There’s a framed quote on a wall in my doctor’s business office that says “If it has Tits or Wheels it will give you Problems.” I saw it as I looked through his open door on my way to the exam room. I thought of my ex-wife, then my Triumph 750 Bonneville. They were both wired badly.
She, the wife, couldn’t live in a stable environment. There must have been bare wires rubbing and sparking inside her head, Tesla’s nightmare. And mine. She could be wonderful in the morning. And something quite unpleasant and impossible to please or reason with in the afternoon. There was no way to account for the change. Some hidden defect, a swollen neuron rubbing against its neighbor, a faulty synapse here, an extra chemical receptor there. Or, was it my fault? I’ll never know.
One morning we made love first thing. It was beautiful. I went to work feeling great, knowing that I had married her for good reasons. That afternoon, just after lunch, she called me at work and screamed at me over the phone. She listed a catalog of unfounded character defects which, if they were true, would have surely prevented the activities that made that morning seem like a gift from heaven. I left her shortly after that.
The Bonneville was like that too. On a good day, when I started it in the morning, it loped and thumped at idle with an encouraging rhythm: OK-OK-OK-OK-OK. It was beautiful, responsive, smooth running through the gears, a pleasure to put my hands on and ride.
But its issues, like the wife’s, were buried deep and mysterious. The positive-grounded, six-volt wiring harness and the various Lucas electrical components functioned and failed like it had its own set of secret physical laws. The fuel system was such that when there were problems with the carburetors the symptoms mimicked faulty ignition components.
The Bonneville was prone to flat tires, but there were no leaks in the inner tubes. There was always something that needed attention. Low air pressure, a stuck float here, a clogged jet there, shorted points. I couldn’t find a pattern to the failures. What is my fault? I’ll never know.
On a bad day, by noon or by the time I was halfway to wherever I wanted to be, a cylinder would stop firing then start firing again for no obvious reason. On a trip from New Jersey back to Chicago on Interstate 80 in Ohio at twelve thirty in the morning, it began to spit and sputter. I found that if I closed the petcock at the fuel tank the engine smoothed out until it starved. I rode the last four hundred miles working that petcock to keep it running. Eventually, it got me home.
I took the whole bike apart after that, stripped it to the frame in the living room of my ground-floor apartment. I carried the parts around from one storage locker to the next like the bones of a sacred ancestor. I had plans for it. Years later, after being taunted by the smell of oily, dirty, oxidizing parts in the attic of my garage, I started to bring it back to life piece by piece. Until I fell in love with another woman for a while. I sold the Bonneville as a collection of parts.
For a long time I was without either a woman or a motorcycle. I still had problems. Now I have three bikes. I was at the doctor’s office to have stitches removed after the newest member of the family started to fall off the lift. I caught it with the top of my head. That was close.
As the doc worked the stitches out of my scalp I asked him if he rode a motorcycle and told him I read the little framed statement on the wall in his office. It turned out that the doctor’s ex-wife is an ornithologist. The couple were in the Himalayas attempting to reintroduce a pair of rufous-vented tits, “very small birds like chickadees” he said, to their native habitat. But the Land Rover he rented, which was also powered by Lucas electrics and had bad tires, kept breaking down.
They had to let the delicate little birds go free in the wrong area because they couldn’t get far enough up the mountain. The wife blamed him. He blamed the Rover. She told him he was a worthless shit. He left her after that. He didn’t want to forget what he had learned on that trip. So, he had that reminder printed and framed.