THE SAGA CONTINUES...
Story by Ed Heffelfinger
Photos by Ed & Bobby Heffelfinger
And so, the saga continues...
The day after the Hollister rally, I slept until three in the afternoon and was still dragging butt when I got up. But I was excited to check out the pictures I'd gotten that weekend. I dumped the pictures from my camera into the computer and as I was checking them out the first time I noticed a definite pattern. I took almost two thousand shots that weekend and a great many of them were of Indian Motorcycles. I mean, I got in a zone. Closeups from every conceivable angle. I really went nuts with it. I do that sometimes. Rock stars, mountains, ocean, Redwoods, my wife and kids and now motorcycles. I take pictures of things of beauty, things I love, things that really impress me, things I'm really into. That weekend in Hollister I got a bit carried away with those new Indians.
Now I guess this would be a good spot to include a bit of a disclaimer. I don't work for Indian Motorcycles. I'm not an Indian publicist. I'm just a guy who is impressed as hell with their product and the way they do business. These machines have got me excited about bikes again. I want to ride up and down Highway 1 again and I want to do it on one of their machines. Now if they like my column and decide they want to give me a new Indian Scout in exchange for writing about them exclusively, well I guess I'd become a paid hack PR guy. But until that happens, I'll just write about the stuff that grabs me and right now, these new Indians have me firmly by the short hairs. I don't write about tweaking your do-hickie on the carb to achieve maximum velocity at high altitude or the proper leather to wear to keep your butt baby smooth on those long, long rides or lubricating your Harley with Cannabis oil. I have no idea what that means. Well, maybe a little. I write about what I know.
So anyway, right now I know I'm having a helluva time getting the wife into the same mindset about a new Indian and I ain't going nowhere on two wheels if I can't convince her. I show her my pictures from Hollister but she's not impressed. I show her the Indian brochures and tell her stories of my youth, winding up and down majestic Highway 1 on my Honda 750 with a paperback of Jack Kerouac's “On The Road” in my backpack . I lived on that highway between Santa Cruz and Big Sur for a couple of summers, long ago. She's not impressed and has that look on her face. We've been down this road before.
I gotta tell you. I love and respect my wife more than anything in the world but she is a very traditional Chinese woman. As you might have gathered by now, I'm anything but a traditional guy. My wife and I are a real yin/yang kinda couple. She's the young, traditional woman with loads of common sense and I'm the old fart, hippie kinda guy who throws caution to the wind and lays tradition on its ear. Somehow, it works.
I lived and worked in China for eight years. I was a professor of American Cultural Studies at a Chinese university and she was an English teacher. We worked together, traveled the back roads of China together, fell in love and married. I had to meet her parents and ask for her hand in marriage. That was a trip. Her folks are just a few years older than I and I'm positive they thought she had lost her mind. Negotiations were tense but they finally granted their permission, giving their daughter these words of wisdom, “讲起话来快得?!?就像!个七!十年代喋喋不休.含糊不清的青少年.” (Have you lost your friggin' mind? Like a fortune cookie without the fortune, he's not all there. He acts like a child from another time, a wild child. But perhaps this is not a bad thing. If he will buy you gold and give us grandchildren, go for it.).
That was ten years ago. I bought her gold rings and gave them two grandchildren. I've made her crazy and she's mellowed me out a bit (that's my story...). It's the best marriage I've ever had! But like every marriage, there are differences. She thinks I'm totally nuts wanting to buy a motorcycle again. She remembers what happened the last time I got this bug up my butt. Man oh man, I remember that too, the time I thought it would be oh so cool and adventurous to drive the back roads of China on my very own Chinese motorcycle. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I made a couple of films in China in 2002 and moved there for good in 2004. I kinda had this half-baked plan to buy a nice bike and explore China with my cameras in my backpack. After I arrived in my new home, Zhengzhou (A “small” Chinese city, 6 million people at the time.), I quickly discovered that wasn't gonna be so easy.
There are billions of people in China. There are an equal number of Chinese laws and regulations. A few thousand of those laws and regulations pertain to the ownership and use of motorcycles, scooters and bicycles. Now, I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing. All of those billions of Chinese own a scooter or bicycle and everyday, everywhere there's an ocean of folks riding them. I bought a bicycle my first week there just to cruise around and find out the lay of the land. Oh my goodness (I usually use a four letter word here), riding on two wheels in a Chinese city is utter madness. My little town of six million folks and they're all out there on their bikes at the same time tootling around town. I had a lot of bruising the first few weeks but I eventually got used to swimming with the fish.
After awhile of tootling around town myself, I realized I always saw hordes of bicycles and electric bikes, motorized trikes and contraptions I'd never seen before, but I never saw motorcycles. I saw small motorcycles out in the countryside. Oh, 50, maybe 80cc machines. Nothing bigger. That was out in the boonies. I never saw it in the city. I got on the internet and asked around. It didn't take long for me to discover why my beautiful motorcycle plan was sunk.
The Chinese are a very traditional, very practical people. In 2004, there was an extremely tiny market in China for leisure motorcycles. Whatever it is, it has to be practical to the Chinese and in 2004, there wasn't a whole lot of leisure happening in China yet. Things have changed a lot in the years since, but back in those days it was part of their hardcore tradition. Any motorcycle over 80 or even 125cc wasn't considered practical. Didn't need anything more powerful. So there.
The final blow to my plan was in the form of Zhengzhou Municipal Law. I forget the number but the law was crystal clear. Any motorized, two wheeled vehicle with an engine size over 80cc was forbidden for operation within city limits. Seems the only folks who found bigger bikes practical were the bad guys. Sometime around the turn of the 21st Century, crime in China began to spike. One major crime trend in most Chinese cities was baddies on big bikes doing hit and runs on city streets and getting away with it. The Chinese cop cars couldn't keep up. So, most Chinese cities simply banned bigger bikes. Hey, China's a Communist country. They can do that and they did. Put a huge crimp in my motorcycle fantasy but I got over it, no problem, out of mind. I met a girl.
A few years later, that woman was my wife. I learned to swim with the fish and together we explored miles and miles of Chinese back roads on our fine Chinese bicycles. By this time, we have a young son. We have a new home. Our family is growing and so is China. Our hometown, Zhengzhou is growing. By now, the population has grown to eight, perhaps closer to nine million people. The ocean grows larger as does the chaos. We decide it's time to flee the madness of the city. The wife and I are country folk and we were overdosing on humanity. It had been a fun run but it was time to find some peace in the country.
After a few years teaching at my university in the city, I began to get other job offers. One of those jobs was at a brand new university out in the boonies, about an hour from Zhengzhou. We checked it out and it was definitely out in the country. The university was brand spanking new, build smack dab in the middle of miles and miles of corn fields. Nothing had ever been there before but here's acres of green grass, asphalt and rows of modern, 21st Century classrooms and dormitories. The roads are new. Across the street from the campus are rows of brand new apartments. A brand new little town is building up around the school. The farmers realize they can make more money selling noodles to thousands of students than farming the land and you can see the metamorphosis taking place. The school offers me a sweet deal and one of those brand new apartments and I sign the contract. We're moving to the country. Kind of like that TV show, Green Acres. Hate the city. Just give me the countryside.
My first day of work at my new university began with an orientation with all my fellow newbie teachers and professors. There were two foreign teachers hired, myself, the Yank and a fellow from India. I got there early and was looking forward to meeting my fellow foreigner when I heard a sound I hadn't heard in ages. There was a loud motorcycle coming down the road. It looked and sounded much bigger than the little Chinese or Korean 50cc bikes running around the countryside. No, this was a nice bike and he was coming my way. Holy cow, the rider's wearing leather and he's got this little leather cap cocked on the back of his head. This guy's a biker. Damn, I gotta stop eating those strange looking mushrooms. But no, this guy is for real and he pulls up to the curb right in front of me on a beautiful, black and chrome machine, the likes of which I have never seen. He shut off his bike, grabbed my hand to shake it and said, “You must be the Yank.”. It was my colleague and soon to be friend from India. And his bike...
It was a five year old Jiangsu Baodiao 125cc bike, tricked out to look and sound like an old 50's style American street bike. It was a beautiful machine with this little engine. It was so cool. Okay, stop laughing. I know, I know but we're talking China here. Third World, primitive China here. Ain't no Harleys on the scene yet in 2007 (Soon thereafter, but that's another story...).
Not long after we met, my new friend explained to me that he had bought the bike from a Chinese teacher in Xian, where he used to teach. The man had bought the bike new in 2002 for about 10,000RMB or about a thousand bucks back then. They were cheap bikes built by almost slave labor with cheap materials and cheap parts in a gloomy, cheap factory. Hey, everybody's doing it today. Look at Apple. This was almost ten years ago. Jiangsu Baodiao was way ahead of their time. We're talking China here, folks.
The guy bought a cheap, knockoff American style motorcycle and proceeded to put tons of custom work into it to craft the machine he wanted. No sooner had he finished his creation and readied it for the street, and the city of Xian followed the example of other Chinese cities and banned the man's bike. He had to put it in a trailer and take it outside the city limits to ride it. This got old, he said screw it in Chinese and finally stored it in a shed where it just gathered dust and cobwebs for a couple of years.
My Indian colleague had come to China a few years earlier as well and had the same motorcycle plan in mind as I had. Living in a big city stopped that but when he took this new job in the country, he convinced the Chinese gentleman to sell him the bike and give it a new home in the countryside. He gave the man 5000RMB (about 600 bucks) and drove it the eight hours to his new home, expired plates and all.
It was the perfect little bike to explore the countryside. My friend certainly got into it. He went to a Chinese tailor and had leathers custom made. Little leather hat. He looked like a bad man on that bike. He tossed me the keys a couple of times and let me take it out for a spin. I picked up the wife and took her out cruising. Her first time. She loved it. Dropped her off and took the bike back to my buddy. I would always joke with him and tell him, “Hey man, if you ever get sick, ever have an emergency that you have to leave China in a hurry, I'm your man. I'll make you a sweet deal on your bike and take good care of her. Ha ha ha!”. A month later, I got the call. He got sick and had to leave China in a hurry.
My wife and I had a rather heady discussion about motorcycles that evening. I told her I had offered to buy it and she told me, “你认为你能从俱乐部派人过去到医院或许将那个家伙的阴茎割掉吗!”.
Now I really shouldn't translate that for a family publication but I can say she was firm in her conviction. She calmed down a bit, switched to English and told me about the time her cousin bought a little motorcycle and the two of them went out for a ride. Something happened and they both took a header over the handlebars and landed on the pavement. I always wondered where that scar on her upper lip came from. She told me this was China and it was a lot different than driving in America. She told me it wasn't wise for a foreigner to ride this kind of bike in China. She told me I had a baby son and she didn't want me killed on some Chinese back road. Well, she shot me right down. She had a good point or points, I guess and that was that.
The next morning my friend drove the bike over to my place. My wife and I went out to greet him. He was looking pretty good, didn't look sick to me. The same couldn't be said for the bike. He'd left it out in the weather for a month or so, out in the rain and it was looking pretty rough. It was dull and dirty and starting to rust. The electric starter quit working and there were electrical problems. My wife asked him in for tea. We sat down and he explained he had just stopped caring about the bike and was mighty homesick for his family back in India. He told the school he was sick and was selling or giving away all his stuff and flying home in the next day or two. He told me he'd take 3000RMB for the bike. I started to tell him I had to decline his offer and my wife interrupted me and said she'd handle it. I had absolutely no idea what she was doing. I thought she was going to tell him off. “It's a shame you've let that beautiful motorcycle go to hell like that.”, she started off on him. “I'll give you 1000RMB for the motorcycle. I want to buy it as a present for my husband.”, my wife proclaimed as my jaw fell to the floor. My friend said he couldn't do that. Maybe he'd go 2500RMB. My wife is an excellent barterer. I've seen her make some amazing deals. It's a way of life in China. I was still floored and had no idea what was going on. Several cups of tea and a half hour of international negotiations later, I am the proud owner of the motorcycle, $140 US, COD.
My wife gave him the 1000RMB and I showed him out. On the way to the bus stop, we chatted and agreed to meet for lunch in the city the next day to say goodbye before his flight back to India. When I got back home a few minutes later, my wife had put pink ribbon and a big red bow on the bike. I asked her what it was all about. I thought she had been rather adamant in her protests the night before.
“Happy Father's Day from your family!”, she exclaimed. She hugged me tight and told me she remembered how much I had wanted a bike. She wanted my heart to be happy so she bought it for me for Father's Day, which was coming up soon. She had changed her mind but only after I make her a solemn promise. “Don't die on that thing.”, she says.
I meet my friend the next day at McDonalds in the city and we say our goodbyes. He says he was going to give me the motorcycle if I hadn't bought it from him. I'm sure he meant it. He's a good guy. We're friends still on Facebook. He tells me a couple more things just before he gets on the bus to the airport, “I quit riding the bike because I got scared!” I hurriedly asked him what the hell he's talking about. “It's crazy out there on a bike. They'll get ya. It's what you Yanks would say, like having a target on your back.”, he says as the bus doors were closing. I was rather mind blown and just waved goodbye without a response. “Be careful!”, he yelled and that was the last I ever saw of my friend.
I found an electrical MacGyver kinda guy in the village and he had me up and running like new in a few days. Next morning, I've got the day off so I kiss my wife passionately and thank her again for her wonderful gift and I'm going cruising. I've got to fill er up and go for an extensive test drive. Get the feel of it. See what she'll do.
It hasn't even been an hour on the road and all seems good with my bike. I find an old country highway and cruise along at 65 mph with no problem at all. The highway passes through a small village and I slow way down. This old guy pushing a bicycle, crosses the street in front of me to the curb on the other side. Now this guy is old as dirt, but he looks up, sees me coming, drops his bike to the ground and jumps into the street right in front of me and just stands there facing me. No place to go, I jump on my brakes, something on my back brake snaps, I put the bike down. I roll through a mud puddle and jump up, pissed off. The bike slides to within inches of the old fart and he runs and grabs his bike and takes off.
You should have seen my wife's face when I came limping home. I'm sure I don't have to explain. A few days later, an expat friend of mine who had been there for many years told me one had to be very careful. Some poor Chinese will jump in front of vehicles driven by foreigners. They figure we have the big bucks. I told my wife I had the solution to that problem. I bought a full face helmet. They won't be able to see my white face and beard. They won't know I'm a foreigner. I'll be like Batman. They won't know my secret identity.
I put some new brake cables on and was going again. I rode it to school everyday. My students thought it was cool but some of the other teachers didn't. One of the teachers asked me if I was a motorcycle gangster member in America. I said no, I just love to ride. It was way beyond that university professor's comprehension why one would ride down the highway on a “motor with two wheels” for fun. I just laughed it off but he was serious. It wasn't proper for a university professor like myself, to be driving around on a motorcycle like a hoodlum. It was like something out of an old movie. I cooled it around campus, let the hate and fear calm down. Summer vacation was coming up anyway, so I figured no big deal. I had a summer of riding planned.
School was out and I hit the road. I put a lot of miles on it for a month, maybe five weeks. Then, like my friend before me, I parked it. I said ain't doing this no more.
It only took three or four close calls and a couple of near death experiences to realize my wife and my close friends were right. It WAS crazy, pure insanity for a foreigner to be futzing around China on a motorcycle. I found a lot of drivers with the same mentality as that professor who hated motorcycle guys. Sometimes, they took that hatred to extremes. There was the incident where two dump trucks tried to squeeze me between them on the highway. I could see them laughing in their mirrors. Got bumped hard by a bus on a country road. He saw me. Grace of God I didn't go down. Almost got squished by two city buses. Tail gate, swerve in front of you, cut you off, try to smash you and laughing all the way. I get it. Screw this. This is NOTHING like riding in America.
So that last day I'm riding thru town and I'm stopped at a red light. I look down the street and there's a wall of water heading towards us. A friggin' two foot wall of water. It's not raining but it seems a dam broke somewhere and here's a wall of water, swell. I pull up on this little hill on the side of the road and the water hits the intersection and I get wet. Could have been worse. I do get some cool pictures. The street is a river for a few minutes then it recedes. The bike won't start. Something got wet, so I push it until it finally sputters on. I get home and reflect on the events of the day and realize somebody, somewhere is trying to tell me something. We're done. I park it and my wife sells it to a neighbor a few months later for 1000RMB. And the matter was pretty much forgotten.
Until now. I'm reminded how wrong I was the last time and she is totally right. I pretty much give up on the idea of a new Indian in my driveway. Then the reports start coming out of Sturgis about the new Scout. Oh my goodness! And hey, at that price I just might have a shot at this. Thirteen grand is a major selling point. When I first showed her the Chieftain and told her it was about $28,000 dressed out the way I want it, she just laughed and told me you can buy a nice house in her hometown in China for $28,000. Hard to argue with that logic.
Let me be totally honest here. I know an Indian at my house just ain't gonna happen. That is, unless I win the lottery or sell one of these screenplays I've got sitting here in the drawer. I know that. But, it sure is fun trying and it definitely has its entertainment value and it's a true study of extreme cultural difference. And I've got to say, I wish I could make my wife understand why I hold these motors with two wheels in such high regard.
Now in the mean time, her folks arrive from China for a visit. My in-laws are here for most of the summer and that makes everything even more entertaining. My Chinese Father is a very interesting man. He was a university professor before he retired and he's very practical and old school traditional Chinese. When I bought the bike in China, he too envisioned Ed the hoodlum riding down the road. He knows better now. Although, he still can't get why anybody would take their lives in their hands by traveling at great speeds on the highway on a powerful machine that provides minimal protection from bodily injury in an accident. Dad's got a good point. China averages 500,000 traffic accidents every year. 100,000 people die on Chinese roadways every year. Two wheeled vehicles account for a third of those deaths. China has the worst traffic statistics in the world. Man oh man, hard to argue with these Chinese.
I showed the family what I've been working on. Show them all the Indian pictures and read them my Hollister Rally story. They're a bit concerned that I'm getting this motorcycle bug again. Time to call in the big guns. My old friend, Branscombe Richmond, Mr. Indian Motorcycle himself was in town for an event. He'd never met the family, so I gave him a call and he said to bring them on down. I found “Renegade” on YouTube and showed the family a couple of episodes. My In-Laws weren't very impressed. Dad kept muttering the Chinese word for hoodlums.
So, I took my wife and two kids down to Hollister Powersports and introduced them to Branscombe. My son, was highly impressed to meet a TV star and I could see by the look on my wife's face that she was digging it too. My little three year old daughter wasn't impressed in the least and was scared by the big hunk of a guy and tried her best to hide. First time I've ever seen a woman have that kind of reaction around Branscombe. We hung out for awhile and my wife got to see the new Indians with her own eyes. She actually sat on a machine. She was having a great time. She told Branscombe her folks were visiting from China and she wanted him to meet them. She invited him over to the house and sure enough, the next evening Branscombe and my family are sitting in the living room discussing the ways of the world. My Chinese family's inviting Branscombe to China and he's inviting them to Hawaii. He has my In-Law's undivided attention and they're melting right before my very eyes. I've never seen anything like it. My prim and proper, traditional, rational Ma and Pa in-law are starstruck. They're actually talking about going to Hawaii and taking Branscombe up on his invitation. Amazing!
When they left for home, they were mighty impressed with their first visit to America. My Father-In-Law thinks there might be a future in this motorcycle business and I think he understands there's good guys and bad guys on two wheels and maybe the bad guys aren't really so bad after all and “Renegade” ain't Shakespeare but it ain't half bad with Chinese subtitles. My Mother-In-Law digs the Jim Morrison looking guy and my wife seems to have a brand new attitude about the whole thing. Then this amazing thing happens.
Back during the Hollister Rally, I was introduced to a fascinating gentleman named, Jeff Santo. Jeff's an independent filmmaker and the Producer/Director of the movie, “Dead In 5 Heartbeats”. If you're reading this article, in this magazine, you know all about DI5H. I watched the movie right before Hollister and was thrilled to get the chance to chat with Jeff about it. We started talking about China and he told me they wanted to release DI5H in China but were having problems getting it translated into Chinese. We discussed it at length and I told him my wife and I could do it. She was an English teacher and English translator in China. I told Jeff she could do the basic translation and I'd help her out with the slang and motorcycle club jargon she's never heard before. I told him it was no problem and gave him my card. I got home and told my wife and she was jazzed. It would be a sweet gig and like I told Jeff, no problem. I told her it would be a piece of cake for us. I tempered her excitement by telling her we would probably never hear another word about it, ever. But you never know.
A few days after the folks left, I got an email from Jeff's company, Sharpfinger Films hiring us to translate DI5H and the companion documentary on the making of the film into Chinese. I can't remember seeing my wife smile that big and I was pretty jazzed too about the whole thing. I was proud to be even a small part of this epic project. I knew too, that my wife was going to get a helluva education in the motorcycle world by the time we finished this gig. Oh boy, I had no idea.
They sent us the scripts to the movie and the documentary. We had a thirty day deadline. They needed it fast so they could get the subtitles placed and ready the motion picture for a 2015 Chinese release. We got right on it.
That night we watched the movie on the big screen after we put the kids to bed and I got a real kick out of watching my wife watch the movie. I started to suspect there might be a wee bit of a problem when she kept asking me, “What the hell are they talking about?”. When the movie was over, we talked about it for an hour. She had no idea what she had just seen. It was as foreign to her as men from Mars. The whole concept, the motorcycle jargon, she didn't get it at all. All the swearing and there was tons of swearing, some of it even new to me, she understood to my surprise. Yep, understood all the cussing, had no problem translating all the f and s and mf and cs and fmffcss words. I found that a little unusual. Who knew? But alas, the rest of the movie was a complete unknown to her. This was going to be an adventure to say the least.
There was a time in China right after we got married, that my wife got this gig translating medical documents. She had no idea what all these medical terms meant. She went to the library and grabbed medical encyclopedias and used them to get the job done. Now, I'm her personal motorcycle encyclopedia.
And it worked. We worked well together. We watched the movie and the documentary a few times using the pause button on the remote a lot. I explained to her the why's and how's of what we were watching. Once she had a pretty good handle on what the movie was all about, she took the scripts and started the basic translation. After a week, she emerged from her computer with about half the dialogue translated. The rest were holes that needed my help with proper translation, the jargon she didn't understand. We had a lot of work to do. There was over a hundred pages of dialogue. Some pages we could translate in fifteen minutes. Other pages took us hours to get right. I gotta say, Chinese is a weird language and I'll just leave it at that. By the time it was all said and done, it took us 28 days to finish. We got the finished scripts back to them two days early and took tremendous pride in a job well done. It was a pretty good feeling too when the check arrived.
It's been a few weeks now and I've seen a change in my wife. She's taking a keener interest in my interests. I've been reading all I can get my hands on about the new Indian Scout. She didn't want to hear about it before. Now she wants to hear about it. Finally, she gets it. She wants to go down and check out the new Scout too. Hey, blows my mind. It could just be the pot but maybe not. I've got a motorcycle mama now, without a motorcycle. That Scout sure would look good under the Christmas tree. Hmmmm, I've gotta talk to her about that. Isn't this where we came in?
Sidebar: We're talking the Summer of 2006 or so when I had my motorcycle in China. Lots has changed since then and lots has not. Harley-Davidson went into China in 2007 and was going to rock their world. There have been small tremors. You still can't ride a big bike in most Chinese cities and there are other bizarre biker laws that put a real crimp in your motoring pleasure in China. I was in Old Tibet the last time in 2011 and saw a few Chinese riding Harleys and several European tourists riding their BMWs. China is still the most dangerous country in the world to ride. But that said, things are changing and the world's leading motorcycle manufacturers are looking at China as the next big thing. I'll tell you more about it in an upcoming article.
I've also got to give a shout out to my eight year old son, Bobby Heffelfinger. I gave him my old digital camera and he's learning to use it. He took the pictures of my wife and I at the computer. This is his first published work. Congrats son! I told him when he gets good on the camera, I'll take him on gigs and he can be my assistant. He asked me if the job came with benefits. That's my boy.
I just found out the Indian Motorcycles Demo truck loaded with brand new Indian Scouts will be making the rounds in the next couple of months. You can take a test drive and if you like the feel of what's between your legs you can order one for December delivery. I told the wife about it tonight and she said we've gotta go check that out. Wow, mind blown again. I'll let you know how it turns out. If you're reading this and you're a big shot movie or TV producer, I've got a couple of screenplays here on hand I'd love to chat with you about.
See you next time...