“If you can’t get to 70 by a comfortable road, don’t go.”—Mark Twain
Mark Twain’s observation on aging has been on my mind lately. In 1986 I threw a 600 Ninja away in turn 1 at Willow Springs while testing a group of bikes for a story in Cycle Guide. I was running about 140 down the straight and grabbed a bit too much front brake at the end. I hit the deck hard, blacked out for a while, and when I came to I realized, among other things, that I wouldn’t be riding home that afternoon.
In fact it was several weeks and a couple of operations before I got out of various hospitals. The full catalog of my injuries isn’t important. In general, though, it affected my right shoulder, the ribs on that side, and my back in ways that I still feel every day, more than 20 years later.
In 2006 I was driving my car when I was hit head-on by a guy driving a pickup truck. I came away from that one with more rib fractures—bringing the lifetime total on the right side to 10 or 11 so far—and a titanium plate in my left wrist.
The cumulative effect of these misadventures is catching up with me. Lately I’ve had a hard time getting comfortable on my motorcycle, a 650 V-Strom that I’ve tricked out with everything you’d want in a long-distance/adventure touring bike. The problem is I can’t seem to ride it more than an hour without getting a burning sensation between my shoulder blades that gets worse and worse and then spreads over my entire back until I just have to get off the bike.
I saw my chiropractor the other day. He rides a GL1800, and understands what I mean when I say the bike doesn’t fit me any more. (Regular doctors just shrug and say, “So quit riding.”) So we talked about my problem, and looked over my charts—I’ve been patient of his for years—and what we came up with, stripped of medical jargon, is that I need a different motorcycle.
A cruiser, to be specific.
Apparently the laid-back seating position will take most of the strain off that area of my spine where all those shattered and poorly healed ribs connect to it. I sense he’s onto something, and not just because he has a diploma on his wall. Some of the best and most memorable rides I’ve ever gone on were on Harleys, big baggers with floorboards and wide, scooped-out seats with a backrest for the rider, and a handlebar that leaned back toward me.
I’ve done all I can to the V-Strom to make it better—different seat, seat pads, bar backs, bar risers—but it hasn’t helped. It angers and saddens me, too, because I finally have that bike just the way I want it. It’s just not the way I need it.
All of the above is by way of saying that, regardless of an earlier post, I won’t be riding to Vancouver Island after all. Instead I’ll be driving my car. Before you shout “Blasphemer!” and send for the torches and pitchforks, let me point out that I need a vacation—really need one, do you hear me?—and the reservations are made, and the plans are planned, and the time off work is already arranged. So I’m going.
While I’m gone I’ll be thinking a lot about motorcycles, and how much I love riding them, and how I’m not ready to stop just yet.
And how making it to 70 aboard a comfortable motorcycle is the best way to get there.