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Car Guy Diary – 8/30/2013 – Motorcycles Too

My first, and best, motorcycle, my Yamaha 550 Maxim. Brutally quick, silky engine and great gas mileage.
My first, and best, motorcycle, my Yamaha 550 Maxim. Brutally quick, silky engine and great gas mileage.
Bart R. Orlans

While my “car phase” has so far been a life-long thing, my motorcycle phase was much shorter. After three motorcycles I got out of thegame with only one minor injury which to be fair happened when I was parking the bike in the garage. Quit while on top, I always say.

Anyway, motorcycle number one was truly the best one I had by a wide margin. Peaking early can be a real double-edged sword, but finances and the right bike aligned at just the right time so how could I resist. The bike in question was a 1982 Yamaha 550 Maxim, metallic black with aluminumwheels. It was, for a long time, the quickest thing I had ever driven. Contemporary road tests said it could cover the quarter mile in 13.3 seconds at 97 MPH with an average sized rider. That is hauling the freight. Remember, however, that I am far more compact than the average rider so chances are that with me on it, the bike could have dipped into the 12s in the quarter mile.That, my friends, is blistering for a street-driven vehicle that will get 55 MPG if driven sanely.

My friend, who was riding his similarly sized Suzuki, drove me to the dealer to pick the bike up. After the paperwork was done, I put on my new helmet and saddled up. I pushed the starter button and the jewel-like four-cylinder engine growled to life. It sounded smoother running to me than my friend’s Suzuki and when revved up it made a sort of ripping silk shriek. I was hooked. I stood the bike up off the kickstand and rolled to the exit of thelot. Checking for traffic, I coasted out onto the highway and when I straightened out, I cracked the throttle opened half way. Time and space seemed to bend over backwards as the bike rocketed forward. I squeezed the clutch handle and shifted up to second gear with my toe. The bike continued to accelerate franticly. Third gear…fourth gear….fifth gear. Between the scream of the engine, the rush of wind and the pull of gravity, it was difficult to keep my wits about me.

There was a red light ahead so I released the throttle and all at once the insanity of the last few seconds dissipated. We turned off the highway onto a county road and I decided to treat the throttle with a lot more respect. This thing could be dangerous, I decided…but what a rush! The road bent around, went up a small rise and came to a three-way stop. Bad news for me because the front wheel rolled up onto a high spot such that when the bike came to a stop, my feet could not touch the ground. After owning the bike for about a minute and a half, down it went onto the pavement with a thud. I was able to get my leg out of the way so nobody, bike included, suffered anything more than a scuff to the engine case and the ego.

The Yamaha and I enjoyed our time together, but time was short. I sold it to buy an engagement ring for a gal I wound up breaking upwith. After a while, I decided to get back in the saddle and bought a used Honda 360 just to bop around on. While it was a good little bike, it was barely a shadow of the animal that the Yamaha was. Despite that, I put more miles on the little Honda than I did on the big Yamaha. Two of my buddies and I rode to Virginia Beach and later on, to Boston on our bikes.

The Virginia Beach trip is where my Honda earned the nickname “Chainsaw on Wheels.” It’s little engine had to work hard to keep up with my friend’s big Suzuki. The high-pitched buzz from the engine sounded like a chainsaw engine powering through an oak tree. The name stuck. The nickname didn’t bother me as much as the kick-starter did. After an hour or two in the saddle it was a pain in more ways than one to have to jump on that starter lever to coax the little buzz bomb to life.

Soon, the Honda sat more than it got out and about. Arthritis made the kick-starter even more of a pain so if I was going to ride any more, I would need a bike with an electric starter. Right about then, an old friend came along with a deal on a bike. He needed a bed liner for his pickup truck but didn’t need his ’79 Yamaha XS400 anymore. I bought him a bed liner and he brought me the bike. Yamaha number two was a decent bike with good power that sounded much better than the “Chainsaw” but I was busy racing my car at the time and the bike sat. Soon, I was moving out of state and the bikescouldn’t come with me. I gave both bikes away, one to a friend, the other to a business associate, and my bike phase came to a close.

From time to time I see a nice bike for cheap and I get tempted. Other times I see that some of the new bikes get upwards of 60 MPG and I think how great it would be to commute on one of those. Then I think I retired from motorcycles without major injury and maybe I should keep my perfect record. Hmmm…

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