My first motorcycle ride of 2021 was a scant 5.4 miles long, but it was one of the meaningful rides in my 14 years of practicing the motorcycling lifestyle. I didn’t go anywhere exciting, didn’t stop anywhere noteworthy or break some personal mileage record. It was meaningful because it was a symbolic victory for me, and I haven’t had many victories lately.
With a pandemic going on, many people are in a lot worse circumstances and making far tougher decisions than I am. Nevertheless, a move to a new city, buying a house that needs work and the inability to cash in my two graduate degrees for a full-time professional job have taken their toll on me.
This is especially true with the move, as the garage had to get packed up, including the tools, lubricants and other implements of destruction I use to do my winter bike maintenance. Just finding the time, physical space and — most importantly — tools to get the bare-minimum maintenance done on my 2008 Yamaha FJR1300 was a laborious, frustrating endeavor.
But alas, on the evening of April 13, the garage had been sufficiently unpacked, enough tools and fluids had been excavated from a sea of boxes and totes and adequate amounts of elbow grease had been applied to yield a ready-to-ride motorcycle.
As I backed the motorcycle out of the garage before I got the engine fired up, there was already a sense of relief setting in. I’d fired up the engine a couple times while I was burping the cooling system, so there wasn’t the suspense of wondering if the engine would work. But the aura of the ride was already starting to set in, simply because the bike was now ready to be enjoyed for the first time in months.
As the engine purred through its warm-up cycle — with the RPMs gradually declining as the coolant came up to working temperature — I threw my leg over the saddle, settled down in my Corbin seat, and felt the usual mix of serenity and excitement wash over me.
I was in my riding gear for the first time in months, and I remembered what it is like to be a motorcyclist instead of someone who simply owns a bike. When the engine settled down to its normal idle, I popped the transmission into first gear, slowly let the clutch out and felt the torque of the 1298cc, four-cylinder engine whisk me down my driveway, onto the street and off on my first moto-adventure of 2021.
My plan was to do a very short ride around a couple of my neighborhood’s blocks and bring the bike back home to check for anything I’d forgotten to tighten down. I turned right as I left my driveway, rode to the end of the street, took a right, rode a couple blocks, then took a left.
Most years, it takes a some time for the “feel” of riding to come back: the sense of balance and degree of steering inputs, for example. But this year, for some reason, everything felt very natural. The bike was riding so smooth: smoother than I’d ever experienced.
I turned onto a section of curvy road in my neighborhood, and the exhilaration riders feel when cornering a motorcycle was burning within me. The curves ended and I was supposed to head straight home — but I wanted more. The feeling of my motorcycle accelerating and handling beneath me had my senses on overdrive. I wanted more, so, I turned right, headed out to the main road, then turned left and began heading for a local parkway.
The speed limit was higher on the main drag, and the sensation of the bike picking up more speed got my adrenaline flowing even more fiercely. As I reached the left-hand turn for the parkway, the stoplight turned yellow and I was ready to brake as late as I could and enter the parkway aggressively. The driver of the car in front of me — who was probably in a more rational state of mind — curtailed my wanna-be-Valentino-Rossi-imagination’s grandiose plan, so I had to wait impatiently for the light to cycle back to green.
When it was time to go, I steered the FJR through the bumpy, downhill turn onto the parkway and rode the gently curving, tree-canopied ribbon of asphalt to the next major intersection. I wasn’t carrying much speed through corners thanks to traffic ahead of me, but it was the return to experiencing your surrounding environment — as opposed to merely observing it like one does in a car — that was constantly reminding me that I was back to practicing the motorcycling lifestyle.
As I felt the change in temperature between sun and shade, smelled the aroma of flowers growing in the yard of the posh homes along the parkway and felt the suspension work to keep the motorcycle level as it traversed the parkway’s mediocre pavement, I realized that, for all the hurdles I’d failed to make it over in the last year, I’d at least made it over this one.
As I reached the parkway’s next major intersection, I took a left to head home. After a few more nondescript 90-degree turns, I hooked a right into my driveway, rode to the front of my garage, and hit the FJR’s kill switch.
The ride was over, but I’d done it. I didn’t have to do some miracle maintenance to get the bike running, but, for everything that was competing for my time and immediate attention, I’d at least made enough time to get back to something I’d sorely missed. At least I’d kept the faith: at least I’d gotten this right.