Time Matters in the Saddle

"Clyde" is an old riding buddy of mine. That's not his real handle, but you probably figured that out from the quotation marks. Anyway, Clyde and I have been friends for a very long time-since I was about 19 years old, in fact-which means we've been riding, working on, and talking about motorcycles for 38 years, and that's a real good run by anybody's measure.

There's been a lot of water over the dam since we first met. Back then we were riding small-bore motorcycles; he had a 350 Honda twin, and I was on a single-cylinder Ducati 450. Needless to say, neither one of us ever felt like traveling too far from home, so we spent most of our time exploring the back roads, and of course being young and foolish, we occasionally pushed the envelope-though given the modest performance of the bikes we were riding, 'poked' is more like it. Naturally, we occasionally took a tumble and did some pavement surfing, but the Good Lord generally protects drunks and fools, so the worst of it was never more than a patch of road rash and a hefty bill at the parts counter. Fortunately, we both worked for the local Honda dealership-he in Parts, and me in Service, so between the two of us, we were always able to get the bikes back on the road in short order.

At the time, we were both enamored with the European motorcycle scene, so our bikes were decked out in full café racer attire, at least as far as our budgets allowed.

Clyde was more into it than I was, and in later years he developed a real affinity for Italian sport bikes. He didn't like flat-track or off-road bikes, while I was stoked on both, so during the warmer months we'd each go off to do our own thing-he to road race, me to trail ride-but we still managed to ride together whenever we could, and once the racing season ended, we made it a point to ride every Sunday.

At some point we were both bitten by the restoration bug. Although we preferred diametrically opposed motorcycles (I gravitated toward British iron while he preferred European brands), we had a lot of fun restoring, showing and riding our old crocks.

A year or so ago, I noticed a fundamental shift in our relationship and it's got me concerned. My buddy is definitely a Type-A personality, and he's always had to have the most up-to-date bikes and the freshest gear. His rides are always hard-core sport or sport touring bikes, and while they're never ostentatious, they're always well-equipped and spotless. In short, he wouldn't look out of place on the cover of any motorcycle magazine or accessory catalog.

Me, I'm a little less concerned with the hardware or the fashion statements. I ride cruisers, retros and an ancient BSA, and they're clean (ish) and run well, but these days are rarely far from stock. Where he wears full leathers, I wear jeans and textiles, and most of the time an open-face helmet. You could say I'm the anti-corporate rider, and you wouldn't be too far off.

Despite our differences, we've always meshed well together and frankly, there's few people I'd rather ride with than Clyde. He's a talented, safe and responsible rider and never lets his ego override his good sense. But there is this one thing.

Lately his riding has been restricted by strict time constraints, and whenever we get together for a ride, the first thing he does is check his watch. He then plots a course over roads we've been traveling for years that'll get him home by his self-imposed curfew, which is normally in the early afternoon. If I have other plans, he'll accompany me to his halfway point and then bail. Why he does this is his personal business and I respect that, but frankly, it sucks-especially since he usually splits before lunch and misses the best part of most rides. What's worse is that everything is predicated on cramming as many miles as he can into the allotted time. That means no stops to look at the roadside attractions, no long coffee breaks in out-of-the-way diners and no sightseeing.

Things came to head last year when he had to cut our annual three-day upstate New England ride short by a day and half. In fact he was in such a hurry that he left on the second day at the crack of dawn.

After that we had a little heart-to-heart, and his position was that he only had so much time to spend riding, and that was that. As far as he was concerned, Sunday rides were just like track days. You had X hours to ride, so you rode until the time was up, then went home. Breaks were an intrusion, scenery something not to hit.

What could I say? For me riding has to be about more than that. When I ride for pleasure, I want every to ride to be an experience I'll remember. I want to see new places, explore new roads, and meet new people. At the end of the ride, whether it lasts for one hour or one hundred, I want to roll into the driveway wiped out from sensory overload and a long day in the saddle.

Yesterday was a holiday, so we met for coffee and a short ride. It was as fun as any ride could be, but after he split, I took the long way home, thinking the whole way about what he was missing.