THE SHORT AND SWEET LIFE OF THE FIRST MOTOR BIKE I EVER WANTED.
I’ll admit it. I am an adrenaline junkie, and I’ve yet to experience anything in life that compares to the release of this hormone. A complete sense of solitude, energy, and euphoria bonded together into an explosion of grabbing life by the balls.
Risk yields adrenaline. Tough business decisions yield adrenaline. So do sex, drugs and rock and roll. Having graduated from the number one party school in America, the latter were quite accessible. But those days are behind me.
Looking back, I believe my most vivid memories were created under the influence of adrenaline.
But they don’t sell this stuff for $9.99 at the market. You don’t buy adrenaline. And it doesn’t fall into your lap while your legs are kicked up as you browse the internet, no matter what kind of crazy shit you watch.
You have to create it. You have to find it. And if you like it, then you’ll agree that it simply finds you. I’m not like Jason Statham in the movie crank or anything (my life does not rely on adrenaline to survive).
But a life without it is no life at all.
This is a story based on my never ending desire for excitement and adventure.
You see, I learned how to ride a bike before I could spell my name. It was natural.
I remember a lap around the block with training wheels and then my father removed them, gave me a push and off I went peddling.
And when I reached the top I turned around and coasted back down. It was a cheerful moment that no parent forgets. And a moment that I will never forget.
I went through many bicycles as a kid, I rode them to their death. Everywhere I went, I rode my bike.
And at some point I learned about motorbikes. The idea of not having to pedal was the coolest thought in the world to me. I asked Santa for a little motorbike for at least four years in a row.
But no motorbike arrived. Always just plain and simple two wheeled bicycles.
It was better off this way. Whether my parent didn’t want to spend the money or they knew damn well that the last thing I needed was a bike with an engine.
They would’ve reached this conclusion after I totaled two fisher price power wheel toys in just two months. I crashed one by driving it off the flight of steps on our front porch. And the second one dismantled when my neighbor Sarge convinced me to let us both ride it down a hill to the river bed.
That wasn’t too smart. We slammed head on into a ditch, and as soon as I felt the plastic crack beneath by butt, I shed a few tears and threw a handful of dirt at Sarge for coming up with this stupid idea.
But I followed along and am at fault too. I never did get another power wheel…
So, as a child, asking for a motorbike each year for Christmas was like beating a dead horse.
At 14 years I practically ran over my best friend’s mother when I got the chance to try out their new dirt bike. After that incident I called it quits on pursuing a motor bike and faced the fact that it’s best to stick with two wheels and pedals.
And so the story goes…
One day at about 16 years a miracle happened.
Some high school friends told me that I could borrow a 1982 Italian Puch moped. This thing had seen better days. It was quite trashed. A piece of shit if I may call it. But it worked, just as well as I thought a moped should work. I’m not a motor head. Heck, I still have trouble changing my windshield wipers.
The Puch could reach a maximum speed of 35mph.
But before I got my hands on it that day, my friends tested it with a canister of Nitrous Oxide and pushed it to about 55mph.
When I saw them equip a NOS canister to the Puch, the first thought that crossed my mind was, “No! They are going to break it!”. But in the back of my mind, I had a good feeling that one mans trash is about to be another mans treasure. So I remained patient.
And by the time my friends had their fun with the Puch, they were well into the Fast and The Furious trend of decking out their cars and focusing on bigger and better things than a wimpy moped that could only go 35mph.
They told me, “Youtz, if you want this moped you can have it. But one thing you need to know about the Puch. You see this rusty chain here? Yeah, you need to pull this chain really hard as you pedal the bike really hard at the same time to start up the engine.”
I asked for a quick demonstration and watched my friend yank this jangly chain and pedal his feet like the road runner to start it up. “Piece of cake, let me try it,” I said.
I fired up the Puch first try, test drove it down the block and thanked them for letting me borrow it.
We never did agree on how long I could borrow the Puch.
I bet a million dollars I put more miles on this moped in two months than any previous owner.
This was the same year that Apple released the iPod. I was stoked to finally get my first motorbike, plus a little machine that held thousands of songs and didn’t skip when I set off on the bumpy roads.
And just $10 in fuel would last me an entire week!
The single head light on the Puch only worked when you cranked the throttle, so I duct taped a couple headlights to the handle bars to improve my visibility for night rides. And I rode this Puch all night long.
I absolutely did not have the proper license to operate this vehicle on the main roads, so I duct taped an old license plate to the back to at least have something that looked legal. I Googled some hand signals to learn how to respect traffic laws and I always drove the speed limit. Well, that was easy…it only went 35mph.
One evening, I told my brother that I won’t be needing a ride to school tomorrow morning – I wanted to ride the Puch. Seek some adrenaline and catch the sunrise before another day of the high school grind.
The first bell rang at 8:30am so I knew I had to get a head start, in order to make it to school before him. It was kind of a bet. Everything in life is a competition to me, whether I like it or not.
That morning at the breakfast table, my brother looked at me and said, “Man, are you crazy? It’s eight degrees outside and you’re going to die on that thing! That shitty moped doesn’t even have brakes, Jordan. Look at your shoes, the entire inside toe is shaved off!”
Yes, I forgot to mention that the Puch did not have brakes either – I always made sure to wear hand me down shoes from my brother when I rode the Puch.
My favorite pair of ‘braking shoes’ were over sized white FILA’s which had a 2-inch rubber sole. The wiggle room in the toe, plus the chunk of rubber made for a top-notch brake.
Breakfast was over. My father asked me where I was going. I told him that I will ride the moped to school today, and that I need to get a head start. He just nodded his head, and told me to drive safe and to not take the main roads.
I said, “Don’t worry. I know the perfect short cuts!”
I grabbed my lunch, packed my book bag then exited the door with a big shit eating grin on my face.
Before I reached for the Puch, I pulled out the iPod mini to start my Puch Playlist – a mixtape of music I loved to listen to while I cruised along the open road on my everlasting journeys.
Music that gave me the power I needed to kick start the Puch with all my strength. Music that helped me focus and keep my fingers warm as I would tap the broken brake clamps against the handlebars to the beat. And music to block out the ear screeching sound of the Puch itself.
Oh yeah, the Puch had no muffler. It sounded like a demolition derby car on it’s last breath. Huffing and puffing like a Harley Davidson. I thought that was cool, so I kept it this way.
It was 6:30 in the morning, bone chilling cold. The fog was thick and smoky and my nose hairs began to frost. My iPod made a soft glow before my eyes, then the battery died. On top of that, the Puch would not start up. And on top of that, I am NOT a morning person. The only reason I’m awake and excited to get to school, is because I have an epic adventure ahead. I will not give up, but I did have second thoughts about riding the Puch to school that morning.
Then I slammed down the pedals and pulled the chain one last time. Success! The exhaust shot out a jet stream of big fluffy white clouds. I leaned the bike against the garage to let it warm up as I jolted inside to grab my ski goggles.
I opened the door and my father asked me, “Back already? What the hell is that sound outside?”
“I’m warming up my bike, and I need some goggles for this trip,” I replied.
I could hear the bike roaring from my basement room as I rummaged around to find my goggles.
It’s time to make it to school by first bell. I twisted the throttle full speed and hit the road, en route to my short cut alongside the river – the bike trail which keeps me off the main roads and out of site from the law.
Each time I rode the Puch, I had a slight worry in the back of my mind about getting pulled over. As if the cops would impound my beloved piece of shit and write me a ticket for having too much fun. So I kept my head on swivel at all times.
And there I was, cruising alongside the little Miami river, about thirty yards from the water. I could maneuver this road with my eyes closed and knew it by heart. The road was empty. And my Puch was roaring like a freight train.
I had time to kill, so I killed the engine to ponder about whatever I had on my mind, and looked out over the river. The sun rose slowly and washed away the misty fog over the water like snow dust beneath a semi-truck on a freeway.
I don’t remember what I was thinking, but I can say that this was the first time I truly appreciated growing up with a river in my back yard.
Then all of a sudden, a giant pickup truck with a giant confederate flag waving in the back screamed by, and laid on the horn like an ass hole. And just like that, my moment of peace disappeared. It was time to get to school.
What I’m about to do next is highly illegal, but it was all part of my strategy to hid out from the cops and make it to class on time. I took a sharp left turn onto the famous Loveland bike trail. A path in which motorized vehicles are prohibited.
The instant I turned onto the bike path, a giant bunny darted across the trail and scared the hell out of me. I almost lost my balance and wrecked the bike, so I slowed down a bit. That was the second time within ten minutes that I pissed my pants.
When you’re breaking the law, I guess it’s normal to feel anxious and on edge.
After chugging up a big hill, my high school appeared out of the corner of my eye. The cars and busses were piling into the parking lot. The police were blowing their whistles and controlling traffic. Some friends sped by me and shouted out of the window, “YOUTZ, what the hell are you doing?”
I waved them on with a fist pump then drove across the practice fields along the backside of the high school. I hadn’t the slightest clue where I was going to park the Puch. Everyone who drives to school is assigned their own parking spot, and I figured it was a good idea to park the Puch right next to the truck of the guy who gave me the bike.
So that’s what I did.
I walk into first bell at 8:30am on the dot. I feel victorious. And then the teacher asks out loud, “Does anybody smell gasoline? There is an unusual scent of gasoline in my classroom right now.”
Everybody nodded their head and agreed while the teacher walked about the room sniffing. And then my desk mates whispered to me, “Yeah, why do reek of gasoline”? I remained quiet. I didn’t smell a thing.
The teacher stopped at my desk, took a big whiff in, then looked into my eyes with confusion. I starred back. It was awkward.
“Jordan, I don’t know why you smell like gasoline and I don’t care. But frankly you need to make your way to the changing room in order to stay in my classroom today.”
The entire classroom broke out with laughter. Everyone was shouting questions at me. Then the teacher demanded that I open the windows. I got out of my seat, opened a couple windows, then walked up to the teacher and said, “I’m sorry to distract class this morning. I rode my new moped to school today and I didn’t know it would make me smell like this.”
The teacher backed away from me in disgust and said, “Good thing you have a warm coat on. You will be sitting by the open windows today. Also, you might want to get your moped checked, I think it’s broken.”
I replied, “There are a lot of things broken on my moped, but good thing I made it to class on time, right?”
“Everybody get out your homework”, she said as she walked away fanning the air in front of her nose like a parent who changed a baby diaper for the first time.
The bell rang. Class was dismissed. And even though the gasoline odor had been diluted, I went through the entire day of school as ‘that guy who smells like gasoline’. Thankfully, most people enjoy the smell of gasoline.
On this day, all I could think of was if the Puch was ok parked outside. It was probably the longest day of school of my life. I just wanted to ride.
The last bell of the day began, study hall. The class where you can do absolutely nothing, if you choose. And this class was in the cafeteria. And the teacher had eyes like a hawk, overlooking about 50 students, responsible for maintaining a perfect silence for students to study, copy each others homework and secretly send love notes.
I sat down in my assigned seat near a large glass window, and realized I had a straight view of the parking lot where my Puch was parked. I walked up to the window to take a hard look at my bike, and the teachers voice reverberated throughout the cafeteria walls like a mega phone, “Jordan!!! I am taking attendance! Sit down in your seat now!”
But my face was glued to the window. Something was wrong. I could not see my bike tires underneath my friend’s big white truck. The teacher persisted to shout at me to sit down, and I replied, “I am here. My seat is right there. But I am here. One moment please.”
I took a harder look and noticed the bike was in the back of the truck. My heart started to race. All I could see was a handle bar sticking out of the truck, and all I could think of was who in the hell put my bike in the back of that truck?
I took my seat, then started to plan my great escape from study hall to rescue my moped.
How will I make it out there without the teacher seeing me? What if all the gasoline leaked out of my bike leaving me with an empty tank? Why did someone put my bike in the back of this truck? That’s my bike damn it. And I’m going to get it back.
I devised my plan, and patiently waited fifteen minutes to allow the teacher to calm down. My plan is to go to my locker and pack my bag, remove the Puch from the truck, push it into the nearby woods where I’ll hid it out with my book bag until the final bell rings.
“Hello, may I please use the restroom?”, I asked the study hall teacher.
“Yes, you may. But Jordan, the next time you talk back to me like that, I’m sending you straight to the principal’s office. I want you back in your seat in five minutes, ok?” she whispered to me.
I look at the clock and realize there is only twenty minutes left until the last bell of the day rings. I speed walk to my locker to pack up my things, then exit through the back door of the school.
Mission accomplished. My plan worked perfectly and I returned to study hall.
The final bell rang and school is out! As I’m walking through the crowded hall, I see my friend, the original owner of the bike.
I ask him, “Who put the Puch in the back of your truck today?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about? Why…? Did you ride that piece of shit to school today?”
“You know it,” I replied.
“Then somebody is screwing with you. Is it still in the back of my truck?” he asked.
I said, “Nope, not anymore”, then bolted out to the woods, kick started the Puch and she started roaring like a lion in the jungle.
Everyone in the parking lot took a hurried look into the woods as I came flying out of the trees and hopped onto the main highway. I wanted to put the Puch to the test on the highway that day.
The adrenaline kicks in. I signal my way into the emergency lane and am doing 35 in a 45. My friends honk their horns as they pass me by, and cheer me on as if I’m in a high speed getaway.
As I pull off the main road, I’m thinking everything is clear. I made it safely.
Then all of sudden I hear some whistling and clapping. The whistling gets louder, but I can barely hear it over the loud sound of my small engine. I look back.
It’s a policeman. And he’s standing outside his car waving me down. “Get off the bike. Push it over to me. Now!” he yelled.
Don’t think for a second, that the idea of outrunning this cop crossed my mind. I followed his orders, and walked my bike up to his vehicle. It was a matter of time until I got busted.
“Young, sir. What in god’s name do you think you’re doing riding this bike? Without proper registration. Without brakes. Without a license? But, I am happy to see you have a helmet on. Now please answer my questions,” he demanded.
My legs started to shake. I look up from the ground and ask him how he knows so much about my moped.
“That bike used to belong to my neighbor and I don’t know how you got your hands on it. But I’m going to have to ask you to walk it home, where I’ll meet you in a half hour with a traffic violation citation.”
“Yes sir, but can I please pedal it home? I promise I won’t start the engine,” I replied.
“Just get out of here. And if I catch you riding this bike on my streets again, we’re going to have a serious problem,” he added.
I walked the bike until he could no longer see me, then started up the engine to make my way home. This guy doesn’t know where I live, so how will he give me a ticket for this, I wondered.
Home safe home. I have myself an after school snack and am relieved that everything is fine. The cop never did show up the day.
So I hop back on my Puch, and start jumping a dirt mound in my front yard. Catching some huge air, and putting the Puch suspension to the test.
I start a little further back for my final jump of the day, aiming to beat my long distance record.
I come in hot. About 25mph. Tupac is blaring in my headphones as I grip the handle bars and prepare for what will be the last ride I will ever take on the Puch.
I soar through the air. I beat my long distance record by a mile, then slam down to the ground for a perfect landing. I release the throttle but the bike does not slow down.
Instead, I speed up and the Puch gets faster and faster, as if there was some super power taking control of the bike. I look up and see a sharp ninety degree turn 20 yards in front of me. Faster, and faster I go.
I realize the throttle is stuck and I begin panic. I screech around the turn like a grand prix badass as my left FILA shoe disintegrates into the pavement. And I make it out alive onto a long straight road.
And all of sudden, life flashed before my eyes. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I look both ways to make sure there are no cars. I am approaching an intersection at 35mph. I have to make a choice.
To leap off my bike and ghost ride the Puch to its’ death or ride it out and keep taking ninety degree turns at 35mph?
For the rest of my life, I will regret that I did not slide the ‘kill switch’ button to kill the engine. I had never used that button before, and it was just the last thing on my mind as I was hauling ass through the neighborhood.
I quickly bring my two feet up onto the seat with my hands remaining on the handlebars, looking like a clown in the circus. I slightly steer the bike to the right and become super man for a moment in time, as I dive into the air, aiming for a fresh patch of green soft grass. My body slams onto the ground, and by the time I’m done tumbling out of control like a rolling stone, I catch my breath, spit out a mouthful of blood and take a look down the road.
“OH MY GOD, WATCH OUT, NOOOOOOO,” I scream at the top my lungs. But no one was around.
The Puch is flying at max speed all on her own, and she’s heading straight for my neighbor’s house, specifically a gigantic window pane. I said a quick prayer and when I open my eyes, there was an explosion like dynamite.
Puch slammed into a ditch in front of the house, and pieces flew into the air in slow motion.
The neighbors rush outside their homes. They glance at me, and then turn their heads toward the destruction site. And they continue to do it, as if they were watching a ball get smacked back and forth at a tennis match. And as they were trying to figure out what happened, I rose to my feet and wobbled my way to the remnants of Puch with a hand in the air to signal I am O.K.
The neighbors and I gathered around Puch like a funeral. I was handed a glass of water to wipe the blood off my face, and then I threw the remaining drops on the sizzling engine.
All good things must come to an end.
That evening, my father made me leave all the parts out by the garbage for the trash guys to dispose.
The next morning, a neighbor drove by our home in a pick up and kindly asked if he could have the left over pieces of Puch. He struck me as a sophisticated motor head kind of guy.
My father told him, “If you don’t take it, it’s going to the trash. Exactly where it belongs. Have at it!”
The man replied, “Alrighty, ima swing by with meh pickup and throw it in the back. There’s a good chance I can get er running again.”
I looked at this guy like he was crazy. As if there was no possible way to bring Puch back to life. I stuttered on my words to explain that Puch is no more. The bike is destroyed.
But he did not hesitate a moment, before he leaned down and grabbed the engine of Puch and asked me to help him lift up the frame into the back of his truck.
As he drove off, I saw the handle bars sticking out of the back of his pickup truck. It was a moment of déjà vu. I waved goodbye, then looked to my father and said, “Well, that bike was a piece of shit anyway.”
A month later, my friend told me he spotted my motor head neighbor riding the Puch on campus at the University of Cincinnati.
If there is a will, there is a way.
And always remember. One mans trash is another mans treasure.