With Only A Motorcycle: The Death of Solo-moto

Everyone who has been to this site in the past knows that the purpose of this blog was to document my attempt at conducting day-to-day life, "with only a motorcycle." The last 6 moths I haven't done a very good job of documenting my efforts.  I cruised past the year mark (April 26th) without even  post to mark the anniversary.  In past posts I've lamented the fact that I haven't been able to go out for "real rides" as much once the fact that my motorcycle is my only means for transportation really hit home.  I think that in the last year that was the one thing that I really missed, for getting around efficiently, especially in California (love the lane splitting) a moto can't be beat and I love that utter efficiency of the commute.  However one thing that was hanging over my consciousness like the sword of Damacles was the memory of the hottest days in the valley and how much that sucked.  I don't mind riding the motorcycle in the cold or in the wet but as a safety-minded rider it is near impossible to dress safely and ride in triple digit heat and be comfortable and that was the one thing that I wasn’t looking forward to doing again this coming summer.

So in my head I started to make my peace with the idea that after a year of not having a car I would buy one to drive when it was too damn hot and if was too cold or rainy.  In my head I rationalize this by   the fact that I will have completed a whole year of riding just the moto.  These ideas were still marinating in my mind when the last considerations of remaining solo-moto were wiped from the realm of possibility when my Wife told me that she was pregnant (we now know that we're having a little girl)!  I was definitely going to need something to shuttle the little one around once she arrived so I in the end the decision was an easy one to make.  I still plan on riding the motorcycle most of the time, if it's just me because it really is the best way to get around most of the time.

The next question I needed to answer was what kind of car would I get.  California is an expensive state for insurance so the leading criteria  was going to be that that it was inexpensive enough that I could just buy it outright to avoid the cost of full coverage as well as a car payment being added onto our expenses.  I had no idea what I wanted but I knew that chronological age didn’t really matter that much to me, I did want it to have low miles (but did not want a car that had been idle for a bunch of years either), and it needed documentation to prove that it had been well taken care of.  Before the baby news I was thinking that it would be a rear wheel drive possibly two seat sporty car from the early 1970s to the early 1990s.  I wasn’t too concerned about steadfast reliability because I was planning on it being my second mode of transportation after the motorcycle so it could afford to be something that needed to be tinkered with from time to time.  Now, knowing there was a baby on the way the criteria changed a bit.  I knew that I would need whatever car I chose to be dependable now in case I needed to pick the baby up from day care, take it to the doctor, to school or out for a day at the park without leaving us stranded and it needed to be able to do those things safely.  That immediately pushed me towards a newer car the top end of my model year became the bottom end of the range.  I wasn’t particularly convinced that I needed to get a four door car because I am a strong guy but there was no arguing that a four door would be easier.  These little changes threw off my search a little bit but I still thought I could find something that fit those criteria and interested me, until  I realized something.

I would be choosing the car that my daughter may potentially have it's first memories of me driving you around in.  That got me thinking about what I remember about my mom and dad and my first memories of the cars.  For my mom I remember being driven around in the back of a Ford Maverick that had stick shift, I could always see the shift knob vibrating as we drove along in a higher gear and I remember thinking that it was a person peeking around the seat at me.  For my dad, I don’t remember a particular driving experience as my first car memory so much as it was a memory of him under the hood working on the cars to keep them running.  A few years later I would start collecting memories of sitting out in the driveway with him handing him tools, asking him a million questions about what he was doing and why, and depending on his mood… sometimes ignoring a choice word or two if he hit his hand on something or touched something hot. My dad had to work on his cars out of necessity.  We were poor when I was growing up and we couldn’t afford new, reliable cars or even to take the unreliable cars that we had to get fixed at a shop.  He didn’t have any formal education on how to fix cars, all he knew was that the car is broken and if he was going to be able drive to work instead of walking.

Barring unforeseen misfortune our daughter won’t know what it’s like to be poor growing up, but thinking back on those days I believe that the those experiences growing up had a big effect on the person I grew up to be.  Seeing my dad take something that wasn’t working and fix it gave me a great admiration for him.  It also instilled in me a belief that just because something was broken or didn’t work, that didn’t mean that it was useless or didn’t have value.  It gave me the interest I have in all mechanical things and I hope that I will be able to instill some of that understanding and interest in my own daughter.  I want her to remember me  having a car that I cared for/about, that was more than just a conveyance that took me from point to point, something that I looked forward to driving.

It turns out that it wasn’t as easy to find a car that would fit these criteria as I had thought it would been Anne suggested Saab at one point.  My initial reactions to this suggestion were to laugh it off.  Four years earlier the brand had received it's final death-blow it appeared and while there are rumblings of a resurrection as a maker of electric vehicles and they have started to make some of the last generation 9-5 at the factory in Sweden the marque for the most part considered a dead brand.  So my Wife gets the credit/blame for planting the Saab “seed” in my mind.  The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea.  Saabs were made in Sweden and from the outset they did things their own way.  They thought outside the box they were known for their high quality/longevity when properly maintained and like their Swedish counterpart Volvo, were legendary for safety.  So after a few months of searching I found the Saab I wanted.  A 1996 Saab 900 SE 2.0 Turbo Sedan.  It is slightly worn, but I know it’s history, I know that the previous owner cared for it and saw value in proper maintenance.  I like that in a day and age where it is becoming harder and harder to find cars with proper manual transmissions that my child could possible imagine that there is a little “person” peeking between the seats at you just like I did.  I like that when she sees me open the hood to check the fluids that she’ll be able to see the at least some of the inner workings of the car instead of just a big plastic cover.

Of course with everything, timing is important and when I found the Saab I wanted it was at a time where My wife wasn't going to be able to drive me down to the small dealership in Redwood City where the car was located for at least a week.  The reality was that a one owner low mileage 1996 Saab with a full history, a clean Carfax report and a fresh smog certificate in hand would probably not remain unsold by the time I could get a ride down there to see it.  I could find similar cars from private parties for the same price maybe less almost any day but they all seemed to have interiors in much worse shape than this one and they all seemed to be 2nd or third owner and in the end I would end up hoping that the car would pass smog and that the proper maintenance had been done to it.  This seemed like the best opportunity.

So I decided to ride the FZ down to Redwood City to take a look at the car.  The route was about 90 miles via Interstate 80 west, to 680 south, to 580 west, to 880 south to Hwy 84 across the Dumbarton Bridge and north a bit on 101 into Redwood City to a tiny dealership called "Caspian Hi Line Cars" in talking to the owner "Nas" he struck me as a shrewd salesman who had been around the block a time or two but he was non intrusive and opened up the car and left me to go through the pile of documents that were in the folder.

The picture the records painted were of a car that had been maintained at a dealer through the extent of the warranty and then went to one private shop after the warranty was up.  The maintenance was kept up in normal intervals and there were some high dollar repairs done recently (steering rack, direct injection cassette) and in most of the receipts in the last 15,000 miles mentioned the noisy throw-out bearing which really doesn't affect the daily driving of the car and I could see why the previous owner hadn't replaced it yet as the clutch still has life in it and basically if you were going to replace the throw-out bearing it's as big of a job as replacing the clutch so you might as well wait made sense to me.

I would characterize my first impressions of the Saab as a slight reality check the photos lead you to believe that the car is in near new condition but I would cay that it is an honest 18 year old car. It's a 20/20 car it looks good at 20 feet or 20 miles an hour.  Closer inspection finds minor dents and dings with a few spots of touch-up paint, the windshield has a couple of chips in it.  The engine bay was very clean in my opinion and leather seats while slightly cracked only had one worn through spot in the drivers seat side bolster.  Things seemed to be in good enough nick that I had Nas come out to take the car for a test drive.  Everything worked as is should though there was a little stickiness in the rear window switches that were in the center console.

On the test drive I asked Nas about his business and it turns out that he has been selling cars in Redwood City for over twenty years.  I mentioned to him that for having Hi Line Cars in the business name it didn't really seem like he had very many expensive cars.  In fact he only had a couple of other European cars on the lot and none were near $10k.  He said that in the early days he exclusively sold second owner expensive European cars and had built up a reputation for being able to get cars that looked near-new for a good price.  Then the recession hit and his business hasn't been the same since.  He now mostly sells service vehicles, box trucks and vans and once in a while the odd car here and there.  The Saab came to him from one of his former Hi Line days customers.

He told me that the car, if measured by the fact that it he was asking $1995 for it was about as good of a car that you could find for safe reliable A to B transportation and I agreed with him.  Which didn't put me in the best negotiating point and I paid the price he was asking for the car.  The next issue was that I now had a motorcycle and a car in Redwood City.

He said that I could keep the cycle in his fenced in area for the night if I wanted to take the car home and come back for the bike.  So I elected to drive The Saab home.  Upon stopping to top off the tank it turned out that it only needed 2 gallons (its an 18 gallon tank) of gas to fill it up and I found out that the 6-disc CD changer in the trunk still had CD's in it and it also came with a tape!  Double bonus!!  I got 30 miles per  gallon home driving the speed limit with the cruise on which was a good sign.

The issue that we still had to deal with was that my wife still had a full weekend planned and I still needed to get back to Redwood City to get the FZ.  That evening we took The Saab to Davis, CA for dinner and a movie and while we were eating dinner I heard a train go by and a light bulb went off in my head.  I could take the train!  The initial plan was to take the Amtrak from Davis south to the bottom of the peninsula and then take the CalTrain north to Redwood City.  The problem then would be that The Saab would have been left in Davis and I would still have to wait a number of days to get both vehicles back home.

As it turned out part of Anne's plans had her in Oakland that day so I realized that I could drive The Saab to Oakland...

Take the Bart from there to the Caltrain station on the peninsula...

And take the Caltrain south along the Peninsula to Redwood City...

After that I could then ride my motorcycle home and then catch a ride back to Oakland with Anne to get my car so that became the plan.

Yeah, yeah, yeah,  I had plenty of time while driving The Saab, then riding on those trains and then riding the motorcycle and then back to Oakland in my Wife's car and then back to Vacaville in the Saab again to kick myself for not just taking the trains down to Redwood City in the first place.  This was a seat of the pants operation by all means.  But I was able to watch the MotoGP race on my phone on the train which was kind of cool.

For some reason (tolls maybe?) Siri, who I take directions from via headphones took me over the San Mateo Hayward Bridge which was an epic/chilly experience to say the least.  I think that this may be bridge at the widest point of the bay (it's seven miles long!) and it is not very far above the water save for one point where it is raised in order to allow ships through.  I only had my mesh jacket and the wind and being in the middle of the bay was darn cold!  but being on two wheels in the middle of the San Francisco Bay so close to the water was awe inspiring!  The rest of the ride went smoothly but for some reason (like the ride back from Laguna Seca) once I was traveling from south to north the wind kicked my butt and by the time I got home I felt like I had been in another boxing match!

Now as I am writing this now very long, now two month old story I still do not know what I should do with this blog.  Surely it's at the least hypocritical to be running a blog called "With Only A Motorcycle" when I am no longer solo-moto.  I am kicking around the idea of tracking the mileage of both the car and the bike and adding a percent usage report to each update as a way to keep myself on a moto-bias.  We'll see what happens, but thanks for reading my updates and please come back to see what the future holds for this space.

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