Overloading those two wheels

David Fitzpatrick on his 2007 Honda Shadow Spirit VT750c2 after a ride from Bangor to Augusta to grab a burger at Red Robin. (PHOTO BY ELAINE FITZPATRICK)
David Fitzpatrick on his 2007 Honda Shadow Spirit VT750c2 after a ride from Bangor to Augusta to grab a burger at Red Robin. (PHOTO BY ELAINE FITZPATRICK)

There’s a thing about shopping on a motorcycle: There just isn’t much room. Even if you have a big bike with giant, hard-sided saddlebags, a trunk, a towed trailer, and an empty sidecar, no bike will ever have the cargo capacity of a 1987 Yugo. It will sure ride better, though.

Of course, we often overload our bikes anyway. If you’ve ever bought too much—or something too big, or both—and had to secure it with enough bungee cords to tie down a live moose, you know what I’m talking about. You might consider buying stock in bungee-cord manufacturers. Or rethinking your purchase. Or making your wife walk home so you can load the damn thing on.

This is why we don’t usually plan on much shopping when we’re on two wheels. Even a simple trip to the grocery store can result in a few head-scratching minutes as you try to figure out how to get it all home. You know what I’m talking about: You stop to grab a half-gallon of milk and a load of bread, but once in the store you switch your brain off and just start grabbing things like your mother with a gift card. You should realize how carried away you’re getting, because by the time you hit the checkout the basket weighs more than a second-grader. Its handles are bending precariously, and you’ve developed genuine muscle damage in your arm.

It occurs to you that you’ve gone way overboard. Milk and bread? As if. Milk, bread, a frozen lasagna, a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew and a Pepsi to match, a plastic pack of those Hannaford deli cupcakes, a box of cereal, a bag of apples, some Funny Bones, five pounds of cube steaks, hot dogs, hot-dog buns, all the usual condiments, and so on. You realize that you’re on two wheels, not four, and you need four in order to easily get all this stuff home.

You know you have to ditch some of it. The Mountain Dew and Funny Bones just remind you that you’re straining your bike under your weight anyway. And do you really need the lasagna? But you convince yourself that you DO need it all, but more importantly you convince yourself that you are a loadmaster extraordinaire—you can make it all fit. Chances are, if you’ve gotten this out of hand, you’re a man, and as such you know that you can accomplish anything. A woman, had she gotten this far, would sensibly return the soda, the junk food, and probably everything except the milk and bread she came for in the first place.

But you can do it. Not only are you a loading genius, but there’s PLENTY of room on that bike. You have two BIG saddlebags and that HUGE seat bag that holds A LOT. So you head out to the bike, your arms nearly pulling out of their sockets under the weight of all those plastic grocery bags that are almost dragging on the pavement. And when you get back to the bike, you realize two things.

The first thing is that those big saddlebags are not as big as you’d thought. The saddlebags are NEVER as big as you’d thought. They always seem huge until you go through this AGAIN. If you’re a man, misjudging the size of something is nothing new.

The second thing is that the nice, roomy seat bag—the one you spent $80 on for just such occasions, the one that sits on the two-up seat and hooks onto frame and bars—isn’t on the bike. Why would it be? You were only going for bread and milk, so there was no need.

The next few minutes are quite a show. It begins as a ballet of ingenuity as you cleverly shuffle things between saddlebags to find room. It morphs into a frantic tap dance of hoping against hope as you use seven bungee cords trying desperately to ensure that the lasagna won’t fly off the bike and kill some innocent pedestrian. And it ends in a fierce slam dance of swearing and hollering when you realize you’re doomed.

If this guy can load this much stuff onto his bike, what am I complaining about?
If this guy can load this much stuff onto his bike, what am I complaining about?

At that point, you need to call your significant other to come get the groceries. But that would admit defeat and make you look incapable, so of course you add a few more cords and ropes—maybe even pull off your belt to help secure the lasagna to the sissy bar—and go for it. The saddlebags won’t close. The two-up is piled high with a tower of groceries strapped on with what must be three thousand feet of bungee cords. And there are plastic shopping bags hanging off your handlebars, swaying madly with every corner you take. We’re back to ballet at that point—avoiding the highway, riding slowly, and feeling that sense of foreboding when you draw near a pedestrian and start to panic about the lasagna.

It isn’t just groceries. Even if you don’t plan to get anything, you never know when an opportunity will present itself. Take a yard sale, for example. Yard sales always look safe—lots of tables and shelves piled high with small things that will easily fit on the bike. So you poke around and just as you’re about to leave you catch sight of… IT. Whatever IT is, IT is something you’ve always wanted. You’ve looked for a bargain-priced IT for years. They just want three bucks for IT. You have to have IT. And IT is the size of a lawn mower. IT might even be a lawn mower. You don’t care: IT must be yours.

You consider running home to get the car, but you realize that there are at least eleven other people all eyeing IT closely—and you can tell from street parking full of sedans and minivans and pickup trucks and 1987 Yugos—that not one of them is on a motorcycle. So you grab IT. After fifteen minutes of fighting to secure IT to the bike, your day ride has ended, because you have to head home to unload IT. Since you’re terrified that IT will fly off the bike on the 25-mile ride home, you need to travel at five miles per hour. Your day is done.

Motorcycles aren’t meant for shopping. We all get that, and nobody buys one saying, “Hey, this bike is so awesome I think I’ll take it on a shopping trip!” We buy them to ride, but sometimes that long trip to nowhere in particular results in groceries or yard-sale treasures or some other IT that you just have to have.

Look at the bright side: It doesn’t happen often, and when it does it only hones your skills as an amateur loadmaster. Although if it does happen all too often, “amateur” might not be the right word to describe the mad skills you’ll develop.

Can I add “Motorcycle Loadmaster” to my LinkedIn profile?

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