Thursday, October 13, 2011

Learning To Night Ride

I spent almost half a million lire when I bought my first real motorcycle in August 1975. It was a lightly used MV Agusta 350 pushrod twin and the owner had it on consignment in a small motorcycle shop in Todi. A friend knew I was looking for a motorcycle and without a second's hesitation, knowing nothing of the motorcycle except that it looked totally cool and Giacomo Agostini was a world champion MV factory rider, I hastened to the bank and started a tradition in my life of riding a brand new purchase directly out of the shop.

It was a hair raising machine, bursting with thirty two whole horsepower at 7600 rpm and a top speed of a hundred miles an hour. The previous owner had bored holes in the mufflers so it made a row audible over two provinces as I screamed through the Umbrian mountains teaching myself how not to kill myself in motion. Compared to the 50cc machines I had ridden previously it was the superest of super bikes and in my tiny village it was the loudest baddest bike there was.

I knew nothing about riding, I learned about counter steering and weight distribution from reading magazine interviews with my idol Agostini. I managed to spare myself injury and my motorcycle miraculously needed no spare parts which was as well as I had no idea where to buy them. I rode, changed the oil and tightened the chain and kept on riding.

I had no protective clothing so I used plastic bags to cover my sneakers in rain, and newspapers under my parka when it was cold. My helmet was elderly and my gloves were thin leather and I never stopped riding.

I wanted no car so my neighbors thought I was very cool in summer on my fire engine red MV Agusta, and in winter they thought I was crazy as I rode through the snowflakes and in thunderstorms in countryside where cell phones were thirty years away and ambulance service consisted of getting your neighbor to drive you to the hospital thirty minutes away and hope for the best. I was 18 and invulnerable. I had a blast.

I played in the town band in Todi and rehearsals after dinner saw me leaving home before dusk, the rolling hills burnt brown by the dying sun. The ride home was close to midnight and in total puitch black on the narrow winding road through the fields.

There was nobody around which was probaby just as well because this was where I discovered my fabulous fire engine red MV Agusta suffered a major defect. The high beam was fine and I could see really quite well with it but the low beam was another story. When I crossed paths with an oncoming car my low beam light was barely one candle power. I had a better headlight on my Vespa 50! It was a hell of a ride if I saw a car headed my way, as I had to prepare to dip my headlight and essentially lose my way as the car passed leaving me blinded and trying to neither fall in the ditch or run off the end of the road, as the hair pin bends were numerous.I had to investigate why the low beam was so weak, band practice was twice a week and night riding was getting tedious even though I would rarely meet half a dozen cars on my thirty minute ride to and from town. It was no small thing for me to open the headlight shell and check the bulbs. I did it and discovered to my astonishment the headlight bulb was burned out. When I replaced it low beam reappeared as a shorter version of the high beam cone of light, I was set to ride at night at last.

Looking back I'm astounded how little I knew and how easily I accepted whatever fate threw at me. No headlight? No problem! I just kept riding, through it all. I guess I was lucky there was no Internet back then to expose my stupidity to the world.


Circle Blue said...

There is something to be said for being young and not knowing better. Back when I was younger I'd not suffered as many consequences from my actions. It is different now. I don't know if I am wiser or just more timid.

I enjoyed this post.

Conchscooter said...

Im glad you liked it. All true and involved no woemn undressing themselves. Just me, amotorcycle and a tuba (which I left in the bandroom between practices).I believe timidty comes with age and rightly so. we are harder to employ, our bones are more brittle and we've seen enough shit to be wary of unsupported promises.

Chuck and the Pheebs said...


My nemesis at the time was a 125cc Sach two stroke piston ported long wheelbase dirtbike which tried, on numerous occasions, to kill me. Later, it was a 1966 Honda SuperHawk with ported head and open piples; 92 was the absolute top end from 305 wailing cc's.

Gravel roads at freeway speeds; we thought nothing of it, other than how to wring a few more MPH by placing our chins on the crossbar.

The invincibility of adolesence.