Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bikes I'd Like To Ride: Harley-Davidson XR750

If there’s one bike I have absolutely no business riding, it’s the XR750 in mile- or half-mile trim. It has no front brake, it shifts on the right, and it's built only for left turns. The only place you can really appreciate it is on a dirt track lined with hay bales if you’re lucky, and a wooden fence if you’re not. Either way, the penalty for screwing up is not insignificant.

And yet these bikes have fascinated me since the first time I laid eyes on one. I knew the guy who wrenched for Steve Eklund the year he won the Grand National Championship. I used to go over to the guy’s house and watch him work on the bike. For something so lean and elemental, it took a lot of work to keep one running at the front of the pack. Setting it up for each track was part science, part art, and part black magic.

Hearing it run was...well, if you’ve never heard an XR750 blasting down a residential street at full throttle at 2 a.m. the night before a race, you haven’t lived. Even people who had no use for motorcycles would come over to see what sort of thing made that unearthly sound.

In 1982, at the Houston Astrodome, I watched Scotty Parker launch an XR750 off the jump and almost into the balcony seats. When it came back down it made a sound like a dumpster full of hammers.

So why would I like to ride an XR750? Just to say I did. Just to get the faintest notion of what it would be like to pitch one into a corner at over 100 miler per hour. Just to get one last whiff of that intoxicating perfume of hot Castrol, burning rubber, and hard-packed dirt before I die.

Just because I have absolutely no business riding one.
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