Monday, January 10, 2011

Motorcycles and Mayhem Part 2

Around about my 18th birthday, I purchased a used Yamaha RD350.  It was a two-stroke, two-cylinder street bike, that was very quick and handled beautifully.  Like most two-strokes, it had a lot of torque in the upper rpm-range.  And, as I remember it, was powerful enough to lift the front wheel in 1st, 2nd, and occasionally 3rd gear.  Yamaha claimed something like 32 maximum horsepower.  And, as I remember it, it only weighed something like 300 lbs.  This bike had the reputation for being second only to the Kawasaki 900 in stretching drive-chains.  Before it was stolen, I logged over 30,000 miles on this bike.  For those who have never ridden something like this, that is a LOT of miles.

The first summer I owned the bike, I was car-pooling with a neighbor to our place of employment.  When weather was threatening, he would drive his car.  On nicer days, we'd take the motorcycle.  At that time, in that state, helmets were required by law.  Having previously tasted pavement, I didn't find that law too limiting.  Our route to work required utilizing a significant thoroughfare; two lanes each direction, with a speed limit of 40 or 45 mph.  We had to turn left across traffic.  Thankfully, there was a turning-lane, but one did not want to even think of slowing down until IN the turn lane (the commuters were very unforgiving about being slowed-down).  This bike had great brakes.  And, unless cars were already stopped in the turn-lane, getting from 40+ mph down to zero, in the space available, was no big deal...until the day I hit the wasp.  Normally, hitting a bug is nothing more than a minor distraction.  But, this wasp managed to find a gap between my face, the hard shell of the helmet, and the pieces of the soft foam liner.  Basically, I had just entered the turn-lane, and had a live (yet dazed) yellow-jacket IN MY EAR.  That helmet had no quick-release mechanism for removal.  No, it required two hands to withdraw the strap through two "D" rings.  So, I let-go of the handlebars, removed the strap from the D-rings, removed, the helmet, set the helmet in my lap, grabbed the wasp with my hand, firmly threw the wasp to the ground, re-grabbed the handlebars, and applied the brakes...all before reaching the stop-light.  As one might expect, my passenger was confused and concerned.

Something I omitted from the previous paragraph was the fact that we were working at Langley Air Force Base, as civilian grounds maintenance.  If I remember correctly, the speed limit on-base was 20 mph.  And, I remember EVERYONE paying close attention to speed limits, and other traffic rules.  I don't remember seeing anyone pulled-over, but it just seemed like natural common-sense to be on your best behavior while on a military base.  So, I was really surprised the morning that several base police-cars passed us (we gave them plenty of room).  And, they were still within sight when the pulled into a parking-lot on the left side of the road.  And, they were directly to my left when they pulled their weapons, and pointed them directly at those of us still in traffic.  Believe me when I say that an event such as that will immediately clean-out any morning cob-webs that may have still been lingering in your brain.  What I did not know, of course, was that an alarm had gone-off at the credit union on base.  And, if I had not been completely fixated on the muzzles of those firearms, I might even have remembered that the credit union was on the right-side of the road.  What I remember being most thankful-for was that traffic was still moving, and I was quickly out of the line-of-fire.  In all honesty, being inside an automobile is not really any safer than being on a motorcycle if bullets are flying.  But I felt very exposed.

The RD350 had amazing handling.  As an exercise in poor judgment, I would periodically try to double the speed limit on roads with a lot of curves.  I remember being followed by a Honda 350 on a road with back-to-back "S" curves, and a speed limit of 35 mph.  I was in excess of 75mph when I exited the second "S".  And I don't really know when the Honda exited that turn.  I kept looking over my shoulder for the next mile-or-so, and never saw him emerge from the trees.  The balance of the RD350 was also impressive.  One day, I was in another "S" type of turn.  And, although I may have been speeding a little, I don't think it was intentional.  Anyway, as I transitioning from turning left to turning right, I hit some kind of automobile fluid; probably oil, maybe antifreeze...but very slippery.  The bike tried to slide out from under me until I put-down my right foot forcefully.  My boot hit the same slippery fluid, and to my great relief and surprise, created a 'tricycle' effect, in that both tires, and my boot slid smoothly across the fluid until reaching dryer pavement.  With only a little screech-and-wobble, and very little lost momentum, we continued on our way.

While in college, I made VERY active use of this motorcycle...but not without perils.  After my Dad was transferred from Virginia to Austin, I would periodically ride home to visit.  I preferred using the farm-to-market roads for this trip for a couple of reasons, (1) the ride is a lot more interesting when compared to flat, straight highways and (2) traffic was quite light, and a light-weight motorcycle is pretty easily blown-around by large vehicles.  The drawback to driving farm-to-market roads is that they are used by farmers and ranchers...and things fall out of their trucks.  A fencing staple (alt. "fence staple") is a sharpened "U" shaped device driven into wooden posts to hold fence wire.  Not surprisingly, they can pierce a rubber tire.  In my case, the rear tire immediately went flat.  So, here I am traveling ~70mph with a flat rear tire which is causing the entire rear end of the motorcycle to "walk" from one side to the other, about a foot to each side of the center-line.  Thanks once again to divine intervention, I was able to stop the motorcycle without getting a close inspection of the ditch on either side of the road.  Within a few minutes, it became clear that this was not going to be a simple repair (a postmortem on the tube revealed a split over a foot-long...well beyond any tube patching technology).  And, to my great relief and surprise, a pickup-truck driver soon drove down that road and stopped to help.  He was also a student, at the same university, and was also returning to campus.  In short time, we had the motorcycle loaded in the pickup bed, and on our way back to school.

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