Friday, October 30, 2009

Leap of F#$%!



I wrote a while back about smells, and how they can conjure up memories of places you thought you’d forgotten. Tonight, I heard a sound that did the same thing.

I was watching Masterpiece on PBS’s website. The current series is about Inspector Robbie Lewis, who in an earlier series—and a series of books before that—was the sidekick of Inspector Morse, an Oxford, England, police detective created by Colin Dexter.

At the end of the episode, when Lewis and his sergeant had unraveled a murder so convoluted that I gave up trying to figure out whodunit and just went along for the ride, the uniformed coppers arrived to cart off the guilty party. They put her in a police car, and as they were doing it, an extra walked through the foreground of the scene, wearing a yellow jacket and a flip-up motorcycle helmet. In the final scene this extra rode off on a police version of the Honda ST1100, which is called the Pan European over there.

In a lot of movies and TV shows I’ve seen that have motorcycles in them, they often add the sound of the bike later—and they often get it wrong, either by not bothering to match the rise and fall of the engine revs to the scene, or by making everything from two-stroke 125s to four-cylinder sportbikes sound like Harleys with straight pipes.

This time they got it right. I heard the unmistakable whir of the engine as the starter turned it over, the quavering idle, and the staggered power pulses of the V-four engine pushing gas through the stock exhaust, and bingo, there I was aboard my old ST1100 again.

I’ve been thinking about that bike a lot lately. I did a lot of fun stuff on it, and had a scary experience that was almost the last experience I ever had.

I was riding north through Tacoma, Washington, on Interstate 5 near the Tacoma Dome, or whatever it’s called, in heavy traffic. I was in the hot lane, and some joker in a Dodge pickup was right on my ass. We were going maybe 75, and I was too close to the car ahead for comfort, so I glanced over my right shoulder at the number two lane, saw it was clear, and signaled to change lanes. As I leaned the bike into the open spot, I turned my head forward again and looked at the car ahead of me, and out from under it, as if on a conveyor belt, came a four-by-four wooden post sitting in the middle of the lane, perpendicular to my path.

I yanked the handlebar as hard as I could, steering left to try to get as upright as possible before I hit the post. There was an almighty whack that nearly wrenched the grips from my hands as the ST smacked the post and took off like a 600-pound gooney bird, first the front end and then the back; at about the same time my butt and the seat parted ways; for a harrowing second or two the bike and I were pretty much flying above I-5 at an altitude of about two feet; and then the bike came back down with a thud like a dumpster full of doorknobs, still going at least 65, and the front wheel almost shook itself off the bike.

I assume some of the drivers around me saw what had happened and reacted quickly enough to give me room; all I remember is bulldogging the bike across two more lanes of traffic and onto the shoulder. The front rim was bent, but miraculously, the tire had held air. If the rim had bent enough to break the bead, I would never have made to the shoulder. There’s no doubt in my mind that if I’d gone down in traffic that heavy I’d have been reduced to a paste by the time anyone stopped to see what they had run over.



That could be why ST1100s continue to appeal to me; you come through something like that without a scratch and you develop a great deal of respect for the bike you did it on.

I sold mine because my wrists would no longer tolerate the weight the riding position put on them. I know if I got another one I probably wouldn’t ride it enough to justify the purchase.

But I have a feeling that if I ever needed a bike that would get me where I was going come hell, high water, or posts in the road, an ST1100 would be my first choice.

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