I suppose that classic car owners may experience similar feedback. But as somebody who has owned or driven mid-sized, four-wheeled, four-cylinder, corporate fare over the years, nobody other than my Mum has ever wandered up and admired my ride or gone all misty-eyed whilst recounting tales of dreams and lost loves. A Honda Accord isn’t a key to unlocking unbridled lust.
This motorcycle sociability isn’t just found in New Zealand. Five years ago we crated up a bike in Wellington and a few weeks later uncrated it in Los Angeles, California. Seven weeks and over 13,000km later we had seen quite a bit of back roads USA and Canada. Our bike travelled with its New Zealand rego. That, combined with the bike, was a big conversation starter in Small Town America: “Where y’all from?”
My first inoculation with motorcycles was when I was about six. Dad employed a Massey University Diploma of Agriculture student who owned a Matchless 500. Whoar. This single-cylinder British machine was Robert’s pride and joy. Riding it gave him the opportunity to wear every item of clothing he owned, or so it appeared. In those days 500s were “big” machines. Starting it from cold took technique and endurance. Robert used to put all his riding apparel on in readiness for his journey, then start kicking his machine over. Clothing was shed layer by layer as a sweat was built up. Once the bike fired, it warmed up as Robert cooled down and started putting his gear back on again. On a quiet evening we could hear every gear change as he rode to Stratford, about 12km away.
A few years later the farmbike was invented. We never had one at home but a neighbour had a Honda CT90 with a high/low ratio gearbox and knobbly tyres. Another had a two-stroke Yamaha 100. Milking for them usually meant that I got a fang to the back of the farm to round up the cows before nerdling along behind them back to the cowshed. Farmbikes were eventually fitted out with bump bars to protect lights and levers, as well as trays for dogs to stand on. Maintenance was optional.
One of my milking gigs was for a farmer who believed that a “tune up” involved standing the bike in the cowshed’s yard and hosing all of the caked mud and cow shit off with a high-pressure hose. One night I discovered that my ride to round up his herd was to be undertaken on a machine with no working clutch, brakes or sidestand. One learns to adapt.
Friends at high school and university owned motorbikes. Kids who rode to school had a couple of designated sheds where these could be parked – and perved at. A couple of chaps used to commute each day from Te Wera – 35km east of Stratford with a couple of beaut saddles to negotiate – one on a Kawasaki H1 750 “widow-maker” and the other on a H1 500. Both of these were two-stroke triples and quite lovely to look at, although to ride the frames felt like they were made of spaghetti.
I think Mum was pleased when I left home for university and bought my first car. My first bike took a long time to arrive: 2003 to be precise. But it was worth the wait.
The original Song Of The Sausage Creature was penned by the legendary Hunter S Thompson. It involves a Ducati motorcycle. I recommend reading it.