“Meet me at the Rock Store” is something of an invitation to Vanaheim for motorcyclists. A star-studded congregation and their steel steeds meet faithfully on Sundays at Ed and Vern’s barn-wood café perched on Mulholland Highway. Some are ready to grab the head of the blacktop cobra that winds its way through the Santa Monica Mountains to the Malibu beaches.
Some end up as passengers in EMS vehicles, pieces of their dream hanging from the tree limbs or crushed at the bottom of a canyon. Some just come to guzzle a cup of joe, and jaw—maybe about bikes, maybe not. The machines are lined up like a Best of Miss Universe, Past and Present; it is a parade of voluptuous metal that dares you not to adore it.
A newcomer to this ritual, I wandered about, mouth open like a schoolboy at his first wet t-shirt contest. Looking at the Black Shadows, Brutales, and Benellis, the carbon-fibered sportbikes and chromed-out cruisers, I imagined everyone there was more committed to motorcycling than I could ever hope to be. As a 50+ executive at the end of his useful life who was looking to rekindle what remains of his daredevil DNA strands, I had made the only logical decision to save my soul: buy a motorcycle. My parents still disapprove—but then, as I finally live away from home, they don’t have to know their son is really a hooligan on two wheels.
I consorted with the other miscreants at the Rock Store, hoping their wisdom and mojo would rub off. As I likened motorcycles to horses, one 60+ veteran looked quizzically at me and countered with his notion of a day ride as a 180 mph blast through Big Sur. No wonder his engine died at 18,000 miles.
“Motorcycling is the great leveler,” opined a professional acquaintance of mine. When I look at his racing trophies and hear him talk about sliding both wheels around Laguna Seca, I wonder. When he reveals that the semi-retired tycoons in custom leathers with race-ready exotics are, contrary to my assumption, “painfully slow,” I wonder how I could possibly keep up with him on my showroom-fresh V-twin throwback. Memories of The Great Escape Triumph leaping across barbed wire barriers and multiple viewings of Mike Hailwood and Wayne Rainey on the DVD player don’t make your figure-8s any cleaner while you struggle through the MSF Rider Course. No matter how much you think you know about motorcycling, there is always that bit of sand in the corner of a curve as you come out of a parking lot that can make you lose the front end at less than five clicks of the speedometer.
So, perhaps my friend is right. Motorcycling is the great leveler. Whether we ride Harleys or Hondas, Big Dogs or Road Stars, we are all engaged in the discovery of ourselves each time we mount up. Motorcycling is a measure of our character, for no two motorcycles and their riders are the same. Everything we do on a motorcycle is an action that has a consequence and a directly proportionate result. Few things demand more faith in fate and the marvel of gyroscopic effect. Nothing else combines the ego-shattering Zen moment with such a fleeting pleasure of getting it right.
Photos by Jeff Buchanan