Thursday, August 16, 2007

Put Something Exciting Between Your Legs

Being the simple man I gladly admit to be, I would like to write about one of my benign pleasures. I want to start from the very beginning. Prior to my “arguably” early infatuation with the Big 3 (the Tic, the Tac and the Toc) and even before I started dreaming of Flying, motorcycles captivated me with an inextinguishable ardor, an abundance of exhilaration, an irresistible sense of independence and an absolute, unlimited, unending rush of private freedom.

It would be totally inaccurate to write that I grew up around motorcycles. Not a single person in my entire family had owned or ever ridden a motorbike. However, I did find my way to be on or around them very early on. One of the unsolved riddles of my childhood is the way my father and mother had let me made these radical choices, totally ignoring complaints and consternation of the omnipresent extended family. I was the blackest of black sheep, and in a way, I still am.



Amongst my earliest auditory memories is the whining noise of a two-cycle 50cc puny motorcycle engine buzzing below the balcony of my home by the sea. I would rush out to get a glimpse of a Simson or a Balkan screaming down Al Mina St. at the awesome speed of 60 km per hour. Most of you have never probably heard of a Simson, let alone a Balkan. The Simson, such as the one in the picture above was originally manufactured in East Germany in the 1960's. A few dozen units were sold in Syria. The Bulgarian Balkan (1958-1975) had a more streamlined body and was my favorite of the two. It took me forever on the web to find this single photo (below) of the exact model that was prevalent in Tartous back in the mid 1960's. I feel deprived for not having the chance to have ever ridden either. Yeah, I'm this sort of guy.


Some wilder beasts made their way to Lattakia around the same period and started operating as taxis.

Matchless, BSA and Triumph were the top choices and proved themselves on the streets roaring wildly and flexing their powerful muscles (up to 500cc single cylinder four stroke engines).

Believe it or not, over 40 years later, some of these British beauties are still serving commuters to villages around Lattakia.

I was able to spot a few in still immaculate and mint conditions. Regretfully, I have missed the opportunity to buy a gorgeous Triumph when the opportunity presented itself some years ago.


I first soloed on a 1964 Lambretta (above) a few months before my eleventh birthday. The bike was too heavy to control from a stationary position. Someone would lean it on the sidewalk for me. I would then engage 1st gear, rev the engine up and surge forward in a frenzied heave. To stop I would approach the sidewalk at a slight angle as if I were docking a boat and make the final contact with the sidewalk as smoothly as possible. By the way I started driving a car at roughly the same time. Tartous was a much quieter town then and there were no more than 2 or 3 policemen. The streets were practically void of cars and I had free reign over the neighborhood. But no car ever impressed me. Cars are cages on wheels and they are adequate for a group of 3 or more to get from point A to point B. It never made any sense to admire a comfortable, expensive and shiny horse carriage more than a beautiful stallion. So it is with cars and motorcycles.



I had my chance to ride a wide variety of bikes and scooters over those early years, European and Japanese. I loved the Vespa despite of its nerdish looks. "Sembra una vespa!" ("It reminds me of a wasp!") Enrico Piaggio, the president of the company exclaimed when he first laid eyes on one. It would later become the most successful scooter in history and a pop culture icon. The obvious reasons of course include comfort, storage space, ease of handling and relative protection from the elements. The Japanese were swiftly moving to take over and I got my chances with your run of the mill Hondas, Yamahas and Suzukis. I had suffered from too many minor accidents and mishaps to keep track of but it was never the bike’s mistake. It was always mine, in one way or another. Yet the learning curve follows only this example as far as motorcycles are concerned. You have to take your fall then get up again, improving, honing your skills, learning to respect the machine but never to fear it. Before I left to America, I was already very comfortable in the saddle.



On the back roads of southwestern Louisiana I got my first chance to meet face to face with the beast. A Harley-Davidson in its native environment is probably the most harmonious machines ever built by man. As I look back toward those happy years I feel disturbed when a Harley is taken out of its context. Riding a Harley anywhere else in the world is sacrilegious. God and man meant it to roam freely in the USA and nowhere else. No biking experience ever comes close to riding a Harley on America’s open highways and I had the privilege of riding in Lousiana, Texas, Arizona, California and Arkansas. I snapped my right knee on this naked white beauty (above). It was black then, but after the accident both of us needed the paint and bodywork.



On my trips to Europe the sight of a Harley lumbering along the rows of dull looking and efficiently compact cars gets on my nerves. The few captured Harleys in Lebanon and Syria caused me even more pain. If I were an American president, I would never allow the export of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The truth of the matter is that a Harley is incapable of competing with either the European or Japanese brands. These are much more efficient, more reliable, safer and faster bikes. Simply put, whether I draw fire or not, a Honda is a better machine than a Harley. But this absolute truth loses its meaning on American ground, where the Harley is deservedly the king of the road.


I have been riding a 1986, 250cc Yamaha to work for more years than I care to count. But I have been riding some other impressive machines on the mountain roads of Tartous as well.

The 4-cylinder 750cc Honda Magna is hard to beat. I have no idea how the Japanese packed so much pleasure essence in its loins. It breathes in and out rhythmically like an Olympian Marathon runner. Give it some throttle and it’ll take your breath away. Recently, I started a love affair with a 600cc Honda Silver Wing scooter.

At first I felt a little embarrassed to get back to not only a scooter, but worse yet, a scooter with automatic transmission. However, after a couple of long rides with friends, my body thanked me and begged me to get one of them. It sure doesn’t offer the pure and naked pleasure of a real bike but it’s so god-damn comfortable it would be absolutely hypocrite not to admit it. I think I can do without the broken ribs and twisted fingers, without the burnt hands and dirty nails, without the dead bugs on my teeth and the maddening rain assaulting my face like cold needles.

You might all think that I’m getting too old for this shit. You’re wrong boys and girls. I have my eyes and heart set on a Honda Forza Z. It’s a little lighter than the Silver Wing and this is exactly what I truly need.

"Too old my ass, go ahead, put something exciting between your legs!"

28 comments:

KJ said...

I have to say, Abu Fares, that your passion towards motorbikes is fascinating and inspiring! I was never a Harley fan (and I never rode a motorbike) because here in the Gulf they do look odd actually. Honda bikes is the absolute ultimatum and a Harley in the garage is only present for prestigious purposes.

I am glad you still enjoy things between your legs :)

Yazan said...

Abu fares,
This post is like usual amazing. Not that I care much for motorbikes [neither for food for that matter] but the way you write about them is captivating.

To be honest, most of the 20y olds that I know would struggle to be as youthful as you are.
I say go for it, Forza Z u say?!

if ur into putting things together, we can start a game where I bring a couple of pieces from the bike whenever I get home.... maybe ull have a full one by the time i finish here... ;)

Karin said...

It may sound weird to some if I say that as woman but I LOOOOVE Harley Davidsons!! I recognize their sound while half asleep - they succeed each time to add a beat or two to my heart!

Our neighbour is a Harley fan and proud owner of some three of these shining beauties and each time I hear him taking off, I can only jaleously watch, dream ... and drool! That doesn't mean I would "reject" any other BUT a Harley though ... ;-)

OH NO, you're NOT getting too old ... since the days of "Easy Rider" I totally understand the burning zest for this kind of freedom, to have the wind around one's nose, the independence ... rest assured, I'm totally with you dear friend!

abufares said...

KJ although you're not into bikes but you already know more about them than most. Bikes, Japanese and otherwise were not meant to be ridden in the Gulf Region. They are as out of place as a Hummer is in the streets of Damascus.
I don't enjoy "things", I just enjoy a good bike between my legs.

abufares said...

Yazan
You know that it's actually easier to be a Ferrari in Syria than to buy a motorcycle. From an administrative point of view, motorcycles are a nightmare to acquire. It goes through so many twisted channels, it's nearly impossible to buy one 100% legally. Your little game, BTW, is one of the methods good motorcycles are finding their way on the Syrian streets.

abufares said...

Hi Karin
As I've said nothing beats a Harley in its native enviornment. I bet they look and sound great on the plains of Nebraska.
"Easy Rider"! An all time favorite and a must see for any biker worth his leathers.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Fascinating post! I enjoyed it thoroughly although I must admit that I am not a great fan of bikes, motorcycles, quads..etc...
It is also interesting to get a glimpse at your life in America during the 70s and 80s, I wonder how many girls have ridden on the back of that Harley? (i.e. had the excitement put between their legs?)

Katia said...

Once I read the title, I immediately and unconsciously started scanning the post for two words/ images: Vespa and Ducati. I got 1 out of 2 and it's only then that I could switch my eyes back to a more restful reading mode. I knew somebody with your taste wouldn't let me down as to not mentioning either of them;-)

Be careful Abu Fares and enjoy every bit of it!

abufares said...

Dubai Jazz
Not many I assure you. But the very very few who did were even more exciting than all the motorcycles ever made.

abufares said...

Katia
I love the Ducati as much as you do but I have never had the honor, privelege, luck and fortune to ever be on one. If I were forced to ever pick one brand of bikes as a favorite I would fail terribly. I wouldn't really know what to say. Since I'm no longer allowed to be so promiscuous about women, at least I have the liberty to love (and ride) more than one bike ;-)

saint said...

Yo Abu Fares,
Your comments are as interesting as your post and your title. While I do not have that much tie-in to motorcycle, I rode that beast couple of times in my youth. I even rode the motorcycle with my girlfriend behind me, back in the seventies, on Damascus Streets just to break the record to be the first with young chick dressing mini skirt on the back of the motorcycle. On the other hand I do admire your passion gratefully and also your courage to go free along States’ boarders riding one from Louisiana to California as I understand. This is a long trip Sir. On my side now with this age and three kids, I do not even have the courage to visit that shop on Atlantic Ave, where all leather men and women with tattoos mingle while parking their Harleys outside the club. Your review is a breathy ride by itself.

abufares said...

Hi Saint
I never made that long trip on a bike although you made me wish that I did. The states were listed as separate places where I had the pleasure to ride.
With 3 kids myself and the quizical eyes of relatives, neighbors and friends, to continue riding is a challenge by itself. I hope I will be able to do it for a long, very long time to come.
I'm glad I was able to stir some of your sweetest memories.
Thank you for commenting.

kaya said...

Dont have a bike, but I love the sight a good powerful machine. Two wheeler or four.
My uncle has aold BMW mike and what a huge hulking machine that is.
Best friend's hubby has a HArley which he recently accquired and has been busy BLINGING it.
Though I must say your passion for bikes, and your extensive knowledge has to be lauded.Its just like my husband and his Beemers. The man buys cars does them up and puts them back into the market. A new one brings about groans in the home, as that is the last we will see of him till its all done. I kid you not. This whole friday and saturday in this stinking rotten heat he was immersed in the car. Bringing up headrests, the entire seat and what not.
When we travel the first thing he does in any country , is find out the CAR MARKET. If you saw the amount of polishing, scrubbing, washing lotions and potions he has, you would sympathise with me! :D

abufares said...

Kaya
We all have our little obsessions. You & my wife are very lucky indeed as your hubbies are occupied by some harmless ones.
If I must be totally honest, I, too am very interested in cars but I have a more utilitarian interest in them. Therefore, and for example, I would very much like an SUV (whenever the day I can afford one arrives) because our roads in Syria beg for this type of vehicles and because it will be a more comfortable ride when our family of 5 decides to go one place together.
Ciao Baby!

Fatima said...

you dont only have an elegant writing but a sweet personality as well,,,

wish you the best
Nirvana

abufares said...

Hi Fatima
Thank you for your kind words.
Hope you can join me someday, on the back of my bike ;-)

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Related to the subject, please watch this video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYdSbjksfjo
Do you think those Harleys fit in the context? :)

abufares said...

Dubai Jazz
someone up there, and in their usually infinite wisdom, decided that youtube is bad for us in Syria. So they blocked it.
I have to thank them for taking care of me. For not letting me stray into the unknown and often dangerous jungles of online video. For taking me by the hand and forcing me not to watch any of this internet crap.
OH, THANK YOU PROTECTOR(S) OF THE DUMB FOR ALWAYS KNOWING WHAT'S BEST FOR ME. AMEN!

Ammoontie said...

Thank you for a very interesting post on my favourite subject. A Harley is always closed to my heart... I could hear its rumbles from miles away. Although is is native of America, it has found its way round the world and most countries has got their own Harley Owners Group. Its my dream machine..!

abufares said...

Ammoontie
I knew you would like it.
HOGS are indeed are present all over the world.
If I ever get cornered and asked to pick one bike as my absolute favorite, taking into consideration the type of terrain and riding in my neck of the wood and hoping to go on a long ride from Syria to Europe one day then here is the result:

http://www.yamaha-motor-europe.com/products/motorcycles/fz_series/fz6a-s2_fazer.jsp



Check it out and tell me how you feel about this baby!

GraY FoX said...

such an awesome ride :)
maybe you were a vicious biker with a blonde chick in some other life :P
nice post as usual :D

abufares said...

Hey Gray Fox
It's also possible that I'm a blonde biker with a vicious chick in this life ;-)

Jin said...

What a great post!
I was raised with bikes - my dad had a Vincent & an Indian at one stge. My grandad had a much loved BSA 650cc Super Road Rocket, which is now more thn half a century old but still going strong & in perfect condition :-)
Hubby had bikes from an early age & in our early years of marriage we had a Honda 750cc. Nowadays we have the Harley, which I have to say, is an absolute dream. The pressure is on now, for me to learn how to ride.....eeeeek!

abufares said...

Hi Jin
Thank you for dropping by. You're one step ahead of me anyway as I've been several times to your blog but never commented. My fault.
I love motorcycles with a passion. I dream of taking a pan European ride one of these days. Who knows, may be I still have my chance around work, raising kids and time all conspiring against me.
Love to hear from you, always.

Jammaw said...

Loved your post! Harley's Harley's and more Harley fans,,,,,,,,I must say that I love my Goldwing. Most of my friends ride Harley's but I love them anyway! Thought if you hadn't heard this, you might get a kick out of it......http://www.bmcycles.com/harleyVShonda.swf

Again, great post
Thanks
Judy
JammawRides.com

abufares said...

@judy
i had the extreme pleasure of riding a Harley in texas, long, so long ago (1988 was my last time in Houston). i checked your blog and really liked it. u see, the amazing thing is that despite the thousands of miles and the twenty years, our love for motorcycles brought us together in one single instant.
please come again. i don't write about bikes all the time, but you're welcome to drop by anytime.

Fenella said...

I love it when I inadvertently come across some gems amongst your vintage posts. I enjoyed this one so much. "Put something exciting between your legs"...indeed. I understand completely.

abufares said...

@Fenella
I love it more when you inadvertently drop in my lap, oopps on my blog :-)
I'd rather not put anything else and I'm glad you understand.