I’m knocking on the laminated wood of my desk as I write this, but it looks like I finally have my CB550 almost entirely sorted out. The new fuel tank is leaky, but it only leaks around the cap. And a few zip ties have turned the transparent blue fuel lines that my friend Josh and I installed a few weeks ago from fire-spraying nightmares into perfectly usable items. The stumbling and hesitations I’m getting with every change of the throttle opening indicate that I still need a carb rebuild, but I’ll probably put that off until the winter. All in all, I covered nearly fifty trouble-free miles on the ol’ 75 between Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.
The best news of all: adding a second motorcycle to my insurance policy actually dropped my rate. I suppose they figure that any time I’m not on the VFR is good news, even if that means I’m on a forty-year-old rattletrap. Maybe they’re right. Life goes by more slowly behind the handlebars of a fifty-horsepower bike than it does behind the fairing of a 105-horsepower one.
But if what I saw Saturday afternoon is any indication, when it comes to having fun, a twenty-four-volt bike beats both of them, hands down.
Riverside Green Park sits at the end of the street where I lived from the ages of fifteen to eighteen. We unloaded John’s little motorcycle and he put on the new jersey he picked out at Competition Accessories earlier in the day. To my immense satisfaction, given a choice of four different colors he picked out the aqua jersey I’d have chosen for myself. Very Eighties BMX, dontcha know.
He’s confident now, when he rides. He can operate the kickstand and manipulate the annoyingly stiff fold-down footpegs when they fold up in a minor crash. Rolling down the small hills on the north side of the park, he reaches down and flips off the power switch until he’s back level and wants to give it some throttle. I smile to see him do it, because it’s just like the way I flip the fuel petcock shut a minute or two before reaching my destination on the CB.
Flashing through the grove of old trees, I see him only intermittently. He’s leaning hard from side to side, looking well ahead, sliding the back wheel to get around cramped spots, occasionally dropping a foot like Mert Lawwill entering the fourth turn of a horse track. Across the open field where we used to play touch football thirty years ago, he hits top speed then, as my objection stalls in my throat, flicks left and right to get around a tree and another child who has wandered into his path. Then he’s back on the throttle and heading through the trees again.
There’s a shallow hole in the ground over near the northwest corner. I spent a few years digging that hole, with my friends. It was the gap between a small-time double jump that started off just a foot tall in 1984 and wound up at waist level four years later. I tell the story about how we turned it into a fairly vicious step-down some time in eighty-seven. Having built the jump, I didn’t like the look of it. I’d already hit the trees on both sides of its predecessor more than once in the previous weeks and I thought maybe I’d built the lip too tall. While I discussed the issue with my friends, my ten-year-old brother came hauling ass down the trail and cleared it with room to spare. As I recall, that effectively ended the discussion.
At some point, John misjudges a gap, causing him to hit a tree nice and hard. “I’m okay!” he yells before I can run halfway there. He folds his pegs back down and rides away. If he is feeling hesitant, I can’t tell from the whine of the electric motor. A moment later he’s bouncing across the open field again.
He really has it, you know. He can really ride, after just a half-dozen stints on the bike. He can ride it slow, with the big motions necessary to get it turned sharply, and he can lean back and ride it fast. He has sympathy for the machine, for the speed of its reactions, for the imperfections inherent in what is really just a children’s toy. It’s easy to imagine him stretching a GSX-R down the back straight at Mid-Ohio or hip-jumping a 250 at the front of a motocross pack. He’s not afraid and he doesn’t hesitate to muscle the bars.
That evening, I run the CB550 to the redline towards the marked 20mph turn on Jewett Road before clamping the single front disc and bending in hard. I’m on the throttle early as the old Honda drifts to the white line on the outside of the turn. There’s no sense in pushing the bike like this, but for just one split-second I can experience a tiny bit of what John must have felt, brushing by the trees at top speed with some lean on the tires, the grass slippery beneath him, six years old, with the open field ahead. Then I think about what he said to CMW after Josh and I enlisted him to bolt the tank down on the CB a few weeks ago.
“I helped,” he admitted, before adding “but they didn’t really need me. Daddy could have done it without me.” As I grabbed fourth gear and felt the CB skitter beneath me on the gravel at the shoulder’s edge, I had to laugh. At his annoyance, at his desire to do more, at his childish, trusting idea that, in the year and months since January 2014, I could do anything, anything at all, without him.