All of a sudden, I heard a muted funk! funk! funk! coming through my schooner's hull. I scrambled up through the companionway. There was only one other vessel in the lagoon, which made one more than there ever had been in the four months since I moored Eurydice there last Christmas: a Baltic ketch had come through the pass with the afternoon squall two days before. Dawn, so the lagoon was like glass, except for this row of ripples, pulsing from the Baltic ketch. Whence funk! funk! funk! funk! I jumped in a kayak and paddled over.
A missionary family owned the ketch. Double diagonally planked on 6" x 6" frames on 12" centers in a forested fjord a hundred years ago to bust ice. Broad in the shoulders, deep in the chest, a big burly Viking hero. These Borneo bound bible beaters had the feeble delusion they could own this sailboat and serve God. Hah! No man can serve two masters.
Beneath the cockpit, the missionary showed me his engine room, where a diesel made and signed by Otto Diesel himself stood seven foot tall, going FUNK! FUNK! FUNK!, while the missionary's young son stood two foot less with an oil can in hand, going squink squink squink at shiny black rods thumping up and down. Machinery straight out of the Industrial Revolution, before the real McCoy. Idled at 90 RPM. Nine zero. Redlined at 700 RPM. Redline. True story. A four foot cast iron flywheel dragged her from funk to funk. A crown gear drove a shaft through the deck that spun a windlass that one time inadvertently torqued up a telephone trunk cable laid across Amsterdam harbor. Funking engine is probably still alive to this day; that is, if you can still find the kind of leather you need to cut piston rings for it. I don't remember the ketch's name, but it had an O with a slash through it and two As in a row with two dots over one of them.
That was the slowest engine I have ever admired. What it lacked in technology it overcame by heft.
Today, I own an R1200CLC named Annie. The same BMW R1200C cruiser so beautifully sculpted that Guggenheim put it in a traveling art exhibition. Annie is the bagger version: panniers, trunk, handlebar mounted fairing, heated big butt seats for two old fatties, six speed tranny, digital cruise, heated grips, radidio slash CD, all that stuff. Ponderous. A U-turn requires retirement planning. Idles at 900. At 3,000 RPM, her peak torque, Annie's speedo shows 70 mph, and you are hypnotized by her muted throb. You ride Annie six hundred fifty miles at 3k, climb off at the B&B full of regret, and dream about that throb all night. I have a theory that three thousand RPM on a twin and the sixty Hz we are immersed in and sixty heart beats a minute at rest -- all are in harmony with the universe.
Annie's is the slowest motorcycle engine I have admired. What it lacks in zip it overcomes by Zen.
Let's skip by my KLR650, Biffy Bullfrog. Piece of shit gives Made in Japan its 1950s meaning. What it undercomes in design it undercomes in quality. I do love her, though.
But I have owned some really zippy Japanese bikes with really zippy engines. My V65 Magna, mysteriously monikered Maggie, her cams would starve for oil under 3k RPM. Fastest motorcycle engine I ever owned. Redline was thirteen five. If you achieved that, you would be doing 176 mph. People had. Me, I never more than cracked Maggie's throttle; yet I held a ton many a time; usually by accident. You could be riding Maggie down the freeway at 90 twitch the throttle and lift the wheel. Done it. I made the mistake one time of wiping her seat down with Armor-All, and when I took off to work next morning I discovered why she had a sissy bar. I was laying on the tank, feet flailing behind, grunting to pronate my wrist to close the throttle. Maggie did not throb; she buzzed. Last year I brought back to life a wrecked Honda 919 I named Soichiro. Zero to sixty by the end of the driveway. Zero to suicide by the end of the block. Redline eleven five. Soichiro howled.
Soichiro, he's my hero; Soichiro Honda; but neither of his bikes are. Not any more. My new enthusiasm is silent. She does not funk, throb, buzz or howl. Not the fastest, not the slowest, but the smoothest. The four jugs Hondas run smooth as stonewashed silk, but even silk has weft. Not Ocelot. Weftless.
Every year I rescue a neglected bike and flip it. Idle hands are the Devil's playmate, and all that. This year I bought a 1990 K75C. The previous owner rode her 40,000 miles in ten years, got old, met the doctor, and wound up losing his house and savings. Bike parked ten years. Corn squeezings dissolved every bit of rubber in the tank. Left black rubber jelly beans strewn all over in there. I cleaned it out, sent the injectors to Mister Injector, new fuel pump, new battery, new hoses, fired her up. Wow.
Never has there been so electric a combustion engine. Named her Ocelot. Smallish, orange and black, purrs at idle, growls when you twist her tail, emits a jungle cough when you downshift hard, not the most powerful cat, but quick and agile. A K75C. Bulletproof acme of Teutonic ingenuity. After that Rube Goldberg of an airhead, but before things got so complicated you need a PhD from BMWU and a $30,000 computer to diagnose a hiccup, right in between inadequacy and hypertech, BMW outdid itself. Every part built like a brick shithouse, fastened by the minimum of case hardened allen head screws, and you don't need hands the size of an eight year old with double jointed wrists to get at them either. Would Ocelot whip a tablecloth out from under stemware for sixteen? Never. Fastest spinner? Not. Most horses? Not even. Thumpin bad ass bike? Yeah, right. But twist that round rubber thing until the dial on the right says 5 and your tailbone hurts. Feels like you are on a slip-n-slide lathered with olive oil laid on a golf green tilted toward the Grand Canyon. There is no funk, no throb, no buzz. It is the closest thing to hurtling through space. Jungle stealth, agouti in the cross-hairs, hungry cubs at home, claws extended, ears forward, teeth bared.
I have always scorned the flying bricks because they have no sex appeal. A motorcycle engine should look like machinery, not like a brick. A motorcycle should sound like an engine, not like a beehive. And the styling, Jesus H Christ. I was wrong. I had left out the flying part.
By far the smoothest engine I have ever owned. What she lacks in sex Ocelot overcomes by hurtling.
The author, inventor of the motorcycle rear brake
And don't forget the man who gave us the Golden Rule.