In Which The Author, And His Son, Acquire Motorcycles

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I didn’t ride a real, clutch-and-shift motorcycle until I was fifteen years old, when I managed to cajole a friend of a friend into letting me ride his 250 dirt bike around my neighborhood for an afternoon. Nor have I ever received any in-person instruction in motorcycle operation. Not to worry; I learned the skill by osmosis, watching two episodes of Eighties television. The first episode was the episode of Miami Vice where Danny Sullivan races a Ninja 600 against his father in a parking garage. From that, I learned body positioning and the idea that motorcycles steer by turning towards the apex at low speeds and away from the apex at high speeds. (This idea, known as countersteering, is apparently controversial. Some people really think that you steer a bike at freeway speeds by turning, not leaning.)

That’s an important lesson, but the critical thing, the knowledge that allowed me to ride away on that dirt bike without embarrassing myself, came from an episode of “Simon and Simon”. You probably don’t remember this, but “Simon and Simon” is basically a TV show about what would happen if Bark M. and I opened a private detective agency. The older brother is an unrefined boor who waves a .44 Magnum around and drives a Dodge Power Wagon — that would be me, of course. The younger brother is very suave and handsome and doesn’t like to get his hands dirty.

In one episode, they’re chasing a bad guy who hops on a motorcycle and rides away. There are two Harleys sitting around so the brothers jump on. Now, of course the younger Simon has no idea how to operate a Harley so the older brother yells, as he’s riding off in pursuit,

“There’s nothing to it! First is down, the other four are up!”


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When I was twenty-two years old, I bought a Ninja 600 like the “Miami Vice” bikes, only in the slightly cooler black-and-red paint scheme. I rode the Ninja for two years before selling it. My next bike, which I bought at the age of twenty-eight, was a cafe-racer CB550. The following year, flush with money from Year 2000 consulting, I sold the CB, paid cash for a new black YZF600R, and bought my brother-in-law’s Honda CM250 Rebel from him. The following year, I sold both of those bikes so I could make room in my garage for a Lotus Seven clone.

For a decade, I didn’t own a bike. Then, motivated by middle-aged restlessness, I bought Kellee, my second CB550.. Kellee was absolutely wonderful — but her fuel tank sprung dozens of pinhole leaks and by the end of the summer in 2013 it wouldn’t hold more than a gallon of gas at a time. So I resolved to fix the issue in the spring of 2014, but fate intervened in the form of my January crash. That set me back a full year. I bought a new fuel tank for Kellee a few months ago, and I made plans to have a friend of mine help me get her back into running condition.

Those were my motorcycling plans for 2015 — but when a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to trade him a guitar (and a few bucks) for a VFR800 25th Anniversary, I couldn’t refuse. The 25th Anniversary Interceptor, with its paint scheme that harks back to the VF750R and VF1000R bikes of my teenaged dreams, is my favorite version of one of my favorite bikes. More importantly, unlike the Ducati 1198 Pangiale Tricolore that is also one of my favorite bikes, I can ride it without too much pain.

The bike arrived last week. It’s rained pretty much every day since then.

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I got caught in the mother of all Ohio severe thunderstorms last Wednesday night and I have to admit that it frightened me a bit. Still, the VFR proved to be a capable all-weather Interceptor (get it?) and we made it home just fine.

In my mid-forties, I’ve become a remarkably docile rider. The front wheel of the VFR hasn’t left the ground and the speedometer hasn’t registered anything over 95mph. I watch the traffic around me and I’m defensively courteous. I ordered the top-spec Arai helmet that I couldn’t afford in my early twenties and a high-visibility Fieldsheer all-weather jacket with armored back, elbows, and chest.

When the aforementioned items came in stock yesterday, after my son’s sixth birthday party, I took him with me to pick up the goods. Of course, he found this:

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That’s a Yamaha PW50. Watching him pretend to ride it filled me with conflicting emotions, which I shall describe thusly:

* I wanted a motorcycle for pretty much every moment of my childhood, but my Brooklyn-born father was no more going to get me a dirt bike than he was going to take me to the Grand Ole Opry. It goes without saying that nobody in my entire extended family has ever owned a motorcycle, except for me, the official White Trash Baruth.
* 50cc motorcycles are very fast and the neck of a just-turned-six-year-old child is fragile and that, to me, is a bad and dangerous combination.
* But if he doesn’t learn about motorcycles from me, he’ll do what I did when he’s a teenager — he’ll find a bike to ride and I won’t know about it or have any way to make sure he’s riding safely.

All the way home from the bike shop I thought about this. Meanwhile, John was talking about motorcycles non-stop. Although he thought my VFR was “the dumbest motorcycle ever”, he really liked the dirt bikes and the Monster-style Ducatis. John is remarkably sensitive to things like this; he can tell, somehow, that the VFR is an old man’s motorcycle. He immediately and correctly identified the 160-horsepower GSXR-1000, the fabled “Gixxer thou” of my adult dreams, as “much cooler than your motorcycle”.

He also liked the Ninjas and I recalled that Power Wheels makes a “Ninja” four-wheeler so we stopped by Toys R Us on the way home. Once he was there, however, he immediately went for the two-wheel electric dirt bikes. After trying on a few for size, we settled on an “Avigo Extreme 24 Volt”.

When we got home, I assembled the thing, made sure it didn’t have too much charge in it, and then I gave him a long lecture about responsibility and not twisting the throttle too hard. “You’re going to crash this today, so make sure you’re going slowly.”

While he prepared to roll off, I thought about the call I’d gotten from my own father when I bought my Ninja. The old man was so angry he could barely speak. At the time, I attributed this anger to fifty percent middle-class disdain for sportbikes and fifty percent his desire to make sure I never enjoyed a moment of my life in any fashion. As John spun the back tire on the damp grass next to my house and rode away, with me running in pursuit, I realized that Dad’s super-uncool behavior was actually one hundred percent fear of having his son killed.

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“SLOW DOWN! SLOW DOWN! SLOW! SLOW! SLOW!” But I needn’t have worried. John was apparently born to operate a motorcycle. He could ride it slowly, he could ride it quickly, he could turn it, he could manipulate the 62-pound bulk of the thing, he could pick it up when it fell over.

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We went over to the meadow behind my house and John showed me that he could ride up and down hills. When he chose a hill too steep for the charge-depleted motor to conquer, he jumped off and let the bike slide down behind him like he’d been hill-climbing for a decade.

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Two grade-school children from our neighborhood walked out of their houses and just stared at him with a caged-up middle-class longing I remembered from when I was eleven and my fourteen-year-old at school got mopeds. (Yes, I managed to cajole my way onto a moped back then as well. It’s a wonder I survived.) John rode for twenty minutes or so, becoming increasingly bold and terrifying with the throttle, until I called time on things and we walked the bike back home.

“Did you know, Dad, that I saw a video at the motorcycle store while you were looking at the other motorcycles and it showed me that you can jump motorcycles over things and do flips and take your hands off the handlebars and jump into lakes and…”

“You,” I interrupted, “cannot do any of those things!

“Someday I can,” he responded, with the unspoken and you won’t be able to stop me hanging in the air between us.

“Well, maybe someday… someday you can. But today, we have the scariest trick of all time ahead of us, after we put the motorcycle away.”

“What’s that, Dad?”

“We have to tell your mother about this.”

42 Replies to “In Which The Author, And His Son, Acquire Motorcycles”

  1. Mental

    My favorite post you have ever made.

    I don’t regret my childless ways, but I do still dream of teaching my child to ride. I have been forbidden to do any such to any niece or nephew in my family.

    I enjoyed your take with a Hurrican on COTA, loved the tales of that Maca in Colorado, and the Wraith in L.A. I am borderline jealous about your chance to work on PCOTY, but this post has filled me with serious envy. Clearly you recognize the glory and importance of that day, or you wouldn’t have shared it.

    You good sir, have the life. It pleases me to see the moment was not wasted on someone with less appreciation.

    And old man bike or no (I say no) that VFR is friggin gorgeous, and if you decide its not for you, I would like to politely request first right of refusal, or 2nd if the owner has it already.

    Reply
  2. jz78817

    my first time riding a motorcycle (on the road) was last year, at age 39. I only wish I had been able to start at an earlier age, ‘cos I’m hooked. you’ve definitely got the right idea with John, if he’s interested in them this is your chance to instill a safe riding mindset in him. ‘cos that first time I went to venture out on the road, I was fucking terrified. Well, for about five minutes. Then it was all good.

    I’ll probably be plunking down for a bike this year once I find different living arrangements. I’m a cruiser guy and a bit of a homer so chances are pretty good it’ll be a H-D Sportster; other people try and say I should go for a bigger one like a Dyna series but I’m fairly short and the bigger ones can be too wide for my comfort. The bigger Japanese cruisers are even worse in that respect.

    Reply
    • Jack Post author

      The XR1200R and XR1200X Sportsters are legitimately rapid and have that cool “On Any Sunday” vibe to them. And they’ll smoke a 1340 Harley.

      Reply
  3. His Mother

    So let’s be transparent here. I get a text yesterday asking if it is ok to buy John a 6mph 12 volt 4-wheeled PowerWheels vehicle. They are made for 2-6 year olds, so I chuckled at the idea, but was having a pleasant day myself and did not feel like discussing it, so I said that I had no concerns with that.

    John comes home and says he has been given a dirt bike. No, I was not pleased. The item in question is 14mph, 24volts, 150% of his weight and rated for ages 14-18. After researching it further, lots of people are letting their 5 year olds ride them, so ok. But a tip to other fathers out there would be to not be deceptive when you want to get your son something cool.

    Will all of Jack’s loyal readers please tell him to get his kid a full face helmet, chest protector and wrist protectors for this? Regardless of the bike in question, he is riding down hills and as he puts it, “sideways on hills.” A little peer pressure will help here πŸ™‚

    Reply
    • jz78817

      Jack, get your kid a full face helmet, chest protector and wrist protectors.

      (heck, I wear full gear. ATGATT.)

      Reply
    • Acd

      So am I the only one who thinks it might be fun to have His Mother run a counterpoint to Jack every now and then?

      And by all means Jack get the kid the gear!

      Reply
    • Mike

      Jack,
      Get the gear, do an honest risk assessment and communicate the risks to the lad. Children often do dangerous things because they don’t know it’s dangerous. Don’t ask me how I know…

      Reply
    • Mental

      Yeah, get him used to wearing ATGATT and as he grows in this hobby it will feel natural.

      Plus, chest protectors and a motorcross helmet with goggles look cool.

      Reply
  4. Don Curton

    I was lucky growing up, we had 200+ acres of land to ride on, 30 minutes outside of town, plus 20 miles of dirt road to boot. Several of my friends had parents with land out in the country to go visit also. Me and my brothers rode every honda from the XR-75 to the CR500. I had more wrecks than I can count, and somehow managed to always get back up. When I transitioned to street riding, most of the stupid was already beaten out of me.

    My own kids were plagued by a) a Mom that said no and meant it, and b) no legitimate place to ride. I’d have hidden a dirt bike somewhere had there been a place, but sadly the world is more crowded and less fun.

    Reply
  5. Robert

    Congratulations on the bikes! I was wondering what that was on the porch behind the M235.

    I’m trying hard not to buy myself an “old man’s motorcycle” – the retro CB1100. It would be the perfect sequel to my much beloved and missed 82 CB900F Super Sport.

    When John is ready for gasoline power, you can’t go wrong with the PW50. It comes with a removable restrictor plate in the exhaust port, and a set screw for limiting the maximum throttle opening. Neither cuts down on the top speed very much, but slows the acceleration quite a bit. They are extremely low maintenance and quite durable – I still have a running 92 model that has survived 5 boys and one very fast girl learning to ride on it.

    Reply
    • Jack Post author

      Prior to the VFR becoming available, I’d thought long and hard about that CB1100. Although I think I prefer the CB1000R.

      Reply
  6. Ronnie Schreiber

    You have to teach him that if he rides on the road, drivers will try to kill him, sometimes on purpose, though the same is true of bicycles.

    Speaking of which, and countersteering on a bike, when I started cycling seriously, I was taught that the fastest way to make an emergency swerve on a two wheeled vehicle is to hard steer (not lean) the bike away from the direction you want to go. It’s a bit counterintuitive but it works. The bike will reacted by trying to stabilize itself and lean hard into the direction you want to go. It’s faster than just trying to lean into the turn. The one time I needed to use it, when a car that was passing me suddenly turned into a driveway, crossing my path, the maneuver didn’t let me completely avoid contact, but I was able to get the bike mostly parallel to the car so I ended up with bruises, not broken bones. Actually, the car was more damaged than my bike, where the fender hit my thigh and where my hand pushed off on the C pillar there were dents.

    Reply
    • jz78817

      You have to teach him that if he rides on the road, drivers will try to kill him, sometimes on purpose, though the same is true of bicycles.

      yep. as much as I dislike cliquish behavior, it wasn’t long after I started riding where I was cursing those “idiot fucking cagers.”

      Reply
  7. mnm4ever

    And in news that surprised absolutely no one, Jack Baruth’s son is turning out to be quite the daredevil… πŸ™‚

    You will have your hands full, but you will have a really good time. Get yourself a decent dirtbike or at least a dual sport, and guide him into trail riding and off road, rather than on-road riding. The danger factor is reduced x100, but the fun factor increased by x10 at least. And you can ride together, you probably have a couple years left til he can smoke you. πŸ™‚

    Reply
  8. Nick D

    Motorcycle passion burned red hot in my teenage heart until a very close friend’s father – I was close to him as well – died in a solo motorcycle crash test riding a bike for his son – my friend. He was a former state trooper who rode daily for the state police and wasn’t some yahoo out for kicks. They think a deer or other animal was in the road and he hit a very poorly located tree on the outside of a blind corner.

    Enough of the Debbie downer, My friend got a triumph and still rides occasionally. Now that I’ve got life insurance and truthfully answered ‘no’ about owning a powered bike, I’m thinking about finally getting one.

    In the interim, the siren song of a razor crazy cart for my son (and crazy cart xl for me) may be hard to resist.

    Reply
  9. mnm4ever

    Jack, how do you like the CB500 now compared to the more modern bike? I have an itch for a retro cafe racer / scrambler style bike for occasional fun commutes. But my experienced riding buddies say I will hate the old bikes like that in real world use. So now I’ve been looking into the brand new Ducati Scrambler as a modern version. But that’s a lot more money than even a highly custom classic bike. Any advice?

    Reply
    • Jack Post author

      Oh, an old CB is such a pain in the ass compared to a modern bike. It’s cranky, it’s slow, it’s wobbly.

      You have to think of it EXACTLY like owning a 1975 MGB. The gap in performance and usability between the CB and the VFR is as big as the gap between a 1975 MGB and a 2007 Porsche 997.

      But with that said, it’s still charming and wonderful and fun around town.

      Reply
      • mnm4ever

        I don’t really have any desire to own an old MG so I guess my friends might be right about looking at newer bikes. Thats why I really liked that Ducati, seems like a good combination of classic looks with a modern bike. I am also considering older Monsters, or maybe a new dual sport instead.

        Reply
    • jz78817

      see, bikes like the CB500 piss me off. they look like something easy to ride, but I went to the show in Cleveland and the Honda booth had a couple. I realize by modern standards I’m pretty short (I’m between 5’6″ and 5’7″ depending on what convenience store I’m leaving (/Ron White)) but the CBs they had available I couldn’t even flat foot.

      Reply
      • Rambo Furum

        Flatfooting is for cruiser riders that lack rudimentary maneuvering skills. The bike will roll with a tap of the toe, and even better with the motor turning the wheels. One can always push by walking alongside, if they end up parked in some inconvenient way.
        Petite women are also capable of lifting 800+ pound bikes on their own when taught proper technique.

        Reply
      • mnm4ever

        Are you talking about the classic CB500? The ones I have seen are very small bikes, you shouldn’t have a problem flat footing with them. I am short too, so I know what you mean. I don’t feel remotely comfortable on tall bikes like the BMWs or Aprilias, even the Suzuki DR400SM is a bit too tall for me. Sure I CAN ride it with just a single tow touching at stoplights, but I don’t want to. Then again, I see big guys riding smaller bikes and they look silly, so I understand why most bikes are simply too tall for me.

        Reply
  10. Dirty Dingus McGee

    And so it begins.

    I have had some form of 2 wheeled motorized vehicle for nearly 50 years. Got a Sears mini bike( 3.5 hp Briggs, almost 1″ of rear suspension travel, rear sprocket was almost the same size as the tire) at age 8. From there on an array of dirt bikes, starting with a Hodaka on up through OSSA Pioneer set up for B class enduro in my early/mid teens. Kept the dirt bikes even when I started riding on the street. Finally stopped riding dirt bikes in my mid 30’s, due to discovering(several times) that I didn’t bounce like I did at 15 and tended to hurt for several days after each “off”. These days I have 6 street bikes, adventure tourer’s, full dress baggers, stripped down hot rod “bar hoppers” and a couple “naked” bikes.

    Dirt bike riding should be a requirement before anyone goes on the street. When you are learning, you ARE going to fall down. In my experience grass hurt far less than pavement. And you also learn a lot about control; how to handle a skid, a power on slide, threshold braking, and when it all goes to hell, HOW to fall.

    As others have said, get him all the gear and if caught riding without it(he will), no riding for a week or 2. Worked for me and I’m as stubborn as a mule.

    Reply
    • Mike

      Dirt bike riding leads to safer street riding. I know because 16 year old me bought a Suzuki GS550 for $300 from a sketchy guy in a trailer park and forged his parents signature for consent on the permit form. How did I ride that bike? Not very well and like an idiot. I realize my luck now and my mom and dad were totally justified in making me sell it when they found out I hid a bike from them by stashing it at a girl’s house with “cool” parents.

      When I started riding dirt bikes later on, the extreme terrain exposed how terrible a rider I really was. And that’s coming from an experienced mountain biker. That practice made me confident enough to recently buy a street legal dual sport. I intend to keep it on trails and off the road as much as possible. Trails are safer, more fun, and a hell of a workout.

      Reply
  11. mcarr

    I grew up in New Mexico, land of dirt bikes, but never owned one. I sometimes got to ride my friends Honda 50cc, or maybe a 125cc. I longed for a dirt bike, but there was no way I was ever going to get one.

    I have 4 boys and they all learned to ride bicycles without training wheels by the age of 4. It was always humorous to watch them ride circles around the 8 year old neighbor kids that were still using training wheels. We got the youngest 2 a Razor electric dirt bike, and they took to that the same way they did to bikes. They haven’t laid it down yet, and they are fearless. We also have a 3.5 hp mini bike that the older two boys ride, and they talk about getting a 6.5 hp motor for it. I can see the day coming where we will own dirt bikes.

    Those electric bikes are a ton of fun. They go way better than I thought they would and I would’ve killed to have one as a kid. Plus you don’t have to tinker with it every other ride like you do with the gas powered mini bike.

    Reply
  12. Pingback: dustbury.com » Base of the learning curve

  13. -Nate

    This is GREAT NEWS Jack ! .

    When my Son decided he wanted to ride he was almost 13 , I got him a Moto and paid for the Iron Horse Training so he wouldn’t learn bad habits from me…

    Not surprisingly , he’s a far better and faster rider than I was in my best dreams .

    ATG , ATT is _mandatory_ ~ the _ONLY_ reason I’m still alive right now is because I was fully geared up when the farking gypsy cab ran me over at a red light….

    Have fun ! , he sure will , no matter what Mom says .

    The best way for her to keep any control is to join in , not be negative .

    Scary , isn’t it ? (watching your Son ride) . my Pops must have about had kittens ~ he bought me my first helmet , I never ride without one now , gloves and jacket too .

    -Nate

    Reply
  14. jz78817

    ATG , ATT is _mandatory_ ~ the _ONLY_ reason I’m still alive right now is because I was fully geared up when the farking gypsy cab ran me over at a red light….

    yep. I won’t get on a bike w/o a good helmet (something better than those brain buckets some Harley guys use) a textile jacket w/armor, and heavy riding jeans (also with armor.)

    I just don’t get the Harley guys who insist on riding without a helmet. I especially don’t get the squids who buy high-hp sportbikes and ride around on them wearing t-shirt, shorts, flip-flops, and no helmet.

    Reply
  15. Clayton

    I would have thought an old z50 (which has a throttle limit set screw) would be more manageable and slower than that 24v bike. (When the throttle limit is maxed out).
    I learned on a 70s z50 and atc70 in the late 80s. It was perfect.

    Reply
  16. Clayton

    On a different note, now that you both have bikes you can tool around mid-Ohio for the Vintage Motorcycle Days.
    You can show him other bike styles and how to negotiate if you wanted to buy anything there.

    Reply
  17. WiredChuck

    John thinks a VFR is an old man bike, huh? Good god, please don’t tell him I sold that and kept the GS…

    Reply
    • Jack Post author

      The two guys in my department at work who ride bikes to the office both have dual-sports of some kind, and they are younger than I am. I always thought of dual-sport bikes as the Official Motorcycle Of Guys Who Don’t Tap Any Ass At All but I might be wrong. πŸ™‚

      Reply

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