As you’ve probably read here, I grew up riding dirt bikes. I’ve probably spent over a thousand hours riding. Actually, I have no idea how to even quantify it. But I got my first bike when I was ten or so. It was a Yamaha 80 Big Wheel. It had the big fat tires on it, making it really great for trail riding for a beginner. The funny thing was that it was an automatic. It had a gear shift lever with 3 gears, but no clutch. Top speed was 35 miles per hour. Who needs to go that fast on trails though? I sure didn’t.
Well, I never crashed on it. Never laid it down. But yes, I put hundreds and hundreds of hours on it. Jumps, berms, extremely steep hills… It really did everything the big boys were doing with no sweat. It had a pretty good amount of torque and power. So my dad and Charles would take me riding with them all the time. It was awesome. I don’t remember when I finally grew out of that bike, but I do know that for my high school graduation gift my dad bought me two Yamaha enduros. A 125 and a 250. So then I put hundreds of hours on those two. God, I loved those bikes.
As you can see from the picture above, I had all the gear. Except boots. I guess vans with short socks was just fine back then. Yes, I’m shaking my head as I look at that. But I don’t recall ever burning myself on it. The pipe ran high, behind that side fairing, and there was so much plastic on that bike it was almost baby-safe.
So between those three motorcycles, I ran thousands of miles of trails, but I don’t think I ever got above that 35 mph. That was on my street, where I had asked a police officer to clock me coming at him. I also took that bike down the alley and the neighborhood street to get to the trails occasionally. This, in no way, passes for street riding experience. It’s safe, therefore, to say that I have never ridden on the street. Not any appreciable amount.
Having never ridden a street bike, and having no street experience at all, one might ask how I knew I was ready for a street bike. Well, I did take a beginner’s class. Partly for the M endorsement, but also – and mostly – for the tips and tricks that would surely abound. I wanted to start off with as much knowledge as possible. I wanted to be a smart rider. I knew I could physically handle the bike. Make turns. Come to a stop, shift gears, blah blah – all of it. But what do I need to know about riding on the road that you can’t learn from the trails?
That was a good class. But the riding experience I got from it was in a parking lot. I might have gotten that little Suzi 250 up to 15 mph between course implements. Clearly not real street experience. I was just going to have to go out and get that on my own.
Well, the way it went down was not ideal. I bought my bike from Lone Star Indian in Garland. It’s two miles from my house. But they ship all their bikes from the manufacturer to the Forney store (which is also owned by Polaris) where they un-crate them and assemble them. Then eventually it would be ridden up onto a truck and brought to Garland where I could pick it up. When they finally told me the bike was there and getting assembled, it was a Friday. I was going out of town that afternoon, taking my girls to Oklahoma for the weekend. I would be back on Sunday. I was off Monday. So if I waited until they had it done and went and grabbed it real fast, I would get to ride it when I got back Sunday, and on Monday. If I couldn’t get it before we left, I would have to wait until Tuesday. Shops are closed on Sundays and Mondays. There’s also the piece about getting it from Garland. If I wanted to get it from the close store, I would have to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday. Well, I wasn’t up for that bullshit.
I had the lady tell me what time I should show up at Forney to pick up my bike. I had my wife take me, and got there around noon and there it was, sitting under the overhang just waiting for me. So. What was the point in all this setup? Well, it’s not that exciting. But let me tell you anyway. Forney is about 20 miles from my house. And the store was right on Highway 80. Which is a 2-lanes-each-way divided highway, 70 mph. That’s nice. Okay. But part of the route home would involve 635. Yeah. No. It won’t. So I found a couple of back roads off 80 to take to finish the trip home.
So I rode my brand new bike around the parking lot a couple of times, then I headed out, wife following right behind me. Now keep in mind I’ve never ridden a street bike on the street. Never ridden a street bike over 15 miles per hour. And, most importantly here, I’ve never ridden this bike. Ever. I had three or four minutes of parking lot experience on it. And now I’m dumped right onto a 70-mph highway. Holy shit was I scared! I never got above 50. I kept looking down and seeing that I was falling to 45 miles per hour. First ride ever on a street bike and I’m on a faster-than-light roller coaster. It was insane.
Well, I made it home, as you can see. And I’ve since gotten the bike up to 85 a few times, and have gotten completely comfortable at 70 mph. It’s a different feeling than the Jeep. The wind feels heavy. It feels like any little thing is going to sweep your wheels out to the side and send you sliding down the blacktop. But it just doesn’t happen. And I know it doesn’t. I’ve never seen it happen to anyone. So I just had to trust that it wouldn’t to me. It’s actually hard to lay the bike down at that speed, if you don’t hit something. Well, maybe not hard. But you’d really have to want to. The point is that it just feels inherently dangerous – but you do get used to it. Well, but for the bugs, you do. Them sons of bitches hitting your forehead at 75-plus miles per hour may not be something you can get used to. I know now why they make full-face helmets.
I’m not afraid of the highway. But there are some I just won’t get on. 635 is one of them. Too much traffic, too many people just darting around like driving is only a side act of what they’re doing. Think about all the distractions we have now in our cars. Touch-screen stereos, GPS screens, phones, fax machines… And a lot more population these days. And a lot more of them are driving. It follows that a lot more of them are teenage girls who can’t stay off Instagram while driving. I’ve literally seen them posing and making duck faces to their phones, held on the steering wheel. Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people? It’s a dangerous world for us motorcyclists. So I stay off the ridiculously dangerous highways, and avoid congestion as much as possible. There’s just no reason to be in it. I ride my bike for pleasure. So there’s no set time I ever have to do that in. I’d rather not spend it in rush hour.