My Lessons In Humility - Suzuki Cavalcade (my teacher)

by Bob Ramsey

I’ve had motorcycles since I was 12 years old and have ridden just about everything out there.  Looking back, I’ve had about 12 motorcycles, if I count the one I built when I was 15.

I’ve had and/or ridden Harley’s, Honda’s, Yamaha’s, Kawasaki’s, a DKW, a Norton, BMW’s, a Whizzer Bike, BSA, Triumph, Ducati, and the list goes on.  Prior to getting the Cavalcade, I had only been “humbled,” twice.  Once was when I was asked to teach a friend how to ride his new Sportster, back in the 60’s.  The Sportster had the brake pedal on the left and the gearshift on the right side.  I shifted fine, but when I wanted to stop, I pushed down on the “brake” and downshifted instead of stopping.  That was embarrassing, especially when I kept doing it … and in front of the person I was “teaching.”

I had the opportunity to buy a Suzuki Cavalcade LXE and jumped at the chance.  A friend of mine had one and loved his.  It had been 7 years since I owned a motorcycle and I was getting “the fever.”

I was very confident when I was telling my wife that I wanted to get another motorcycle.  I was re-living my days of street racing, jumping ramps, wheelies, and all the crazy things I used to do.  I didn’t want to do those things with the Cavalcade, because after all, I was 49 years old and was looking for comfort.  At 49, the body doesn’t heal quite as fast as someone in their 20’s.  Besides, I still had memories of a wreck that put me in the hospital for 2 months (the second time I was humbled).

My wife saw the bike and said, “That thing is huge.  Are you sure you can handle it?”  Can I handle it?  I wondered if she knew who she was talking to.  “Sure, I can ride anything with 2 wheels,” Mr. Ego said.

I bought the bike and rode it home.  The bike wobbled on the road.  It found every crack in the pavement and followed them.  I found myself looking for cracks in the road and trying to avoid them.  That big beast scared me.  I thought I had forgotten how to ride.  This bike was giving me a lesson in humility.  “Bob, you just don’t have it anymore,” I thought.

After getting home, I started reading the Owner’s Manual and checking the bike over.  I wanted it to be perfect.  I checked the tire pressure.  WOW .. no wonder I couldn’t handle the bike.  The front tire had 15 psi and the rear tire had 20 psi.  I put air in the tires to the recommended pressure and went for a ride.  Much better!  The wobble was gone, but now I was noticing something else ..  this bike sure is top heavy.

Every time I went into a curve, I felt the top weight of the bike.  I was really afraid of this bike.  I wasn’t used to this.  Up until now, I could jump on a bike and ride with no problems.  The Cavalcade was continuing my lessons in humility.

I got back home and my wife asked how I liked it.  “I love it.  It rides like a dream.”  I couldn’t tell her that I was afraid of it.  “Let’s go to the beach this weekend and take the bike,” I told her.  She agreed to go, but she was reluctant.

Saturday morning rolled around and we loaded the bike.  This was her first ride on the Cavalcade.  I pulled the bike out of the garage and she got on.  It was a beautiful day for riding.

Within the first mile I realized that I now had a passenger and luggage.  The Cavalcade was even more top heavy.  I gripped the bars tightly, my arms were stiff.  I was almost afraid to move.  The curves were jerky.  I was hoping that she didn’t notice.  No such luck.

She noticed alright.  She was gripping my sides with every curve.  I talked to her calmly and told her that everything was alright.  We both knew better.  Finally, …straight road ahead.  The next 100 miles was straight 4 lane highway.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  The Cavalcade was not finished with my lessons in humility.

The straight road was a breeze.  We both got very comfortable with the ride and my wife started exploring the bike.  I was riding straight, but the bike was jerking to the right, then to the left.  My wife was leaning over checking out the bells and whistles.  This wasn’t much of a problem, but she did ask if I was having trouble keeping the bike straight.

I was starting to get the feel of the bike, but I still didn’t like the curves.  We finally got to the beach where my parents live.  Uh Oh . something I had forgotten about.  I had to ride the Cavalcade on the sand road to his house.  “Sand,” I thought, “I’ll just go slow and put my feet out.”

I pulled onto the sand road, going very slow.  The road looked good, just like someone had just worked on it.  I had my feet out when suddenly the front wheel dropped and the bike started to go down.  Someone had just worked on the road and filled in some pot holes with soft sand.  My front wheel had just found one of the “repaired” holes.

The bike stopped, the front wheel turned sharply to the left and the bike started to lean.  I gripped the handlebars tightly and pushed down with my left leg, trying to hold the bike up.  I felt all the weight, every last pound of it.  I held on and the bike started to move vertical again.  We didn’t go down, but the Cavalcade’s lessons in humility were starting to have an effect on me.

My wife wanted off and I couldn’t blame her.  I was riding like a beginner.  “Just hang on, we’re almost there,” I told her.  We could see their house, so she stayed on.

Tomorrow was Sunday and we both started dreading the trip home.  She dreaded it vocally.  I dreaded it silently.  I couldn’t let her know that I was afraid too.  She would never get back on, if she knew how afraid I was.

We spent the rest of the day just sitting, resting and visiting with my Dad and Mom.  When we went out, we took the car.

The dreaded time came for us to get back on the bike and make our way home.  We took our time and all seemed to be well.  It was starting to get late and the sun was going down.

As it got darker, I started becoming more aware of scratches on my windshield.  The darker it got, the more I was aware.  The windshield had bubbles and scratches all over it.  When the oncoming headlights hit my windshield, I was blinded.  I could not see through the windshield.

I was forced to go slow, because I was on a curvy road.  I had to “memorize” the road ahead.  Every time an oncoming car would approach, the road would disappear.  I had to stand up to see.  The last hour of our trip home was spent with me standing up and my wife scared out of her mind.  The Cavalcade was giving me my final lesson in humility.

We made it home and my wife swore that she would NEVER get on that thing again.  I finally admitted that I was scared too and told her that I would not ride at night again, until I got a new windshield.

2 weeks later, after installing the new windshield, I decided to take a solo trip from our home in North Carolina to West Virginia.  I had also been in contact with another Cavalcade owner, Jay Johnson, who told me about “counter-steering.”  I decided to put his method to use and give it a good try.  The roads in West Virginia would be a good test.

I started to get the hang of counter-steering.  I was taking the curves with ease and was no longer fearful of them.  In fact, I started looking forward to the curves.  For the first time in the 3 weeks that I had owned the bike, I was really beginning to enjoy it.

On the way home, a 6 hour trip, I had time to reflect on the lessons that I had learned from the Cavalcade.  I realized that it was crazy for me to take the risks that I took.  I had broken every safety rule that I had learned over the years.  The most important thing I learned was “Never take on a passenger, until you have gotten used to the bike, especially one as big as the Cavalcade.”  My ego could have killed both of us.

When I got home, I told my wife about my “lessons.”  I told her that my riding skills were back now … ‘for real.’  The Cavalcade had been a wonderful teacher.  My ego was finally back to reality.

She agreed to take a “test ride” with me.  I knew I had learned my lessons well, when she said, “I can really tell a difference.  That trip to West Virginia and counter-steering has made a world of difference.