To Ride an Iron Horse - Jack of the Green's Blog
"So what I'm wondering, Trevor, is if you'll take $750 for it."
Trevor is a nineteen year old college student who lives in Mantua, a fairly rural town in the middle of Sardine Canyon between
Brigham City and Logan. Mantua is an off-roaders paradise, sitting as it does at the mouth of a network of back-country dirt
trails connecting Logan and Ogden canyons. To travel from one canyon to the other on a paved road takes more than a hour -- in the
dirt, just a few minutes.
Mantua is so off-road friendly, in fact, that residents of the town can apply for a 'limited use' registration for dirt bikes, four
wheelers and other ATVs that allow them legal travel on the city streets. In is just one such vehicle, a 1994 Kawasaki KDX250,
that Trevor and I are haggling about. My wife and I went to Mantua to see it a couple days earlier, and decided to make an offer.
"I can't man, I gotta get at least $900 for it."
This offer is both preposterous for this vehicle, and totally within my budget. A week prior, my ex-wife and I finally sold the
condo we'd lived in for three years. It's a bittersweet sort of moment for me -- I've got $1,500 to spend on whatever the hell I
want and my wife -- my new, wonderful, beautiful wife -- has insisted I spend it on the sort of thing my ex would never have
allowed me to purchase. So that's sweet. It's bitter because we only owed $55,000 on a three bedroom condo that appraised for
$78,000. My ex, in her vindictivness, refused to show the home to anyone but the buyer she arranged, and that particular
buyer soaked up most of our $23,000 equity making us buy him all new hardwood floors and a professional repaint of the entire
house. A worse deal for a seller there has rarely been, but the ex has the only set of keys and believes that if we sell the condo
to the buyer she found, instead of one the realtor I hired could find, she can get outta paying for the realtor's commission. That
lesson cost her $10,000 to learn, but she's not the sort to count the cost of such things.
"Com'n Trevor, we both know I have to put a new back tire on that bike."
"Yeah, that's true."
"I'll go $800, that's the best I can do."
"Yeah, alright. I'll take eight for it."
"Great! We'll be there to pick it up tomorrow."
So began my adventure into the world of motorcycles. I'd never ridden before, except for one disastrous event on my cousin's bike
WAYYYY back when I was seventeen. From that particular experience I took only two lessons -- one, make sure the spring return on
your throttle is always in good working order. Two, always wear a helmet.
My lovely wife is and was an avid motorcyclist. She spent her teen years proving that girls can ride too, competing in desert
races all over Utah and the West. A couple days before we went to see the KDX in Mantua, we brought her bike home from her
parent's house, a 1998 Yamaha YZ125. It had been in storage there for seven years, which also happens to be how old her son, my
stepson, is. Now that he's older, she's been thinking of doing some riding again, and the impending sale of the condo was just the
excuse we needed to make it a double interest. So the YZ -- Tawanda, she calls it -- is in the basement now, soon to be joined by
the KDX, which I will be naming "Green-Man."
What follows is The Summer in Which I Learn to Ride. I don't mean to boast, but I've always had an affinity for vehicles and I
picked it up pretty quick. By our third time out I was tearing across the old railroad grades criss-crossing the backcountry by
Promintory Point at 70+ miles an hour in that hard, slippery KDX saddle, the 250cc two-stroke single piston motor beneath me
thrumming like a colony of killer bees. The blue YZ in front of me with the sexy blonde astride it always pulls ahead when the
road gets curvy, but in the straights it's no contest. That's still the case to this day -- my wife rides very well.
The learning was not without it's mishaps though. The first time I tried to climb a steep grade on the KDX, I attempting it in
First gear, reasoning that I'd need the power. Well, for those of you who don't know yet, a two-stroke 250cc is perfectly capable
of climbing in Second. If you try it in First, you're liable to wind up like I did -- at the top of the climb with the front wheel
standing straight up and the rear tire churning to beat the band. My instincts were good on that day -- not fantasic, but good --
and I simply slid backwards onto my feet and released my beast to the sky. Green-Man flew that day, and aside from a few scuffs on
an already-cracked rad shroud, took very little damage from the event.
We rode a few more times that summer, towing the bikes behind our Kia Sportage to the few spots close enough to make a comfortable
day trip. We stored the bikes in the basement when the weather got cold, but by then we'd got a taste of two-wheeled locomotion
that would prove more voracious than a few weekends a year could satisfy.
Towards the end of that first winter, we spent a few bones to get some much-needed repairs done on my wife's car, a 2000 Neon. It
had been sitting, unregistered and uninsured, for nearly a year at that point, suffering from some mechanical maladay that a local
mechanic had been unable to cure despite having been paid nearly $800 to do just that the previous summer. We found a new
mechanic, though, and he corrected the problem for a fraction of that cost. I'll someday be famous enough to trash the reputation
of that first shop, but now is not the time. Anyway, following the payment and labors of our new, fantastic mechanic Sean, who
owns Frank's Auto in North Ogden, Utah, we found ourselves in a rare situation -- we had one car too many. My 2000 Ford Focus, our
2007 Kia Sportage, and the newly operational Neon. What could be better to do with a spare car, my wife and I wondered, than to
sell it and buy a road bike? That's exactly what we did, and in March of 2011 we bought Bad Romance, a 2003 Honda Shadow ACE 750.
We debated taking the MSF BRC -- a silly notion for my wife, given her level of experience -- and while probably not a bad idea for
me, we talked to a buddy who had just completed the same course and decided I'd already advanced beyond what they could teach me in
the BRC. A better use of our money, we decided, would be to get our permits and put in some miles, then take the ARC together
We played a polite, loving game of tug-of-war with the Shadow for the first three months. In Utah, you get a six-month learner's
permit and have to pass the road test by the end of those six months. For the first 60 days of your learner's permit, there are
restrictions. No riding on roads with posted speed limits 60 or higher, no riding between the hours of 10:00pm and 5:00am, and no
riding with passengers. I'm proud to say we never broke those restrictions, not even once. Somewhere along the way we tried to
take the dirt bikes out again and had a simply terrible experience. Nothing dangerous mind you, just mechanical failures with the
KDX, and by the end of that day I was ready to sell the dirt bike and all my gear lock, stock and barrel. I was having WAY more
fun on asphalt anyway.
My wife, in the greatest show of love and compassion and selfless devotion ever seen anywhere on Earth, sold her YZ too, and with the proceeds from those sales we completed our collection of gear and bought another road bike, a 1984 Magna V65. Grendel, I named him, because he was big and ugly. I wont go into gory detail of my experience with a poorly maintained 25+ year old V4 Honda with 40,000 miles on the odometer, but I spent that summer -- last summer -- learning two important lessons. First, I learned that a sub-liter bike has enough power for my tastes. That ballsy 1100cc in the Magna provided way more oomph than I needed, and a whole lot more than I trust myself with. I regularly took that bike up to a buck-ten on the interstate, and as fun as it was, it was stupid as hell. Second, I learned that though I enjoy riding bikes very much, and am capable of performing repairs on them, I'm certainly not into restoration. I wavered back and forth with wanting to restore that Magna, and wanting to kick it over in disgust. Brakes, clutch, turn signals, overheating, the list goes on and on. It spent more time that summer inoperable than ridable, and last spring I sold Grendel and bought PowerSlave, the 2001 Vulcan 800 Classic you can find pictured in my other posts.
For those of you keeping track, I've owned three bikes -- KDX, V65, Vulcan -- in two years. Also, if you know much about two-strokes, you also know that I've bought progessively less powerful bikes, rather than more powerful. Let that be a lesson to you noobies reading this -- sometimes, you downgrade rather than upgrade and have more fun doing it. At least, I did.
So, that's the first installment of "To Ride an Iron Horse", my blog detailing my burgeoning love affair with motorcycles. I will try to post on this as regularly as I can until we're up to the present, and feel free to reply with whatever questions or insights you may have.
- Jack of the Green