The Cycling Life

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This being Automobile Magazine, motorcycles aren’t covered much. I don’t care. I like motorcycles. I’ve kept up on news of the latest two-wheeled machines for a while now, but it wasn’t until recently that I actually pulled the trigger and put a motorcycle in my garage.

I remember reading about sport bikes in the 1980s. My friend’s dad had a Honda Hurricane 1000 (CBR1000F). Its 130-hp inline-4 could do 0 to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds on the way to a top speed of 160 mph. Those were crazy numbers for a twelve-year-old to think about. Plus, all that performance cost only $5398. (The base price of a new Corvette was nearly $30,000 in 1987.)

When I turned fifteen, I inherited my brother’s Honda Spree. He’s three years older than me and was far more interested in cars by that point. I’d find the tallest, steepest hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and see how fast I could get the micro-size, 49-cc moped to go. I once hit 45 mph or so — it did a tick over 30 mph on flat pavement. Clearly, it was no Hurricane 1000, but the much smaller two-wheeled Honda did give me a taste of freedom and independence. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. I remember exploring far-off neighborhoods and industrial areas around Grand Rapids, places my BMX bike never took me. Most of my friends had to wait until they were at least sixteen and bought a car for experiences like that.

A couple of years later, the Spree was sold, because, you know, only an idiot rides a scooter when he has a proper driver’s license. But then a friend sold his small lawn-mowing business and bought a black Kawasaki Ninja 750R. His mother cried when she found out. I smiled. I loved riding on that bike, going insanely fast and feeling the wind rocket over my jacket.

Other than piloting various European scooters around the paddock during the time I managed a racing team, my fascination with the two-wheeled world took a brief break. Then, an old friend named Wyeth Gubelmann told me a story — over a few bottles of Negra Modelo — about the time he rode his 1993 Honda XRV750 Africa Twin adventure bike to Mexico from Colorado. He was checking out the La Carrera Panamericana rally route in 1998. We met when we both competed in La Carrera in 1999. His tales of that two-wheeled trip often flash back into my brain.

Fast forward to the spring of 2013. Maybe it’s because I’m approaching my fortieth birthday. Maybe it’s because as cars get more and more refined, the purity and simplicity of a motorcycle seems that much more intriguing. Whatever my motivation, I stopped by the local Triumph motorcycle dealership, figuring my British wife would better accept a British bike. Luckily she did, and I rode off that day on a new Triumph Scrambler. I had it fitted with the trick Arrow full-exhaust system and a few other accessories. Last summer, I put about 1300 miles on the Scrambler before winter forced the inevitable seasonal storage.

I did a lot of motorcycle planning in the off-season. That’s what you do in Michigan when you are obsessed with a hobby that isn’t made for the snow and cold. I loved the Scrambler but I want to travel on a bike more. The minimalist Scrambler isn’t so good at that. My brother has a BMW F 650 Dakar, and my best friend bought a new Husqvarna TR650 Terra (also BMW-powered, due to the German company’s brief ownership). I wanted an adventure bike so I could play with the other kids on the playground.

I sold the Scrambler to an Automobile Magazine staffer and bought a Triumph Tiger 800 XC. The Tiger is rated one of the best bikes in its class. More important, the 10,000-rpm three-cylinder engine gives an exhaust note quite similar to that of a 1970s Formula 1 car. Of course, I added a bunch of extras to the bike, including panniers (side cases), a tank bag, Arrow exhaust, heated grips, etc. It’s what you do when you own an adventure bike. Now that the long, long winter appears to finally have passed, I get to ride the Tiger. Maybe the first stop should be Mexico? As in, visit Mexico for a couple of tacos (and maybe a Negra Modelo) on the way to Peru.

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