Ah, no sweeter mistress distracts the winter-weary, car-bound commuter than the seductive sound of a four-stroke double overhead cam purring "hello" for the first time since the frosts of November.
As Washington groans its way rather creakily into spring year, freedom is a motorcycle.
You can have your golf and your sailing and your bicycling and even your tennis - I have - all these recreation that require setting aside a time and a place and putting the rest of life away for a while. But give us two wheels with disc brakes hung onto 500 cc with a little chrome and some burnished paint with gold striping. There's the spice to embolden the dagwood daily life as you move around the city.
There are happy days in motorcycle heaven. A motorcyclist is truly shut down when there's snow and ice on the ground, and friends, we all know it was a long winter. In recent weeks every bike-owner in sight has been changing oil, Putting in new plugs and even sniffing around the bike shops for something newer and better.
The technology of two-wheeled fun is now in a runaway stage, with startling new things happening every year. This year, the twin-V engine of the shaft-driven Honda CX 500, the high-speed handling of the Suzuki 1000 and the total touring luxury of the Yamaha XS 11 (1100 cc) are the talk of the lots.
Sitting over a beer and a sandwich on a grassy plot beside a roadside snack bar with a bunch of motorcylist is not, we imagine, unlike lunch with a buyer at the Paris Pret-a-porter fashion collection.
"Did you see the Krauser saddlebags on that Beemer 750?"
"Have you ever ridden a Ducati? Like a Maserati, man!"
"Wanna try my Super Sport?"
That, in fact, was precisely the drift of a conversation we had a few Sundays back, when everything on two wheels seemed to converge at once ont he grass beside White's Ferry, the only crossing of the Polomac between the Beltway and Point of Rocks.
"Washington's surroundings are an immovable feast delightfully laid out for weekend motorcycle tours. The trip to White's Ferry is a perfect Sunday outing.
We rolled up River Road, the Maryland artery paralleling the Potomac, and took the side roads that caught our attention. The first was a dirt track running down to Swain's Lock on the C&O Canal. There, sandy-haired John Swain stands his ground as the fifth generation of Swains to work on the canal, the fourth to have lived in the lockhouse at Lock 21. Like the fletchers, who have run Fletcher's Boat for several generations, Swain's also rents boats, canoes and bicycles. Swain's Lock is an idyllic wooded setting to park the bike - and go running, fishing or Picnicking.
The nice thing about motorcycles is that you can always just stop and turn around if, like me, you tend to overshoot the mark. That's what happened next at Seneca Creek, a remarkable spot where the canal in its operating days was actually transported over the tributary ina red-limestone via-duct. (Much of the red limestone you see in canal locks and buildings comes from the Seneca quarry.)
Simply by following ouar noses (a motor-cycle always seats two, so there's no need for a "motorcycle widow"), my lady and I stuck close to the canal on paved and dirt roads, passing through the splendid horse-raising country of upper Maryland. The rolling hills were dotted with impressive farm spreads, including Summit Hall, which boasts "The Finest Horse Turf in America," whatever that means.
We finally linked up with three couples on four bikes and took the back roads up to White's Ferry. The conversation on the grassy bank ran for a while toward the evils of helmet laws (Virginia and Maryland are rescinding their helmet requirements this summer, but no such move is reported in the District). Then, as if every two-wheeler in Washington was breathing the same wanderlust that Sunday, White's Ferry became a ventable motorcycle convention: Hondas, BMWs, a new Yamaha, lots of KZ 900s and 1000s, the occasional chopped Harley.
It's a great way to see the countryside - even if, like me, you don't know anything about chrome headers or J&R exhaust systems.
And if you're city-bound or simply itching for the ultimate tourmobile, it's a great way to get around town. The proof is already in the streets.
In the frantic, upwardly mobile hustle that is Washington, where we're all trying so hard to outrun and outsmart each other because we're all so bloody talented, it's not Jimmy Carter, or Edward Bennett Williams, or Even Ardeshir Zahedi who's really having the most fun: It's the maotorcycle messengers, the only players for whom the whole Washington ballgame is really a sport.
Watch them sometime,slouching around their bikes on a street corner during an idle moment (they have a few), walkie-talkies slung over one hip, face shields pushed up, ponytails flowing from under their helmets. In the wilderness of the city, they're like independent prospectors in the Yukon - free.
Never do I feel so unfree as when I'm chained to a three-piece suit and a briefcase, bogged down in traffic on K Street at Connecticut, struggling to another appointment where ther'll be no parking space, and one of tthese bithe spirtits cuts his BMW down my sidelane, zips across the traffic and seconds later becomes a simple shimmer in the distance.
Now, some of you drivers may think that this is dangerous, that motorcyclist in the city are a hazard to your health. Actually, the motorcyclists see it a little differently. They know it's dangerous, and they figure you're one of the dangers.
But the very insanity of motorcycling in a city with traffic like ours (one part impatience, one part tourist) may be the true thrill of it. Like the rollercoaster to a five year-old, or skiing the Jungfrau to a 50 year-old.
A suggestion to automobilists: The motor-cyclist likes to think of the auto as the one known quantity in traffic, because drivers can't maneuver so fast. So don't get excited by the motorcyclist's maneuvers; just continue along exactly as you had planned. If you do something really unpredictable, that's what can cause a skinned shin, if not a broken neck.
We boys on the bikes know that there are those of you who are intimidated and frightened by the now-you-see-it, now-you-don't quality of our machines. The noise, up close, bothers some of you, too. But be sure of one thing: We're more scared of you than you are of us.