Back in the Saddle

In the late spring of the prior year, warm weather and bright sunny days had rekindled my desire to ride with the wind. At first it was an occasional glance which turned into a casual stare, which turned into a blatant gawk, until finally I was stopping to have a closer look.  Bikes were showing up everywhere and I was feeling the pain.

I started riding at age 16, back in the seventies, to get to work.  It was a cheap ride; I didn’t need driver’s education and boy- was it fun. I remember vividly to this day the first time I took it out. It was a Yamaha 200, a small bike, but perfect to learn on.  It was a two stroke and loved for those high RPMS to survive, without which fouled plugs would stop it cold.

My Dad and I had picked it up at Boston Cycle. It was a left over sitting for a few years in a crate, but brand spanking new. I bought it for $600 bucks, sky blue, dual chrome exhaust, spoke wheels, the dream bike of teenager. You know the feeling.

I had never ridden a bike; parents would not allow it, until I had needed to get to work.  It wasn’t a hard decision; Drive the boy to work everyday or let him get the bike. So there it was sitting in our garage waiting for the weather to clear. It had rained the day we picked it up and had not let up for a few days. It was around 6 Saturday morning; the air was heavy, a little fog, but nothing that would stop me from my first ride.

Rolling it out of the garage, exchanging cold cement for black tar, I started it up. That first feel of the throttle connecting my hand to the engine accelerated my pulse. The smell of the oil mixing with the fuel and the whine of the engine; At 16, there was nothing quite like it- Not even that.

I started slow down the dead end street where we lived, barely getting the RPMS up where they should be, around 6000 if I remember correctly. I was apprehensive but felt in control of the bike, its weight and mine against the road. I was riding.

The first smell of the wet air rushing past my face, was so exhilarating, to this day I refuse to ride with a windshield (even though it is more comfortable at my age) because I love the feel of the wind on my face as my limbs hang on for the ride.

I took a few rides up and down the dead end street to get my riding balance, and finally hit the end of the road, where I would need to get out of second gear.  I waited till all cars were gone at the intersection, pulled out and pulled the power on and never looked back.

I rode all thru high school and college trading the Yamaha in for a 1979 Honda CB750k, quite a bit more power than the 200, and the inline 4 cylinder, four-stroke was a beautiful thing.  After college I traded my bike for car. Now that was a big mistake. The responsibility of a real job and the need to get to work dry took me off guard. The days turned into years and here I was, the spring of 2004, drooling over anything with two wheels and an engine.

It was not really that sudden; I had wanted a bike for some time now and had started to save up for a Harley Fatboy. I really liked the heavy cruiser look, the thick front forks and head light, the heavy look, the cruiser attitude to just sit back and ride.

So I started looking online, in the papers, and every Autos-for-Sale weekly I could find. They were all expensive and I still did not quite have enough cash in the bank, but looking was sure fun. Then one day I saw the ad- 1999 Indian Chief- I looked again. 1999 Indian Chief, S&S Motor, lots of chrome.

An Indian Chief- I have always liked the look of the 48-53 Chiefs and the nostalgia of the original American motorcycle started to take hold. I called the owner and stopped by for a look after work. My GOD, I almost cried.  It was one beautiful ride- Maroon and Cream, the low seat, those hold on and ride beach bars. When I sat on it, it was like riding an oil tanker (a description of the Indian Motorcycle I read online).

The owner was a collector of muscle cars, had a Road King and had taken the Chief in trade for a Chevy SS.  He rode it a little, but for the most part it just sat in his garage stalled at 1100 miles, mint condition.

I went home, talked to the wife, who had recently broken her back riding a horse and told her I really wanted to buy it, but would understand her decision either way. Sure I would.  She said, how can I stop you from riding the bike, I just broke my back riding a horse, danger being her most concern.

She knew I was hurting and agreed that I should get it. Fortunately for us she was diagnosed with a compression fracture, which although a very serious injury, would heal within a few months and a year of physical therapy afterward.  Maybe the decision to buy the bike was a mid-life crisis decision, but then again maybe not. I was born to ride, a bit of Cherokee Indian in my blood.

Well with the permission of my better half, the only thing stopping me was the money.  So I did what any red blooded American would do. I refinanced our cars, and brought the payments down to cover the note on the Indian. The owner was pleased to finally sell the bike and we began the process of transferring ownership which leads me to a side story worth mentioning.

The owner, being a collector of cars was not in the habit of registering all his vehicles as a lot of them sat in the Garage being restored.  He’d throw a plate on a car now and then to move them around and had not bothered to register the Chief. Man what a hassle that was, trying to move the title over and convince the bank I was buying a legitimately owned ride. My advice here is never purchase a vehicle unless the owner has registered it.

Needless to say it all worked out. On 6/21, the first day of summer the owner took the Chief for one last ride to deliver it to my house, parked it in the garage and I was almost back in the saddle, or thought I was.

You see when I test drove the bike, I failed to mention I got a bit of a scare trying to maneuver the tanker around a cul-de-sac. I over turned the beach bars and had a hard time controlling the wobble so never got out of second gear. I actually bought it, not really sure I could ride it. Needless to say, it would have been a fairly large expensive piece of garage jewelry.

Of course, the first thing I did when I got it was to remove the windshield, and remove the radio and speakers mounted to the handle bars. I just couldn’t bring myself to listen to the radio and ride at the same time. Just didn’t seem right, for me anyway.

I didn’t have a Helmet and even thou we don’t need helmets in our state, riding a tanker without a helmet while my wife lies at home with a broken back, my two sons still in high school, didn’t seem like a good idea.

When I finally got ready to ride, no windshield, no radio or speakers, my helmet on, and sneakers (yes I was missing a lot of gear after 20 years), I started it up, sat for a minute warming that S&S Engine, dropped it into gear and rode off.  The wind in my face, my hands and feet apparently remembering what to do without actually thinking, I was riding again after over 20 years.

The summer night was dry, about 70 degrees, the sun just hitting the trees, and the road black velvet. I was back in the saddle again.

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