Two-wheeled summer

It’s summer and I wanted a motorcycle. Isn’t that reason enough?

When offered a choice between highways or off-road riding, Brutus says he likes both, but he wants everyone to remember to always wear a helmet and stay on established trails.

When offered a choice between highways or off-road riding, Brutus says he likes both, but he wants everyone to remember to always wear a helmet and stay on established trails.

Photo By David Robert

I suspected when I saw the headline in the RG-J, “Motorcyclist, 25, dies in collision with a car,” that sooner or later I was going to hear about the dangers of motorcycles. You see, with summer right around the corner, I went and bought myself a bike. I’d like to say it was only the thought of the warm summer wind caressing my scalp that inspired me to buy the bike, but it was far more than that. But the 80-degree weather certainly added some urgency.

I used to own a bike. It was an ’84 BMW R100T. My buddy Opie gave it to me to help me get over my divorce. I loved that machine. As cliché as it sounds, it represented freedom to me. And not because of the matrimonial separation. Just its feel. Pure power and suck-your-testicles-into-your-abdomen speed. But I’ve got to admit, I was misbehaving a fair amount that first couple of years after my divorce, and when Opie came down for a visit from Alaska where he was captaining fishing boats, I asked him to take the bike with him when he left. He did.

I’ll tell you what, though. It wasn’t anything as romantic as the bonds between friends or a broken heart that prompted this latest purchase, although my co-workers weren’t the only people who felt qualified to accuse me of having a midlife crisis. Actually, I was inspired by the most prosaic of reasons: money. I added up my gasoline costs for the last month and realized I spent $230 to move my Jeep Grand Cherokee from the house to my son Hunter’s school to work with an occasional trip to the gym, the grocery store or—who knows what miscellaneous errand would take another $10 out of my pocket.

Near as I could tell, if I bought a scooter—like a Vespa—and made $100 a month payments, not only would I save $130 a month, but I’d also own a scooter. More than 50 miles per gallon! I did my research: Most of those little scooters required the same licensing as a regular old motorcycle. Some could get up enough speed to ride on the freeway. Then I sat on one. Huh.

These days, my friend Opie has disappeared, so I turn to my friend and associate R.V. Scheide for any information I need regarding motorcycles. Things have changed a lot in the two-wheel world since I had that Beemer. I was looking on, just getting some ideas, when I called R.V. He rides one of those BMW dual-sport motorcycles, an R1150GS. He almost immediately recommended another, smaller dual-sport: the Suzuki DR650SE. I’m not going to subject you to further details, suffice it to say, I found a 2003 on Craigslist with less than 3,000 miles for $3,000. I think some little old lady named Bob only rode it to church on Sundays.

R.V., as usual, was right. He suggested a great bike for me. Not so big as to give me that ego-inflating sense of power or false sense of immortality; it’s got plenty of oomph in its thumping one-cylinder to power me away from any unexpected situations on the road. It only weighs about 324 pounds, only 114 pounds more than yours truly. It’s not built for comfortable highway cruising. It’s not built for hardcore off-roading. What more reason do I need? It’s yellow. And in these days of global warming, a motorcycle has got to reduce my carbon footprint, right? Well, according to this 2006 article from, maybe not: “Even under the [new] 2010 EPA standards for motorcycles, the agency says that street bikes will still produce four times as much hydrocarbons as a typical example of today’s SUVs and eight times as much as today’s average car.”

I bought it on May 17. I skipped yoga after work, drove to Carson City and came home with a bike. Three thousand cash. But that’s just the beginning. Sixteen dollars and 10 cents for tie downs just to get the danged thing home. Another $105.75 registration and title. Insurance for the year was $190.18. The helmet bit me for $343.55, “You’d be crazy to worry about nickels and dimes on the helmet,” said the adorable saleswoman at the bike shop, “that’s your brain.” Hard to argue with that. Needed to replace the knobbies with something safer on the street, that’s another $250. And then there’s the $175 for motorcycle safety school. And finally, the $21.25 for the learner’s permit—after I failed the written test the first time I took it. That’s $4,103.83, if my calculations are correct. If I were to save $130 a month, it’d take me 32 months for the savings in gas to pay for the bike. And that doesn’t even factor in the next two years worth of insurance or another set of tires.

But—and I know it’s hard to believe me—I’m not complaining. After Thursday, when I take the Silverstate Motorcycle Academy class, I’ll be totally legal, which is more than I could say back in the Beemer days. Summer officially starts on June 21, and I think by that time, I should be confident enough for a ride around Lake Tahoe. It’s been a long time since I had to worry about the wind in my hair—helmets are mandatory in California and Nevada, anyway—but the rising heat off the pavement will give me the feeling that the younger bike riders are looking for.

So what is it? It’s plainly not the money—a good idea took a turn for the fiscally indefensible. It’s not the ecological friendliness; the danged things pollute 95 percent more than your typical SUV. Even the safest motorcycle rider doesn’t have a chance against a cell-phone dialing soccer mom in a sedan.

I am 45. Is it possible I’m having one of those midlife identity crises that have always seemed so stupidly cliché? If it’s a midlife crisis, it’s not a very excessive one. Just between you and me, I think I’m just looking forward to the kind of summer I had back in the days when those three months didn’t just represent heat—they represented freedom.