Thoughts On The 2013 Z1000

Last week, I brought this lovely little lady home with me. Meet Zoey, my new 2013 Kawasaki Z1000:Image

I thought about writing a post about my new ride as soon as I received it, but I realized that I wouldn’t have much to say with only a single ride home from the dealer under my belt. Well, now that I’ve had this motorcycle for over a week and I’ve already put over 400 miles on it, I think I can talk more about it.

My previous ride was a 2005 Ninja 500, so this jump from a 500 cc engine to a 1000 cc engine (actually 1043 cc, if we’re being picky) is a pretty big one. The Z is quick; really, really quick. It’s quick off the throttle, it’s quick to get up to speed. Everything about it is just that fast. It’s awesome.

I went with the 2013 model over the new 2014 Z1000 for two reasons. First, I wasn’t crazy about the price increase; the 2013 Z’s MSRP was $10,500, while the 2014 is about $2000 more. Since this was last year’s model, I was able to pick it up at a really, really nice price, which was a big bonus. Furthermore, I really don’t like the look of the 2014. I think the gun-metal grey with the green accents just isn’t as striking as the 2013’s full metallic blazed green paint job. Seriously, this thing sparkles in the sunlight. It’s very striking.

My favorite thing about the Z1000 is the upright riding position. I’d already gotten used to sitting upright on a bike since the Ninja 500 has a very upright posture considering its sport bike class. I’ve been on a few other sport bikes with more aggressive, over-the-tank postures and I didn’t care for it. The Z’s seat is really comfortable and it’s nice to sit upright on the thing. It certainly makes tooling around town more comfortable.

The puny windshield means that the wind above about 80 mph gets pretty intense. To be honest, I didn’t realize that the little windshield on the Ninja 500 was doing that much to deflect wind, but the difference is noticeable. I don’t mind the wind, honestly, although it’s a bit of an upper arm workout to hold on at speed, it’s not unbearable. Also, it really adds to the feeling of going Warp Nine when you’re really moving.

Really, I love everything about this bike. Whenever I think about it or someone asks me about my new ride, I get an absolutely ridiculous grin on my face. Riders will often talk about “smiles per mile” as a metric for value when it comes to their rides. In that regard, I think I’m getting my money’s worth, many times over.

Riders, It’s Time To Start Waving At Scooters

They’ll cover it in the MSF beginning rider course, even though it really has nothing to do with safety. Or you’ll learn its importance from the friend or family member who taught you how to rider (even though, seriously, go take an MSF course). Or you might just pick up on its importance after you’ve noticed your fellow riders flashing it at you as you pass each other like screaming chrome ships in the night.

That’s right, we’re talking about the motorcycle wave.

When you buy a motorcycle, you’re enrolled in a club. Enrollment is automatic and opting out is frowned upon. Like any good club, there are various traditions and disagreements about what behavior is proper and acceptable, but the bottom line is this: motorcyclists wave at one another.

For the non-riders out there, here’s how it works. If you’re on your bike and a fellow rider is coming towards you in the opposite lane, you stick your hand out in some fashion to that rider. Exceptions are made for circumstances such as when one’s left hand is busy with a shift or turn (in those instances, a head nod is acceptable if one can manage it).

There’s a lot of flexibility in what gesture you can make, as long as it’s not the raised middle finger, because that’s both rude to your brother or sister rider and also because we need to save that special gesture for, well, every single brain dead SUV, pickup and minivan driver that’s trying to kill us.

Me? I like a simple raised index and middle finger V (basically a peace sign) held out at a low angle towards the road. “Living the two wheeled life” is what it means to me. I have no idea if others interpret it that way. It doesn’t matter. It’s my wave and I like it.

Even with this tradition of waving to one another, there’s a lot of tribalism in motorcycle culture and that’s without even getting into the topic of motorcycle clubs or gangs.

You’re judged by what you ride, how you ride it, and what you’re wearing while riding it. Generally speaking, cruisers don’t like sport bike riders, and vice versa. Sport riders especially hate squids who tend to make sport riders as a whole look bad. And Harley riders hate everyone aside from themselves. They might even hate themselves. I don’t know any Harley riders, so I can’t verify.

I kid, I kid. You can’t take my opinion on Harleys seriously. I’m a Kawasaki rider.

The only thing all riders can agree on is a unanimous hatred of scooters.

Scooters don’t get the wave. At best, they get ignored. At worst, an icy glare and a feeling of smug superiority as one thinks of all the various ways scooters are doing it wrong and how we motorcycle riders are just so much better

Confession: I’ve been guilty of this.

“I don’t get scooter riders,” I’ve said. “I almost never see a scooter rider wearing a decent helmet, much less gloves, boots, or a jacket. Do they think that riding a scooter means the road will be somehow more forgiving when they go down on it because they fell off a scooter?”

Worst of all? “Scooter riders don’t even know about the wave. I can count the number of scooters who have waved at me on one hand and have five fingers left over.”

You know what I’ve begun to realize, though? This animosity between motorcycles and scooters is  ridiculous at best and pernicious at worst.

Let’s go back to the wave and why we do it.

I’ve tried to get a general sense of what rider culture is like with regards to the wave, so I’ve paid close attention to who initiates waves to me or who reciprocates waves that I initiate. My evidence is purely anecdotal, of course, since I don’t take the time to write down my findings while riding.

But what I’ve noticed is that Harley riders are the most responsive when it comes to waves in terms of both initiating and reciprocating, and that’s even coming from someone who is very clearly neither a Harley nor a cruiser rider.

Other cruiser brands are more hit-or-miss; I have to assume some of it is due to cruiser vs. sport bike rivalry. Sport riders are generally good about waving at me if and only if they’re a rider like me: full face helmet, jacket, gloves, etc. If the sport rider is in sandals and shorts i. e. a squid, I tend to get fewer waves than from any other group.

My feeling for this is based on the general rider profile. Harley riders, in general, tend to have a larger percentage of “the old guard” in their ranks and among the old guard, it seems that a rider is worthy of a wave no matter what he or she is riding. Other groups have less adherence to tradition, so there is correspondingly less waving.

How does this pertain to scooters?

My thought is this: maybe scooters don’t know about waving because so few motorcyclists take the time to wave to them. We haven’t invited them into our club. And why haven’t we?

It can’t be a gear thing, because many riders go without jackets, boots, or a brain bucket of any kind.

It can’t be a matter of engine size. We don’t judge a rider who putters by on a Honda Rebel 250. We think “there goes another new member of the tribe,” because a 250 is a fine bike to learn how to ride on, so we accept them as a member of the tribe or because it’s a cheap bike to buy and maintain and a cheap bike is always better than no bike.

Scooters tend to be cheaper than even little bikes like the 250. But regardless of the reason for why a scooter rider has chosen such a mount, the fact is they’re out there on two wheels, the same as us. They’re in it, just as we are, even if they don’t look as cool.

But that’s what the wave is all about, isn’t it? We wave at other riders to acknowledge that we’re all out here facing the same risks. We’re 37 times more likely to be killed than a cager and that breeds a certain solidarity, no matter what one is riding. Scooters are facing those same risks. They’re enjoying the same freedoms. I think that’s worthy of membership in the “wave club.”

And that’s why I wave at everyone now. Scooter, cruiser, Harley, tourer, it doesn’t matter. The wave is about solidarity. It’s about showing that we’re all in this together, that we’re all facing down the Grim Reaper when we swing our legs over our mounts. We’re all out there living life on two wheels. We’re all family in that regard.

. . .

Motorcycles just happen to be the cooler uncles and more awesome cousins of that particular family. 

A Meditation On Money

I spent last weekend doing exactly two things: I played a lot of the Old Republic and I did my taxes. In terms of maturity points, I calculate these actions balance each other out and leave me with a maturity balance of precisely zero. Which, I suppose, is better than have a negative balance.

Fortunately for me, doing taxes is actually a happy time since it means I’m going to get a nice check coming back from the government. It’s the one time in the year that I can feel good about the obscene amount of interest I’m paying off on some of my student loans. Those big-ass numbers on my 1098-E translate into fat deductions.

I won’t say that I grew up poor. I certainly don’t have the experiences on this list. But I also didn’t grow up wealthy. I remember the electric getting turned off more than once. The cable was turned off and reactivated with enough regularity to set one’s watch to it. Car repairs were something to be feared. Even then, it wasn’t until much later that I learned through discussion with my parents just how close to the knife’s edge we were sometimes. To their credit, they tried to conceal the truth from my brother and me as we grew up. Nevertheless, kids are perceptive little buggers and there was no way we couldn’t pick up on things like having the electric turned off or the worries when something broke on the car.

It wasn’t poor, but it was certainly close enough that I picked up a particularly bad habit when it comes to money: extra money has to be spent immediately:

When a windfall check is dropped in your lap, you don’t know how to handle it. Instead of thinking, “This will cover our rent and bills for half a year,” you immediately jump to all the things you’ve been meaning to get, but couldn’t afford on your regular income. If you don’t buy it right now, you know that the money will slowly bleed away to everyday life over the course of the next few months, leaving you with nothing to show for it. Don’t misunderstand me here, it’s never a “greed” thing. It’s a panic thing. “We have to spend this before it disappears.”

I understand this problem.

It’s why people can go bankrupt after winning the lottery. It’s why people can believe that they’re “just barely making it” on a household income of $250,000 per year. It’s why I don’t allow myself to think “if I just had a bit more money, I’d be fine.”

Sure, I have things I need to pay off. My student loans are a monkey I can’t wait to have off my back. More money would help with that, right?

Except that I don’t think that it would, not really. Here’s how my tax return showed me this sobering lesson.

My monthly budget is finally squared away. I’m caught up on all my loans. Nothing is delinquent.  I’m squaring things away on a personal debt that’s been on the books for a while. Things are looking good.

This tax return I’m getting could clear one of my smaller loans entirely and still have a bit left over. But as soon as I saw the number, my thoughts weren’t “oh man, I can pay my loan debt with this!”

My thought was “hey, I could use this on a new Kawasaki Z1000.”

Several weeks ago, I got the new motorcycle bug. My current bike is a 2005 Ninja 500 that I bought from my brother. It’s the bike I learned to ride on and it bears the scars from my efforts. It’s a good little bike but I’m hungry for something newer and faster.

I did some research and even talked to my credit union about taking out a loan. I was this close to signing it before I realized that the monthly payments were going to be uncomfortable. I walked away from it and went back to my old bike that makes weird noises sometimes and has cracks in its fairing, but is still mine. I own both my vehicles outright. No auto loans. But the craving for that shiny new beast is still on my thoughts and every so often, I’ll take a look at craigslist and Cycle Trader to see if there’s a good deal that I could snatch up.

The 2014 Z1000 retails for about $12,000. My tax return could pay off a student loan . . . or it could be the down payment on that shiny new motorcycle.

And here’s where the problem really starts gaining strength. With the Z1000 in my theoretical grasp, the idea of buying a cheaper bike is unappetizing. The truth is, I could buy a good used bike and pay cash. The truth is, I don’t even need a new bike because my Ninja 500 is running well and suits my needs perfectly.

That’s the problem. As soon as my financial grasp increases, so too does my reach. Three years ago, when I bought my first motorcycle, the used Ninja 500 was at the very limit of my means. I had to pay it off monthly. Now that I could pay cash for one, my hunger is for something that I can’t do that with.

This is why I don’t think highly of winning the lottery. I think it’s safe for the ego to assume that if one suddenly came into a big sum of money, their tastes wouldn’t grow accordingly. They would be content to continue to live at the same level of expense. I don’t think most of us are really that wise. I know I’m not. I can say “oh, I’d pay off my loans and then invest the rest,” but I don’t think that’s true. I think those dollar signs would crack my self-control like a raw egg and I’d be getting that shiny new motorcycle before I did anything else.

I’m not even getting back that much money. It’s certainly not “quit-my-job” money. But even that humble amount has my brain telling me to abandon all the financial plans I’ve laid out and BUY THE NEW SHINY. Figure the rest of that shit out later. Spend it before it’s gone and I’ll have nothing to show for it.

I’m resisting that urge. I’ve pulled myself out of my previous financial pit by sticking to a particular plan and every reasonable part of my brain is telling me that sticking to the plan is the right call. There will be other motorcycles in the future. Hell, if I stick to the plan, eventually I’ll be able to buy the motorcycle I want without taking out a loan. The only problem is that I’d be able to do that eventually instead of now.

But even though I know that, I still look at the pictures and I think . . . I think.

Maybe nobody else feels this way. Maybe I’m the only one. Maybe I’m just really that greedy at my core, that I want something that much that it overrides my common sense.

I’m sticking to my plan. I won’t give in. I just wish it wasn’t so damn hard.