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As Long as We Remember...

July 8, 2008

Christmas in the Summertime

Nick Diaz

          I just rode home from Lewiston, Maine, on my new Yamaha Venture. Rode Amtrak to Portland and met the seller at the station. A half hour later we were at the seller’s place, where the Venture was waiting for me.


            After a brief, businesslike, yet friendly exchange of funds and paperwork, and some last minute instructions, I was off to my motel room on my brand new 1988 Yamaha Venture Royale. No typo – I did mean 1988. Let’s do the math: 1988 subtracted from 2008 yields a difference of 20.


            A 20-year-old motorcycle! I had just gone through a 12-hour train ride, a modest, yet sizable (to me) investment of funds, and a good-faith transaction that culminated in my purchase of a motorcycle I had never seen before, except in detailed pictures. “Good faith” says it all – more like a hope and a prayer.


            Yet this is the third remote-transaction motorcycle I’ve purchased in the past 12 years. I’ve picked up an 850-cc Suzuki in Toledo, Ohio; my 1100 Suzuki in Boston, and now this Yamaha in Lewiston, ME. Would I do it again?


            Maybe – if this “new” Venture ever wears out, and if God gives me the will and strength to continue to pursue my life-long, two-wheeled passion.


            But that’s far off into the future. The “now” says I’m going to ride this magnificent Yamaha for quite a while and many miles. After all, I have a long way to go before I reach my goal of one million miles on two wheels.


            I’m convinced that the act of going to pick up a coveted motorcycle is one of the most satisfying occasions in life. It doesn’t have to be a new bike, or even a great classic. This Yamaha is neither.


            In fact, the cheaper and funkier the bike, the better, the more satisfying. Old bikes like this Venture, and the two Suzukis before it, are more fun. When one picks up a brand-new motorcycle, it’s like Christmas morning, yet once the package is opened, it’s done. All there’s left to do is park the motorcycle in the garage; there’s nothing left to do.


            A nice old Yamaha, or Suzuki, (or whatever), provides the same initial excitement of acquiring it; then one has the added pleasure of fixing it up, making it newer, improving its form and function. One is always opening up new packages, adding or improving something. Christmas is never quite over.


            Christmas, 2008, started when I arrived home on the Venture. The 700-mile trip home was a honeymoon, a way of getting acquainted, of assessing what is right and what is wrong, what I need to do to make it better – what presents there will be under the summer tree.


            So I started out by replacing the brake pads. It was fun to notice the similarities and contrasts between my old Suzuki and this Venture. The former, a lighter motorcycle by at least 100 pounds, has simpler, smaller brake pads, and only one piston on the floating caliper.


            The Venture has a four-piston caliper that accommodates pads of much greater surface area. It’s a heavyweight, this Venture, at a dry 800 pounds. I installed the new brakes, after much clumsy fumbling. The next time it will be a much easier maintenance routine.


            In his Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig stated that “the art of motorcycle maintenance is the art of rationality itself.” If the machine behaves in a certain way, then it must be because of these reasons… If such behavior must be modified, then let’s change a, b, or c, in the order of priorities. Notice the “if – then” statements, which any self-respecting math teacher teaches, and hopefully uses.


            I have invested much time in this Yamaha Venture, literally and figuratively, before and after the purchase. It has two wheels, one at each end, and an internal-combustion engine between them. That’s where similarities between my old Suzuki and this new Venture end. Typical contrasts are thus:


            Suzuki – in-line four cylinders. Yamaha – four cylinders arranged in a “V.”


            Suzuki – air-cooled. Yamaha – liquid cooled.


            Suzuki – independent brakes front and rear. Yamaha – linked brakes.


            Many of my middle-school math students think of math concepts as separate, isolated, unrelated ideas – to be learned for the test and purposely forgotten until the next time they see it.


            What makes a math student a superior one? Simple. He or she makes connections among mathematical concepts. How concepts are different is much less important than how concepts are similar, almost identical.


            Same with motorcycle maintenance. I look at the huge, ponderous looking Yamaha Venture side-by-side the lighter, simpler Suzukis that I’ve been riding for the last 22 years – and wonder how they’re similar, not how they’re different. The underlying principles of operation and maintenance are founded on the same ideas of rationality on one hand, and eternal beauty, zen, on the other.


            Now I’m the owner of a 20-year-old “new” motorcycle, which I’m just beginning to fathom and appreciate. It’s going to be a long, challenging process to acquaint myself with the personality quirks of this new beast. The operating word is “challenging” in this case. I could have continued to play it safe and run the old Suzuki to the ground; how safe and comforting that would have been.


            Once in a while, though, it’s good to go out to places far and wide and buy a good, used motorcycle. This renewal of the spirit and the exercising of the rational come together with the acquisition of such a machine. What delightful human experience it is.


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
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