Wednesday, March 17

Bringing Jesse Owens home, notes on the SV650 and F650GS, and dogs I love...

Wednesday: Another soul-sucking day at job#1. My panacea? I took off early and headed for Motoworks Chicago to retrieve my gal pal! I've said this before and I'll say it again, few things bust stress like a nice long moto ride where one's attention must focus precisely on the task at hand. To ride safely, all the other troubles of the world must be shelved. Period.

While at Motoworks I spotted an old friend, Queenie, my beautiful blue 2001 Suzuki SV650. It sat on the showroom floor, shining and looking sad at me (forgive my anthropomorphisizing). It seemed forlorn. The day before, I had photographed a six week old baby boy who couldn't possibly be cuter and met the energetic Jack Russell Terrier the baby's parents were dog sitting. As a breed, JRTs often are hi-energy, smart, totally wired, air-leaping, ready to bolt right out of the gate kinda dogs. Tireless little buggers. When I spotted Queenie, I thought of the Jack Russell I had met the day before.

My BMW F800ST is no Jack Russell terrier. I do not hold that against it. It reminds me more of a beloved dog I had in my youth. Sheba was a stray who followed me home. Although she became the family dog, Sheba seemed to know she belonged to me. She slept in my room; I never ate pizza I didn't share with her. We were inseparable. On school days everyone had to be careful about opening and closing the door because Sheba's goal was to sneak out and follow me to school. I would yell at her to go home and eventually she would turn around and appear to comply. But on more than a few occasions I was called to the office to "either take my dog home or call someone to come and get her." I'd scold her but Sheba didn't care. We resorted to locking her in the basement while preparing for school. She'd do a wolf howl the whole time. Except for those times, Sheba was sensible and obedient.

Sheba was obviously German Shepherd but it looked like a bit of Husky was in her too. She took orders directly from my father and me. She obeyed the other siblings only if we were not present. She was loyal, smart, fit, and just about the coolest dog ever. If she were in the backyard and saw me pass by, that dog would cry until I was out of sight. Fence jumping was her hobby. Back then, I rarely if ever put that huge dog on a lease. She just seemed to know not to automatically chase people or things or leave my side. When neighborhood boys would tease me (a seemingly favorite activity), she would charge them and they would beg me to call her.
One time she chased a boy atop a mailbox and everyone laughed. Sheba never bit a soul; never held a grudge for long. Her size and carriage made that unnecessary. In the end, it became almost a status symbol among the boys to have Sheba chase them. But even those she repeatedly had to chase, she would let pet her and scratch her head.

One time a man, obviously not from my neighborhood, slowed his car and pretended to need directions. I walked on the curb side of some hedges with Sheba was on the other side, invisible to the man. His passenger window, which was on my side, was down. When he stopped the car he made a lewd gesture. I gasped. I don't remember what happened next. But in a blink, half of Sheba's body flew inside the man's car! Sheba released a deep guttural growl-snarl that I'd never heard before or anytime after that. I remember how it frightened me and how snow white the man's face became. Sheba was trying to get inside his car. It threw me into a panic and I started screaming at my dog to "get down." The man froze! I remember that Sheba's hair was high and stiff and she sounded like a dog gone mad, as in mental! When the man got his wit about him, he took off with Sheba running behind the car--despite my please for her to stop. That event circulated the neighborhood because people watched my dog chasing a car and me running after my dog. Eventually people knew not to bother Sharon and her "crazy" dog. When I was without her, neighbors asked where and how she was. When Sheba died, Chicago's Mike Royko, Pulitizer Prize winning columnist, wrote an article about her. (Note to self: hunt down that article).

I know this sounds strange, but my ST is a lot like Sheba. It doesn't expend energy for the heck of it. It's mature and doesn't show off needlessly. It has mucho kick--more than this rider will ever maximize-- but on those rare occasions when I summons it (e.g., on early morning rides along old country rodes devoid of traffic), the power is there, eager to answer the call. True to his name, Jesse Owens pulls out silky-smooth--smooth as baby's skin. Its sheer ease at acceleration, the way it kerplunks into gear, the sound of the engine, all works together fluidly. It doesn't snatch the breath away; still, it's gone before know it. A palpable difference between the SV and ST is in how speed feels, which is perhaps the biggest adjustment I had to make transitioning from the Suzuki to the BMW. What was 65 mph on the SV650 was about 80mph on the ST. Too often I would think I was doing the speed limit (I'm no speed demon) only to glance at the speedometer and surprise myself at traveling nearly 20 miles over. It felt easier to do the speed limit on the SV--despite it being an incredibly fast bike. I'm not technical and don't know how to explain better how it feels/felt to me.

Both the SV650 and my ST have huge fun factors but show it in different ways. I remember the SV, no matter how long I rode it, skillful throttle control was mandatory. I credit my SV650 for teaching me, if i say so myself, excellent throttle use. I can inch my motorcycle so slow it appears to be barely moving. Practicing slow maneuvers is one of my favorite skills to keep sharp. I'm convinced that slow practice sharpens one's motorcycle skills for better overall technique. On the SV650, one careless blip or lazy twist could immediately increase the heart rate because the bike is instantly responsive. It often felt like a wheelie-waiting-to-happen. I love the friskiness of that bike and remain distressed that I sold it to my husband who now has decided, after a season of riding her, to sale Queenie to focus on his '09 BMW F650GS.

Perhaps it is because last summer I failed miserably at trying to keep three bikes in running shape while he adjusted to his new knee. I don't know how folks with multiple bikes do it. Thing is, I love my ST way too much to want to ride anything else. When I did ride the other two bikes, I would think of how that same trip would be on my bike. I know it's probably more a matter of just making up one's mind to rotate their riding to keep each bike in shape. Once I would actually get on the SV, for example, I couldn't contain my glee and I'd realize how much I missed that bike. Just on the bike would send endorphins coursing through my body. And, I would always ask myself: "Why did I ever give up Queenie?" I'd have to remind myself again that while a thrill to ride, after a 600 miles day on her, my legs cramped badly and my lower back would complain and nag me the next day. Still, I'd ride her and take a tight twisty curve, which the SV650 carves like no other (IMHO) and convince myself that the painful, crampy legs and backache weren't really that bad. I'd wonder why I never lowered the pegs and added handle bar risers. My SV650 was the indefatigable Jack Russell terrier, a dog I' like to own one day--no offense to present and faithful dog, Noel.

My other task last summer was riding the BMW F650GS. It too is a fun bike. Overly practical and functional. It is efficient and eager to tick of miles on varied pavement with nary a complaint. I enjoyed every mile I put on that bike. But it's no Jack Russell or Sheba. No offense to GS650 riders, it simply doesn't have the charisma and irresistible appeal of the SV or the ST. Others have said it and it bears repeating, the F650GS is the Swiss army knife of bikes--and there's nothing wrong with that. It gets the job done. Like last summer, this summer I will keep the GS running as Dave recovers from rotator cuff surgery (he's going bionic and clearly planning to get all new parts). I'm looking forward to some GS fun.

When I mount Jesse Owens, my F800ST, the grin is immediate. The bike fits me; everything about it works for me. I've added farkles to make it distinctly mine but even in its raw state, I knew the moment I sat on it that it was made for my extra long legs and aging back. It can be a Jack Russell if I want it to be. It plays smooth; it too is efficient. It hides its wild streak until called. Another huge difference I experienced between the SV605 and my ST800 is that the former is ready to snatch your attention from the moment you twist the throttle. It can behave rather bat-out-of-hellish right from the "git-go." The ST, at the start, is tamer, its pull has never bolted me to attention. It promises to stay in the ground even if I happen to start a wee throttle sloppy.

So, when I retrieved my bike from winter camp, my heart swelled at the reunion. I took the long way home; still, it was too short. Despite an exhausting and soul draining day at work, I felt alive by the time I parked the bike in the garage. Before going inside, I stood there and stared lovingly at Jesse Owens.

I vowed to rise early the next morning and find a quiet spot to watch the sun rise--a great way to start any day.

My gal pal is back and since then the weather has cooperated with temperatures in the mid-60sF.

That is, until today, Saturday. It is snowing--a wet, blowing, cold snow. After all, it is Chicago. And like many of the politicians here, the weather always has a few tricks up its sleeves. But, "this too shall pass."

We are ready to ride!

Posted by Picasa