Riding Is Part of Me

Right around Christmas time in 2006 I had decided that I think it would be fun to get a motorcycle (aka bike).  I am not sure why that idea resonated with me at the time but I know that I had always been fascinated with them.  My father ‘Bob’ had been a rider on and off for years mostly a Harley guy from what I can recall.  It always made me feel special when he would pull it out and take me for a ride.  Perhaps it was the nice crackle of the pipes or maybe the comfortable vibrations from the engine but whatever it was I had remembered it and was ready to experience it for myself as a young man. For the next few weeks I waited for my taxes money to come through and while I was broke, I was eagerly searching Craigslist for something decent that I could afford.

Eventually I came across a beautiful 1994 Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6E.  After some initial haggling with the owner over the phone/text the original price for $2,300 was brought down to 2K flat and I had not even seen the bike. When I was funded, I went with my best friend Russell to check the bike out.  I had no idea at the time how to ride, so me getting on it and testing it was not going to happen, but he gladly took it around the inside of his apartment complex.  It looked decent enough, but I had no idea how to tell mechanically sound the bike was so I took his word for it.  I told him that I could give him $1,800 and he agreed.  We then exchanged and then we had the interesting task of loading the bike into the back of Russ’s van.  I remember peeling out of that complex with me in the back holding the new bike, I was so excited.

'Schooly' - 1994 Kawasaki ZX6E

‘Schooly’ – 1994 Kawasaki ZX6E

The bummer was that I had no idea how to ride and it was still just the end of February.  Now Russ had a little bit of experience as a rider and kinda went through the basics with me.  He was confident and a little overzealous and took it down the block and of course he just has to dump it, oh I was like Oh NOOOOOOOOO, but stuff happens.  We applied bondo and proceeded to learn how to ride.  I had already registered for the course in May to get my license but I was bit by the bug and was going to learn on my own until then.  I remember at that time I had just began bouncing at Barfly downtown and one night I decided to take it downtown.  I had never even gone past the third gear or been off a side street, partly because I only had my permit and also wasn’t supposed to ride at night but I went for it.  I can still remember that ride like it was yesterday.  Simply put, it made me feel free. Since that day I have been hooked.

Since my early days of riding I have learned many valuable lessons.  The Kawasaki was dubbed ‘Schooly’ as it was an old school starter bike.  It was a really fun bike with a nice sounding Muzzy exhaust.  I took great pride in fixing the bike up. While I was living on Russell’s couch that summer, I sanded the whole thing down and repainted it and made it look really sharp.  Applied all the decals I wanted and got lots of complements.  Not only that, but I must have given over 1000 girls rides on it that Summer.  I remember back how much fun it was.  The natural progression then was to learn how to do some tricks.

So by this time Russ and I both had bikes and would ride together and try to pop some wheelies. Yup not the best idea I have ever had.  Eventually I felt that I got the hang of it, but my arrogance caught up with me  later that season.  This also marks something that I can remember just as vividly as my first ride on Schooly.  I brought the bike up a little too high and tight and she came back so hard. Before I knew it I was thrown from the bike landed on my back and my head took a nice crack on the concrete.  I saw the white flash that almost guarantees a concussion.  I was able to tuck and roll for a bit and then quickly I came together and popped up on my feet quickly.  Immediately I looked to see if there were cars coming from behind me and then ran over to my bike.  It was badly mangled and spewing out oil, antifreeze and gasoline.  By this time Russ who was riding with me had turned around and was there to help me move it out of the road.

Onlookers were staring at us and someone must have called the police and soon an ambulance and cops were on the scene.  They grilled me a new one (which I rightfully deserved for doing something stupid), but the ambulance crew looked me over and suggested that I go to the hospital and of course I deny treatment.  Mind you, I was not wearing a helmet or a jacket when I went down; I was wearing a pair of cargo shorts and had shoes on.  So you can imagine that there was a lot of road rash on my legs, arms, back and stomach.  Luckily, I have the friend that I do and Russ helped me to get on my feet.  He really was there for me in my time of need. I mean he took a mesh pad and scrapped the rocks out of my knees and arms.  Not only that, but he took my mangled bike and dropped it off at Jordan’s Sportwheel.  What I bought, fixed up and made mine; I parted ways and received $400 for what was left of Schooly.  It was a low point for me for a couple of weeks.

The healing of my body took a little while, but I got past it all with only a few scars.  Less than two weeks after the accident I went back to Russell’s sat down at his kitchen table and it just hit me.  I had an epiphany!  I was going to buy another bike. By the end of the week I had a found the one that I wanted and took out a loan to purchase it. The next bike soon was named ‘Epiphany’, she was a Suzuki GSXR – 750.  It was a beautiful bike and had a bigger engine than the last.  That might sound like a bad idea, new bike and it’s faster, but I had a new-found respect for riding and for my safety. I felt like I had a mission for the remainder of that summer and fall to make a bunch of cash running security and staying on my grind in the night scene to pay it off.  It took a lot of work but I did it.

'Epiphany' my great idea!

‘Epiphany’ my great idea!

I really learned how to ride well on Epiphany and I took great pride in the maintenance of her.  I installed some LED lights on her and even put in a car charger so that I could plug my phone.  When I purchased her she had roughly 6K miles and it took me through the next two riding seasons.  I had the fortune of riding this bike to and from Milwaukee during Summerfest, back and forth to visit my brother and sister in Winona & Rochester and even a to Duluth and back. Each trip had a fun memories associated with it but I just loved how fun it handled and the power it had.

At the beginning of the 2010 riding season Epiphany had approximately 23K miles on her odometer.  On May 18th of that season I was on my way from work to go to Lake Calhoun and get a run in as I would often train for races there.  I was hit by another driver that day and went over the hood of their SUV and was pretty scrapped up.  Thankfully I was not severely hurt. I suffered some significant impact of my shoulder when I flew into their vehicle’s driver-side door.  Approximately six months later I underwent some arthroscopic shoulder surgery and now am back to about 90% on that shoulder’s side.

Scrapped up from getting hit by another motor vehicle!

Scrapped up from getting hit by another motor vehicle!

This was one occasion where It was really good that I had full coverage insurance on my motorcycle.  My insurance company came out and assessed my claim and let me know the approximate value of my bike and told me an amount they were willing to award me for the bike.  They quickly assessed it as a ‘total loss’ and were going to compensate me fairly, instead of taking the lump sum payment I suggested that I could keep the bike and they told me for 1K less I could keep the bike.  So I did just that!  I went to the impound lot and took a look at her a few days later.  To my surprise she was just like me, broken but not completely out of commission. I put the key in and tried to see if she would start, she fired right up!

After some crafty modification of the front fairings I was able to keep the body of the bike from rubbing on the front tire.  By taking only back roads I was able to limp the bike back to my townhouse.  When I got her home I was able to take a deeper dive into what was wrong with the bike mechanically.  The damage was most heavy isolated towards the front of the bike.  The air intake was shattered, the headlight was cracked, the neck of the bike was bent and the forks were at a more upright grade.  Some of the parts would have to be completely replaced, it would also need a significant amount of time to take the bike apart and find out whether it would ever be safe to perform normal riding.

So I had a big project ahead of me.  I took the next couple of months striping her down and then getting her fixed up.  I applied a new paint-job and eventually had her looking pretty sharp.  All the work took a couple of months to complete in my spare time and cost me another $350-$400. Through this process I learned much about working with my hands on the bike as well as some really good problem solving skills. Below are some before and after pictures of the bike.

Damaged and stripped down I really had my work cut out for me.  Luckily the engine was intact, mostly just body work.

Damaged and stripped down I really had my work cut out for me. Luckily the engine was intact, mostly just body work.

After the work was completed, this is what she came out looking like, new attitude and all!

Reborn she would forever be different, now known as the 'Green Machine'!

Reborn she would forever be different, now known as the ‘Green Machine’!

Before the Green Machine was finished being rebuilt I had already knew that I would be seeking out my next motorcycle.  I quickly fell in love with a sweet machine.  This creature is a beast of its own and deserves its own post.  For the remainder of the summer I had two bikes, which came particularly in handy as my best friend Russ’s bike was often down due to maintenance or a broken part, so often I would let him take the Green Machine.  It only got under my skin that he immediately would jump on it and wheelie it better than I could have ever tried (but I am past all that now).  I did want to keep it this bike as I had an emotional connection to it but my girlfriend at the time strongly encouraged me to let it go.  So I did the right thing and rode the bike for another 3K miles to ensure its safety.  Sold her that next winter for $2,600.  Not bad all things considered, she will forever be missed.  Between these two bikes I learned a lot about handling myself in the streets and how to appreciate and respect the freedom and risks you must take when on one.