“It’s not poison Bud, it’s an itch. You gotta scratch it.” —my brother Dave Miller
My brother and I recently attended a cars and coffee event at SteelStacks, the old Bethlehem, PA, steel site. A gearhead from birth, he was driving a Dodge Challenger, his dream muscle car. I met him on my V-Strom. I had been toying with the idea of getting a new ride, and after hearing me discuss the pros and cons ad nauseam, Dave uttered the quote above. The more I thought about it, the more I knew he was right. I was dragging my feet with a head full of indecision.
A few years ago, I wrote a column titled “Four Legs, Two Wheels, and a Grateful Heart” in which I mentioned shocking no one when I purchased a second Suzuki V-Strom after putting 75,000 miles on my first. Recently, however, I surprised almost everyone by selling the V-Strom and going with a Triumph Street Triple R, my first sportbike of any kind.
In purchasing my new ride, I made a friend in Bill H., who sold it to me with just 1,000 miles on the odometer. Though roughly the same age, it seems we were heading in different directions as far as choice of ride. Bill was ready for a comfortable cruiser while I was ready to ride something with twice the horsepower of my former bike, something smaller, faster, louder, more agile, and with a lot of getaway speed.
Coincidentally, I sold my V-Strom to Jared, a KLR owner, who was looking for a fully outfitted adventure tourer for a trip to Canada. Jared is younger and at a different point in life than either Bill or myself. We each ended up with the bike that fit us for the place we found ourselves in.
Call it a mid-life decision, but I’d become bored with the V-Strom. Don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the best bikes on the market and bomb-proof reliable. But the Triple is to the V-Strom as Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” is to Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” It is a wound spring of a motorcycle that begs to be ridden hard and hates sitting still. Though less versatile and much less forgiving, the bike I now call “Greybeard” is far more fun and closer to the mood I find myself in at age 52.
I’ve always loved the sleek, sexy look of sportbikes, but always found myself walking past them like Pee-wee Herman walking by the snake aquarium in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, nose upturned in some inexplicable display of distaste. I always headed to the adventure tourers, which seemed more practical for my riding style and terrain.
Itches can be scratched, to be sure. We age physically, but I’ve always been one to pick up new hobbies, new music, and new challenges that open me up a bit. It’s what keeps the juices flowing and what staves off growing old mentally—so I bit the bullet and made the move.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been tinkering with my Triple, getting it set up to tour and wringing its neck on my daily commute over South Mountain on the way to the office in Bethlehem. I arrive with a smile on my face every time and often think back to my first bike, an ’81 Yamaha Maxim, that evoked similar feelings hundreds of thousands of miles ago.
I just got an email from a RoadRUNNER reader named Ben who asked if I’d ever experienced a riding slump. He described it concisely as “succumbing to the trappings of the passive observer, despite having been ‘born again’ onto two wheels.” Ben was looking for advice on how to “‘find the light’ again.” Upon reflection, I realized I’d been in just such a slump, riding but not really loving it like I knew I could. My advice to Ben was to do just what I did, if possible: 1) plan a trip to someplace you’ve never been, and 2) buy a bike you’ve never ridden before, maybe something out of your comfort zone.
I’ve fallen in love with riding again by realizing it was time to attack the road ahead more aggressively and let the wind get at me without a tall windshield between us. All it took was a slight change in perspective, a slightly more dynamic posture, and a new bike with enough top end to match my mood. I may change course again at some point. Then again, you may see me on a Speed Triple next year—I’m not sure. What I do know is when it’s time again, I’ll hear my brother in my ear and remember that it’s not poison, it’s just an itch I should probably scratch.