Nothing Cool Ever Lasts

by Gary Charpentier

Nothing cool ever lasts. This has been my maxim for a long time now. I find comfort in it when I realize that something I enjoy has begun to deteriorate from either neglect, or too much attention. Rather than bemoan the loss, I simply acknowledge the inevitable and move on. Take First Thursday at Dulono’s, for example. Years ago, it was the monthly meeting of the Twin Cities Norton Owners Club. Members would park their best motorbikes outside the humble pizza joint on Lake and Lyndale, go inside, and conduct club business over a nice Italian dinner. As other riders noticed said Fine Machinery lounging in the parking lot, they too began to congregate, admire, and enjoy a bit of bench racing. It’s only natural, after all. But as the crowds grew, so did problems both logistic and behavioral in nature. Soon this drew the ire of neighbors and the attention of the Man. The typical crackdown ensued, and First Thursday was no longer Cool.

In the neglected category, I think of the Motor Oil Cafe, which was attached to the now-defunct Trackstar Motorsports. That was also a very cool place to hang out, meet up with your riding buds, and watch a little Speed Vision before it became the NASCAR channel. It did a decent business spring through summer, but got killed during the winter because it was in a motorcycle dealership amidst all that snow. Eventually, Trackstar went out of business and the Motor Oil Cafe went with it. When Moto Primo opened at that location, they decided to use the old Motor Oil floorspace for more merchandise. Probably a wise business decision, but it left us with one less cool place to hang out.

I’m straying from the point I wanted to make, however. For some six years now, I have written this column for MMM. This period has seen a lot of change, both in motorcycling and in the world around us. Change has invaded my personal life as well, with wife and daughter making me a family man, forcing me to grow up and assume r-r-r-rrrrr… Um, you know, that R-word. I have gained experience and knowledge of things heretofore unimagined, but I have lost much that was cool along the way.

Take Gogo, for instance. My passion for that Ducati was the inspiration for my early writing. Armed with much enthusiasm and mediocre writing skill, my first columns were received by MMM as a sort of novelty, mostly because I had made that obscure reference to Spaulding Gray and his concept of the “Perfect Moment”. Troy Johnson really liked that piece. As MMM’s first editor, Troy helped me through the growing pains as my writing matured. But life moved on, and circumstances grew dire enough at one point that I had to sell the best motorcycle I ever owned. Gogo went to a friend, and then to a stranger, and I have lost track of her since. I had my time with her, and it was wonderful, but buying another 900SS wouldn’t be the same. Time to move on…

So I moved on to a Honda NX650. On that decidedly non-cafe-racer, I had some of my greatest adventures and wrote some of my best material. During the normal riding season I was the Urban Guerrilla, riding through places in the city where others feared to tread. During the winter, I became the black leather Michelin Man, geared up to battle the ice and snow. But the salts of winter roads took their toll on Babe the Blue Ox, and she had to be retired after her third year under my hard, merciless butt.

With Quasi Moto, my Cafe Scrambler, I returned briefly to the world of pure Cafe Racing. It took two winters of toil to build, and it served as my primary ride for a year and a half. Not bad, when you consider how hard I rode that poor little bastard. Full throttle almost all the time, because at only 450ccs it had to work twice as hard to keep up with modern bikes. Most memorable, however, was the time it won the “Best Cafe” award at the Norton Owner’s Club Concours d’Elegance. I hadn’t even intended to enter, mind you, but every bike that showed up was judged. Quasi faced some stiff competition from purebred Ducatis, Nortons, Triumphs, Guzzis… really gorgeous machinery cleaned up and turned out especially for the event. You can imagine my surprise when my bug-splattered baby made off with the award.

So, DCR has been all over the map as far as subject matter is concerned. Try as I might, I cannot curb my enthusiasm for other forms of motorcycle sport to focus exclusively on the hunch-backed speed demon. I even played badass in the saddle of that hardtail power-chopper I sampled over on “The Dark Side”. While it was a lot of fun to ride for a day, I can’t imagine it as an only bike. I’m not ready for touring bikes yet either, though the newest Goldwings show a respectable turn of speed even in the twisties. But I really liked the feeling of having a bike I could ride anywhere, anytime, in any weather. The NX was the most useful motorcycle I ever owned. Dual-sport riding offers the most possibilities, and the most bang-for-the-buck in my motorcycling experience. “Adventure Touring” has been a big thing over in Europe for quite some time now. So by the time this column is published, I will have taken delivery of my new Kawasaki KLR650, and will be off on new adventures. Since most of these are going to feature something other than high-speed cafe racing, this will be my last entry in the Diary of a Cafe Racer. Though I am sad to see it go, it is time for me to move on…

My new column will be called “Backroads Diary”, and it will be much larger in scope. I intend to explore the “road less travelled”; that which was left behind to wither and die in the wake of the mighty (boring) Interstates. I want to ruminate in the shade of old art deco gas stations, eat in mom-and-pop diners, and get as far away from the world of Walmart and McDonald’s as I possibly can. For this, I need a tactical motorcycle.

The KLR has been adopted by the Marine Corps for light reconnaissance and courier duty, and it has been the machine of choice for expeditions into the deepest, darkest third world terrain on the planet. At around $5000 brand new, it is also one of the best bargains in motorcycling. This makes it the perfect mount for my new adventures.

I plan to ride farther, not faster, than I ever have before. I’m going to stop and talk to folks who still remember what America was all about before we were invaded by mega-corporations and cable TV. I want to document exactly what it is we are losing in this fast-food society before it is gone forever. So, while it is true that nothing cool ever lasts, it’s still nice to pay homage to these things which once fascinated us. I’m looking forward to the long dirt road ahead…


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