So my current bike is supposedly a wheelie machine. I say supposedly because despite the little red guy with horns sitting on my shoulder trying his best to get me to hoist the front wheel in the air, I have done a remarkable job of listening to the guy on the other shoulder (the one with the wings and a halo). I’m just not very good at wheelies. My kid, and virtually anybody who rides a bike, could absolutely school me if we got into a wheelie showdown. In fact, as I stare at the dog as I write this, I am convinced that if she could get on the bike, she could probably be better than me in minutes When I see one of the Seguins win a race and do a wheelie the length of the back straight to celebrate, I am in awe. My front wheel has come up twice over the past three years due to hard acceleration, both times for a millisecond, and both times just high enough to slip a credit card in there. Back in the day I could ride a wheelie on a mountain bike or a BMX forever. That hasn’t translated to doing the same thing on a motorcycle for me, and maybe its because the extra 25 pounds of weight I’m carrying just above my belt has drastically changed my balancing point. Who knows? Regardless, if I tried to do a wheelie on purpose, in front of people, the results would be embarrassing. And trust me, I don’t need help to embarrass myself on motorcycle.
Way back in 1990, when Kim and I were just starting to hang out, I was also in the process of trying get in good with my now brother-in-law Paul. We had lots in common at the time, and if he would have grown his hair a little longer, used a magic eraser to get rid of that cheesy moustache, and popped an earing into his ear, I’m sure. we would have been instantly inseparable. One day I got a call from Kim informing me that Paul had just purchased a bike, and since none of us had a truck available to us at the time he was hoping that I could ride it home for him. Now despite the escapade you will read about shortly being mostly my fault, Paul must be at least slightly to blame. Getting a guy to ride your bike home who road raced motorcycles, but seemed to crash every second race, is the equivalent of getting your buddy who won the demo derby at the fair to drive your new Corvette home for you. Safe to say, bad choices were made.
Turns out the bike was within a mile or two of Paul’s house. Although it was 13 years old at the time, the 1977 Honda CB 550 was virtually spotless. Given the relatively short journey ahead of me, when I popped open the trunk of my Mazda 626, I chose to push the leathers aside and chose to grab only my helmet. Logic seemed to dictate that my mesh football jersey, bright orange gym shorts, and knee-high tube socks would be adequate for the short ride ahead. Paul, obviously enamoured with his purchase at this point, clearly wasn’t paying attention, as I think one glimpse of my beat up Dainese leathers might have put a stop to the plan before things had gone too far.
Firing up the bike, I pulled on my equally beat up Arai helmet, as Kim and Paul climbed into my car to follow me for our brief trip. Now having grown accustomed to the luxurious handling of my current race bike, a 1986 RZ 350 which was held together with about six pounds of lockwire and duct tape, the old 550 did seem a bit foreign to me. I would have to check the original spec sheet on the 550, but I swear to this day that the tires on that bike were non-pneumatic, and if not, I’m going with the other option that these were the original tires that came with the bike and offered about as much traction as a ball bearing on black ice. Anyway, as I was about to find out shortly, traction was at a minimum on the old beast.
As we approached Paul’s house, I had one last corner to make, and it was actually close enough to my destination that I could see the spot in the driveway that was no doubt reserved for the bike. Carrying a bit of speed into the corner, I decided to slide my feet to the back pegs for some reason (damn you, little red guy with horns). Tipping the bike into the corner, my cocky smile was quickly replaced with an oh crap moment as both wheels washed out from under me. Bef
ore I knew what was going on, both me and the bike were sliding not so gracefully down the road, and I can only imagine the look on the faces in the car behind me. As I did my best to protect the bike with my Teflon-like tube socks, I glanced up to see a dump truck rumbling towards me at what seemed like triple the speed limit. The fact that the bike never stalled or broke anything off was remarkable considering it seemed that if my race bike fell over in the pits a few minutes before a race, it would somehow break both clip-ons and dent the exhaust. Quickly picking up the bike, I jumped on and rode out of the path of the dump truck which had shown no signs of slowing down.
A few seconds later and I was at Paul’s house and looking for a good hole to crawl into as they pulled up in the car. Paul really didn’t say much as he got out, he went right into scrutinizing the bike that he hadn’t even taken for a spin yet. Although the damage on the bike was minimal, the embarrassment I felt was only slightly overshadowed by the blood dripping from my arm and leg. Yes, believe it or not, the football jersey and tube socks had failed me. I don’t remember what exactly Kim said during the drive home, but it is probably safe to say it wasn’t pleasant.
Paul had that bike for a little while and then actually sold it for a slight profit. Although it took me a few years to get onto his good side after that, I can at least take solace that he didn’t lose money on his purchase. Having spent a few decades recovering from the emotional damage of this incident, I have come to the realization that we will all have those embarrassing moments on a bike. Hopefully when you have yours, it doesn’t hurt you or your pocketbook too much. And hopefully, at the end you will have a brother-in-law who, with a little prodding, will still talk to you once in awhile.
- From Todd Vallee