Friday, March 27, 2009

Rat Bikes

I was back over at Jiri's JK Motorsports on Stock island at the beginning of the week. The Bonneville needed new tires:Yes, I know it's only smooth in the middle but that's because I live in frost-free south Florida where the roads are straight. Did I mention one can ride year round without electric hand warmers? My wife found me a mileage only airline ticket to Italy for late June so I'm off to the land of mountains (Umbria) for ten days and I expect to rent a motorcycle and take in a few mountain curves with my childhood buddy Giovanni, to make up for the flatness and straightness of Florida. Anyway my defensiveness aside, I was shooting the breeze with Jiri and he was working on a rather ratty looking Vulcan cruiser:"I've got to get this thing out of here" he puffed in his Czech-accented English, "it's been here since August." Apparently the owner has other motorcycles but decided this one had to have another go on the road. I started to take pictures as I contemplated the life of a barely loved motorcycle:The front brake doesn't work, and though Jiri got the carbs working there's no more than an oil change for this 25,000 mile old work horse. You can see it's been sitting for a good long while:And there was no oil change allowed for the hardworking drive shaft. Pitted chrome? No problem! You don't need a front lever if the brake doesn't work!I hold a grudging admiration for someone who can ride without really caring what the machine looks like. Personally I'm one of those fussy people who likes things to work, so I tend to change the tires on the less bald side of necessary, and I enjoy seeing all that fat new rubber on my rims:My front rotor is showing some wear, why I'm not sure as I have been keeping up with the need to replace the pads, but I expect a few more months of this rotor and I will have a new one, at the next major service:I find it to be a highly enjoyable luxury to have someone else do the grunt work, especially as I enjoy my own line of work. Jiri has the tools and the patience and I have the time (and income) to let him have his way with the Bonneville:All this got me to pondering the care and feeding of motorcycles. The Vulcan has just 1,000 more miles on the clock than my Triumph:The thing about a machine like this is that at the end of the workday it was parked outside Jiri's shop ready to go, as ready as it will ever be I suppose. But it will get ridden and used as a motorcycle. Captain Outrageous's creations are becoming artworks to hoard but he created paintings on vehicles for the opposite effect.I saw this survivor at Home Depot:Someone asked for an essay on captain Outrageous a while back but it's not something i can do. He died a while back, after switching lives from that of a fast paced northerner to a laid back Key Wester and discovering along the way he had remarkable talents. Whenever I see his scooters/bicycles/cars around town I will photograph them but his story is over, unhappily for him. Luckily for us owners of his mobile artwork still use it. More prosaically owners of rat bikes worry less about their paint and more about getting around. I'm not sure what constitutes a rat bike but I think the essence of it is that the motorcycle is a machine with less regard for the niceties of chrome and paint and that whatever it is it needs to get ridden. I'm not sure this older Harley-chain driven- qualifies exactly but I liked seeing the rag stuffed in the carburettor and the points (points! remember points?) exposed:Or this Sportster with a nicely placed flag flapping in the rider's face to remind him which country he rides in:There's miles of motorcycles outside Jiri's shop waiting for parts or attention. And his young helper Mikey is soon to depart for the Carolinas, following his girlfriend to her studies at Durham. Meanwhile he pushes the scooter in for it's turn on the table:He graduated the Harley and Kawasaki motorcycle school in Arizona and Jiri looked gloomy at his prospects for replacing him.
Outside, the owner of what appeared to be a Chinese V-twin cruiser had got inventive. I don't suppose there are too many accessories on the market for these relatively new arrivals in our market so he built his own rack out of aluminum:
He went one step further and added a delightfully curved back rest made out of wood, and nicely done:Too bad his tire's going flat, doubtless from waiting for parts, which will be a problem for all lesser supported brands. If there was a decent dealer for Moto Guzzi in South Florida I might have contemplated bringing a California Vintage into my life. I've never heard anything good about support for my favorite Italian brand so it was a no brainer to go with my parallel twin and I am very happy I chose the Bonneville, which is well supported! A lot of people wouldn't think of a 50cc Vespa ET2 as a rat bike but in Key West needs must...And does anyone remember the short lived Pagsta craze, small framed, four speed 100cc choppers? this owner does:A nice Honda Rebel 250 is no passing fad, these bikes have been around for decades unchanged, and a nice air cooled parallel twin is as good as a BMW for some people in these low latitudes:Jiri regarded this next one with reverence, definitely not a rat bike, a Hondapotamus (ref Allen Madding), complete with bra on the front, just like a car, with stereo and all the accessories, including a Butler brand cup holder:To each his own, one has to say philosophically, but if I want cup holders I drive my car. As I wandered off to waste time taking pictures while waiting for my reshod Triumph I saw two youngsters leaving the store. Their intensity, bowed heads and motorcycle lust reminded me of me years ago:Let's face it,all you really need is an engine and two wheels. All the rest is gravy.