Friday, July 5, 2013


      One of the most common e-mails I receive is from readers saying they have been inspired by the blog to pick up their very first bike. It's a great feeling and an e-mail I'll never be tired of seeing. Two weeks ago was the Chicago Mods vs. Rockers event, which is a story I usually cover. Keeping in mind all those "I just picked up my first bike!" emails, I decided to have my good friend Patrick Daly cover the weekend... who road out here 600 miles from Detroit two days after he bought his first motorcycle.
Peer pressure and fear: My introduction to motorcycle ownership.
Written and photographed by Patrick Daly.

      Just over two weeks ago I rode my bicycle across town to see my friend Josiah’s newly purchased 1980 Yamaha XS850. This is his first motorcycle since getting his cycle endorsement last fall. Jo bought the bike two days prior in his usual fashion of purchasing cool vehicles and keeping it a secret until someone drops by his house unannounced. That, or he unceremoniously uploads a new album to Facebook named “Irresponsible Decision #...”. Along for the visit was our friend Andrew who had purchased his second motorcycle the day before in the form of a custom 1978 Suzuki GS1000.
     After kicking tires for a while and harassing Jo’s cat through his screen window, I figured the guys probably wanted to go enjoy their new rides. A cloudless, 75 degree day in Michigan isn’t exactly one to waste. I packed up my bag and got ready to pedal home while making motorcycle noises to myself but Andrew wasn’t so quick to let me off the hook. “Why don’t you ride home and we can go get my other bike so we can all ride around.” My initial emotions were fear, excitement, and then fear again. While I may have my motorcycle endorsement from taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course two summers ago and passing all the required Michigan tests, since that time, I’ve spent all of 30 minutes on a bike. Never once seeing public roads or speeds in excess of what I achieve on my bicycle. I even have a closet full of motorcycle gear from my good friend, Ian, who’s gone above and beyond in pressuring me to get a bike by sending me hand-me-down gear every time he upgrades. 
     After a few minutes of textbook peer pressure and verbal abuse mixed with my manhood being called into question, I took the bait. I obviously went through the entire process of getting my cycle license with the intent of owning a bike but I’d be a liar if I said that bikes don’t scare the bejeezus out of me. It seems that everyone wants to indulge you with a horror story at the slightest mention of wanting a motorcycle as if you don’t already know the dangers or know how text-obsessed driver’s have become. While I think my fear was warranted, fear can be a great source of motivation if you can find a way to manage it. You have to allow yourself to be uncomfortable at times. For the next hour, and the five hours that followed, and then the next 600+ miles to Chicago and back, I let myself be uncomfortable.

      With the encouragement of Andrew and Josiah and my hand-me-down superhero costume from Ian, I spent some time getting used to Andrew’s other bike, a Kawasaki KZ550 LTD. They put me through a series of small drills and after a while it wasn’t as terribly frightening as I had imagined. All the talking points from the MSF class came back to me and the excitement I first had when I took the course had returned as well. We spent the remainder of the evening riding dark and twisty back roads near Rochester, Michigan and seventy miles later, with a burger filled belly and a bug covered helmet, I was hooked (although still slightly terrified)! We took on a hundred miles the next day including some of the same roads we did the previous night and I kept saying to the guys, “Why on Earth did we take these roads my first time riding outside of a parking lot AND in the dark!?! I’m lucky I’m not dead!” Most of the time I was answered by Andrew with a quick, “Shut up, you aren’t dead are you?” I was the farthest thing from it.

      Monday came and so did a few freelance checks, and surprise!, a motorcycle. As soon as I could deposit my checks, I handed Andrew a check with “KZ550 and manhood” written in the “For” section. Tuesday I had the bike insured and registered, received my first ticket for apparently parking too awesomely, and by Thursday Josiah and I were headed west, en route to Chicago for Mods Vs Rockers 2013. 

     With five days experience in the saddle and only 250 miles under my belt, driving to Chicago from Detroit is probably a nutty idea but we didn’t just hop right into the mix on the freeway. It’s been of goal of mine for a long time to take US-12/Michigan Ave. from downtown Detroit all the way to Chicago. My mother grew up on a farm halfway between the two cities in tiny White Pigeon, Michigan. I’ve always wanted to connect these dots at some point and the one lane, 55 mph farm roads seemed like a great way to get used to the bike. I had just visited my mom’s hometown a month prior to see my grandmother Edith for the last time and then again days later as a pallbearer in her funeral. Two weeks later I took US-12 again to the small town of Somerset, Michigan to pay my respects to Ian’s paternal grandmother Hazel. Ian’s dad Gary has constantly carved out an example of what it’s like to be one awesome guy. I made the trek out to Somerset to support him as he has been there for me and any other of the unfavorable people Ian calls friends. It shouldn’t come as much surprise that Gary would be joining Jo and I on the journey and literally show us the way. 
      Along with Andrew and Jo, I rode the first leg of the trip 70 miles from downtown Detroit out to Gary’s house in Chelsea. Andrew would head back to Detroit for one of his awesome photoshoots that he unfortunately couldn’t reschedule. You should check his work out here. We spent the remainder of Thursday night cleaning and doing a quick run through of the bikes in Gary’s garage. After a few hours of polishing the bikes and tightening up bolts, a glass of whiskey was had in the name of adventure, and we packed it up for the night just shy of 1 AM.

      6 AM rolled around and I was up like a 7 year old on Christmas morning. Despite setting my alarm for 8. Apparently I was ready to roll. I’d planned on going to Mods vs. Rockers since my first attendance last summer, but until a week ago, I hadn’t planned on driving my own bike to the show. There was a lot to look forward to in the next 200+ miles and more importantly, I knew that the uncomfortable feelings I had about riding and the various scenarios I hadn’t encountered yet would make the journey a welcome learning experience. We cooked up a light breakfast, packed our gear onto the bikes and hit the road. From Chelsea we took Rt.52 back down to US-12 and headed west with Gary leading the pack, or as he calls it, the Wolf Pack!

     We’d tack on over 100 miles before coming to our first stop. I grabbed a bit of gas while the guys grabbed drinks in Sturgis, Michigan. I was still getting used to how far I could go on a tank and learned my fuel light comes on about an hour before I actually need gas. We got back on the road for a bit and pulled off in White Pigeon to grab some treats at The Tasty Nut Shop and pay a visit to Bobbie and Doug Parish. Bobbie is my mom’s cousin and while growing up in Connecticut meant I’ve only seen her and her husband in person a handful of times. I’ve always thought they were the coolest. The pair has ridden all of the contiguous United States on Doug’s Honda Gold Wing and I thought that Gary and Jo would get a kick out of their stories. It’d also give me a chance to let my butt wake up from my seat.


Back on the road we made good time out to New Buffalo, Michigan to grab one of the famous burgers from Redamak’s.

      Ian made the trek out from Chicago on his Triumph to meet us for lunch and join us the remainder of the way. Having been hounded by him for nearly 3 years to buy a bike, I felt like a proud little brother rolling in on my very own and in all of his old gear. Shortly after lunch, beaming with pride and feeling like I was finally one of the guys, I had my first real scare. I was focused on Ian who was directly ahead of me and I came in too hot on a set of flat switchbacks crossing over train tracks. 
I had been attempting to trail a seasoned rider with track experience and a hankering for all things fast.
On the second switchback I freaked, in my mind I was going too fast, I wasn’t certain how I should brake properly to avoid crossing into oncoming traffic or how to get the bike over enough so I could bring myself back into the turn. I was scared to lock up the brakes or even dump the bike and within fractions of a second my mind was overcome with every bad thing anyone had ever told me about motorcycles. Fortunately, somewhere in all of that chaos going on in my head, I was able to scan the oncoming traffic and find a gap where I could safely navigate out. I crossed over two lanes of traffic and I pulled off as confused drivers drove by in the opposite direction. Gary pulled around to check on me. I was mostly embarrassed when the guys pulled up but they gave me nothing but support and encouragement. I knew I was lucky getting that gap in the traffic and I know it was a fortunate outcome to a much needed lesson. There is much to be said about riding within your abilities and looking ahead, especially in a group situation. With a few smacks on the back of the head and a deep breath, the final jaunt to Chicago was under way. I was happy to rack up more miles and knock the frustrations of the prior screw up out of mind. Every new bend in the road provided a new challenge and sense of accomplishment when we exited cleanly. 

Rolling into South Side Chicago and seeing the skyline in the distance was exhilarating. We’d been on the bikes for nearly eight hours at this point and we were so close to Mods Vs Rockers I could almost taste it! At least I thought that was the taste, or was that just the stank coming off Josiah’s bike as it was overheating in rush hour traffic. Ian had routed us over to Lake Shore Drive for a scenic finale to the trip but the traffic was at a standstill. Mechanically the bikes had been great the whole way and the overheating wasn’t really anything to get hung up about. We worked our way up the traffic until we could find a road that would take us west so we could pull off for a bit. It was a good time for Jo to let the Yamaha cool down while I did a few spirited leg stretches to get my road wedgie out.

      We were almost there! The hustle and bustle of Chicago was a far cry from the roads we had traveled all day. The addition of pedestrians, a few crazy cab drivers, and a constant scanning for opening car doors made the city a new challenge. Having ridden bicycles in heavy city traffic before, the motorcycle really wasn’t much different and it took the edge off for the rest of our time in Chicago. We made a short buzz up Michigan Ave through Magnificent Mile and finally to Ian’s apartment. We grabbed a quick dinner with just about every woman Ian knows, his mom Doris, sister Alana, and his girlfriend Kristen, and then we got back on the bikes to head on to Cobra Lounge for the first event of Mods Vs. Rockers Weekend!

      The feeling you get the first time you roll into a motorcycle show with three of your best friends beside you, after riding nearly nine hours together is one I won’t forget. An authentic feeling of satisfaction and without sounding too bro-mantic, a sense of brotherhood in that we traveled all this way on our own, but together. It was just an awesome feeling. 

      From the moment we arrived at Cobra Lounge to the minute I returned back home in Michigan, the fulfillment never wavered. From finally getting to see in person the hard work and perfection of Dave’s Yamaha SR250 build and the chance to share rookie stories with Kara about nervousness, dealing with rain the morning of the show, and silencing the fear of dumping the damn thing, it all helped to breathe life into my enjoyment of my own bike. I like to think that fear is what had got me there, and by letting myself be uncomfortable and trying something that scared me, I was in some way getting rewarded in the form of stronger friendships and a wealth of growth in an awfully short time.  

      The rewards weren’t all intangibles either; Gary would take home the plaque for Best Modern American cycle ....for his Triumph. As Dave said, it’s most likely a character judgment as the Best Modern American, considering the bike is British. Dave took home Best Cafe Racer, and our good friend Micah Vince who made a solo trek from Michigan took home Best Custom Bobber.

      In closing I’d like to leave you with a few things from the mass at St.Clement Catholic Church in Lincoln Park before we headed home. I only go to church on Christmas, or whenever I wake up in Gary’s house on a Sunday, and I realize not everyone likes to be preached at, but I believe this message transcends religion. Fr. Manuel Dorantes in his final mass at the Church before heading off to begin a two year business degree and position with Loyola University quoted his mother when he said, “La fe en dios, y en adelante”. Translating from Spanish to "Faith in God, and onward." He followed it with a message of movement and the challenges of taking a step forward when you’re already on stable ground. I hope those of you who’ve read this far, and those who got bored and skipped to the end, will venture to try things that scare you and that you’ll go onward with the notion that there is more to life than what you’ve already discovered. I can only hope the next six hundred miles on two wheels will be as amazing as the first.


  1. This is a beaut' of a story. I'm glad to have stumbled upon it.

  2. Inspiring! As a fellow Michigander, it's great to see some mutual love for old Japanese motorcycles. I recently bought my first motorcycle; a barn find 1971 Honda CB350 that was stored for 25 years. She's waiting on a few finishing touches and I'm waiting to get my endorsement in a couple of weeks, but I plan on riding it down to college in Alabama (850+ miles) over the course of 4 or 5 days in early August, so there were obvious parallels to your story and my potential future. Regardless, it's great to hear of novice riders like yourself attempting such endeavors and achieving such positive results.

    All the best in your future adventures!


  3. Thanks for this wonderful story. It's a good read.

  4. Great story. It's what has always drawn me to riding.

  5. Great story! Have my endorsement as well, but not my bike. Feeling a lot of the same things!!!