I had one of the best rides of my life today. It wasn't on a racetrack, at least not physically. It wasn't for an incredibly long distance either. There was nothing remarkable about it other than the fact that I was on my GTR cafe racer, the sun was shining, and it was almost 50 degrees ABOVE zero!
It wasn't supposed to be this way. All the weather pundits and witch doctors agreed that it would rain ferociously from sullen, cloud-choked skies from Friday right through until sometime in the middle of next week. On Saturday, I was at work at nine thirty in the morning when the power was knocked out by high winds and falling trees. So you can imagine my surprise when, sitting in my garage this morning, fettling this and polishing that, the sun appeared suddenly through a break in the clouds. I peered at it skeptically for several long moments. I walked out into the middle of the yard, and scanned the horizon for 360 degrees. No doubt about it, the clouds were slowly breaking up, and it was starting to get warmer!
A rush of adrenaline surged through me as I ran back to the garage and pulled "Moriarty", (yes, I've re-named him again...), my faithful Bridgestone GTR, out into the light for the first time in almost 5 months. All his control cables, chain, nuts, bolts, and tire pressure were adjusted to perfection. He wasn't completely clean and polished, I was planning on doing that over the course of the next several days of bad weather, but it would be absolutely criminal to miss an opportunity like this. The only nagging question was whether 100 octane race gas, with no stinking additives, had remained stable during the long winter storage. This question was answered on the seventh kick, as a cloud of blue smoke erupted from the pipes and "The Devil's Own Chainsaw" shattered the stillness of a sleepy Sunday morning. I had to hold the enricher open for quite awhile, while simultaneously blipping the throttle, just to keep him running. I'm sure this really endeared me to my neighbors, but they know me by now. To complain at this point would be like somebody moving in next to an airport and then whining to city hall about jet noise.
Satisfied that he was ready to roll, I shut him down and ran into the house to suit up. No leather snowmobile bibs this time, no balaclava, just pure motorcycle riding gear today. I put on a wool scarf to protect my throat against the 40-some degree wind, and selected my full-face Arai Renegade rather than my customary pudding bowl and goggles. After informing my wife and the Wee Savage (daughter Emily) of my intentions, I went back out the door for the familiar take-off ritual. I rotated the kickstart outward, but then thought better of it. Turning on the ignition, I pulled in the clutch and snicked it into first gear. Then, running a few steps down the slope of the driveway, I jumped on sidesaddle and bump-started the beast. Swinging my right leg over, I turned down the street and brought Moriarty slowly up through the gears. The air was crisp, and the raspy howl of Moriarty's disc-valve twin echoed off the houses on either side of the road. Taking a deep breath, I experienced the two words which I could use to describe my entire ride: Profound Joy!
Keeping to the city streets and a sedate 30mph speed limit, I rode slowly and savored every sensation. All the while I was listening and feeling for any unusual vibrations or noises, but the faithful GTR was simply chomping at the bit and waiting to be unleashed. Noting the sand almost everywhere on the roads, I decided caution should rule the day. No weaving to heat up the tires, no scraping the pegs around corners, just a simple putt past all my familiar haunts. First stop was Dunn Brother's on Grand Avenue, for a mocha and a blueberry scone. Parking up, right in front, we drew many appreciative glances. I always enjoy watching guys walk up to the bike, squint at it for a bit, and then seeing that comic-book question mark pop up above their head as they try to figure out just what in the heck that thing is, anyway. The only clue is the "350 GTR" badge on the left side cover, and that is the side away from the curb. So finally I call out "`68 Bridgestone GTR!", and the inevitable conversation ensues. I find this interface with complete strangers one of the most satisfying parts of owning a vintage bike. I believe it was Adam Novitt who wrote about a similar experience a couple weeks ago, but I was too lost in my Minnesota Winter Funk to appreciate it at the time. I believe the word I used was "Rant", and for that, Adam, I apologize.
Back on the bike, after another theatrical run-and-bump start down the middle of Grand Avenue, I rode down West River Road to enjoy the scenery. The Lycra-Clad Trotters were out in force on the paths along the river. I felt like a one-man parade as several of them waved to me and I spend a lot of time waving back. Something about that Bridgestone sound really attracts their attention. The bluffs along the river reflect that sound back to me, and there is no way I can hold to the 25mph speed limit along the parkway for very long. As soon as I can see about a half mile down the road, and satisfy myself there are no speed traps in my immediate future, I twist the throttle and let it rip through a couple gears. Cresting a hill, I test the TLS brake on the front, which brings me back to legal velocity with a moderate two-fingered squeeze.
I stopped at my secret source for race gas and filled the tank, on my way to Bob's Java Hut. The price for 100 octane is up to $2.49 a gallon now, $.50 more than last season, but still a bargain for the trouble-free running, possible extra performance, and especially that wonderful smell! At Bob's I notice a few other hearty souls have taken advantage of nature's oversight today. There is an old Yamaha 175 enduro parked up on the corner, a GS-something BMW on knobby tires and lanky suspension, and a T595 Triumph Daytona in Basic Black, with a fancy titanium aftermarket exhaust. I get a simple cup of coffee at the counter and am very lucky to hot-seat into a just vacated table by the window. The joint is packed today, mostly with the too-hip, strung-out, uptown Minneapolis crowd. But the bikers are coming back, and will soon take over for another season of bench racing and outrageous lies. I sit there only long enough to warm up and finish my one cup, then it's back down the road I know not where...
I end up at a local Irish pub called Molly Quinn's. Inside, it's like being magically transported to the Island Kingdom, with authentic accents and a choice of several different brands of Stout, Ales, and of course Harp's bitter lager. I order a pint of Guinness and sit back to soak up the ambience. This is what cafe racing is all about, here in America at the turn of the century. The agents of law enforcement have become too overbearing and technically adept for us to engage in ton-up antics on urban streets. A bike in impound and my ass in jail is too steep a price to pay for a little testicle-tightening thrill, especially when access to a racetrack is only a month away. So I content myself by sipping my Guinness and gazing at my motorcycle out the window on this brilliant spring day, and count my blessings. When I get home, I will do some more work on my Cafe Scrambler project, and maybe take the girls out for a walk if this weather holds until sunset. It's been a long, cold winter here, but one day like this can erase months of boredom and frustration if you let it. The sun is shining... It's time to ride!