Thursday, July 5, 2012

"Nice bike." Or not...

Kansas City's forecast high one day last week was 111, and technically summer'd only just started. I guess I have to admit that there are a few days when I'd rather be in an air-conditioned cage than on my bike. But one upside to riding is that whenever you come to a traffic light at the end of an off-ramp, or stop at a major intersection these days, there's a homeless guy panhandling there, and they seem to ignore bikers. I guess it's an acknowledgement that it's a little harder for us to pull off gloves and find wallets in zippered pockets, and even if we want to help them out, the light will change first.
I was getting back to my slum the other day, and the homeless guy at my off ramp was holding a sign that he'd made from a piece of a cardboard box. The thing was, he was holding the side he'd written on against his body. So what I read, upside down, were the words, 'STORE IN A COOL PLACE'.
The guy didn't bother walking over to me, but he mouthed the words, 'nice bike' and gave me a grubby thumb-up. It's surprising how many people think that my grotty Hinkley Triumph -- arguably the world's least sexy bike -- is 'nice'.
One thing that fools people is the 40 years' worth of corrosion on my 12 year-old cases. The bike's first owner parked it about a mile from the ocean and left it sitting out in the open for seven years.

Last week at Costco, a black guy with natty dreads wanted to have a long conversation about my bike, and a few days before that a stylishly tattooed kid at a trendy coffee shop actually seemed to think it made me cool enough to talk to.
I find this really awkward, because I don't know how to reply to the comment, "Cool bike!"
I know they're saying that because they think it's a vintage bike, and not just a retro one. It would be rude, I think, to say, "Actually it's not cool at all; it's a motorcycle for dweebs," so instead, I just murmur a little embarrassed "Thanks," and hope they'll drop the subject. But if they don't drop the subject, the longer they talk about it the more I worry that at some moment they'll notice the disc brake or lack of a kickstarter -- or just the sheer bulk of the bike compared to a Meriden Bonneville -- and then they'll be embarrassed that they didn't immediately identify it as the mere facsimile of a cool bike. At that point, they'd think I was a wanker for basking in their misguided compliment while they waxed on.

The solution to this problem, of course, would be to actually make it cool. More and more of the new/old Triumphs are being used as raw material by builders like Richard Pollock, of Mule. See, if I was riding a bike like this, compliments would not embarrass me at all.

I'm told that motor's transformed by switching to better carbs, but solving the bike's terrible brakes and handling are trickier. I can't afford to do anything to it, and even if I could, it would never be as fast as a ten year-old Gixxer 750, even if I spent ten times what the Gixxer would cost me.


  1. You could adopt the approach the old guy on the grotty, worn out, very original Triumph Tiger took when I rolled down my window after he lane split up beside me the other day..

    "Nice bike, mate!"

    "No it's not. It's a piece of shit." Then stared straight ahead until the light changed.

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