from an afternoon ride one day, I told my wife I had capped things off
by trolling the length of the central business strip near our home.
After a few miles of spirited carving along the riversides, it’s nice to
kick back and glide on the overrun past storefronts and pedestrians, bathing
in the glow of confidence in the machine and your mastery of it. No big
deal, just a routine pass.
“I’m not exactly showing off,” I started to explain, and Andrea jumped in with: “I hope not!” She knows it’s not my nature to try to impress people, and a sudden turn in that direction might suggest I have come unhinged.
Then I started wondering what exactly the distinction might be. The key thing is that I’m not out to cause a sensation among onlookers but rather to take my rightful place in the thick of things as a legitimate presence in traffic. With the narrow buildings’ 1930s architecture and the leisurely traffic flow on the concrete street, I can imagine myself in the original setting for a 101, an ordinary motorcyclist passing through. Because I occasionally do raise a stir among those shocked at seeing such an oldfangled contraption out navigating the currents of jellybean cars and gargantuan sport-utes, it’s refreshing for a change to instead get a calm, admiring look of acceptance.
I do take intense pride in the Indian and want people to see that “our flag was still there,” as the line in “The Star-Spangled Banner” goes. I think of this sort of display as “flying the flag.” Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes … or shoots, as they might have said back when the rivalry with Harley was still going strong. U.S. patriotism may enter into it, but I would probably feel the same righteous fervor in my gut on a British Brough Superior, an angular apparition from the V-twin’s glory days in black and chrome, with feeble brakes and a bone-rattling ride and a handshift (well, some had a sprung rear and footshift) to weed out all but the most worthy riders – kind of like King Arthur pulling the sword out of the rock, but this time he has to kick-start 1000cc fired by a fittingly medieval magneto.
The real issue is the timelessness of a classic machine that looks as poised and well integrated today as the day it was built, because its designers were so rooted in the long view of handsome, dignified aesthetics. Seventy years from now, will collectors be sifting among trends in the colorful plastic fairings on today’s sport bikes? I doubt it, though I would like to think the manufacturers could eventually find their way back to styling that exudes integrity. I’m not talking about shameless re-creations of the classic Indian Chief or Triumph Bonneville. Soon, you will be able to choose between the original brand name and country of origin or a more practical Japanese copy for either of these models, thanks to bankrupt creativity circling the globe. A design that stands on its own is so much harder to achieve. Here’s hoping someone comes through.
Meanwhile, I can dream of “flying the flag” farther afield. My 37” 101 really isn’t fast enough for sustained highway runs. Within easy riding distance from home, I have three peaceful parks built up around bodies of water and about the same number of traditional town centers, so by varying my circuit, I can avoid feeling like a tropical fish in a tank circling the same deep-sea diver ornament every so many strokes of the tail. I count myself blessed to be situated so nicely, especially since I had no plans to buy a motorcycle when we moved here. I didn’t think we would need the old garage out back. When it comes to venturing out and really covering some ground, though, I’m looking at a web of high-speed highways in every direction. It would take some very creative use of a map and back roads to find the tiniest crack in this wall. It’s like being surrounded by a moat, but in a huge castle compound that’s self-sustaining and really nothing to complain about.
So the serious rider’s prime object of contempt – a trailer – might ironically allow me to do more riding, not less. I picture myself eventually getting a bare-bones open trailer that would hold two bikes, teaching Andrea to ride, then taking day trips to several scenic spots in the area that come to mind. New Hope, Pa., is a charming little town perched between the Delaware River and a steep uphill grade. Many bikes are parked along the main street on Sundays, outside a couple of bars, and even while trapped in stop-start traffic, it would have to be a rush to make your way through the festive throngs there. Then in either direction outside of town, there are quaint country roads loaded with curves, corkscrews to dramatic sweepers. Another destination would be the Jersey Pinelands, flat and sandy and downright otherworldly where the pygmy pines stretch out across the horizon, many no more than a yard tall. The main routes are too fast for my 101, but I’m sure there are back ways that would work, though the one I’m thinking of has pavement on the harsh side.
A trailer is a good idea anyway when something as routine as a blown tire or head gasket could sideline you. Take it from one who once had a back wheel lock up three blocks from home at 3 a.m. and returned to the scene with a lawnmower, hoisting the bike’s rear end up in the air with no help, then back down atop the makeshift dolly. Andrea steered as I forced the rig into motion with massive foot pressure down low, eventually shedding a plastic tire, and the crowd of police on hand did their part by keeping harsh lights trained on us the whole time. Even compared with loading the bike into a pickup truck, a teeter-totter carrier with the rail opening tipped to ground level looks like a snap.
Of course, the main advantage to all of this is to justify having a second vintage bike. It should work in the reverse order – you acquire two, then you need a trailer to deal with them – but I see it as a sort of jigsaw puzzle, or as a matter you either keep simple or allow to become complicated all at once. As a second mount, something bigger and more highway-worthy would make the most sense, with comfort payoffs even on the moderately paced AMCA runs. I’ll have to think about whether I would want to foist a handshift machine on Andrea. There’s no denying those awkward moments in traffic before you’ve got the hang of it. But where is the logic in putting her on a footshift bike if it’s bigger than what I’m riding?
This is all probably way in the future, so there’s plenty of time for the insanity to continue festering. There will be no peace in my soul until I hear the ragged snarls of not one but two antique motorcycles reverberating off into the still, empty expanses as far as the eye can see.
Bob lives in New Jersey
and regularly rides his 37"
1928 101 Scout. Bob is an
occasional contributor to
the AMCA magazine, and
other publications -and,
of course, one of the
monthly VI columnists!