Mid-Life Rider

rambling through mid-life on motorcycles

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Conversation with Michael Malvin: Why do I ride?

March 5th, 2008 · No Comments

I met Michael as a result of a thread I posted at FJRForum asking people why they ride.

He touches on a theme that I think resonates for a lot of us which is the connection to that first “Big Wheel”, or in my case, my first two-wheeler (a snazzy red number my Dad bought at a garage sale). That’s a story for another post, but I can easily conjure images of clambering aboard what seemed to be a very large bike at the time and feeling all the strange and wonderful sensations associated with those first rides. It was exhilarating. It was terrifying. It was often punctuated by the sounds of me shouting “Catch me Daddy!” as I threw myself off the bike and in his general direction as I went careening by.

Michael’s recounting of his ever-widening forays on his bicycle give meaning to the word “freedom” which we often use when talking about riding bikes. And it was and is. For a young kid, a bicycle multiplied both speed and distance by orders of magnitude, making it possible to venture further and further afield without the need to inconvenience, or more importantly tell, the adults in our lives.

Michaels’ story resonates with me in a big. Way. Change the name, change the details, and it’s like an archetypal journey. It’s Joseph Campbell’s mono-myth in action.

Read and enjoy.

Why did you decide to start riding?

When did it all really start? Technically? It started at age five with the Big Wheel. Come on… let’s face it racing down the street and then grabbing a handful of that side brake and gently steering into a long power slide… ahh the speed… the power … the exhilaration.

Then it was on to the Ross Apollo 5 speed complete with banana seat. By age 8 or so, all the boys in the neighborhood would constantly travel in packs on our bikes, building ramps and rarely stopping without a 20 ft skid. Ahh… the speed… the power… the exhilaration.

By age 11, I got a “10 speed.” Less power but I discovered something new… Freedom. As most of you recall, growing up in the 60’s 70’s and maybe even early 80’s, kids were typically allowed to be unsupervised for hours and hours a clip. You knew what time to be home and you knew your “boundaries”. ..but… Long Island was flat and to me it was exciting to go beyond those boundaries… further and further. I was a good kid, but I was mischievous. First it was going into “town” (Rockville Centre, NY) when I wasn’t supposed to and soon after it was the next town over, then Jones Beach and before long it was anywhere I could get to in a few hours including… yes…Manhattan.

“Where were you Michael?, your sisters said they haven’t seen you all afternoon.”

“Awe y’know mom, just playing in the neighborhood” OK, so I really biked 30 miles each way across some of the busiest streets in the country, over bridges, and into a city with 8 million people, had pizza in Greenwich Village, stole a button on Canal Street, saw two boys kiss (WTF!) and only got home a little after dark. Ahh, the freedom… the adrenaline… the exhilaration.

In September, 1983 when I was 14, Jaime Martino let me ride is Honda moped. I will never forget my first ride… the adrenaline rush, the wind in my hair (that I used to have)….ahh the speed… the power…the exhilaration… the freedom!

My favorite was to drive it down a narrow walking path through the woods in a local park because with a max speed of 30mph, the scoot somehow felt much faster! I was hooked, big time. There was no way on the planet, that this Long Island Jew would have EVER been allowed to actually have a moped or a motorcycle so my early years of riding were all on the “down-low”, top secret, covert operations that only added further excitement. I was hooked, hooked big-time.

Within two months, I had somehow talked the Bogart brothers who lived behind me and were probably in their early 20’s to teach me how to ride their Honda Hawk. I remember the first ride like it was yesterday including popping the clutch and the front wheel coming up and my sheer terror. I was probably more scared of getting caught, than hurt but within another month I had worked out a deal where I could use the Honda hawk regularly. By the 11th grade I bought my first bike.

My car was a ‘69 Dodge Dart that I bought for $400 but my top secret bike that was kept at a friends and used rarely was a used Honda Interceptor. Freshman year of college, I was a passenger in a bad car accident and spent the majority of the next three years helping to nurse my high school sweetheart back to health from a severe head injury. I sold everything that I didn’t absolutely need.

When the dust settled from that drama, I began to hear, no feel the calling and since money was tight and I was paying my way through college, I basically bought a bike in the dead of winter every year for a song and sold them in late spring for a profit fulfilling my need to ride as well as supplementing my limited income. One of these bikes included an FJ which I enjoyed tremendously.

After college I took a job in sales, paid off my one and only student loan within three months of graduation and a few months later I found myself in a Kawasaki dealership on a beautiful autumn morning. (By the way, remember my first year of riding the moped and the Hawk? It was in the Fall and I was programmed for life… I love riding motorcycles in the Fall!) After buying used motorcycles all through college and after telling this very sales guy on several occasions that I would never buy new… the following conversation transpired:

“What time could you have this bike ready ?” (pointing to a new ‘94 ZX-11)”We couldn’t have it until tomorrow because we would have to… blah blah blah”

I interrupt

“Here is $1K I will be back in two hours with $8K more. Will it be ready?”

“Yes”

Ah the speed, the power, the freedom, the exhilaration.

I enjoyed that bike tremendously for a couple of years but truth be told between the Zx-11 and all of the other bikes combined I never really rode that many miles all totaled; never really learned much about the sport and although I fed my passion for riding, I was in many ways a young, naïve, bonehead new Yorker caught up in making money and chasing tail. Due to my irresponsibility with following up with tickets, my license ended up suspended and what little riding I was doing was hamstrung by my conditional license and fear of losing all driving privileges. Perhaps it was my time to be a flaky jerk after the very tough period following the aforementioned car accident.

But after three years of working in a cheesy sales job, I walked away from my now six figure plus income, got my license squared away, and planned a new respectable career in… get this… CALIFORNIA. Yes, California where I was born but never lived (another story). Yes California where I can ride all year long. Yes, I’ve got my license back and I’m heading to Cali! Finally I will REALLY get to ride my beloved Z!

The movers dropped the bike off the truck! The damage was extensive and our resolution involved a check and no motorcycle. Perhaps, I took the whole ya’know “growing up” thing or maturing or whatever a little too seriously because somehow, some way 10 years went by with no bike. Now yes, I did build a successful career, with a big “respectable” (whatever that means) company, and oh yeah, got married had um… a baby, oh and another one, learned a lot, and so on and so forth… but NO BIKE!

Now don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of fun along the way… wake boarding, water skiing, snow skiing, golfing, hiking traveling etc. I even started off road motorcycling which I also love and although it scratched the itch, it didn’t fill the void.

In 2005 I spent considerable time focusing on myself and issues such as what I wanted out of life. Among other things, I decided to get a small tattoo with the Kanji symbol for the word “Decision” which in that language has a secondary meaning of determination. The image symbolizes many things and the story behind the word is long but I have summarized much of what it means with the following.

D E C I S I O N

for Myself

Noelle

Jessica and Sara

Family

Friends

to attain

Health

Happiness

Prosperity

Independence

through

Determination

Smart Choices

No Vices

Passion

Patience

Many choices were made during this period geared towards bettering myself and my quality of life. Two notable ones include, choosing to leave corporate America to start my own company (the name of which coincidentally includes the word Decision ) and yes, you guessed it… to get back in the motorcycle saddle again.

The Mrs. (Noelle) said that it wasn’t a good time because of… blah blah blah. I agreed and also pointed out that it wasn’t going to be a good time for about another 18 years (did I mention that we had a newborn?). In short order I had a deposit down on a used 2004 FJR in Monterey. The arrangements were all in order and the bike was to be picked up on a Wednesday. After a decade long hiatus, I was excited to say the least.

The Sunday before the exciting day, Noelle and I found ourselves in stopped traffic miles behind what appeared to be a bad accident as evidenced by the several ambulances that passed as we waited. Wouldn’t you know it, not only was it a motorcycle accident, but it was a pretty brutal one and we had to pass at it at about 1 mph with the carnage just outside my wife’s window.

She was upset. She felt it was a sign… a sign that I wasn’t supposed to get a bike. As the tears dripped from her eyes (did I mention we had a newborn?), I phoned the seller of the FJR and informed him that I would have to walk away from my $500 deposit. I suggested to my wife that if in fact it was a sign, than perhaps it was a sign not to get THAT bike.

Was the decision to get back on the bike a mid-life crisis? As a father, husband provider etc., was I feeling pressure? With responsibility comes some loss of freedom. Of course it’s all a series of conscious choices and compromises but eventually we can become the child. The child that yearns for freedom and excitement… or maybe… maybe I just love to ride motorcycles.

Six months later I bought a new 2006 FJR AE.

Ahh the speed… the power … the freedom…the exhilaration!

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