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[End Page 108]
I began riding motorcycles when I was ten. Son to motorcycle riders, grandson to motorcycle riders, [End Page 109] nephew to motorcycle riders, it was never a question of if but of when. My first motorbike—a 1987 Yamaha YSR50, street legal, 50cc’s, styled to look like the Supersport racers of its day—was purchased by my father and grandfather and snuck into the house on Christmas morning, complete with a red bow on its tank. It was white and red and impossibly fast, even at rest.
Until that Christmas morning, I had been content as a passenger, sitting behind my father on his string of Harley-Davidsons. As of ten o’clock that morning, however, I was a rider, as far as he was concerned. He pushed the bike outside, into the center of our cul-de-sac. He placed it on its side stand, put my helmet on the seat.
“Get on and start her up,” he said.
I just wanted to stare at it for a while, to sit on it and make engine noises. I was scared of it, though I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time. The bike was too heavy for my scrawny ten-year-old body. My old Bell helmet rattling on my head, the motor running, the whole bike vibrating beneath me, I asked only to hang on and not tip it over as my family looked on. I rode in tentative circles, barely cracking the throttle. Round and round I rode in first gear, my father jogging beside me, shouting directions. Then gear shifts. Then farther up the street, until my father was on his Harley, riding next to me, goading me past our stop sign and onto the open road, down to the Pic-Quick for a candy bar. I was soon bopping along behind my father all over town, unlicensed, free.
This is how it is for motorcyclists, at least the few I know; the love of bikes is passed down from mothers to daughters, fathers to sons. All of us itch to move faster than our legs can pedal us. And in New Mexico, at any rate, no one is terribly concerned about a license. My father has never had a motorcycle endorsement. I caught the bug early in life, kept it through a string of bikes, riding my mother’s Honda, eventually getting my own Suzuki. All of them were cheap, every one a ticket to a better place, for at least a while.
When I was twenty-two, I moved with my small family from New Mexico to New York. My wife, Kira, had gotten into graduate school. My son, Aidan, headed to day care for the first time. We sold our motorcycle to pay the bills. I was two years bikeless, until the itch became unbearable. Upstate New York is made for riding. I took a class, passing the tests easily given my fourteen years’ experience, and got my license, finally, at twenty-four. [End Page 110]
I came up with a plan: a chance at both a bike and a new skill set. Old bikes are everywhere up here, putting along. I would buy an antique, I said. They were cheaper, after all. Even a poor college instructor and his grad-student wife could afford an old bike. I would ride when it ran and fix it when it didn’t. I formed a romantic notion of myself, covered in grease and grinning into a gale, my soon-to-be purchased motorcycle humming along beneath me, eating tarmac at 55. I tripped through Craigslist, sending links to my father—who used to be a mechanic—asking for advice. These bikes, most of them far older than me, most of them the desirable motorcycles of his youth, spoke to him as well. Soon enough, we had invented an entire narrative of a cross-continental motorcycle restoration project, he the brains of the outfit, generally experienced with a wrench, I the brawn and wrench-wielder, when needed. We e-mailed back and forth...