Despite protests from family, friends and even fellow motorcyclists, I frequently venture south into Mexico aboard my motorcycle. I am well aware of border violence, drug-cartel feuds and corruption in the government. But I am willing to take the calculated risk because I love that I can ride my own bike to a place with a strikingly different culture. No flights, no rent-a-bikes; just me, my passport and a map.
On a recent south-of-the-border sojourn, I had a kind of cross-cultural revelation. I was enjoying a delectable carne asada taco in a roadside cantina in Tecate when a cheerful man rode up and parked his bike right next to mine. In short order, I struck up a conversation with this fellow motorcyclist. He was a middle-aged Mexican with an indelible smile. We did our best to talk bikes within our limited mastery of each other’s language. He seemed fascinated by my 1200cc sport-tourer.
As best we could, we talked about power, speed and how far I had ridden. He was engaged, exuberant and obviously every bit the motorcycle enthusiast I am. After we had thoroughly analyzed my bike, I pulled myself from the egocentric American mode and questioned him about his bike. The two sat side by side, and in a purely dimensional and technical sense, mine dwarfed his. When he realized that I really cared what he had to say about his bike, however, he beamed. His speech came faster—and substantially harder to follow!
His bike was an Italika TC250. The name may conjure visions of a Mediterranean piece of exotica. The form, however, spoke otherwise. It was a little, quarter-liter cruiser that looked to be of Chinese extraction. When I asked him about this, he proudly told me that it was Hecho in Mexico. He pointed out the new front tire, the accessory headlights, and ignored the green bungee cord that hung from the frame. He said with a grin that the Italika was rapido. He was every bit as enthusiastic as the guys I’ve witnessed talking about their new Ducati Multistradas or Harley Fat Boys.
"No bad bikes" is a mantra recited by those with a passion for motorcycles. Whether you're
I am probably being generous in estimating that his bike puts out perhaps 15 horsepower (mine has 10 times that). My bike’s deep midnight blue paint made his machine's faded coating look even more weathered. I am sure that my riding gear alone cost more than his bike. None of that was remotely relevant. All that mattered was that two 40-something guys, born in very different places, to very different circumstances, had a common bond: motorcycles. Brand didn’t matter, cost didn’t matter; not even language mattered. How refreshing!
After a final handshake, my new friend put his uneaten burrito in his Mexican blanket satchel, secured his sidestand with the green bungee and waved goodbye. A subtle hint of exhaust smoke trailed behind him as he made his way down the street.
There is a lesson in all of this. I am as obsessed with technology, speed and torque curves as anyone. I love to ride, read about and write about the latest and greatest motorcycles in the world. In the end, however, it is only the passion that matters. Those of us who love motorcycles have a common bond that transcends language, technological superiority, riding style or brand elitism.
Or at least it should.