Uneasy Rider October 2014

Uneasy Rider: Flight Risk

Other than test bikes, which can range from exceedingly mild to frighteningly wild, I mostly ride bikes that don’t look like trouble. So while I’m often not riding particularly slowly, I don’t look that fast. As a result, I haven’t had a roadside chat with a set of mirrored aviator shades in many years. Or maybe I’ve just been lucky.

My luck recently changed, about 600 miles into a nice long day on a beautiful red Honda Interceptor, loaned to us upstanding citizens here at CityBike by American Honda—you can read more about this bike and our adventures on it in our next issue.

I’d been on the bike since about 6:30 AM, and after a day of brisk riding over the hills, up the coast, and back over some other hills, I was making haste out of Redding I-5 on my way back to Oakland, in hopes of a not-too-late dinner with my bride, who has a hard time understanding why anyone would want to ride 700+ miles in a day.

I’m not going to divulge any details as the matter is still “pending” and I’m sure not gonna cop to speeding or admit to any particular speed. What I will say, for the benefit of our friends at American Honda, is that there must have been some kind of misunderstanding, and that the “ride fast, take chances” thing doesn’t apply to press bikes. That’s my story, and I’m damn sure stickin’ to it.

Here’s the thing: the red VFR looks fast. It doesn’t matter that it’s often damned for being too heavy, underpowered, or whatever else people say about the bike—to a copper, it probably looks like a Ducati or some other crazy-fast murdercycle. There’s no notion of it being a “gentleman’s sporty-bike” or a sport-tourer—it’s a rice rocket.

The funny thing is, I’d actually been pondering this very concept at points throughout my ride, the idea that the VFR looks like trouble, even though it’s arguably not—at least not SuperDuke or S1000RR-flavored trouble. So while I wasn’t all that surprised when Johnny Law flipped a rapid bitch across the median and roared up behind me, I was a little startled when he didn’t just light me up but rather nearly grazed my left thigh, pointing his finger and shouting at me from the cab of his Explorer.

The “have I been mistaken for a murderer?” vibes continued when he stopped behind me and carried on with the shouting: “RIDER! Remove your helmet and STEP AWAY from the motorcycle!” But I nearly burst out laughing at how quickly his tone changed as my helmet came off, revealing spectacles and a gray beard.

“Sorry, I don’t mean to be harsh. It’s just that some times, we get young guys up here that… well, they don’t stop.”

I didn’t tell him that running on I-5 is obviously stupid—there’s really nowhere to go, and you’re certain to get caught. See? I didn’t tell him this, because that kind of talk sounds guilty, like someone who’s actually thought about running, and I didn’t want to reinforce that impression.

Eventually, Officer Friendly was done with me and I went on my now not-so-merry and slightly slower way, thinking about another instance of this misunderstood VFR syndrome. I used to have a 2000 VFR800, the yellow one, the last of (some say) the proper VFRs. I also had a Triumph Speed Triple, a Special Edition model: loud as hell, stripped-down and generally pretty mean.

I was commuting mostly on the VFR, and the CEO of the company I worked for at the time would often snarl in my direction about the Honda, accusing it of being too fast, a tragedy waiting to happen, the usual.

Never mind that I usually rode it with a topcase and no sidecases, which is about as nerdy as a motorcycle can be. In his mind, it was a wailing banshee of a sportbike.

Never mind that the Triumph was up on the VFR by probably about 30 horsepower, and had earned the nickname “Death Triple” from my little brother, a very un-conservative rider himself. In Mr. CEO’s mind, the Triumph was a British classic, non-threatening, a cup of Earl Grey to be consumed with proper pinky etiquette.

We have some super-cool stuff this month, including more old-timey photos and stories from the vaults of the SFMC. These guys have enough good stuff to fill a dozen issues of CityBike, and we’re honored to have been given access to the archives and the people—but this is the last of it, at least until the club turns 115 or so—so enjoy.

We’ve also got a first ride on a Honda’s very interesting new CBR300R , an update on our CRF project, a report from the Isle of Man, and of course Maynard and Hertfelder, not to mention bits and bobs of various flavors in News, Clues and Reviews.

Anyway, enough talk. Let’s ride.

This column originally appeared in our October 2014 issue.