longer center tread life, grippier edges, plenty of traction in the rain due to copious siping. I can’t wait to see what they can do.

This bike hasn’t as yet spoken to me. We communicate in vague thought pictures and impulses, but no words. I can sense her eagerness to break free of the suburban traffic and get out into the gently rolling
countryside, her excitement of trying out her new shoes, her clean and shining carbs. It’s a feeling I share.

It becomes immediately apparent the new tires suit us both exceedingly well. As we reacquaint ourselves after a 3-week separation, everything is smoother, easier, less edge-of-chaos. Like a horse and rider paired for the first time, neither is sure what to expect from the other; is it to be a constant battle of wills, or shall a miraculous simpatico unfold? Each is a bit reserved, unsure, for the first little while – soon it’ll be clear.

A slow, but giddy, grin creeps across my face as I crank the throttle fully open in second gear, accelerating away from a four-way stop. Mercy. I believe the bike and I are already in sync.

We share a pleasant thirty miles or so along quiet country roads. I’m becoming more confident the mould release compound has been worn away from the rubber, and am taking corners more aggressively – but still well within sensibility. I see a 25mph curve ahead and begin easing off the throttle, coming down from fifth gear into third.

As the curve approaches, I’m coming in at a slightly warm pace, but nothing a friendly local police officer would seriously consider a conversation-starter.

“Downshift,” she urges.

I blink. What?

“We’re going 50mph in third gear; I’m pretty sure we’re ok,” I retort.

“Second gear, please,” she insists, calmly but with great conviction.

I acquiesce and consciously loosen my shoulders, making sure I can flop each elbow easily. I fight the urge to clench.

The downshift is smooth, easy, and as I let the clutch out and begin applying throttle through the curve, I hear myself hissing, “Jeeeeeeeeeeeesus fuck” as the curve is suddenly and effortlessly behind us at a speed I’d rather not discuss publicly.

My riding companion on his more sedate cruiser is a half-mile behind me and disappearing quickly in the mirrors. The Bandit and I slow down, and I shift back into fourth gear, a wide, silly smile taking up every available inch on my face. I want to adorn her half-fairing with nose art like a WWII warbird. I want to buy her expensive jewelry. I want to take her to a bar and get lousy drunk, try to get under her skirt at a tall table. I want to take her skinny-dipping.

She is not a blushing, giggling schoolgirl – she knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to ask for it. She is not interested in clothes or celebrities; she wants twisty roads and unlimited time. She wants speed and adrenaline. We are perfect for each other.

From that point forward, the bike is more communicative. The new tires are a gift from some divine place, free of straight roads and speed limits. We are absolutely one functioning being – but we still don’t  know each other very well. There is a bright glimmer of mutual trust and respect forming.

Despite only having been recently united, this bike and I have a history.

In 1996 or thereabouts, I was working for a university computer helpdesk hotline. There, I met this bike’s previous owner, a wonderful, kind and gentle man named C. C had an old Honda CB750 and was contemplating upgrading to a better bike. I was riding my own Honda CB500, and looking for my second bike.

Suzuki had recently come out with this model, the Bandit 1200S. I positively drooled over its quasi-naked-sportbikeness. I lusted for it. I enthusiastically shared my findings with C, and he was equally intrigued. So much so, he soon acquired one.

I left the helpdesk for other IT pastures not long after, and C and I gradually lost touch. Fast-forward 15 years to winter, 2010. I had picked up a contract working for a fire department, trying to make sense of their trainwreck of a computer network – and I was failing. My predecessor had left a “network diagram” that looked loosely like a ping pong table wired to a refrigerator, which pointed to the internet. After less than a month, I had to admit defeat, but I didn’t want to leave the guys at the firehouse hanging.

C and I had become Facebook friends, and were loosely back in touch. C, in addition to being a primo computer geek, is a recently-retired volunteer firefighter himself, and he was the first person who came to mind who could rock out on the HFD gig. I asked, he stepped up, and apparently, it was a good match. Win!

Fast-forward another few months to summer, 2011. Several of my friends have acquired motorcycles, really giving me the itch to ride. C mentions he still has this old Bandit, while he’s upgraded to a newer version of the same bike. He says we should go riding sometime. I heartily agree and set about becoming re-licensed to ride.

Shortly after I am road-legal, C and his wife suggest we meet up at a point midway between our towns; I could take the Bandit out for a spin. We meet, and C says, “take it out, and then I want to talk to you about something.”

I do indeed take her out, while C and N wait for me back at the restaurant. It’s a brief, exhilarating ride, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome on the bike, and soon return. It felt wonderful and refreshing to be on a motorcycle again. I gush to them a bit about how much I like the bike.

C gets a thoughtful look on his face and tries a few times to begin a conversation, but has a bit of difficulty. “I’m doing this wrong,” he states, and begins again. I felt fairly sure he was going to offer to sell me the bike at a wildly discounted rate, or offer to take payments over time, but was having difficulty trying to form the words in a way that wouldn’t be seen as overly pitying my financial straits.

C, however, blew me away – he felt moved to give me his bike. Give it to me. “Free-gratis,” as Al Swearengen might have said in “Deadwood.” In the clear.

I am not certain what expression may have been on my face as he said this, but inside, I was simultaneously overwhelmed and furiously muppet-arming all over my brain. Here was an opportunity to have my own bike again! It did not take long for me to agree, and it was done – I rode the Bandit home that very night, flabbergasted, humbled, grateful. And very happy.

My husband was, to say the least, somewhat shocked when I came home sporting a motorcycle when I had left in a Subaru. Bemused, he looked at my toy, shaking his head.

C had let me know certain work needed to be done, and some of it perhaps sooner than later, to make the bike completely happy. Less than a week later, I made an appointment: New tires, various gasket replacements, carb clean and sync, all fluids flushed and replaced. The shop said “about a week.” Assorted shenanigans ensued, and it was three weeks before I got her back.

Reunited tonight, though, we flirted like new friends trying to figure out “is she or isn’t she?” Playful, sporty, full of heady possibilities, each action moving the flow forward until there is only a sweaty tangle of arms, breasts, legs and no more wondering.

My last motorcycle, a BMW K1100RS, and I had quite a love affair, but it was never easy. The bike was slightly too tall, far too heavy, Too Much for me. While we spent tens of thousands of miles together, I don’t think either of us was really Happy. The first time I rode a K1100RS, I heard the words my friend Allen had spoken months before: “When you ride one of these things, you’ll rob a bank to have one.” I did have to have one; I was seduced by the power, the smoothness, the luxury. Thankfully, a felony was not required.

I remember, too, the night that bike and I parted ways. I handed the keys to her new owner and listened to that so-familiar whine of the K-bike engine slowly wind down our private road at the top of a little mountain in Washington state. I visualized with absolute clarity in my mind everything Grak’s new owner was seeing, feeling, hearing, experiencing. I could feel the buzz in my hands, see the green glow of the instruments, feel the Russell Day-Long saddle cradling his ass in exquisite comfort. I felt the snick in my left foot as he shifted.

As I watched him accelerate down the winding road into the valley, a desperate cry filled my head: “That’s my bike.” A useless, three-year-old “no fair” response to losing a favored toy. His headlight wound along the road at the bottom of the hills while I watched from the balcony. “That’s my bike…”

I watched until the headlight was gone, out of sight around the bend, miles away. I imagined I could still hear the engine, but of course, I couldn’t.

Alas, it was mine no longer, and I wouldn’t have another until five years later.

Compared to the K-bike, the Bandit is slick and nimble. She reads my mind and is eager to play. She is exactly what I need; the hot little mistress to tempt me away in free moments. She whispers excruciatingly naughty things into my ear, somehow engenders a feeling like someone secretly stroking my leg at the office Christmas party.

Tonight, as my riding companion and I enjoyed our evening outing, the Bandit and I bonded, and I reaffirmed the custom license plate I’d ordered was entirely a propos: ISHTR, after the Egyptian goddess
Ishtar, deity of fertility, sex, love and war. Also, one of my favorite ships to fly in an online video game I play – a heavy assault cruiser capable of giving and receiving massive amounts of damage. The Bandit may not be much to look at, but once you ride her, she’s sex on wheels, ready to assault whatever roads you place her upon with a vast, sweeping power.

We ended the ride at a lakeside park, where a blues concert played in the middle distance. The sun slowly set behind us, as we reclined on a small hill, talking. Small, harmless insects flitted around us. We picked at the clover, completely comfortable and pleasantly in tune.

Our conversation paused for awhile. In another time, I would have asked him to kiss me there in the grass as the strains of music flowed over the park. It was one of those Moments when kisses are magical, almost expected – the Moment wants people to kiss, wants to ignite passion and let it burgeon.

And then it was time for us to part ways and the Moment was broken. He went West, I went East, toward home and my husband.

Speeding away from the sunset, the first sensation of the evening’s cool touch permeates my mesh jacket. I enjoy the warm happiness from the ride, from having bonded with the bike and with one of my best friends.

The bike and I share a serene, purring accord, each of us knowing this is going to be a long-term relationship that will not disappoint. Pulling into the garage, I switch off the ignition with a touch of regret. Coming home after a ride is almost always bittersweet occasion.

Tomorrow beckons, calling me South to twistier roads and more wild grins.

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