I finally got a real motorcycle after more than 3 years of not having one
I moved to Austin last week. The first order of business was finding a new mode of transportation. Public transportation just doesn’t cut it in Austin. What would be a 12-minute ride in a car is over an hour and three transfers on the bus.
Austin has average annual precipitation values ranging from 32 to 36 inches per year, which means a lot of sunshine. Sometimes, weeks can go by without a single drop of rain.
Everyone complains about how terrible the traffic is. Being from NYC, however, it’s not that terrible. Sure, traffic sucks, but in some places, it’s worse than others and in Austin, it’s what you expect for a city growing so quickly. I work two jobs remotely, so I’m only in the office part-time, which means I don’t deal with rush hours.
With that in mind, I decided to get a motorcycle as my primary mode of transportation.
I found a seller for an FZ6R on Craigslist. I wanted a bike that was sporty but at the same time had a comfortable seating position, as I intend to use the motorcycle for road trips as well as commuting. The FZ6R has a nice upright seating position. When I looked at the bike it was in great condition, it had never been in an accident and it was garage kept. I took it for a spin and the gears shifted smoothly. There were under 10,000 miles on the bike, and I got it for a great price.
Ever since I got my license 4 years ago, I haven’t had the opportunity to ride a real motorcycle. Other than my first bike, a 250cc Honda. So getting a 600cc supersport was a welcomed change.
Below are a few examples of the kinds of motorcycles that I have ridden since getting my license.
In 2015, on my first day in Hanoi, I bought a 110cc motorbike from a Vietnamese guy wearing a bandana named Stone who was standing outside my hotel, I assume, waiting to sell someone a motorbike.
I asked the general prices of motorbikes and he said that $250 is a decent price. I said OK. Then he called a friend who quickly came on his motorbike and picked me up. After about 10 minutes, with enough turns that made me forget where I had come from, we stopped in a crowded ally full of motorbike repair shops. Stone was already there, and he showed me the bike pinned up against a cracked concrete wall. A green bike, the mark “Honda” on the engine.
I looked at the bike for about two seconds and said, ‘It looks good.’ Then I inspected it all around, pressed the brakes, engaged the clutch, rolled the throttle, turned it on—cold start, but it started immediately. I even took it for a spin around the block. I came back and said I would buy the bike, though the steering wheel felt a little too stiff. I’d find out about that two weeks later when I tried to sell the bike.
I rode it back to my hotel. Later in the evening, as I was bragging about my new purchase, a man would tell me that I had bought a Hunda, not a Honda, and that I probably didn’t see it because one side of the engine said Honda (the cap), while the other side (the actual engine component) said Hunda.
I sulked in a noodle shop later with some friends, I felt stupid for not having seen it and worried about all the mechanical issues that could be wrong with the bike. Then I thought some more and told myself that if I wasn’t looking for the adventure, I wouldn’t have come to Vietnam to buy a motorbike in order to ride across the entire country.
The odometer on the bike wasn’t working. In fact, it had snapped off completely and was hanging in the casing. The electric starter would not work. The breaks were alarmingly stiff and firm. The exhaust had warped from the heat. The headlight wouldn’t illuminate the road. After sunset, it looked more like a glow in the dark piece of plastic than it did a bulb. The horn sounded like a toy horn out of breath.
Still, I rode the bike to Ho Chi Minh City the very next morning, 2000 kilometers south of Hanoi.
At the end of my trip, as I was trying to sell the bike, three different mechanics told me that the fork was broken and refused to buy the bike. During that same afternoon, a storm swept over Ho Chi Minh City, flooded the streets, and the fourth mechanic who test rode the motorbike through water more than a foot high did not notice the issue. He gave me $200 for the motorbike. I walked down the street, turned the corner quickly, then walked back to my hotel.
That same year, I stayed with a friend of a friend in Bali for over a month when I ran out of money and was too exhausted to continue my world trip. I rested mostly on a private beach and a studio apartment without a kitchen that cost 60 dollars a month to rent.
The owner had three motorcycles. One of them was a custom bike that he let me ride from time to time, named Bob accordingly because on the bike was a portrait of Bob Marley, another 110 cc (or I think, this one may have been 150cc) motorcycle.
Bob would constantly shut off, as I was rolling the throttle. He couldn’t go past 50 miles per hour. He had a straight pipe, on a single cylinder engine, and it ruptured my eardrums.
The seat felt like I was sitting on a tall stack of looseleaf papers. At one point, the chain flew off while I was riding on the highway in South Bali. Cars zoomed past all around me. I got off the bike and slowly wheeled it to the emergency lane while our Cafe Racer friends stopped to see what was the matter. We managed to get the chain back on, but a few kilometers down the road, it flew off again.
In another instance, gasoline began pouring out of the carburetor. Something that my friend told me was normal. It was nighttime, and we had been riding all day. I quickly shut the bike off. We wheeled it to the closest mechanic. Another biker stopped to help us. Putting his foot on the passenger peg of the motorcycle, he used his bike to push us uphill towards the shop.
When we got to the shop they insisted that the best thing to do was to start the bike. They started trying the kickstarter. I stepped back. At the shop was a man from Brazil. The Brazilian told me that when gasoline is leaking from the bike, the last thing you do is start the bike. I agreed.
The bike wouldn’t start, and luckily it didn’t blow up, either. Eventually one of the mechanics fetched a new carburetor from a nearby shop and then started the bike. It was no longer leaking.
My friend asked me if I felt comfortable getting back on the bike. I said I was fine with it. Our home was only a few miles away anyway. I rode the bike, checking constantly for leaking gasoline. We managed to get the bike home in the driveway safely.
I said goodbye to Bob several days later when I flew to Hong Kong.
By November of 2016, I had already been living in Colombia for several months and my friend from New York was coming to visit. We agreed to ride out to Medellin from Bogotá, and I was to find us a pair of motorcycles that we could use.
A friend referenced me to a shop an hour out of Chapinero, the city center, that rented out 160cc motorcycles. The owner told me that the bikes were not ideal for a 10-hour road trip to Medellin. I assured him they would do just fine. My friend agreed that the bikes would do just fine also, more interested in the adventure than anything else.
I asked him if he had anything bigger, at least 250cc. The only other options I saw was a more upscale shop that offered enduro Hondas for $100 a day and that was well out of my budget. My other option was the 160cc bike that I was about to rent for $8 a day.
We began our trip around noon, having been advised that it would take at least 10 hours to arrive in Medellin and that leaving any later than 9 am would mean that we would be riding in the dark.
The sun began to set as we were still several hours away from Medellin. Luckily for us, there is one straight industrial road that leads to Medellin from Bogota. However, this road is incredibly dangerous. I was driven off the road constantly by speeding semis overtaking passenger cars behind curves I could not see.
Our bikes were slow and wouldn’t dare to break 90 kilometers per hour, even going downhill with winds pushing us forward. The bikes would decelerate on second gear with the slightest incline in the road.
After a few hours of riding in the dark, it began to rain, we were ascending into the mountains of Medellin for the first time and our fingers began to freeze. I could barely reach for the clutch.
I gave up and stopped on the side of the road, my friend stopped close behind me. He asked me what was wrong, I said I just needed a few minutes to stretch my legs. We had only stopped twice before that, once to eat a quick packaged snack and another time to fill up the bikes up with gas. We shut off our headlights, the road was entirely black. My friend, standing a few feet in front of me, was invisible. All I could see was his large helmet, standing there like some kind of martian. The raindrops pelted us, we were soaked. I had put the hood of my sweater over my head and put my helmet on top of that to help with the cold, but the rain had seeped past all of that onto my body.
The blood went back into my fingers and I could feel them again. The ride was miserable, I didn’t want to get back on the bike but when I did I felt more natural than standing on my own two feet. I turned on the tiny engine, clunked into first gear, the headlight illuminated the tall dark green trees swallowing the road to our left and the jagged boulders to our right, and took off towards Medellin.