With the sun setting on a hot summer day, Parker Ali’s bike won’t start.

“Oh no, this is not good,” Ali says as he kicks the lever. “I’m at a complete loss.”

Having already gone through the painstaking process of draining fuel out of his tank to get rid of any air in the system, Ali’s bike stubbornly refuses to turn over. As he fusses over the little yellow Honda, the conversation turns to Ali’s initiation into motorcycles. Studying in the Geology Garden between the CCIS and Tory Buildings, he says he would watch bikes zip up and down Saskatchewan Drive in the fall.

“That was something I was really jealous of,” Ali says. “That would have (gotten me into bikes) more than anything else. I had no family, no friends who rode.”

“I went and took a course, and got my license without my parents’ knowledge. My mother was very upset when she found out what I had gone out and done.”

It was then that a 1976 Honda CB125 came in to Ali’s life. Though the paint is perfect and the bike is in museum-mint condition, mechanically it wasn’t great when he bought it. Everything on the bike needed to be set by hand, and Ali had to rebuild the carburetor before he even rode the motorcycle. Despite this, he has the original service manual, and Ali emphasized how easy it was to work on.

“You can do all your own work on these, parts are super cheap,” Ali says, flipping through the manual. “Here’s the page that shows how to take out the engine. It’s eight steps.”

Maybe because of how much work he has done on the bike, maybe because of divine intervention, Ali suddenly hits upon why the Honda isn’t starting. Running over to a nearby workbench, he grabs a ratchet and socket, and nearly has the spark plug out of the motor before he enlightens me as to what he’s doing.

“I think the spark plug might be wet,” Ali says. “If it is, I’ll be able to feel gas when I run it along my arm.”

Lo and behold, the tip of the plug is shiny with fuel. “There’s the problem,” Ali says. In what seems like no time, he has a spare plug installed, and the bike roars to life on the next kick. “Roar” might be a bit unfair, as the 125 cubic centimetre engine operates at something more like a whizzing purr.

“You hear how fast it’s idling?” Ali shouts over the engine. “I have to re-tune it when it gets hot.”

With the bright yellow gas tank a blur against the suburban backdrop, Ali whizzes onto the street and around the corner. About a minute later, the engine comes back into earshot, and he whips back in front of the garage.

Producing a screwdriver like a streetcorner magician appearing a dove, Ali carefully adjusts the carburetor until just before the motor stalls out. With the whirring idle slowed to a gentle, putt-putting thrum, Ali shuts the bike off, his grin visible through the visor of
his helmet.

“That’s what the idle is supposed to sound like,” Ali says.

Though his mother was concerned at how much the bike would cost to run, Ali emphasizes that everything about motorcycle ownership is affordable. The Honda’s tank can be filled for nine dollars, and oil changes cost about the same amount. The only significant investment comes in apparel; which Ali recommends splurging on.

“If you go down, a skin graft is $4,000,” Ali says. “You can’t buy a motorcycle jacket that’s that expensive.”

His reinforced jacket is combined with Kevlar-lined jeans, armoured gloves, boots, and a crash-rated helmet. According to Ali, the get-up is just a part of what makes him feel safe when riding.

“I don’t lane split, I don’t speed,” Ali says. “I tend to follow the rules, so I don’t have the stories some people do.”

Though he acknowledges that motorcycle culture has many subgroups that make it unique, Ali says he just enjoys cruising on summer evenings. Most importantly, he loves the bike itself.

“I honestly can’t stop staring at it when I walk away, and that’s the best part.”

So how much does it cost to go from boring, non-motorcycle life to flying down the open road on your noble steed?

Motorcycle
$2,000.00 (to get in to a good starter bike)

Licensing Course
$400.00 (or thereabouts)

Registration
$100.00

Insurance
$262.00 per year (I got a quote recently, this is what it would cost me to get basic insurance)

Safety Gear
$1,500.00 (Remember, a skin graft costs $4,000)

Maintenance/Gas
$500.00 per year

Total
$4,762

Not bad, considering that for under the cost of an average used car, you can go from nothing to riding a bike

Image courtesy of Joshua Storie
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