Tales from the Lift #8: A lot of ghosts

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Tales from the Lift #8: A lot of ghosts
This is the first 'post' for 2017 and part of an ongoing series of moto tales by one local pillars of our MC community- Mr. Armen Amirian. Well known rider, wrench and raconteur who has previously been found in the pits as a wrench, contributing to moto publications worldwide, teaching moto- mechanics here in NYC (for 35 years! these days hosted by Ryders Alley ) and now enriching our site with his work at the keyboard capturing the passion for it all. His unique writing style embodies the mojo of living and breathing old bikes here in the city. Grab a beverage and settle in for a good read...

A lot of ghosts

December 1988

I’m standing in the parking lot of the Royal Cliffs Diner in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, on a Sunday morning. Looking around for yet another “one last time,” I slowly come to grips with the fact that there will be no other motorcycles to join mine in the lot this morning. Even though I’ve had a long breakfast and a few extra cups of coffee, no one has made it to this meeting place. I called about 15 answering machines last week (in New York City, no one is ever home), hoping to get at least a few warm bodies. But all I have are ghosts, As I look around the lot at the ghosts of machines gone by, I start to remember the bikes and their owners. Somehow, I recall the bikes better than the faces. Many times,I’ve bumped into someone from long ago and said, “Hello, ’78 750 Suzuki, how are you?” It’s not that I mean to be rude. It’s just that as a mechanic and a teacher of motorcycle mechanics, it’s easier for me to associate a bike with a person, rather than the other way around.

Oh well, it looks like another solo Sunday. As I suit up and get ready to ride away, I’m pleasantly haunted by ghosts.

Some of the people I recall became ghosts through wedlock. I remember that BMW R100T/Hailwood Ducati/850Norton/750 Harris Ducati did what he always did—took apart a beautiful bike with no major problems and never got it back together in one piece. On the rare occasions when he did have a whole bike, he could outride me like nobody’s business. Now, though, I guess the job, house, wife and four kids probably occupy more than a little of his time.

It seems 550 Seca got married and started a business. Not much time left for a long scoot with that kind of schedule. Honda 400/4 married. Funny how girlfriends who like bikes sometimes turn into wives who can’t stand them. He bought a house in the suburbs, sold his business and became a dad. The bike sits in the cellar now, like some kind of ghost itself.

Some ghosts have moved on. BMW Rl00RS realized that the woman of his dreams had grown tired of waiting for him. She moved to Virginia. Thought about it for a while, then headed after her. Now they live where he can’t keep a bike. We used to cruise through the Harriman State Park at midnight, alone in the moonlight. We’d stop in the middle of nowhere and drink hot mint tea from a Thermos and listen to the night. Now, occasionally, they invite me to come and visit.

BMW R65 sold her 360 Honda commuter when she realized it was no fun having her arm broken in New York City traffic. She kept her Beemer for out~of~town rides. we both worked strange hours and would labor on the bikes until the wee hours. An early morning ride would cast magical spells. We would write poetry about our poetry of motion. Then she moved to Japan. The R65 gathers dust in a Jersey garage.

Kawasaki KZ400 said, “New York’s not my town.” and did something about it. She packed up all her belongings and rode off into the sunset. Yamaha 550 Maxim married a South African and will go back to the old country with him. Her bike is for sale.

Some ghosts hurt to recall. Kawasaki 454 and i ran around a lot. I helped her pick out her bike. She had it shipped to Alaska, and spent the summer singing for a living and riding around. On her first long Sunday ride of the season, she didn’t dress warmly enough. We parked her bike at a gas station that used to be an Indian dealer. She felt warm behind me though, and we flew through the national park. I chased a Dunstall Norton and a CBX. I won’t forget that ride. One day she said we had nothing in common and I just shouldn’t call her again.

Some ghosts are real. Suzuki 400 died of lung cancer. I wonder if her mother gave her as much grief about smoking as she did about riding. Yamaha RZ500 pulled his car into the garage one day, left the motor running and shut the door on his unnamed sadness. He didn’t leave a note, so we don’t know why. One less cousin and one more ghost.

The best ghosts bring a smile to my face. BMW 650, who once bike-camped across the U.S., moved in with her girlfriend and settled down. She told me once that while camping she rode through the woods wearing only her boots and hemet, just to see what it felt like. But guess now on the list of adult-type duties, bikes come last.

Some ghosts are created by change. Suzuki 750 quit being a miserable lawyer and became a happy musician. “Can’t play piano with a busted hand,” he feared. Therefore, goodbye bike. So much for the founder and sole member of Hell’s Vegetarians, the meatless motorcyclists. 650 BMW grew tired of being a vice~president in charge of paper-shuffling and went to school to learn therapeutic massage. She gave up on the big city mentality and ultimately, on the big city. Now she wakes up in another state. Her bike stays in the driveway all night. Sadly. I see her only once in along while.

Harley Sportster got mad at his job and tried to drown his anger. He dropped the bike once and left it broken, realizing that alcohol and gas don’t mix. BMW Turbo sold his business and moved to Hawaii. A pair of sandals are the right vehicle for his new haunt. BMW 750/800 metamorphosed from Brooklyn bachelor with rotating jobs to a semi-attached Jersey homeowner with a steady gig. He’s busy and broke. The list goes on.

Of all my ghosts’ machines, only a few were eaten by gremlins. Guzzi 500/750 and Ducati 900 had machines that reinforced an old stereotype. when his only bike was a pedestrian Japanese twin, it always ran. Now that he has three Italian stallions, they all need work.

One day,the first and second gears on Yamaha 650’s transmission became ghosts—we’re not sure where they’re currently residing. Another bike on long term sabbatical.

They used to say that there were only two kinds of motorcyclists—those who have crashed and those who are going to. Not so true anymore. Brakes, tires and handling are all a lot better these days. Of all the riders I know, only four have died: two smokers who died of lung cancer and two by their own hands. I don’t think the main reason for quitting bikes is fear. Indeed, BMW800 rode around Europe for a month among fast company on a bike she could barely reach the gronud on. And she only had one eye. I haven’t heard from her in a year. Kawasaki 550/Honda 250 spent a week blasting around Sebring at 140 mph in a Formula Ford. Now, the Kawasaki is sold and the Honda sleeps. Probably the only reason she’s not a ghost is that we got married.

No, I think the explanation for quitting motorcycling lies deeper. It used to be said that there were only two types of people ~ motorcyclists, and those who wished they were. That’s not so true anymore, either. Today you have those few diehards (I like to think of myself as one) who seem to be having a good time and only a few outsiders who think riding looks fun. Now that cars have become fast and fun again, a lot of potential riders have become car people instead.

New York City only intensifies the problem. The fast pace of life here creates scores of motorcycle ghosts in an average of three years. The first year is all new, all fun, all scary. The second year starts out well, but now the bike isn’t ridden in the rain snow or extreme heat. By the third year, the bike needs a battery and maybe a rear tire . The owner says, “Got to get the old boy running,” but doesn’t. Time for a new hobby.

I come back to this morning—the Royal Cliffs parking lot. Ghosts. Maybe it’s me. Or the roads. Or the food, or a hundred different things. I don’t think so, though. Not really. I look around and see that nothing’s changed. I zip up my leathers and unlock my bike without having to wait for anyone else. Riding solo means not checking the mirrors for stragglers. Besides, solo is safer.

I do my rides my way when riding solo. I pause when I feel like it, getting a strawberry milkshake at the precise moment I want it, not when the group votes to stop. But somehow it isn’t the same. Now, searching for flesh and blood instead of ghosts, I remember an ad in the owners’ club news from a V50 Moto Guzzi looking for someone to go wrenching and riding. I think I’ll dig out the ad and call her when I get home. I start the bike and head down the road.



4 Responses

  1. Kurt Hoff
    | Reply

    boo, I was zippin around on my RZ back in 88. Shot me a text (646.872.65 three nine) for the next ride. i’ll be there.

  2. Armen
    | Reply

    The good news is that new folks replace the ghosts. In fact, the V50 Guzzi at the end of the piece was none other than famed bikie author Melissa Pierson (‘The Perfect Vehicle’, among others). Just saw her at the Javits Bike Show.

  3. Ray Bligh
    | Reply

    Great read. Thanks for the insight. So true!

  4. Natasha
    | Reply

    Hey Armen,

    Ran into this article after coming across your name on an old email. I miss my bike…sold it two years ago. Hope all is well with you! 🙂

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