Heck on Wheels
A baby-booming cyclist just wants to ride
The vehcile was sleek, black, and ten years old. It had no roof, no doors, and just one headlight. Basically, it was a car engine propped between two wheels. What kind of moron would actually ride this thing? I asked myself. That’s when I heard myself answer, “Me. I’ll take it.” So a motorcycle—or, as my wife calls it, “that thing in the garage”—became part of my life. Again.
The first time I was on a motorcycle was in the ’60s. Anyone who rode in those days was automatically judged “a raping brute unfit to eat or drink among civilized people,” according to gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. I don’t remember doing much pillaging. Mostly I roared down back roads and side streets, terrorizing squirrels.
Those days ended when I sold my wheels and got married, had a child, held a job. Motorcycling was just a phase, I figured. Then one day, a guy on a stunning red Harley pulled up next to me at an intersection. As the light changed and he pulled away, I noticed his license-plate holder. “Vietnam Veteran,” it read, placing him squarely in my age bracket. Huh, I thought. How cool that someone his age can still ride.
I talked to my wife about getting a motorcycle. She noted that spending the equivalent of a year’s college tuition for our daughter on a vehicle that could be driven only a few months out of the year was a mismanagement of funds. She was right, of course, but that didn’t stop me. I ended up buying something befitting my age—cheap, big, and comfy. A La-Z-Boy on wheels.
I had no illusion that there was a place for me among the wild bunch of today—younger, tougher, faster riders—but appearances can deceive. One day at a mini-mart, I noticed a row of parked Harleys. Their owners were men in black—boots, T-shirts, leather chaps, and jackets. The works.
Two of them were trading what could only be war stories. Expecting to hear them boasting about beer or babes, I listened in. Biker One turned to Biker Two. “One of my azalea bushes hasn’t bloomed yet,” he said, scowling. “I may have to take it out.”
Biker Two looked truly stricken. “I know a good landscaper,” he said. “He might be able to save it.”
That’s when I realized these bad boys were RUBS—Rich Urban Bikers—most over 40, posing as weekend outlaws. Judging by the price of new bikes, I knew these “outlaws” had a lot of spare coin. They’d have to. A new model starts at nine grand and revs quickly from there. Their rides were equipped with satellite radio, multi-disc CD players, intercoms, GPS, radar detectors, heated seats, and—I’m not kidding—cup holders.
Today’s riders aren’t afraid of rival motorcycle gangs or, as in the movie Easy Rider shotgun-toting sociopaths in pickup trucks. No, their big fear is woodland creatures. Collisions with deer and wild turkeys top the list. Low-flying mallards and even fat June bugs can maim. “The hickey from hell” one victim called the latter. I worry that somewhere out there, a hummingbird or chipmunk has my name on it.
Yet, some things never change. Bikes are still chick magnets. I discovered this when I pulled up to a coffee shop one day. I’d just shut off my engine when an attractive young woman strolled over. “Nice bike,” she said with a smile. Cool.
“Thanks,” I said with a low growl. Way cool. Then I made a major mistake. I took off my helmet. In the harsh light of midday, the young lady took it all in—my thinning hair, gray temples, and squint lines. Not cool.
“Well, um, you take care,” she said, as if speaking to her grand-father, before quickly backing away.
The other constant about riding is that people think you’re wrestling with a midlife crisis or showing off a new guy toy. In my case, my youth isn’t worth capturing, much less recapturing. And I’m too old for a midlife crisis. The truth is: I’m too cheap to buy all the RUB gear—though I was tempted by the cup holder—and I’ll never be a badass. I just want to ride.