Friday, April 23, 2010

Look, Press, Lean, Roll!

It reminded me of those days gone by, when I was a freshman in high school.  It happened at a football game on a Friday night.  I was walking down the track that seperated the stands from the sideline, en route to my seat.  There was a group of girls dressed in the colors of the opposing school, and for some reason they just started laughing at me.  Pointing at me and laughing.  I hadn't spoken so I knew it wasn't anything I'd said.  So I concluded that it must have been because of the black plastic-rim glasses with the tape in the middle holding them together.  That, and my girth.  It was a classic scenario that would play itself out a number of times during my youth.  Walk by a group of perfectly beautiful girls and get heckled.

I didn't think it would happen yesterday, though.  Not when I'm a mere week away from celebrating (celebrating?) my half-century of existence.  I was at a red light at the corner of Brittain Road and East Avenue.  So was the Hyundai full of girls next to me in the left-hand turn-lane.  Staring.  Pointing.  Laughing.  Ah, the memories.  However, my spectacles were devoid of duct-tape.  Even if I did rock some adhesive on my frames, they wouldn't have been able to be seen anyway because of my darkened face-shield.  And any lingering cellulite would have been compressed nicely by my form-fitting motorcycle jacket.  However, I wasn't on a motorcycle.  I was on my little scooter.  Admittedly, I would probably laugh at me, too, if I were sitting next to me waiting for the light to change. 

Last year, Donna and I were taking a walk in our Illinois neighborhood when we spotted a small red scooter with a "for sale" sign sitting on it.  It looked cool, and gas prices were nearing 4 dollars, so we wrote the phone number down.  Later in the day after calling it, we walked back down to meet the owner and look it over.  I had never been on a scooter before.  I had tried taking a lesson with my brother-in-law on his motorcycle several years ago.  But as we were getting started, so did the rain.  There endeth the lesson.  The sellers both owned motorcycles so they simply wanted to get rid of the scooter.  It was a 125 cc. bike, Chinese-made by the Yumbo Motorcycle Company.  We both took a test-spin on it and then discussed price a bit.  We finally decided on one.  As we were ready to drive it back home, the seller suggested taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course.  She mentioned that her husband had taken it and that it was invaluable, especially if you'd never been on a motorcycle before.  It seemed like a good idea, since I'd have to get tags for the bike anyway and that meant taking a test.  I figured I'd better have some training if I wanted to pass.

So I did.  I had always wanted to ride a motorcycle.  I'm not sure why it took me so long to try it.  It seemed easy for me to feel a kind of gravitational pull towards the mystique of the lifestyle.  I liked watching people float by me on the highway with their hair blowing beneath the colored bandanas, the open road ahead of them.  I couldn't quite understand why I was allowing myself to be trapped behind a wall of steel and four wheels.  I wanted to be out there, too.  I suppose fear played a part.  It still factored in as I was nearing my training weekend.  I felt alot of apprehension, and the more I read online in message boards about all of the situations that could seriously injure you or kill you, even for the most cautious riders, I continued to feel uneasy.  Yet I still wanted to do it.

It was a spectacular Fall weekend, sunny and warm.  The class was held in a parking lot on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.  The weekend was divided up into time spent "on the range" and in the classroom.  I didn't have to bring the scooter because motorcycles were provided.  On Saturday, we spent time completing a variety of exercises which taught us various techniques.  Once we had completed several, we adjourned to the classroom to go over the prescribed handbook, watch safety videos, and discuss real-life obstacles and predicaments out there on the road.  We did the same on Sunday, except the afternoon was reserved for testing.  On the range. we had to successfully pass 4 exercises, where we were graded.  After the skills testing, we headed for the classroom for the written test.  I was the last person finished in the classroom.  I guess I wanted to make sure that I hadn't blown a whole weekend by failing.  Interestingly, everyone in the class passed!  Receiving that completion card from the state of Illinois meant that I did not have to take the written or the skills test for my M-class license.  I was stoked!

Since then,  I've spent the past year and a half riding around on this little scooter and getting used to being out on the open road.  It's a whole different world out there when you're not surrounded by a steel cage.  My Yumbo can't really do more than 45 miles-per-hour.  At that point, my throttle is back about as far as it can go.  So, it allows me to go to the gym, pick up a few things at the store, run errands, or joy-ride a little bit.  I've also realized that 55 degrees is a good deal colder out there when you're riding through it at 35 miles-per-hour.  I've also realized that although it looked idyllic to have one's hair flailing away underneath a Harley doo-rag, I prefer to have my melon encased in some form of helmet in case some dude decides to send a text while gunning it underneath a red light.  I've also seen the pictures of skin making contact with pavement, so I usually opt for long pants and an approved jacket.  Sure, it was uncomfortable to wear during a sweltering 90-degree St. Louis day, but not nearly as uncomfortable, I'm guessing, as laying in the ER wrapped from head to toe in bandages.

I've also learned that I want a bigger bike.  Sure, they all say that after they've been riding for awhile.  I don't know that I have a deep desire to do highway riding, since the Yumbo can travel on any road except the interstate.  It would be nice, though, to be able to at least keep up with traffic.  And I think I want to stay with a scooter, too.  I prefer not having to deal with a clutch and shifting.  I've been reading a good deal about the maxi-scooters, and I see one near me for sale.  It's a Suzuki 400, which I think would be a perfect upgrade for a newbie like me.  Bigger, sleeker, and a bit more reliable I think.  And it helps that you can get parts for it, which is not the case for the Yumbo.  The only thing that stands in the way is price.

I had a legitimate scare this past month.  No, I was not involved in an accident.  But when the movers agreed to transport the scooter, they removed the mirrors.  When the driver pulled up here, the first thing he handed to me were those mirrors.  Early last month when the weather broke, I planned my day around my first Ohio ride.  I was dressed, gassed-up, and ready to throttle back.  I asked Donna to check my brake light, when she suddenly called out, "Where's your mirrors"?  It took weeks and I couldn't locate them.  I tried ordering mirrors online, but they didn't fit.  I visited a local Yamaha dealer who ordered some, too, but with the disclaimer that "ya never know what's going to fit with these Chinese scooters".  As I was waiting for them to arrive, I inadvertently poked through an open box downstairs marked "Parts", and inside: the mirrors.  Hello, open roads!

So as I sat at that light waiting impatiently for it to turn green, I tried not to look over at the girls in the car.  Sure, they were laughing now, but wait until I have the power of a Suzuki Burgman 400 underneath me.  Until then, I'll continue to creep along on my little red bike with the funny name.  Sure, it's too small for me.  But the storage space underneath the seat will house a 6-pack perfectly, and I'll endure ridicule anytime for that.


Image: Tom Curtis /


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