Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Blast from the Past

I dug Campaigner out of the barn and dusted it off this morning, just for kicks and grins—for some reason I didn’t feel like riding the Jack Russell and of course Beast is still at the spa. Campaigner hasn’t rolled since Phil left for Daytonia, and was slowly turning into just another dusty set of horizontal surfaces to pile stuff onto.

I had mostly drained the gas tank a while ago, and dumped the float bowls at the same time, figuring it wouldn’t get ridden much. Of course, that was the cheap old gas—you know, that $2.49 a gallon crap, so incredibly last June.

It took some fussing and mussing to get it to fire up, though it turned over crisply (at least initially). The plugs were kinda fouled, or dirty anyway, so I burned the crud off them with a propane torch. I dumped the float bowls again and looked for signs of water and crud in the fuel. Nada.

I added fresh fuel, and it tried again. It was cool this morning, so I thought maybe the choke was the issue. Fussed and fiddled a bit with that, and it still wouldn’t catch, and now the notoriously undersized battery was starting to flag. So I tried bumping it down the gentle hill beside the house—still no signs of life. Checked the plugs at the bottom of the hill; they were fine.

Then I thought I ought to try turning the petcock on and letting it have some fuel. Well, that made all the difference in the world: Campaigner awoke with a shake, a shudder and a roar in a fine haze of blue smoke and burning cobwebs.

Campaigner is a classic airhead—a later generation air-cooled boxer twin. Somewhat updated from its 1923 progenitors with things like a disc brake, electronic ignition and monolever suspension, and further modified by me in a host of ways, it still appears in most aspects to be a few minor tweaks from Max Fritz’s first classic designs of the 1920’s, especially with its elegant mantle of rattle-can black.

It rides like a classic airhead, too. I couldn’t believe how incredibly tiny—compact—it felt after riding, most recently, the F650gs for a week or two, and of course Beast for 18,000 miles in the last two years. Shaft jacking, torque twisting, brake diving—sometimes several at once; it’s a veritable funhouse ride on two wheels. I’d forgotten how boisterous airheads are and how sedate, how clinical oilheads are. My first impression of Beast was that it had an electric motor—okay, a really powerful electric motor—and rode, well, kind of like a sewing machine. Shaft jacking and brake dive are gone on oilheads; torque twisting is mostly cancelled out; but those are part of what made airheads unique.

Anyway. It took me a just a couple of miles to settle back into Campaigner’s groove. This is a bike I rode daily for twelve years, year round, something like 100k+ miles, but hadn’t ridden but a tiny bit since Beast came on the scene in 2003. Yet it all came back after a few awkward moments, some halting takeoffs, some prolonged stops, some bobbled lines. Beast, Campaigner and the Jack Russell could hardly be more different, aside from their common parentage and a few passing similarities. But moving from one to another is effortless.

Which brings me to the concept of “drivers.” Drivers are little bits of software that let your computer use hardware. Printers, for example, have specific drivers that translate generic commands from the computer into specific commands so the printer can render an image correctly. Installing computer hardware nowadays is mostly a case of finding the correct drivers, and everything else is handled behind the scenes.

So I know how to ride a “motorcycle” in the generic sense; I possess the generic skillset. Campaigner is a “motorcycle.” Beast is a “motorcycle.” The Jack Russell is a “motorcycle.” Each one is unique and really, really, different from the others. But once I start riding, the correct “driver” immediately loads—and suddenly I know that I have to brake more assertively here, lean less aggressively, watch that I don’t crush my thumb joint between the grips and the corners of the tank on Campaigner, cancel the turn signals this way on Beast, remember that I have or don’t have ABS, that a drum brake acts differently, and so on.

In a way, it’s like being multilingual—you know the underlying concepts are generally the same, just expressed differently. When you are fluently multilingual, you think in different languages, translate on the fly, revert to your native tongue when you’re stressed, dream in different languages, and have a foot in each world. You load those drivers, those interfaces, effortlessly and without conscious thought.

I guess that makes me a fluent motorcyclist.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

yeah but... did you catch and toast any grasshopers? yumm!

A