Moto Haiku - 50 Words on Being a Biker

by Marc Teatum

The subtitle references the honored traditional Japanese poetry of seventeen syllables in three lines of five, seven, and five, speaking of life, and incorporating the natural world. Everyone knows that Harley riders can’t leave what Milwaukee produces alone without modifying it. My ‘haiku’ are modified to be exactly fifty words.

One Light Coming: A Biker's Story by Edward Winterhalder & Marc Teatum

Sunday night, a four hour ride from New York to Boston on a cold, dark October night, all alone save for a full moon in the clear sky. The rumble of my V-twin underneath and the ribbon of red taillights ahead makes 80mph feel like a dance along the asphalt.

Boylston Street Boston, the end of a long day, Harley parked at the curb. Climb on, fire the motor up and two blocks later, cabbie yells my taillight is dead. A flashlight and duct tape retrieved from a saddlebag and the problem is solved. MacGyver has got nothing on me.

Cold November morning, dressed properly for the ride to work; parked with four others. Left early, donned leathers again curbside. Riding north, angry clouds heaped up in picturesque disorder, evening sun playing peek-a-boo, illuminating the landscape with diagonal rays, rows of white caps pushed by easterly winds rush to the beach.

Weekday, 5PM, between parked motorcycles on Newbury St, one a big Harley and the other a sleek Italian sport bike, we huddle around tools on the pavement, working together on a footpeg of the import. Within minutes, repair complete we are shaking hands, smiling, wishing each other a safe ride.

You know you’re a Biker when you roll up to a toll booth and give the guy three 1$ bills and a winning one dollar scratch ticket for a $3.50 toll. You know he’s a Biker when he takes it and gives you back 50cents change.

For some, the sounds of singing birds, feeling sand under foot, the scent of a freshly cut cornfield brings peace. Bikers enjoy the heat coming off the motor on a cold morning, the vibration of a powerful motor through the handlebars, the chirping of car alarms as we ride past.

Sunday after Thanksgiving, another 400mile round trip Boston to NYS and back.  On the return, the sky overhead looks like a gray velour blanket with rips here and there giving way to stripes of deep clear blue above. Cold riding through a landscape of monochromatic dull brown leafless skeleton trees.

Going to work this morning, roads crazy crowded as usual, and so, on instinct I head to that space between the lanes, looking for the right spot, the right time to slide in and move past all this mess, then, I quickly realize: “Shit! I’m in a car too today!”

Morning crush on commuter rail, finding a two seater, guy already there, laptop open, elbows out as far as can be. We’re crowded. He is not about to be moved. Next stop, woman gets on with crying youngster. I give them my seat. Revenge is sweet but I miss my Bike.

Walking to work, 8.15 on a Friday morning, Boylston St., Back Bay Boston, 42degrees raw, raining, a stubborn wind reminds me of salt in an open wound. It’s another in a long line of gray miserable days, looking up, I see optimism and the definition of a Die Hard Biker.

The well worn scuff on the left toe of a boot signifies experience from years of shifting gears on a two wheeled power machine. Such a sight is akin to spotting a similarly colored coat of a fine race horse from across a paddock. You know another of your breed.

Forecast abruptly changes, percentage of precipitation jumps to 70%. I leave the office into a driving rain that Noah would recognize. Trying to beat the worst of it, I fire up my bike. An hour later, soaked to the core, I am smiling; fresh rain water tastes amazing at 50mph.

Holiday Time approaches, so many parties to get to, presents to buy. Soon it will be too cold to ride, but for now, leather keeps me warm. The headlight makes falling snow appear like dots. For some the rumble of the motor is like horse bells jingling from days past.

Time spent riding with Brothers has changed to hours spent together inside wrenching, talking, planning, and standing in the garage doorway checking out the weather, daring each other to take the machine out for one quick tour around town. It’s so close, can’t you just smell the oncoming of Spring?

Seasons change and so does my ride. After many years on American steel, with the rumbling underneath, the roar of the exhaust, switching to an Import requires many adjustments. Being able to hear the sounds of the incoming surf nearby while stopped at a traffic light is a welcome one.

Dreaded call comes at 9pm, kickstand up by 10, and into a 39degree November night. Hit the highway and crank that throttle. Three tanks of gas, four cups of coffee, six hours and five states later, I’m fifteen minutes too late to hold The Old Man’s hand as he dies.

Riding while snow is falling in the dark is like living a Star Wars movie, with the jump to hyperspace; stars turn into streaks of light. Saturday night, with the single beam from my headlight, that visual is recreated on the ride to the storage garage, I am Han Solo.

Spring has to be the toughest time of year. Temptation and frustration come in equal doses. Cold as hell one day, warm enough to ride the next. Wrenching and polishing give way to maps and planning. Collected brochures and newspaper clippings tease, offering promises of destinations in the days ahead. 

Winter drags on, still. Snow, wind, and bone chilling temps cut right through. Only feeling the vibration in your hands as you snow blow everyone’s driveway on the block reminds you of the power and the thrill of Your Ride. That, and the box that sits in your storage closet.

Winter drags on, still. The snow, wind, and bone chilling temps cut right through. Only feeling the vibration in your hands from a snowblower reminds you of the power and thrill of Your Ride. That, and the torture of walking past what sits just outside your front door every day.

Late spring early evening riding the Interstate, a moon plays peek-a-boo from behind trees as the roadway rises and falls with the terrain; a large yellow orb climbing up a cold blue sky. The rearview mirror reflects a golden sunset behind me; it’s warm glow contrasting the low temps ahead.

Late night meal of diner fare, one last cup of coffee before you head out and motor over to a nearby club to enjoy some modern jazz. In the end, the best sounds come from the wind as it rushes past and the tones from your exhaust as you downshift.

Time to splurge on a vacation, but don’t want to give up the thrill of the ride. Motor into a far away urban jungle for the weekend to be catered to. The 4Star valet service doesn’t know what to do with two chrome wheels. You show them how it’s done.

Winter drags, more snow. What hurts is not the desire, but the need to be on two wheels; like asking someone else NOT to breathe. Release comes from the vibration in your hands as you snow blow your driveway reminding you of the power and the thrill of Your Ride.

Annual gathering of the Tribes, an event since before we were born. Sometimes summer heat, sometimes pouring rain, that’s the gamble in June.  Lakeside parade, miles of shiny chrome, painted steel and black leather. Music, parties, Brothers and Sisters; reunion time for some, initiation time for others. Memories for all.

The right partner says “Absolutely” to a 30 mile trip for ice cream, rides her own, cruises at high speeds side by side along the blacktop as if connected by a rod, fully aware of each other, like tango dancers. The only music heard is the sound of the exhausts.

The distant road signs shiver in the heat. Temps hover at 80 even at sunrise. Smell the fresh cut grass while riding by farm fields, Feel the sun, hear the wind, touch the sky.  Summertime and two wheel travel has become more the norm than the exception for weeks now.

Bright and shiney is nice; scratched and dented shows experience.  Fender dings from rocks bouncing from trucks on the road; seat faded from hours of beach sun, footpegs missing rubber coverings, clutch lever broken inches shorter, bend shifter lever from when the bike fell over. Well worn means well ridden.

Clear cold October night and on the beach side route back, the roads aren’t crowded at all. Moonlight reflects off the water, towns across the harbor look like ocean liners. Heated grips, multilayers of leather and thermal keep me warm. That orb in the sky seems to be following me.

Road hazards: that BMW crossing three lanes into Starbucks; Mommy in minivan yelling at kids in the back; Businessman texting, dishwasher in the middle of the road around a blind curve; loose rocks  flying from a dumptruck ahead. But morning comes, riders get up and it’s not about to stop us.

Fresh snow falling, black ice makes it too dangerous to ride. Season’s over. Your machine has been pushed into the garage. Kids want the latest video game, the wife wants more jewelry, but only a Biker is hoping for an Andrews 21G Twin Gear Drive Camshaft under the Christmas tree.

Temps hover in single digits, white stuff barely covers the landscape. The roads are slick and the skies are gray, but you can’t resist one last chance to be on two wheels. Riding into the garage, grabbing a corner, the pipes are still warm. It’s time to put it away.

Fresh snow falling, too dangerous to ride. Season’s over. A heated garage and one hundred fifteen pounds of steel sits on the workbench. Oil drained, electrics gone, carb stripped. Tools at the ready, just like a surgeon. New gaskets, cam and timing chain sit in boxes, waiting. The teardown begins.

Remember when being a Biker meant riding miles to some bar with your Brothers, a few shots of bourbon and a beer, loud rock and roll, and the chance to raise some hell? Now, it’s devolved to a quick putt across town for a paper cup full of crappy decaf.