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For weeks the rusty old Harley sat on the side of the road like an abandoned puppy, a For Sale sign perched on its handlebars.
Every time we drove past, on the busiest road in town, my husband’s foot invariably touched the brakes, the car slowed to a near-stop, and a glazed look of “what if” came into his eyes.
Finally one day, without warning, he pulled over. He drove around back of a run-down house to an old barn and got out.
There, hidden behind fast-food alley, was a veritable bone yard of old motorcycles and parts. Inside the barn some shady-looking characters in greasy coveralls were standing around talking about, I assumed, their latest drug deal.
I locked the car doors, wondering if my husband had lost his mind and forgotten our two young daughters were still in the back seat.
My husband asked if he could take the Harley for a test drive. The answer was no. “As is” meant it wasn’t even roadworthy.
He soon discovered that the poor beast was suffering from a bad case of “barn disease” – it hadn’t been ridden in years, the battery was long dead, the calipers seized, and the carburettors full of varnish sludge.
“Six hundred bucks and she’s yours.”
Since owning a “Hog” was on my husband’s list of Things to Do Before I Die, the decision was easy. He could either buy one we could afford (i.e. that had already been put out to pasture) or wait until the kids were grown and gone and purchase a new one.
The more mature model, he decided, would have much to teach him. The fact that it was in dire need of TLC, preferably by a seasoned “wrench” (mechanic), was of no consequence.
A wad of cash appeared magically from his back pocket. Apparently he had been saving up for months.
“I’ll take it,” he said quickly, fearing a sudden rush on condemned 1976 Sportsters. He couldn’t wait to get it home.
Over the next few weeks, Frank, who had sold us the bike, became a household name. I was happy to discover that my first impressions of him were ill-founded. He was a wealth of information, and gave it freely.
We got our hands on a “bible” (repair manual). Another few weeks of tweaking, and by the summer of ’94, our 18-year-old Sportster was ready for the open road.
One clear day, after we’d updated our last will and testament, my husband finally pulled the bike out of the garage. He sensed my trepidation.
“Don’t worry,” he assured me. “It probably won’t go very fast.”
I couldn’t imagine otherwise. The bike looked the same to me as when we’d bought it.
After a few false starts he got it going and revved the engine. It roared as only a Harley can. I cringed.
“Couldn’t we just sneak quietly out of town?”
I imagined the neighbours watching as we pushed the bike down the street and back to the garage. We’d never hear the end of it.
“Get on,” he said.
I’m fairly sure there was nothing in our marriage vows about blind faith or old motorcycles. I climbed on, gripping the sides with terror. And off we sputtered.
The speedometer barely broke 60 kilometres an hour, but it didn’t matter. I soon learned that nothing stokes the fires of youth better than touring the back roads on a motorcycle. I was transported to one of the best summers of my life, when I was 20 and my sister and I travelled across Europe on a Eurail pass with little more than a passport, a backpack and a pup tent. I felt that same sensation of freedom. I had become a “fender bunny.”
Soon we were swept up in the whole Harley frenzy. We bought the T-shirts, dew rags, leather gloves and goggles. My husband’s 40th birthday cake was in the shape of a Harley. Our friends humoured us. They came to the party dressed in leather and chains and danced to Born to be Wild.
Call us posers if you will. But we got to wave at other bikers, wear a Harley T-shirt and mean it, talk about bikes with the guys at the indie shop and thumb our noses at “cages” (cars).
Our warhorse did its best to fulfill my husband’s dream. But the following summer on a country road, our Hog gave a farewell grunt. I heard a horrifying clunk and turned around to see various parts, which I assumed were vital, trailing in our wake.
The bike had to be ceremoniously “carried” home in a truck – apparently one never tows a Harley.
We calculated that for every hour on that bike, my husband had spent three fixing it. Long before we could ever get our “Iron Butt Awards” (10,000 miles in 10 days), our Season of the Harley was over.
We sold it for $1,000 to a guy with a glazed look in his eyes, who kept mumbling something about a bucket list. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he might as well scratch everything else off his list and start memorizing the repair manual.
The kids have grown and gone. Now, a 2007 Softtail Classic sits gleaming in the garage. It’s in perfect condition and never needs fixing. But I find every excuse not to get on it: It’s just too fast for me.
Dee Appleby lives in Truro, N.S.