(I wrote this essay for an online publication and publish it today here in its original form on the first anniversary of my catastrophe).
That I didn't die last August 31st was thanks to the remarkable medical care I received, paid for almost entirely by my excellent municipal health care plan offered by my employers, the City of Key West where I dispatch police and fire for a living. It seemed grossly unfair to me that I was cut down while traveling serenely to my night shift, in a line of cars tooling along at a perfectly legal 45 mph. My Suzuki Burgman 200 was totaled in the wreck and I spent twelve days in Intensive Care l where my pelvis was rebuilt with rebar and metal plates, my right thigh was reset where it was twice broken, not amputated, and then two months in a rehab hospital in Miami where my right knee and left shoulder were allowed to heal on their own and I slowly learned to move and eventually walk again. I lay in my hospital bed with too much time to think and all I could move was my right arm. It's not easy posting to Facebook flat on your back with IVs in both arms, a tube up your nose and only your right hand to hold the phone and tap the keyboard.
On August 18th 2018, at ten o'clock in the morning of a Saturday I rode away from my home and took off up the Keys aiming for Niagara Falls, New York 1500 miles away. I had a mad idea I could try to complete the ride in less than 36 hours and add another timed long distance ride to the two I had already accomplished on my previous bike, a 2007 Triumph Bonneville 865. In 2008 I had managed a one thousand mile "Iron Butt" ride followed in 2010 by a "Bun Burner" 1500 mile ride on my Bonneville.This time to make it interesting I was going to give it a shot on a 200cc scooter, the smallest Burgman sold in the United States. My doctor had diagnosed arthritis creeping into my left wrist so when Hurricane Irma flooded and wrecked my Bonneville, ten years old with a hundred thousand very happy trouble-free miles on the clock from new, it was time to consider riding an automatic.
I have been riding continuously since 1970 when my Italian mother bought me a Vespa 50 in the hope I would grow up to love motorcycles. She died shortly thereafter but the seed was sown and I have spent the 50 intervening yeas riding and traveling as much as I can. I have always had a mixture of motorcycles and Vespas in my life and I have never made a distinction between my first full sized bike an MV Agusta 350, and my scooters. Since then I have owned a Gold Wing, rented Harleys, and Indians trying out the cruiser lifestyle which never suited me. I have toured on BMWs and assorted singles and four cylinder Universal Japanese Motorcycles but the best trip I ever took was a ride across the US and Mexico in 1981 on a brand new Vespa P200. I spent six months on the rode inspired by the movie Easy Rider yet drawn to the simplicity dependability and ease of use of the humble Vespa. At the time the US was restricted to a national 55 mph speed limit so the 63 mph scooter fit in with traffic flows just fine. I have tried to recreate that era by buying another P200 and found it to be too slow with terrible brakes and poor reaction times in modern traffic.
Testing Eric's P200 in Virginia. Great fun but very old fashioned.
The Burgman 200 was my first Japanese "banana boat" scooter and it blew me away with it's mixture of performance, comfort, economy and dependable low maintenance operation. Of course if you are young and looking for thrills and a chance to get laid a modest 200cc scooter will cramp your style, and even though the Baby Burgman will just about touch 80 GPS miles per hour it is not a thrill ride for those seeking absolute acceleration and performance obviously. You need to stick to Gixxers in Suzuki's range for that. But if you are an old foge looking to extend your riding years and recreate the seat-of-our-pants riding style of our youth when we pressed into service whatever unsuitable ride we owned for a summer touring vacation (holiday) then the Baby Burgman is the pick of the litter in my opinion.
I tell you I took off that August morning with no real expectation of making it to Niagara Falls in time to complete the Iron Butt "Bun Burner" 36-hour ride. But I was going to do my best on my 200cc banana boat. It was a revelation as we cruised up I-95 on the Florida East coast at 71 GPS miles per hour. Fuel mileage dropped to 65 miles per US gallon (add ten percent for Imperial gallons) and the ride was perfectly comfortable holding my own with traffic in the two right lanes occasionally passing a slow poke. As night fell rain came on and the Burgman cut through the night with impressive headlights and great wind protection keeping me comfortable through South Carolina and most of North Carolina. I rode up Fancy Gap in Virginia, a seriously steep incline, fast enough no car caught up to me and when I plateaued at the top it was dawn on Sunday and I was 500 miles from Niagara Falls with 16 hours to meet my deadline. Piece of cake (piss).
The mountains of West Virginia were a trail - 75 mph downhill, slingshotting onto the long uphills where my speed dropped to 60 or even 55 on really long stretches. It was here I wished I had a T-Max or a Burgman 650, which would be necessary if I lived among the mountains but in my home state of Flatistan especially commuting the slow paced Keys my 200 was plenty, I concluded. I rolled smoothly along the south shore of Lake Erie and made my way past parks filled with sunbathers in Buffalo until I reached my hotel 1550 miles from my home. I did it in 32 hours and the Burgman was running fine. It burned not one drop of oil and the only casualty was the baffling inside the muffler (silencer) that blew out in a specially deep West Virginia pot hole. Now my modest ride sounded embarrassingly like a Harley wannabe. That problem solved itself in the wreck two weeks later when the bike was pretzled and written off along with the rotten muffler (silencer).
Before the ride I had told my wife not to worry as I was statistically much more likely to wreck on my commute close to home. I should never have said anything of course as I managed to jinx myself pretty badly. The good news is I've found another 2014 Burgman 200 with just 400 miles on the clock, as apparently not everyone loves to ride this crazy machine. As soon as I can walk properly, in a few weeks I hope, I'll be back in the saddle and this summer when I set off for Montauk, New York (1550 miles from my home) on my next Iron Butt I have a pretty good idea I'll get there in plenty of time. No more wrecks for a while though, I am quite enjoying every day I am alive; it's gift to be able to walk even with a cane and the prospect of riding, even a modest Baby Burgman, is quite the boost. I am ready.
1400 words. Michael Beattie. Cudjoe Key, Florida.
August 31st, 2018:
What I expected to be my last self portrait. I forgot to smile.
Pennsylvania, cold and wet. NOT Florida.
Touch and go