Sunday, August 14, 2011
Each year the Gilmore car museum hosts a vintage motorcycle show. I look forward to seeing the old bikes and to test driving the new models that Lifecycle brings out. This year Patrick and I road down together after meeting up at bike church. On the way there, we found ourselves positioned behind a pack of motorcyclists out for their Sunday ride. They were lazy riders, slowing down by at least 10 mph to crest a hill and manage the curves. I found it frustrating to be “stuck” behind a large group I couldn’t get around. I like pushing myself through twisting roads and challenging my skills. This group wasn’t interested in riding that way but rather were out for a leisurely stroll. The weather was perfect for a day of sightseeing – a little cool - and the roads on the route we took were filled with motorcyclists I imagined were either coming or going from the museum.
This year seemed to have as many visitors as the last several years. They had more food carts – all selling the same fare: hot dogs, nachos and elephant ears. We parked in a field with hundreds of bikes of all varieties and surveyed the grounds. There were a few rows of trailers and tables set up swap-meet style with an assortment of motorcycle parts and accessories. A few vendors were selling embellished bandanas, chrome polish and t-shirts. Lifecycle set up a great display again this year with two huge tents of gear, a semi trailer to dyno your bike and a cache of bikes to test ride. At the center of all the vendors was a sea of bikes on show.
Patrick and I started out with a trip to the food carts to warm up with a hot beverage. Once there, we ran into Deanna, Ben and Andrew – part of the Deal’s Gap crew. Together we strolled the grounds, checking out the old bikes. The show hosts a variety of bikes- from choppers that appeared to be assembled in a piece-meal fashion, to pristine bikes fully restored to vintage glory. I continually found myself drawn to the BSA’s, Nortons and Triumphs, particularly those set-up in a café racer style. They have a paired down appeal to them with little plastic and just the right touch of chrome. Signals tend to be smaller, handle bars simple and straight. I like the design touches, too, with strategic placement of traditional parts. One of my favorite bikes this year was styled with bar end turn signals and mirrors mounted to the headlight. It was simple and stunning.
While checking out the grounds, I ran into two guys I know from RIDE motorcycle who I went to Detroit with for the MSF rider course back in April. One of the bikes on display was from a man I’d met the week before at Festival in downtown Grand Rapids. I found myself standing in front of the bike he’d shown me pictures of just the week before. It was a chopper with crazy styling- huge bars, a long rake and a small tank painted with a blood-shot eyeball at it's apex. I spotted Pat, my mechanic from Lifecycle in the crowd of museum-goers as well as several people from bike church.
It struck me then, that my motorcycle life was on-display for me that day and not just the bikes. I was running into people from all parts of my motorcycling life: my club, the coffee shop, trips and late night rides. All these friends I’d made, all these faces familiar because of my love of riding and my riding life. It was a welcome realization; I found myself marveling at the coming together of all these people, from all these travels of mine.
We finished the show off with two demo rides each – an easy ride down and back a strip of pavement long enough to capture your heart if you liked the bike beneath you and short enough you don’t mind if it doesn’t. I took out a Triumph Speed Triple first. When sitting on it, I felt as though I was perched atop it rather than nestled into it. The bike was agile but the ride was flat and left me wanting more.
The second go-around was on the Thruxton. Her forward bars and rear set controls grabbed my attention within seconds of mounting her. She was nimble and responsive on the throttle. I felt excitement and didn’t want to get off her when we lapped back around to the starting point. I’ve always loved the styling of the trio of Triumphs: Bonneville, Scrambler and Thruxton. A few years back I rode the Thruxton and the Bonneville on this very track and had disregarded the Thruxton for its forward riding position which I thought would be uncomfortable around town. A month later, I ended up purchasing the Bonneville; a front-runner in style and ride. So here I am three years later, at the same show, and I find myself falling for the Thruxton. I shouldn’t be terribly surprised because all three of the Triumphs I love are based on the same bike with the same engine, but differ in their styling details and a few performance modifications. The Scrambler, for example, has high pipes that come along-side the bike. They’re chrome and showy hanging about calf-height, one stacked on the other with a chrome heat guard for protection. The distinctive styling of this pipe grabs me every time. Details that make up the Thruxton include a tachometer, shortened rear fenders, a front faring around the headlight, exposed chain, rear foot controls and handlebars that have the rider reaching forward with the foot controls slightly behind. The racier feel in the styling- often with a stripe or checked pattern down the tank is backed by adjustable forks. The way I feel about the Thruxton, is pretty much how I feel about the Bonneville. It’s got a hold on me and I can’t get it out of my mind. In fact, I’ve been thinking about what modifications I can make to the Bonneville to get her a little closer to the café styling of the Thruxton without sacrificing around-the-city riding comfort.
Like all annual events or activities I engage in, the Gilmore Museum trip has become another way for me to measure time. It makes me reflect on the changes in my life since the first visit 3 years ago: the people who are in my life and the ones who aren’t. Towns surrounding Grand Rapids are now connected by familiar back roads. I’ve changed my career path from elder care to women’s health and now am working in family medicine. The 8-inch pots of perennial grasses I planted in my backyard have grown three feet around and 8 feet tall. The paint on the garage door has weather and faded. I ride the motorcycle now, not to conquer fear, but to connect with myself and remember what’s important in my life. I’ve fallen for a machine- my Bonneville lives and breathes with me. I feel the subtle shift in power just as the last bit of gas leaves her primary tank, before I flip it to the reserve. I notice when her front end loosens up at high speeds and when the clutch has too much play. I climb off her only to stare at her- the parts I have become familiar with through maintenance and cleaning- and I see both the individual parts that make her up and the wondrous wholeness of her. I love what my life has become because of her- the riders I’ve met, the adventures I’ve had while riding her and learning to care for her. Sometimes the ride seems too slow- like the trip out to the museum where I felt held back by the riders ahead of me- but upon reflection, and with the perspective of time, the ride feels like it’s all unfolding as it should.