A Rider Starts Over
My first mistake was stopping at the edge of the incline to watch my buddy Mike go down the hill on his big, new bike, a Kawasaki KLR 650. I should have hit the hill with a little momentum in 1st gear; then the bike would have run down Schoolhouse Ridge without stalling, without me killing it and locking up the brakes. So while everyone (Mike, my wife Paula, and Mike’s wife Linda) watched from the bottom, I struggled to get the rhythm and feel of the clutch, throttle, and front and rear brakes of my new ride, a 2001 Suzuki DRZ 400s. I virtually walked the bike half-way down the rocky hill before I got my act together. It was irritating and embarrassing. And as we rode away from Schoolhouse Ridge, where we saw the natural monuments of Yosemite in all their springtime glory, I realized that I am learning to ride all over again.
I have written before, in my story “One Rider’s Beginnings,” about how I became a rider, first of motorcycles (dirt bikes) and then ATVs (all-terrain vehicles). For the last eight years or so, I rode my trusty and beloved Yamaha Kodiak up and down the hills and trails that surround our family’s secret hillbilly compound, up and down the dunes of the Oregon coast and Pismo, and all around the muddy and rocky terrain of our local off-road parks. But recently I was inspired to switch to two wheels by Mike’s desire to get a dual-sport bike (on and off-road), my brother-in-law Ritch’s acquisition of a bike (Yamaha TW 200) from Paula’s Uncle Warren, and the fact that we have other quads to ride when I want. So I sold my Kodiak, ironically to Uncle Warren and Aunt Pat. And then I sold the kids’ old mini quad, a Polaris Sportsman 90, using Craigslist (We have sold 1 car and 2 quads on Craigslist.).
After a few weeks (not years, Mike!) and the temptation to spend too much money on a new bike, I found my bike on, you guessed it, Craigslist, in Angel’s Camp. I almost bought another bike (same model, but newer) in Modesto, but the would-be seller did not accept my offer until after I had bought the 2001. You see, I looked at an ’05 with 5,000 miles on it first thing on a Saturday morning (Ritch went with me). The guy wanted $3,900. I offered $3,200. He declined. Later the same day, the kids and I had gone to jog at a local high school track, and I received a phone call from the guy in Angel’s Camp, to whom I had spoken earlier in the week. The Angel’s Camp guy, named Dan, informed me that his bike was still available, so Emily and I drove up to the foothills to look at it.
Dan originally listed his 2001 Suzuki DRZ 400s with 4,200 miles on Craigslist for $3,500. Then he lowered it to $3,300. When Emily and I began negotiating with him, Dan went down to $3,000 easily. But I wanted him to go lower. I failed in my efforts, but he threw in a bunch of stuff that’s now in my garage: a loading ramp, a motorcycle jack-stand, a street helmet—sized Medium , a Clymer repair manual (very helpful), the original seat (the bike has a nifty Corbin aftermarket seat on it), and an aftermarket exhaust pipe that for some reason was taken off the bike. What a deal. The next day I was putting away my new bike when I received a phone call from the guy who had turned down $3,200 for his ’05. He called to accept my offer. Go figure.
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The advantage of the dual-sport motorcycle, of course, is that it is a street-legal dirt bike, and that means I need to have a motorcycle license to ride the Suzuki on the road. I am proud to say that I missed only 3 questions on the motorcycle test at the DMV (You can miss a maximum of 4 questions and still pass), and I answered just one question incorrectly on the regular test, which you also have to take. My fine test results earned me a motorcycle operator’s permit, which allows me to ride on all surface streets (no freeways) during daylight hours, with no passengers. I’m currently practicing to take the riding test at the DMV office. If I don’t pass the riding test, which could be tricky, for $250 I can take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation class at the junior college and by-pass the test. The test is actually a slow-speed maneuvering challenge where the rider weaves around cones and follows lines without stopping or putting a foot down. We’ll see what happens when I try, but at least I can ride down to the DMV office on weekends and practice.
Practice is the key to anything, I suppose, and my transition from 4 to 2 wheels is no exception. I think of how, in the old, old two-wheel days, Ritch and I had our hands full making it up (and down) Schoolhouse Ridge on his Suzuki 185 and my Kawasaki 175. Then we went all quads, and Schoolhouse, despite being somewhat steep and extremely rutted and rocky, became a piece of cake for everyone. This past week I watched my girls, on their Polaris 4X4s, shoot up the hill and practically trot back down, never hesitating or bobbling in either direction.
Meanwhile, for now, the old man is the slow link in the riding chain. But I’m practicing. And though practice is unlikely to make my riding perfect, I am getting better.