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TRANSPARENT WORDS ON MOTORCYCLING 

BY J.K.ASTRID

 

Something happens when you pull in your clutch, kick through your gears and squeeze your throttle.

When you start going so fast that the scream of your tailpipes disappears, you hear only the static of the wind. You see a lot more. You notice the blur of colors passing, the constant stillness of the creek running parallel to your favorite back road, the bends and slight bumps of a freshly paved highway going on for miles. You feel the rush of coming to a halt when reaching your destination; when your body, if only for a moment, feels the release of all pressure and comes to a complete relax. There’s a lot to be found in that kind of solitude—like exactly who you are without all the bullshit.

The act of riding a motorcycle is the calming high I have been searching for, and I have—throughout the years—found many of its unequal substitutes.

When I got my first bike, it was broken. I had recently moved to a new area. I had no friends. I had no idea what I was doing. I got the bike because I was told it was a bad idea and not to do it.

I bought a Clymer manual, an unspeakable amount of engine degreaser, brake cleaner, motor oil, Ziploc bags for labeling and storing parts, metric tools and Fast Orange. I went to work taking apart my little ’87 Honda Rebel 450.

LAUREL'S 350 AND THE AUTHOR'S TRIUMPH

LAUREL'S 350 AND THE AUTHOR'S TRIUMPH

THE AUTHOR'S '87 HONDA REBEL 450

THE AUTHOR'S '87 HONDA REBEL 450

 

The 450 was only made for two years— ‘86 and ‘87. It is damn near impossible to find parts and there is nothing after market. I was told the 450 looked way too much like a Sportster, so Harley had a problem with it and Honda stopped the design. So, if you have a problem you just sort of have to deal with it. Aside from that, the Honda is metric as opposed to imperial—so the tools needed to work on it are totally different; if a shop strictly works on American bikes, they typically don’t have the tools needed.  

The more I dissected and cleaned, the more I realized the bike was held together by its own gunk. There were zip ties in the place of metal clamps fastening pieces down in place, a gas tank balanced on top of a cut up pool noodle and—the ultimate killer—a cracked intake. Before I knew the intake was cracked, I managed to pry out my carburetors. The screws on the carbs were stripped and rusted. I was positive they needed to be cleaned and praying they didn’t need to be rebuilt. They did, and I had no idea how to do that yet.

 

 


THE ACT OF RIDING A MOTORCYCLE IS THE CALMING HIGH I HAVE BEEN SEARCHING FOR, AND I HAVE—THROUGHOUT THE YEARS—FOUND MANY OF ITS UNEQUAL SUBSTITUTES.

I called almost every shop I could find in the area. No one wanted to touch it. I ended up going to a local out-of-home Harley rebuilder, carbs and Clymer in-hand. The man was older, in his 60s or 70s, and told me he only worked on Harleys. He looked at me again, took a deep sigh, and signaled to me to follow him into his garage. He taught me about impact drivers. He showed me tools and how to use them and had me do it myself. He was the first moto-friend I made.

A little more than a year later I am onto my second bike. A 2005 Triumph America. I love that bike so much. It gives me an incomparable sense of freedom. It is fast, solid and works without too many issues. Anyway.

Life before bikes seemed like an extension of high school. People were cliquey, gossipy. There were still people changing themselves, trying to find out where they fit in. There were a lot of blurred lines. Nothing but pure kaizen ideology kept me going.

 

YON AND BRAD, THE AUTHOR'S FIANCE

A GROUP RIDE FROM CHARLESTON TO SAVANNAH, GA. 

 

 

I run a farm about 30 minutes outside downtown Charleston. I rarely leave. I always have work to do. I’m usually way too exhausted by the end of the day to drive somewhere, let alone drive back. The bike changed a lot for me.  Riding gave me a sense of life. All day long I hauled ass thinking that if I got done with chores a little earlier, I could ride down to the docks and catch the sunset over the pier. The absolute yearning for that still drives me through my typical 12-hour days.

I was a little worried when I first started venturing off the island. I felt confident, but still green. I had never done a ride longer than an hour. I had never gone over the larger, higher bridges or overpasses and I had never ridden in a group. Turns out, with bikes, I ran into the nicest group of people you’ll ever meet.

The first time I headed for Charleston, I met up with a boy named Nicholas and a boy named Tyler. I didn’t know them. Both had built their beautiful, skinny, loud-as-fuck choppers in Nicholas’s garage. And then there was me and my Triumph.


BOTH HAD BUILT THEIR BEAUTIFUL, SKINNY, LOUD-AS-FUCK CHOPPERS IN NICHOLAS’S GARAGE. AND THEN THERE WAS ME AND MY TRIUMPH.

I didn’t drop my bike, but it did shut off randomly a few times. They waited for me every time, even in the middle of traffic. I rode faster and longer than I ever had in my short riding life. I cruised at about 85 miles per hour and still couldn’t keep up, trailing about 100 feet back. I watched Tyler surf his bike down the highway with ease and thought Where has this been all my life?  

 Since then I have become so incredibly close, so incredibly thankful, for those I have met on this journey. Forming a small girl group for rides, I finally feel like Charleston isn’t so suffocating. We travel to moto shows, build and refabricate. We hang out in the garage, taking it easy.

That’s what this little column will cover.

 

SHUT THE FUCK UP AND RIDE (SAFELY)

The past few weeks have been pretty trying for me. Things have been helter-skelter at the farm; my family is rapidly getting crazier. A program I run with some “at-risk” (I hate that term) youth has really taken off and I’m getting all sorts of publicity. I was supposed to bust out this article ages ago, so personal thanks to MZB for the patience.

What else can be thrown into the mix of life being all around totally crazy? A totally crazy bike wreck may do the trick.

 

BRAD'S BIKE WRECK

 

Whoops, there it is. I’ve never been fond of publicly displaying acts of my idiocrasy, so this piece is a firm reminder to myself and my friends and whoever else thinks they are invincible that they aren’t—and that you need to wear a helmet.

A close friend passed away in a motorcycle wreck a few years back, so when my fiancé called me to ask to help him drag his bike out of a ditch, I flipped script.

Fast forward a few weeks—he and his bike are fine. The idiot didn’t break a single bone and several amazing people came to the rescue, dragging the bike out of the South Carolina sludge and bringing it to their garage where it was worked on and, today, is finally being ridden home.

 

GOOD LUCK CHARMS COME IN HANDY

 

Even though I am amazingly proud of the build that has come to be, there will be a front brake this time around. As well as handle bars that actually provide somewhat of a turning radius. As they say, he’s gonna have to tow the mark and walk the line.

I’ve received quite a bit of flak from a few people about this build and the person riding it; mainly from people without bikes. Let’s settle that right now:

If you spent less money on Show Class merch, maybe you could afford a running bike, but even then, you probably wouldn’t have the balls to ride it.  And if you did ride it, when it breaks or needs maintenance, don’t ask us to help you fix it. So, shut the fuck up and mind your own god damn business. 

Anyway, this is the perfect time to talk about gear and safety, don’t you think? Here are some of my basics:

When I ride I always wear a helmet. The one pictured is the Biltwell Gringo S, but I also have a Bell Bullitt with an amber shield that I use typically for evening rides, or have on hand if someone is going to cupcake—aka ride along—with me.

I have a closet full of cowboy and paddock boots I wear for work and every single pair has a hole in the left sole from the gearshift use. I invested in these Boulets recently, and aside from having amazing traction I think they are going to last forever.

Gloves: something I have a million pairs of from work. I usually don’t like motorcycle gloves because I have super thin hands and all the girl gloves I find I don’t really care for. So, I use my horse-riding gloves. Pictured are a pair of Roeckls, but I also really love my Samshields. Both are super thin, breathable, grippy, and will last forever if cared for properly.

 


AND WHEN I RIDE WITH LAUREL, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT HER LATER, SHE IS PRETTY MUCH A MASTER MACGYVER MECHANIC. IF SOMETHING NEEDS ADJUSTING A KNIFE WORKS AS A SCREWDRIVER JUST FINE.

 

 

As far as tools, I always have at least one knife on me out of habit. When I ride with people at least one of us has a tool roll on hand. And when I ride with Laurel, you’ll hear about her later, she is pretty much a master MacGyver mechanic. If something needs adjusting a knife works as a screwdriver just fine.

Of course, there is the jacket. The one in the picture is super light. Even on a summer day I will wear a jacket because if I fall I don’t want to get too fucked up. For the same reason: wear pants, guys. Ladies, check out Worse for Wear coming to you straight from the babes of Richmond, Virginia.

Even in all your gear, some idiot can still slam on the breaks or fly through a red light or door you. I’ve had a few frat boys cut me off and brake-check me just to try to get my attention, which is not fucking cool. Let’s all dress for the spill not for the thrill, eh?

 

J.K.ASTRID AND BRAD


 

We’ll be at Definition of the Chopper this year camping out, spending time in seedy bars, shot-gunning tailpipe beers, and participating in further foolish feats.  Hell, who knows? Maybe I’ll even have some Foul South stickers to slam on your battery boxes. The ladies and I will be riding up together with some friends. Feel free to join our ride up from the Charleston area.

 - j.k.astrid