The Turning Point
For most car people it doesn’t take too long to contract “the disease”. Perhaps it was a parent or uncle with a cool car you vaguely remember from your childhood. Maybe it was watching a potent TV combination of Miami Vice, the Dukes of Hazard, Knight Rider and old Speed Racer reruns. For most, i’d say it started with a small seemingly innocuous toy from Mattel called Hot Wheels. Personally, I was a product of all of these factors working together in tandem. I was doomed from the very start.
Motorcycles were no different. I was barely riding a bicycle before I put cards in the spokes. I twisted my right wrist to simulate a throttle tube and wanted to go faster and faster to “rev” my playing card exhaust note to a redline that was limited by my leg muscles.
I absolutely and positively caught the disease early. I knew I loved these two contraptions years before I was ever allowed to actually operate them. In my entire life nothing has ever been so certain and ingrained more so than my love for automobiles and motorcycles. And yet, these origins into my motorized hobbies were not necessarily the point where my life was really changed into what the current obsession has become. That would come much later.
Years and milestones came and went. I had a minibike hand-me-down that I had access to as early as age 6. I learned to drive a manual transmission at age 12. I got my driver’s license after lining up at the door before the DMV opened on my 16th birthday. These were ALL great things that fed the disease.
But it wasn’t until years later that I hit the turning point. It was 2004. I was 23 years old, and in that year I acquired two very important items. One was my first road-going motorcycle and the other was my fourth car in my history.
The car was a 2002 Nissan SE-R SpecV. A middle-of-the-pack sport compact car hot on the heels of the Fast and Furious trend. It was so cool, so angry and so purposeful after my roster of perfectly fine and reasonably quick sedans I had prior to this. It was an awakening to the concept of a good handling car. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago which have basically NO good roads, no curves, no twists or bends and certainly no canyon runs. There isn’t a whole lot of point in anything that isn’t just straight line performance. Yet I bought this SpecV Sentra and suddenly had a car that wasn't notably fast, but it was light and nimble. It really rewarded driving it hard and whipping it into corners in a way nothing I had previously owned had done. The disease had officially morphed from a love of cars to a love of DRIVING cars.
At right around the same time, my first "real" motorcycle came into my life. I had ridden a few things here and there on loan for short rides but this was MINE. A 1982 Suzuki GS750E, it had been the “break-in” bike for numerous friends of mine. Years prior, somebody purchased it for 1000 dollars, learned on it and bought a better bike later that summer. The next spring, they sell it for 750 to another friend who wants to get into riding and that person did the same thing. Rinse and repeat this cycle 5 times over 8 years and suddenly I paid the last guy who had it $50 and it was all mine. It had 3 drippy colors of rattle can paint jobs and hail damage from being left outside for 2 years. I did my best on a limited budget to sand it, paint it all one color, and I started something of a Cafe Racer inspired facelift as I had the spare money to buy stuff for it.
I was no stranger to riding 2 wheeled machinery, but the first time actually riding around on the road with the keys and title in hand felt monumental. I learned SO much about motorcycling that year. I took my first overnight road trip, learned a ton from little mistakes and more about proper gear and how vigilant you become as a vulnerable rider among a sea of cars. A proper street bike - even an ancient junker like this was enough performance to blow my mind. There is absolutely nothing like a fast motorcycle that makes any car shy of a Mclaren seem uneventful in terms of acceleration and visceral feeling.
Immediately everything was different. Like the car hobby, my interest in motorcycles transformed from largely appreciative and theoretical into an obsession with dynamics, balance, flawless technique and thrills.
Having my mind blown by these two vehicles in one year's span was shocking. I had spent my teenage years with Ram-Air hood Trans Ams and Harley Softails on my mind but in one year with this combination I realized I actually preferred completely different types of vehicles altogether. I wanted my cars small and flick-able now. I wanted my motorcycles fast and agile. Everything I THOUGHT I liked changed that year. I was changed. It was my turning point.
Fast forward nearly 20 years and I still prefer these core virtues in my machinery. Sure, I like fast muscle cars and I actually own 2 cruiser style motorcycles in my stable. I truly have widened my taste to accommodate a lot of different experiences but the fact remains that my core interests in a car and motorcycle can be traced back to that pivotal time in 2004 with my little Nissan and my old Suzuki.
In hindsight, it makes the 16th birthday spent at the DMV, the minibike rides and the hundreds of Hot Wheels seem nowhere near as important by comparison. All the Dukes of Hazzard episodes in the series’ run wasn’t enough to actually make me much of a muscle car guy as much as a 4cyl compact sedan turned me into somebody who would rather dodge cones at 50mph. I may have been a car and motorcycle enthusiast since I was about 3 or 4yrs old, identifying cars in the oncoming lane by their headlights at night, but I became a DRIVING enthusiast and motorcycle RIDER in 2004.
My turning point stands as one of the most crucial periods in my vehicle history. Even though that car wasn’t THAT good and the bike was kind of a pile,… they were probably the most important vehicles of my entire life.
What was YOUR turning point? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
I write and I know things. I am also the resident motorcycle expert at Everyday Driver - check out the Cycle Report on our Youtube channel. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.