Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Bikes For Old

It was raining hard when I left work Tuesday morning. I got all togged up in the lobby of the police station out of the rain and took off into the downpour. Key West city streets have a habit of flooding in any sort of rain at all so traffic patterns tend to look rather odd to the uninitiated driving in the rain. There are certain spots where flooding occurs every time it rains so vehicles tend to huddle on the high ground as they make their way along North Roosevelt, to avoid hydroplaning in the low spots. Personally I prefer to keep away from cars when the road is wet so my tactic is to use the dry bits to get ahead of the slow pokes before the deep wet bits, but yesterday morning the only appropriate approach was to stay on the high ground. It was coming down that hard.
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It's at a time like this, hunkered down behind the windshield fumbling the clutch through leather gloves and heavy plastic mitts that one appreciates a modern classic, as opposed to a classic-classic. It was always an adventure in my youth to be out in heavy rain, not least because waterproof clothing wasn't, even could I have afforded it, and plastic bags don't do a good job of keeping your feet dry. Also brakes weren't that great on 1970s motorcycles and in the rain stopping distances tended to be measured in football field lengths, so caution was the order of the day. Being young one tended to throw caution to the wind which attitude tended to spawn lots of riders down in the rain. These days my 2007 Bonneville purrs along just fine in the heaviest downpour and the discs stop as well in the wet as in the dry, and the tires too do their part very nicely. All of which makes the rain much easier to deal with, and generally I don't worry much if I find myself riding in buckets of water.I stopped at the Post Office on Summerland Key on my way into work Monday afternoon, under bright sunshine and as I walked in to reactivate my mail delivery after my days away I saw the beauty pictured above. The owner came out and we started chatting, about the New Jersey restoration of the 1974 Commando, how it was always garaged and how it was a reminder of his youth. "Bonnevilles were faster," he said nodding at my modern classic,"but Nortons had the torque." He also allowed as how he would never keep the machine outside his garage. "I'd never let it get any rust," he said when I told him ruefully how my daily rider has to sit underneath my house, lacking any better accommodations. He kicked firmly but easily to get it started, and I envied him his kick starter and I envied him even more as I listened to the rumble of the exhaust as he pulled smoothly back onto the highway.
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I wasn't envying him fourteen hours later as I negotiated pot holes and continuous pouring rain through the road works still plaguing Mile Marker Ten on Big Coppitt Key. The Bonneville stayed upright but I was having difficulty seeing in the face of oncoming headlights and my visor was filled with droplets, so I pulled over to gain some space before crossing the windswept causeway across the Saddlebunch Keys. A car stopped alongside and I saw the word "Police" in blue across the door. Normally a cause for concern (surely not a ticket in these wretched conditions?) it was a colleague offering a ride which I declined (pride, the Devil's favorite sin) and soon enough the road behind was devoid of lights and the road ahead was still being swept by horizontal rain driven by 30 mile an hour northeast winds. I plunged back into it.
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It wasn't much fun though I was feeling a mixture of wild joy at being out in it, and discomfort at the realisation I was no longer twenty and I was suffering middle aged fatigue after a night of sitting up with absolutely nothing to do. Rain washes crime and stupidity off the night time streets of Key West and I had spent hours staring at a blank screen while logging the robotic Paul 85's endless, circular, area checks all night long. And now here I was facing long lines of bright headlights from the oncoming commuters headed into town rendered kaleidoscopic by the rain in the air and the droplets on my visor. I rode at an indicated 45 mph (70km/h) wobbling along like a granny on ice skates. And it didn't let up for miles.I made it home in one piece around 6:40 am, fifteen minutes later than usual and my wife made a half hearted comment about starting to worry. She knows I like this stuff, it's a change and it's a modest enough challenge to make the change interesting. But I have to say that while it was still pitch dark and while the rain was bucketing down and the wind was howling I did wonder for a second if I was biting off more, through my fatigue, than I could chew. At least I wasn't shivering though temperatures were hovering around 70 degrees (21C) and the Bonneville ran like a champ. By the time it started to get light on Sugarloaf Key and the rain eased up to moderate downpour I was having fun.
I wonder how the Norton would have made out? I know it's owner would have gone ballistic seeing his pride and joy get a little damp...