Old Enough, To No Better (posted from Iron Horse Garage)

Chantilly lace and a pretty face
And a pony tail hanging down
That wiggle in the walk and giggle in the talk
Makes the world go round

Chantilly Lace, The Big Bopper

There are certain things that give women to understand that we — that is, male humans — don’t ever really grow up. Never mind our protests that we men work long hours, parent children, train youth, fight wars, manage businesses and fix cars. Women — well, American women, anyway, and they are the only ones worth arguing with — will tell you that they, too, do all those things… backward, in high heels, and at 70 percent pay.

Why even bother? There’s no talking to shorties; no explaining that we men carry deep wisdom and a long race memory of all that is Good and Fine: boats and beer, sports and speed, pretty girls and bright, flashy things that go boom.

They’ll just roll their eyes and hand you the trash to take out, completely failing to appreciate that it’s the Hefty CinchSak with Odor Block in the full two-mil thickness because somebody around the house — and that’s you, the man — knows a thing or two about how to spec out a garbage bag.

Besides, just about the time that we’re able to mount a convincing case of functioning at adult levels of reason and judgment, comes the Midlife.

J.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth is the bright, warm center of civil existence; Stephen King describes his Midworld as “a place of love and light,” and the ancient Chinese believed their Middle Kingdom existed in harmonious balance between Heaven and the underworld. So it is with male midlife, wherein one’s carefully honed probity and well-trained (if declining) faculties are perfectly zeroed out by a closing burst of faux youth and berserker enthusiasm. It’s as though we suddenly look up and realize that this cattle chute is a one-way ticket, kick the walls down and make for the open pasture that we’ve heard bruited about in subdued moos and whispers.

And do we look silly doing it? Why, yes. It’s just that we can’t properly give a shit. There’s no time left for artificial propriety. Red sports cars and Barbie blondes have their place, son. Don’t hate the wrinkling playa; play the game and try to keep up, you tangle-footed pimple fighter.

There ain’t nothing in the world like a big eyed girl
That makes me act so funny, make me spend my money
Make me feel real loose like a long necked goose
Like a girl, oh baby that’s what I like


Through the good graces of Motorcyclist magazine’s travel budget, we had been to visit a careful man, supervising pipefitter and artful bike builder named Darrin Woody. Deep in the Indiana heartland, Darrin turns out two-wheeled concepts that are pared of every excess (and half their necessities) in order to produce machines of such rare purity that they properly belong on gallery walls. Loyally accompanying her spindrifted husband, Pretty Wife was rewarded by starchy white “food,” a B&B midnight lockout, and tick bites (no signs of Lyme disease yet).

As for me? I got candy… strong, hot candy. Sugar and fire, too sweet and vivid for fading reflexes but perfect for my still-avid fantasies.

So it was that at high noon on a sunny day in the very recent past, a truck came to deliver up the death notice of my earning prime and the dawn of silly fun. Budget battles behind us, Pretty Wife joined me to watch two young movers unload the lightest motorcycle ever to be too heavy for my surgically enhanced arm to manage.

I duly inspected it, trying not to tremble slightly. Pre-combat jitters are nothing to the terrible responsibility of taking delivery on a dream. Anything short of joy would mean perhaps decades of two-way resentment, so I made sure to go over it with the narrowed gaze of a guy so nearsighted that I can track the floaters in my own eyeballs.

It was perfect.

Understand that there are no perfect motorcycles — no perfect dreams at all, really. Bikes will break your heart and bank account with mysterious ailments, rock dings and Ferrari-scale parts pricing. Your G-D-kissed baby of gurgling, wispy blonde perfection will grow up to attend the wrong college and vote Republican. Your athlete’s body will decline until your wife can boob-slap sense into your foolish old head with one wrinkled dug tied behind her back…

But that day was not this day, and this dream was still unsullied. Light and overhooped as a Big Wheel, narrow as a pre-teen with a Teutonic jug the size of all tomorrow, my little obsession rolled out of the truck and flashed its demon grin of orange and black paint into the full blaze of July.

The basics: J&M oil sump frame that was raced under Harley livery in the 80s (AMA race number 32p), with its pegs leveled.  Marzocchi 43mm fork under an adjustable rake steering head and White Power shocks suspending 19-inch Excel rims riding on a Barnes quick-change rear hub and a spool front, Grimeca caliper (singular…), Storz aluminum tank & seat/tail.  Powered by a Rotax crate engine (proudly emblazoned “ATK” on the case) that starts with a button from a little gel battery.

Does not have: speedometer, alternator, turn signals, key slug, front brakes, any Harley parts whatsoever.

Does have:  tiny digital tach/hour meter, extrasuperfabulous chrome-dunked Arlen Ness sidestand, headlight and brake/tail light, Harley-Davidson racing scheme paint, old Ford truck to pull it around with, and a LICENSE PLATE.

Pretty sure it weighs less than I do.

She’s as purely refined, conceptually outdated, determinedly purposeless, and wickedly effective as a Japanese chisel hand-forged from twisted layers of ancient anchor chain. She’s arm candy for a fool, a sinkhole of money and time at which sensible folk can only shake their heads, clucking in sympathetic wonder.

She is a trailer queen, pretty in orange, and I am become her foppish princeling.

After a few moments spent steeped in awe, I looked around and realized the delivery guys were still waiting. Impatiently, I signed their slip and slipped partway back into my reverie… they were still there. Standing on our front walk. Looking expectant. I frowned a little, considering: are tips expected for freight forwarders?

Finally, the shorter one essayed, “Can we hear it run?”

The bike was shipped oiled up and even had a slop of race gas in it. Smiling just a little, Pretty Wife fetched a Phillips; she had already figured out that I wasn’t getting off the bike. Like maybe for the rest of the day. I would have been content for at least 20 minutes just to sit on it and pantomime wheelies in my head, but a screwdriver in hand implies purpose. A  moment of fumbling got the gel battery connected, and three moments of trying to remember Darrin’s patient instructions on the switchgear, failing, then just fiddling fiddling them willy-nilly until the engine coughed.

I looked behind me to check my backblast area clear. It was not, so I cranked ‘er anyway and the pounding concussion from the short, straight pipe blew down ten square feet of Pretty Wife’s garden. She probably would have cared more, but I was grinning a veritable plague of ecstasy and apparently she had become infected.

Cracking vile imprecations at the neighbors, the exhaust barrage spread across the neighborhood at 343.3 times the velocity of an unladen swallow, cracking truck windshields, arousing DHS surveillance drones and parting the hair of angry cats. There was nothing for it but to ride it.

I backed the fine little beast slowly off our walk. “Those are slip-ons!,” Pretty Wife called. Apparently my lack of a helmet hadn’t fazed her. Priorities…

Once warmed to a lumpy, 1,760-rpm idle and pointed generally downstreet, I clanked her into gear.

“Jack!,” Pretty Wife yelled, “You’re wearing slip-ons!” I waved and smiled.

This focus on footwear only seems strange until you realize that I’ve had some fifty grand worth of parts and labor invested in the zone between my knees and my feet, whereas I’ve only gone through about fifteen hundred dollars’ worth of helmets.

That pencils, right?

Checking for clutch drag and praying for rear brake reliability and light traffic, I took a quick blast through the first three gears until the next intersection had me pawing for a front stopper again. It may make only 50 horsepower or so — a pittance in the era of superbikes obsoleted by hyperbikes obsoleted by Killacycles — but a 50-bhp powerplant socked into a glorified beach bomber Schwinn gives it about the same power-to-weight ratio of the XR750 miler that it mimics. Like a ’68 Mustang with a four-speed, the Rotax may not be a high-speed track piece but it’ll blast over hills and slide around corners well enough to make a man feel like Bud Ekins at his prime.

Eyes watering, teeth frozen and ears bleeding, I skittered around the long block and blazed up Motorcycle Hill — that convenient neighborhood accessory — manfully resisting the urge to leap through the intersection like some demented X-Gamer instead of stopping at the peak of the rise.

That’s the thing about getting to the top of the peak, you see: it may be all downhill from here, but that’s no reason to slow down now. Front brakes are for young guys, who still have a lot to lose and the world to gain.

As for me, I have Pretty Wife. Despite all my silliness, she accepted and made a place in the household for my new young bike whose name, “Homewrecker,” I’m still trying to work out how to fit on a vanity plate.

Marking my progress by the cacophony of exhaust blast and dog barks while keeping one  ear cocked for police sirens, Pretty Wife stood at the top of the hill. Sure of her place and tolerant of my exuberance, she waited for me to come home once again, grinning and apologetic and waving and revving, just as always.

Just as promised.

Ooh, baby that’s-a what I LIKE!






Next Post


  1. Dooooood! That little monster ROCKS!

  2. Slip-ons!!?! ::shakes head::

    Got yerself a fine little ginger there, haven’t you? Forget the temperaments of the read-head at your peril. Pretty Wife would be unamused to see either of you damaged.

  3. Great article. The bike is lovely; not quite what I expected but it is going to turn some heads and put a grin where it belongs. I will reserve all comment on the nature of midlife events. Having reached the 3/4 stage I know it just continues. Fortunately,knowing that there will someday day be a bright light at the end of the tunnel, I just indulge myself with little or not guilt.

  4. ‘…so nearsighted that I can track the floaters in my own eyeballs.’ Yep; great line, and story.

    The distaff side is known to suffer similar growing (older) pains. In my case, instead of blowing the savings on plastic-surgical enhancements, it was a Molten-Orange, Nuclear-Blue-framed ’98 Buell S1 which simply HAD to be mine. Torquemada reminds me of being 15 and riding license-less again…. too much fun and necessarily taken in small doses.

    Enjoy, enjoy.

  5. Street legal my ass. Designed purely for use on the off-world colonies and forbidden access to this planet more likely.

  6. Hey, nobody said “street legal.” I only claim that it has a license plate, as anyone can see — well, anyone who squats down to peer deep into the fenderwell at the back of the battery box in front of the rear wheel, anyway.

    Perhaps a muffler next? Nah, probably a front brake. Bikes this short and light should readily stand tall on either wheel, not just the rear.

  7. Why has this machine not been ridden to Ride West so former cohorts can drool spittle on it?

  8. Dave, you should come out to Backfire more often. Little bike went across town to hang out with its loud, unruly brethren.

    Probably won’t ride it very far again until I’ve punched up the pilot jet… on the way back from Ballard, the head pipes turned BRIGHT ORANGE in a kind of private sunset.

    hilarious man.
    Spent 3,000 miles on the back of boyfriend’s harley in 2013. We broke up.
    I’m new to motorcycle ownership; took riders safety course, aced my endorsement, got a little dual sport Yamaha xt225 last fall.
    A friend got me a subscription to Motorcyclist Mag, and steered me in your direction. We are born in same year, not sure I yet refer to it as middle age.
    I will consider you a mentor!
    I look forward to more posts.

Speak Your Mind