Y’know, I’ve always maintained that my motorbike was really more of a conveyance than a lifestyle (despite the fact that I’m out on the road hanging out with the cool kids all the time now). I’m not riding as much as I used to – that is, everywhere, all the time. But I am riding. A motorbike isn’t meant to sit in the garage and look pretty – it’s mean to be on the road, looking cool.
I was digging around the computer the other day, and I found a couple of original photos from when I bought the bike (I bought it on CL from a guy who had bought it for his galpal, and she ended up not being a “motorcycle person” [or something]; so, less than a year old, very low miles, great price). When I bought it, I immediately added the Cobra light bar (the extra lights on the front), windshield, sissy bar/backrest, better mirrors and hard saddlebags. Then it basically sat in the barn for 5 years. When I started riding it again, I went all out customizing the thing. I mean, look at the difference between the below photo and the one near the bottom of this page – that’s the same bike. I’ve taken it from a generic, vanilla street bike to a real head-turner. If you’re into that, anyway.
This got me thinking about the other bikes I’ve owned over the years. The Phantom is actually my 4th bike, and I think has now become my favorite – but it took awhile to get here.
This was the very first one, a 1985 Suzuki GS450L. When I bought this, I knew nothing about bikes, had never ridden one (or even been a passenger on one), and didn’t have a license. I landed in Honolulu in 1986, with no wheels of any sort. I knew a guy who was leaving Hawaii, and had been trying to sell his bike, with no luck. So, on the spur of the moment, on the day he was flying out, I offered him what I had in my pocket – I think $400. He was prepared to just abandon it and let nature take its course, which is not unusual in Hawaii, due to the transient nature of the populace. So, I was like Michael in Grease 2, minus the wheelies and Stephanie Zinone – it needed some repairs, and I needed to learn how to ride it, and learn I did (unrelated pop-culture side note: Rex Manning! – heh). Had some great times riding around Oahu on it; and really, a bike is all you need there.
Yep, good times. Even with my non-existent knowledge of bikes, the Suzuki got me where I wanted to go, whether is was Tantalus, Waikiki, over the Pali, or even dangerous Kaena Point. It may have been generic and boring by my current standards, but I guess this is where it all kinda began.
And really, I should have been killed on this bike more times and in more ways than I can count. First of all, at that time in Hawaii…no helmet laws. Sheesh. And my “motorcycle friends” were mostly nuts. We’d get out on the H-1 and open the bikes up, weave in and out of traffic, hit each other’s kill switches (most bikes have a “kill switch” on the handlebars, so I guess you can shut the thing off as you’re getting run over by a truck), and just generally f*ck around. Stupid, dangerous, shoulda-been-killed stuff. And it was awesome.
Eventually, like most people wind up doing, I hung up my helmet, and bought a car – because reasons (let’s call them “blonde reasons”; that is, you can be cool when you’re single with a bike, but when you’re ahem not single, the other half of the not-single equation doesn’t really want you being cool any more, and you wind up with a Ford Escort. Seriously.).
Ultimately, though, I kinda missed riding, and then one day, this ’76 Honda CB750 appeared on my radar. I wasn’t looking – really, I promise, I wasn’t.
A huge difference over the Suzuki – much larger engine, more power, but a very old-school UJM bike. If I recall correctly, I paid about $700 for it (and now, these bikes are highly sought-after, and can fetch 5 grand or more). A serious biker’s bike. Manual choke, kick-starter, 4 cylinders/4 carbs. Amazing bike, but I wasn’t really “into” bikes; it was more of a mechanism to get from point A to point B, and I wanted something more modern. Stupid.
So, in 1991, I traded in the 750, and bought this 1989 Shadow VLX new from South Seas Cycle (now, Cycle City Hawaii). It’s not unusual to find previous model year bikes still on the showroom floor at the dealer; unlike cars, dealers generally keep the previous model years until they sell; the upside is, I got a really good deal. I made a few mods to it – added a windshield, sissy bar/backrest (y’know, for the girlies), engine guards, and throw-over leather saddlebags. Nothing really major, just convenience stuff. Had some great adventures on this bike, so much so that I took it with me when I moved to DC.
And then, after a couple years, I traded the VLX in for…a car (a 1994 Pontiac Grand Am GT, if you care)(which you don’t) after getting jumped in beautiful, crime-free Southeast DC by a hoodlum, and my motorcycle career kinda went on hiatus.
Well, my motorcycle career went on hiatus for the most part, anyway. I don’t think anyone ever hangs up their helmet for good.
Now, here we are. Back in 2011, there was talk that gas was going to get crazy expensive, and 15ish years on 4 wheels kinda had me missing a bike. I had always kept my license, so all I needed was to find something I liked. When I first saw the Phantom, I knew that was what I wanted, but because it was a new model, they were not plentiful (and still aren’t). Nonetheless, the Motorcycle Gods smiled on me, and I found one. It’s the perfect bike for me. It has a cool modern-retro bobber look, with a big 750 engine plus all that black. They say, “People are like motorcycles; each is customized a bit differently”. Truth. And mine is just about where I want it for the right combination of speed, comfort, convenience and looks, but it’s unrecognizable from when I first bought it.
As if all that wasn’t enough, a couple years ago, I bought a BMW G650GS dual-sport. I had been wanting a bike I could toss around over at Prentice Cooper and on the many other trails in my area, and the BMW fit the bill nicely. It’s (kinda) light and fast, but also comfortable and unstoppable, with features like ABS and heated grips. Of course, I had to make it my own with lots of add-ons, but when the zombie apocalypse comes, I’ll be glad I’ve got this set of wheels, with thanks to Ewan McGregor and Neil Peart.