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Hogskinner blues

By Terry Roorda

Long before baggers became fashionable, I was riding one and suffering the contempt of my more traditional scooter bum peers who considered a handlebar bindle and a pair of throw-over rat-hide saddlebags to be the full complement of doctrinally pure biker baggage. My Blue Bike was an overloaded object of derision and came to be known as The Grapes of Wrath because of the tonnage of freight it routinely horsed across the landscape; freight that included in addition to the standard kit of clothes, camping gear and tools, such amenities as camp stools, collapsible hibachi, espresso pot, propane lantern, jumper cables, tow strap, soft-sided ice chest, and a mudslide bar. If I could have piled a damn gazebo on there, I would have. Oh, how they would snicker at me and my groaning Blue, until, that is, somebody needed a jump or a tow or a cocktail or a doppel espresso with lemon peel. Then I was everybody’s bosom bro. Funny how that works.

These days, as a function of doing in-depth ride reviews of as many models as I can manage, I tend to spend a lot of time touring on motorcycles that were not set up at the factory with long-distance duty in mind, and as such I’ve become something of a master packer—a hogskinner, if you will—adept in the arcane arts of morphing even the most reluctant specimens into serviceable pack animals. I have a number of universal-type bags to choose from in customizing each bike, from the doctrinally pure handlebar bindle to nylon panniers to various duffels and valises, but regardless of what combination I employ, the critical component is always the miraculous bungee cord. Originally developed as a shock absorber for parachute deployment, the bungee cord has stretched itself around the gear—and the hearts and minds—of motorcyclists everywhere, and how anyone ever secured gear to a bike before the invention of the bungee is, frankly, a mystery.

Devising an effective bungee strategy for a specific application and load is a subject that could fill a book—or a fat pamphlet, anyway—but one thing that is always important is to think of the cord not as a big rubber band to be strung over a pile of gear, but as a long elastic suture to be threaded throughout, utilizing every loop, clasp, handle and protrusion of the gear. That way, should a bungee lose its grip for some reason, or the load shift precipitously, your gear is still somewhat tethered to the bike. It’s the same thinking that brought us the chain wallet and the concomitant peace of mind that comes with knowing that if your wallet snakes out of your back pocket, it’s not going far, and you won’t find yourself suddenly retracing your route at a tedious crawl searching the roadway for your poke all the way back to Tucson, Tucumcari, Tehachapi or Tonapah—or Tillamook, Terlingua or Toledo, for that matter.

That’s the theory, anyway, but in practice it’s not so easy to lose that lingering paranoia that if something goes south on your load, it will go utterly and completely south, and so it was that not long ago I was aboard a 2007 Fat Boy, having a bully time blasting south on Highway 101 in Central California loaded up with a mess of gear contained in a Saraceni Bag handlebar bindle, and a Saddlemen valise and Tamrac camera bag expertly bungeed to the pillion. Or so I thought.

And suddenly out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of something large and black aloft off the back of the bike, and I instinctively knew what it was, and instinctively shouted “Copulating crap!” —or words to that effect. Over I pulled in full panic stop, and over my left shoulder I looked as a semi charged past, and spying no big black bundles on the pillion, or on the roadway or on the shoulder, I jumped to the conclusion that I’d lost my load and that the truck’s grill or tires or turbulence had sent my cargo careening off into the roadside terrain. I was just a little bit freaked out, as you might imagine. My camera gear was nowhere to be seen, and even more ominously, neither was the Saddlemen. Inside that valise was my laptop, and within my laptop were a number of irreplaceable photos I’d shot for articles in progress.

The median at that location was wide and heavily vegetated with ice plant, a succulent also called Hottentot fig, and used extensively along California highways because of its resistance to fire. It’s also tangled and spongy and virtually impossible to walk on with any efficiency. But in this situation, it also seemed the likeliest place for my gear to have landed and hidden, so I hot-stepped it over two lanes and into the median to start the arduous task of trekking back searching. I stumbled on for a good distance and found exactly nothing.

I was dumbfounded, and stumbled back to the bike, still searching, and crossed back over the two lanes to have a seat on the bike, rest my Hottentot-wearied legs and weep openly. And as I approached the bike from the rear, there it all was, hanging down the right side of the Fat Boy; the side I hadn’t seen in my panic and hasty left-side dismount, and the side I couldn’t see from the median. There was no damage of any kind, though the stuff was nicely warmed from sitting on the muffler. I realized then what had happened. A bungee had indeed sprung from its anchor point, and the gear had gone momentarily airborne like a bungee jumper and flashed in my peripheral vision. And then the whole thing had snapped back and clung to the bike because of the clever way I’d threaded the cords throughout the gear. I’m a genius… I’m an idiot… I’m a genius… I’m an idiot…

It’s all right here in the diaries.

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