Somewhere in a musty garage basement in northern Pennsylvania, my 2007 Kawasaki Ninja 250, silver with a few small red stripes on its cowling, sits collecting dust. I miss her. She deserves far better than this, and someday soon I’ll give it to her: open roads dappled in spring sunshine, screaming lunges out of tight twisting corners, highway cruises where she can yell as loud as she likes. She’s just a little thing, but ccs don’t mean anything to me. I ogle Ducatis; she doesn’t mind. Our relationship is not about displacement.
Riding a motorcycle, one you love, is far more than that. I got my Ninja — she has a name, and, whether you find it weird or endearing, it happens to be Calypso, or Cally for short — to ride with my dad, and because motorcycles are cool as shit. Girls like motorcycles, and yes, I certainly used mine to impress the hell out of a few dates. But beyond a two-cylindered booty call, my Ninja created in me a new appreciation for adventure, for the pavement serving a greater purpose than a line between point A and point B.
My Ninja was a transformative force.
Blasting the Beastie Boys loud enough to bust a shitty Subaru Legacy’s speakers on a hot summer day is fun, but it’s masking the actual act of moving, I at once learned after mounting my bike for the first time. On a motorcycle you’re moving differently, and your head and your heart know it. Eighty feels intensely faster when it’s accompanied by even a small engine’s 12,000 rpm scream, sure, but that’s not exactly it. You’re aware of a constantly pressing danger; inching closer to that mysterious line between life and death, while not at all advised, makes you decidedly more immersed in the former. The feeling of my breath whooshing from my lungs in the seconds after I wobbled very hard accelerating out of a turn — and over a wide swathe of washed-out gravel — continues to be the most sobering, visceral instant of my life.
As Bradley Hasemeyer once, very recently, mentioned, vehicles can replace therapy pretty effectively. The rollercoaster ride to full-on adulthood involves a tipping point where real stress — not angst — begins to weigh on a young man. My Ninja came just around that time, and the small incidences that I had on her feel like important moments on my path to who I am. Far from being about putting myself in danger, my motorcycle was an excuse to go out and explore the world, and therefore, life. Tired old suburban PA quickly rolled into the backroads of the Appalachians, empty two-lane highways, lonely, decades-old steel bridges over mosquito-laden creeks, introspection and brisk grass-smelling air. Inane moments, with girls or friends or both, turned into adventurous paired adventures and (with one or two of the girls) romantic getaways. Stubborn old dad became my riding partner, teller of dirty jokes far from home and a confident leader who always knew the way back.
My Ninja was a transformative force. She still is today. And that’s why I’ll go back to her, sometime soon, and add fresh gas. She’ll run as “cold-blooded” as ever, but once she does start, I’ll be more than ready to rev her up and learn something about myself.