If you were in your mid-teens in the mid-70s – and if you had even a nano-gramme of testosterone coursing through your veins – chances are you would have lusted over a motorcycle more than you did over pretty little Kiah next door who was busily out-growing every new bra she bought.
Further, if like me you, too, were a teenager who lived with your grandparents, any access to a motorcycle would have been severely curtailed. They were dangerous, death-dealing machines. No amount of coaxing or cajoling (or emotional blackmail) on your part would have gotten you the permission to go anywhere near one.
Thus, without a bike to call my own, I quickly found out that access to Kiah was much more doable. But that – as I am fond of saying – is another story altogether.
Unlike my contemporaries, however, I didn’t go ga-ga over trail bikes (more popularly known as scramblers in Malaysia) like the Suzuki TS125 or the Yamaha DT125 Enduro. I would have looked ridiculous astride a trail bike with my bell-bottoms and platform shoes. Instead, I leaned towards roadsters like the CB 550 Four and the Kawasaki KH250 (three exhaust pipes!). But these machines needed serious money. So, unlike Kiah, they remained a fantasy.
My breakthrough came through only when I was twenty-seven (or so). With RM1,500 I had borrowed from Mayban Finance, I bought myself a police surplus Honda CB 550 Four. I then did the engine up again and painted the whole thing matt black.
I was good to go.
And go I did – anywhere and everywhere! Those were wonderful, carefree days. How far I went was only limited to by how much petrol I had in my tank. Breakfast in Seremban – when I actually lived in Shah Alam at the time – was not uncommon. Being a lazy insurance salesman (emphasis on lazy) helped a lot with this lifestyle, too. However, piling on the miles on the odometer had exactly the reverse effect on my commission cheques. All too soon I was redlining my finances more often than my engine.
Then my first baby came along. It was time to get serious (for a while, at any rate). My biking days had to be put on hold: I had to plunge headlong into the world of heavy-duty insurance selling. The CB550 quickly fell into disuse. It was heartbreaking to see her lying idle under the tarpaulin sheet. So, when a friend said he wanted to borrow her, I gladly agreed. At least, she would be cared for. Unfortunately, my friend crashed somewhere in Pahang and that, as they say, was that.
Recently, I went along with a friend who wanted to check out a few bikes. It didn’t feel like a mistake at the time. But it was. At the very first bike shop we went to I came face-to-face with the new 2010 Honda re-issue of the CB 1100. It was like falling into the soft, warm embrace of a long lost lover. Suddenly, I was young again; suddenly, I was in love again.
In my twenty years’ absence from the biking scene, I had seen other bikes. Heck! I had even occasionally ridden a few – here and there. But they meant nothing to me. They were, as the saying goes, merely one-night stands. But seeing the CB again rekindled a fire within me that I thought had died long ago.
There is something ethereally special about the CB. Her classic, timeless lines and her reassuring comfort hark back to a time when motorcycling was still about enjoying the ride: a time when motorcycling was nothing more than the relationship that a man shared with his machine when they hit the open road.
In those days, we had no need to growl menacingly and declare to all and sundry, “I’m a REAL biker!” In other words, we didn’t need to prove that we were tough guys. And nobody cared about who had the shiniest chrome fittings or whose panniers had more rivets or streamers. These things were (and still are) mere accessories. The other thing I seem to recall was that there was no need to blaze along at 180 km/h all the time. Speed is exhilarating, of course. But it was equally important to take time to smell the roses, too – to just cruise and take in the beauty of the land.
But most of all, in those days, we didn’t need to form a convoy in order to have fun. We rode proud; we rode alone. And we rode because we loved to ride. We weren’t the least interested in attention-seeking; we were simply interested in motorcycling. Choosing to ride a motorcycle was not about personal branding or creating an image. It was simply about the freedom of the open road. Showing-off or showboating was (and still is) better left to the wannabes.
Seeing the CB again brought back all these memories –and more. She is no looker: just don’t expect her to look like a rocketship right out of Star Trek. But ordinary as she is, she is MY girl. Despite her understated plainness and her conservative lines, she is still the one who is entwined within the beats of my heart. She’s got my name written all over her. Someday, I’ll have her purring between my legs again as she takes us (just the two of us – no convoys) to wherever it is we need to go.
But with a price tag of RM89K, that day is not likely be tomorrow. That’s OK – I know she’ll wait for me.