I haven’t been much into machines, in terms of my lifetime. There wasn’t much exposure to me – my dad wasn’t into them – I didn’t hang out with any gearheads. I’ve always been great behind the controls of most anything that can be steered, but it wasn’t until I moved to Taiwan that I got into engines. It was because of motorcycling.
The first bike I ever bought was the southeast Asian classic Yamaha RXZ (aka Yamaha RZX). It was a 135cc two-stroke that barely weighed more than I do. His name was Max, a play off the movie Mad Max, after a friend told me it looked like a rat bike. The trouble is, I was (and am) in Taiwan, and the general speed limit in the city is only around 25mph. And I, having no experience on two-wheeled vehicles, at all, I drove like a chimpanzee on crystal meth. Speed limit is 30mph? I’m ripping it at 60mph, down a four-lane road, crowded with scooters, motorcycles, and cars alive. Like I had a God damned death wish.
And maybe I did. But that’s a story for another time.
Four motorcycle accidents that caused me multiple motorcycle crash injuries in my first six months in-country. Welcome to Taiwan. The worst of it was when a BMW cut across the road and I slammed, head-on, into its rear passenger quarter-panel. Sent me flying over the car and into an intersection, tumbling across the asphalt in nothing but a shirt and pair of khakis. Khakis I wear, to this very day.
I got lucky that day. I tore all the skin from the palm of my left hand and braised a quarter of it off my right forearm. It took a month to heal, the whole time feeling like my hand was resting on a hot wire-coil electric stove. A few months after, when a scooter ran a red light, on the same road, and I laid my bike into a slide hard enough to snap the half-inch pipe of my center-stand like it was made of bamboo. It also bent my foot 90-degrees in the wrong direction; imagine how you can close your fingers to your palm – now imagine your foot doing that same thing. Within minutes, my foot was swollen to the size of my head, and I was clawing into the dirt of the median between the two side of the road, laying on my back, wondering if this would finally be the time I snapped something.
But it was not meant to be. I’ve had some major accidents in my time, but there are always two consistent factors: I heal faster than the average person…and my bones will bend and bruise, and re-calcify to create bigger bones. I know that sounds like bullshit. I’m not saying I’m unbreakable. I am saying that impact that snapped steel pipe didn’t break my foot. I’ve fallen onto my chest so far and hard that, later, I couldn’t breathe. It was just a bruised sternum, and the reason that I have a “barrel chest,” to this day.
I’m getting sidetracked.
My mutant qualities aren’t what this is about either.
This is about today.
You see, after I realized that I was riding a 135cc death trap, I bought a different one. A 150cc Yamaha FZR. What makes the FZR unique is that it used the classic Yamaha Deltabox frame, the nefarious Genesis engine, which was a V-twin. Yes, you read that right. A 150cc V-twin – a pair of 75cc cylinders pushing a 300-pound motorcycle with a whopping 17 horsepower. Again…remember where you are…there are riding lawnmowers that could drive the speed limit, in Taiwan.
My FZR was my first real motorcycle love. A Classic from 1993, it had full fairing, and reminded me of the Ninja Maverick rode in Top Gun. I did so much to it, it’s hard to describe it all – in a year, it went through three paint jobs. I had a GPS mounted under the windscreen, wired into the bike, with mp3 capability that was wired around the back of the bike, into my helmet, which I had customized with “mini speakers” inside. The final paintjob – bright green – earned it the name Grasshoppa’.
I later sold it when I left Taiwan, which I have a tendency to do. Again…stories for other days…I have too much to do and am too excited and too rushed this morning to give you too many words.
I later returned to Taiwan, which I also have a tendency to do. Don’t get me started…
As luck would find me, as it so often does, a friend had a motorcycle that was based off the same frame and engine as my FZR was, although it was not exactly anything. The tail was from an NSR and the frame had been chopped up – the front end was removed, as was all its skin. It looked like a beautiful blue and silver beast, ready to devour anything in its path, at a mere 150cc. His name is Kai, short of Kaimera, and I’ve never loved a bike like I love Kai.
You see, there’s a culture to motorcycling that I never understood. It’s not just the freedom or the individuality or thrills in the moments, themselves. It’s the historical connections. It’s the feeling that my machine and I are one – if someone scuffs my motorcycle, they might-as-well slice my horse – it’s not simply a machine nor beast: he is my friend! I ride and in the depths of my mind, I honor those of the past with the same mind as me – Pony Express riders – mounted heavy cavalry units – Vikings, together in their knarr.
There is a fine line between the individual and the collective, when you deal with people with minds like these. Some ride alone. I, often, ride alone, but often not by desire. The reasons Motorcycle Clubs start are obvious to anyone who has ever considered being a part of one – to anyone else, it makes as little sense as a street gang or guerrilla army. The mentality of the biker is…complicated.
My partner on the road was Kai. For a year, Kai and I were a beautiful fusion of man and machine. But, as you may have seen in the foreshadowing, we were not to last. I left Taiwan and sold Kai to a man I’d never met – Ruan Burnett – an Afrikaaner who I knew, the moment I met him, that he would love Kai just like I did. The deal was done in moments. Both of us saw That Guy in each of us. At a glance we might have looked like a Surfer and a Hippie, but we were bikers, through-and-through. It pained me to see Kai go, but I felt joy in knowing he would be loved as he deserved to be.
Throughout the next year, I watched as Ruan rode Kai to places I’d never taken him. Kai got to see Taroko Gorge, while I have never even been to the East Coast, at all. I tasted my bittersweet synapses, knowing that I had made the choice. It didn’t stop me from missing Kai, or being a bit jealous of my new true friend Ruan. But, what’s a man to do, 8,000 miles away, working out his dreams for the future.
Fast-forward to today. As luck would find me…as it so often does…my arrival to Taiwan coincides with Ruan’s departure back to China, and neither of us would allow Kai to be an orphan. And so it is with great pleasure and true joy that I announce that today, my dear readers, Kai and I will be reunited. We shall ride again. It will be glorious. If you’ve never felt this feeling before, I hope you can, someday. If you don’t ride, I hope you start, and I hope you ride safely. After my four accidents on my RXZ, I never got in another, after switching to the FZR-style. Feet and fingers on my brakes at all times, riding like everyone is out to kill me.
Just you and me, Kai.
We’ll keep each other alive.
I’ll see you soon, my friend.
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