Motorcycle Enthusiasts' First Time - Off Idle

First Time

We've all had one by now...right? I mean, you wouldn't be reading this if you hadn't. You wouldn't care about what we had to say in this magazine because, well, because you'd be so preoccupied with a certain void in your life. Nope, every true motorcycle enthusiast has had a first time, and they remember it like it was yesterday. Not the first ride, not the first road trip, not the first get-off, but the first time you saw a motorcycle and knew-as if struck by a thunderbolt-you would ride your own one day.

Yes, that's it. You're walking down memory lane now. It probably wasn't even the first time you saw a motorcycle, was it? For most of us, it was a special time or place, a sound or a scent that made seeing that particular motorcycle The Moment. Some of us were tiny kids staring into the chrome, watching our smiles turn to little O's as our dirty little pointer touched the hot metal we'd just been told not to touch. Some of us were older, racing through early adulthood at that frantic, fresh-on-the-field pace, when our senses were suddenly jostled by a sound-it might have been the heartbeat pulse of a big-twin engine that bumped the blinders just enough to leave a haunting wish. Others were older. We were wiser and mellow, mortgage, kids, dogs, two cars, baggage. And one day that rider walked into the coffee shop smelling of leather and open road. He was your age, your build. Could have been your brother. Only obvious difference was he was clearly having more fun than you.

Lately I've spent a lot of time talking to people about their first time.

For me, it wasn't at all about the first time I'd seen or even ridden a bike. I was in my late teens, rebellious as hell, but not making any sense of it. I'd been around bikes, had ridden dirtbikes and even girlie streetbikes, but hadn't really felt anything weighty about it. Like old friends and fences, motorcycles were just something I bumped into now and again. And then one afternoon my brother and I drove his classic Mustang into the local convenience-store parking lot and he ran in to get us some Cokes. And here she came, riding into the parking lot, this young girl (not as young as me at the time, but early 20s, tops). She was riding a big, serious-looking bike. Something colorful, maybe an early Suzuki GS. I remember my eyes were glued to this woman as she parked, got off the bike, took off her full-face helmet, shook out her hair and walked into the store. That was it. My brother got back in the car and we drove away. I didn't say a word. But I knew at that moment my options had changed. Three years later I was testing my first cover bike as the associate editor at Rider magazine.

One of my very best friends, Perry King, who also-rather oddly-happens to be my ex-husband, has an amazing story I love to hear again and again. He was returning from a wonderful summer vacation spent on Nantucket Island but was filled with sadness because he was on his way back to boarding school, which he understandably hated. He was only 8 years old. He was sitting in the back of the family car when it passed a motorcyclist, and in that next moment he believes his life changed forever. "I saw this young guy dressed in a black leather jacket and pants, leaned over the tank of a BSA, bags strapped all over the place... and on the back of the bike was a sign that said, "California or Bust!" This, coming from a man who almost 50 years later owns more than a dozen vintage bikes (of course one is a BSA), lives in leather motorcycle gear, and yes, moved to California right after college. "I wanted to be that guy. Right then, I wanted that bike, those leathers, that life. After that day, when I'd lie in bed at boarding school and fantasize about running away, I'd picture myself jumping on that bike and kicking it to life. It would make all kinds of noise and wake everyone up...and then I'd just ride away."

Another of my favorite First Time stories belongs to my friend Trevor Smith, a Gold Wing-riding architect from Asheville, North Carolina, who had never, ever considered riding bikes-that is, until the night of his 48th birthday. "We were on our way home from the obligatory dinner with friends and family when we came to a roadblock downtown. There was music and all these people, even fireworks, so we really had to find out what was going on." It turns out it was an early Honda Hoot (originally held in Asheville). "The bikes were all parked along the curb and I couldn't believe how cool they were! So many different kinds-I had no idea. And the people were really nice and having such a great time. We ended up staying for hours." By the time the Hoot rolled into town again, Smith and his wife were in the thick with their first bike, a Kawasaki Vulcan 800. Six years later they still attend the Hoot each summer, even though it's now held in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Another friend remembers staring into a Norton insignia at eye-level, which means he must have been about 3. "I didn't know what it meant, but then someone jumped on it and roared away. All I remember thinking was that it was a powerful thing, something important."

Indeed. So when was your First Time?-Jamie Elvidge