Years later, with the Ninja aging, I traded her in one day for a brand new 2000 Ninja ZX-9R. And yet again, the future collided with me in one blinding instant. As I watched the odometer click from zero to one kilometer, zipping along even at sedate pre-engine-break-in speeds, the solidity and poise of another decade of motorcycle handling progress was injected into my brain. A few days later, break-in period elapsed, I watched in disbelief as one hundred kilometers per hour arrived from nought in under three seconds, 130 horses barely ticking over. I knew, in those moments that never would my riding skills be on par with the technology to which the bike gave me access. From one era's superbike to another's, I had crossed a chasm. Cornering speeds, outright straightline performance and acceleration that no production car driver has ever experienced, all for a few thousand dollars.
Needless to say its been a while since I experienced a technology shift that abrupt. Home electronics like TVs and DVDs and computers and mobile phones all progress and evolve at a more sedate pace, no matter what the marketers would have you believe. Buying the next greatest thing these days rarely provides one that sense of "fast-forward" anymore. Upgrades are less aweinspiring and, at best, eyebrow-raising.
However recently I was the stunned recipient of a fabulous gift from my wife and one of my oldest and closest friends.
As you may have read elsewhere in this blog, I am a cyclist, for reasons of health and recreation mainly. And since I live in Canada's leading centre for bicycle-theft, I have always had an aversion to expensive bikes. For years I rode an old clunker donated by a friend, which served me for many years before finally disappearing one night from a locked storage room. That was followed by a hardware store special which I bought for about $150 and which lasted less than two years before being taken from a locked bike rack in our parking lot. And to replace that I bought another hardware store special at the end of the season for the bargain of $89 that even had an aluminum frame. And it's this last gem that has carried my groaning and flabby bulk over 600km on its trusty knobbies. Rain or mud, snow and hail, its performed well, albeit with a rattly and squeak-heavy presence.
But, you see, my friend quit his job a few years ago. Left the rat race. Traded a city condo for a mountain chalet. Traded urban canyons for wooded trails. Moved from the metro to the sticks. Traded his blossoming stomach ulcer for a tan and skinned knees. In short, he packed up his life and, with a partner, bought a mountain bike shop in the Canadian Rockies.
For years now he's been promising to hook me up with the latest technology. Get me off my clunker and onto some lean, mean, full-suspension track-whacking machine. Since I live within spitting distance of the most amazing mountain bike terrain in the world, it was bit galling to J that I shunned such bike porn for things like rowing, or running the seawall. Oh, sure, I'd thought about dropping some dosh at his shop and getting kitted out proper like, but you see, my friend is a man who rode the Trans Alps mountain bike race on a piece of machinery that would have cost more than my Ninja (my Y2K Ninja, no less) had he purchased it outright. I knew that my pocket book would never stretch to the kind of titanium and carbon fibre wizardry that he'd really like me to buy. Hell, there weren't even any adult bikes in his shop under $700, and even those at the obtainable end of the scale were the kind of embarrassing tractor-seated cruisers on which white-shoed retirees shred the remains of their prostates.
No, I amused myself with the odd accessory when I was in his neighbourhood, and was the recipient of no small number of great cycling clothes, but my friend J was clearly disappointed with my reticence at joining the mud-spattered and grated-shin brethren that regularly came in and bled all over his shiny inventory.
Well, all that came to an end this month. As I made serious noises about upgrading my old clunker to something more respectable, it generated some inquiries to J upon the eve of one of his trips out to visit us. He started sending me pictures and links to an increasingly more expensive array of unobtanium anti-wobble shift linkage micro-thrusters and all-mountain air-charged remote shock-lockout thumb-shifters. Finally, when one bike stood out clearly above the others, I realized that he had climbed way beyond my price range, and our exciting but all-too-brief email exchange ended rather limply with me asking him to, well, pick me out a new helmet and maybe some bar ends for the clunker, if he wouldn't mind.
Well, I'm sure you can guess the rest. Wifey and J conspired to buy me a piece of two-wheeled cross-country mountain bike totty that puts anything I've ridden before to shame.
Climbing off my hardware-store rattletrap, faithful though it may have been, and climbing onto this new bike has once again thrown me a stunning mental shift. Light, solid, smooth, strong and bejewelled with more technology than my first motorbike had: hydraulic disk brakes, single air-charged rear shock with remote lockout to convert the bike to hardtail at the flick of my thumb, front fork with 110mm of travel and its own lockout for hard climbs. It truly was like stepping out of the 1950s and into the next century. My old v-brake bike with no real suspension to think off and badly mismatched gears is simply light-years behind this. Riding through the modest forest trails in Stanley Park on Sunday, I suddenly found myself riding up onto downed trees and leaping three-foot drops into mud. With the bike suspension set to full "boing" I was hurling it off 6-step concreate staircases and frightening grannies in the new construction zone around False Creek. And as I sat panting slightly in awe, looking back at the admittedly-modest four foot drop that I'd just landed, I found myself idly wondering:
"Gee, I wonder if I should upgrade to the LC-R shock or whether I'll be able to stay beneath the blow-off valve ceiling of this one?"
"I bet it wouldn't be too hard to bust one of these wheels on a rock after dropping eight feet. Wonder if carbon fiber wouldn't be a good idea?"
And then it hit me.
This wonderful gift, from two of my most favourite people, is actually my first hoot on the crack pipe.
And somewhere deep in his echoing mountain lair, my buddy laughs cruelly and with great satisfaction: "Ye-e-e-e-s-s-s. YESSsssssss."
Then right in my ear, as if he was standing beside me on the concrete steps:
"First hit's free", grins the pusher man, evilly. "Next one's gonna cost ya."