1981 Yamaha XS 650
Today I own two motorcycles and am always on the look out for another one. I enjoy taking long road trips, day trips, or even just driving around town on the bike. Before all this though, there was a time when I did not know that I needed a motorcycle. Ignorance was bliss as I had never ridden on one. Then out of the blue my father purchased a Honda Nighthawk 750. I was taking a break from college to visit my parents when he showed me the bike. It was (is) beautiful.
The Nighthawk is as close to a modern version of what I think a bike should look like. It is not a hunched over crotch-rocket, or a low seated cruiser. It is somewhere in-between, a standard bike that is good in both roles but does not excel at either. It was an extremely windy day when I climbed on back for my first ride. This was not my father's first motorcycle, just his first in about 30 years. We took off down the road, crossing a bridge over a river by our home. I remember very clearly that we were tilting at a 30 degree angle just to offset the wind. I thought we would fall for sure. It was an uneasy feeling maintaining that lean. It did not feel natural at all. After the short trip I was able to reflect on the wide open feeling you get on a motorcycle (even on back of one). It was like we could go anywhere we wanted. I think it was more the feeling of freedom than anything else that prompted me to get my own.
It only took about two weeks after that ride for me to decide on a bike for myself. I had to be practical because I was a college student without much money. My mother made it clear I should not get a bike. I can understand why. Many of my relatives have had retired from motorcycle riding after a severe accidents. She didn't want the same for me. That meant I had to go it alone on the cost of a bike.
I looked in the paper every day for new adds for motorcycles. It became apparent very quickly that most anything with the Harley name was out of my range. Then anything newer than 1992 was probably too expensive. Dirt bikes were out automatically because I wanted to do some long distance traveling. I finally decided on an 1981 Yamaha XS-650 Special. It was almost a forgone conclusion that I would buy it even before seeing it. I think that bike is beautiful, more so than any bike I have seen since. To me it is what a bike should look like. For all its good looks however, the bike I wanted to buy had some serious issues that would have to be addressed before it was safe to ride (more on that later). I think it was this first bike, more than any magazine photos, editors top picks, or my friend's choice of bikes that influenced how I would look at motorcycles and what I expected out of them. The 650 was not fast, fuel efficient, or smooth to ride, but it looked great and was a blast to ride. The handle bars shake as the bike sits in idle. This may not be from gobs of horsepower waiting to escape on the pavement, but it adds to the overall experience you get when you climb on and go for a ride. I love riding that bike.