We’re very lucky to have some incredibly interesting readers as part of the Bike-urious community, and I thought it was time to get to know you guys a little bit better. Some of you have possibly noticed in the past that I’m a big fan of Frank, so you shouldn’t be surprised that I believe his thoughts are worth sharing!
Frank H. Wu is Chancellor & Dean of University of California Hastings College of the Law. He is the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White. Most importantly, he’s a law school dean with a Two Brothers pipe on his cult classic Honda – and that’s my kind of guy.
I approached Frank with some questions about his motorcycling life, so enjoy his answers below:
How did you get started with motorcycles – how did you learn, and what was your first bike?
My next door neighbor when I was a kid had a motorcycle. This was just past the suburbs of Detroit, where paved streets stopped and cornfields started. He had a Honda 125. Of course, I wanted one. My parents wisely refused to give in. They did get a used minibike, 4-1/2 horsepower. I zipped around on that at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour.
When I was an adult, with my first real job, I went out and bought a motorcycle right away. That was the first major purchase I made in my life. I spent months studying what to buy, reading back issues of enthusiast magazines over lunch hour in the public library. I also took a riding safety course. I considered numerous motorcycles, but it was the Honda Hawk GT 650 that I knew was the one for me. The Suzuki 500 looked boring. There were 400s, the Suzuki Bandit and Honda CB-1, either of which I’m sure would be fun to have. The Kawasaki 500 might have worked. Nothing had the unique look and features of the Honda Hawk though. It still looks contemporary. It makes me happy to see mine. I check out others when I see them, especially the uncommon 1988 models in silver and blue.
What bikes do you currently own?
I still have my original Honda Hawk GT 650. I was hit by a car in San Francisco. I had ridden across the continent safely. A teen driver who had bought his car that very day clipped me not far from the historic Haight Ashbury neighborhood. I walked into the ER. The nurse said, “Well, you’re the first rider I’ve ever seen walk into the ER.” The bike was stolen a year later. The police recovered it. I had to pay to get it out of the lot. They hadn’t damaged it much. It shows about 20,000 miles on the clock, but there’s another 7500 from before the accident.
The Hawk has a British Racing Green paint job now. It has a Two Brothers custom exhaust. I wanted one when they came out with them a generation ago, but I couldn’t afford it. I was delighted that they brought back this great system. I bought it in carbon fiber. A terrific shop in town, Werkstatt, installed it, and it boosted the horsepower by about 20%. I think it shows 50 hp at the rear wheel now. I also had them upgrade the brakes. I have a Corbin seat. I used to have a bikini fairing on it and I even had a pair of Krauser saddlebags.
I also have a BMW K1200RS. It is a 2001 model. It’s a very different bike. It’s big and bulky but comfortable and fast over incredibly long distances. The handling could not be more different than the Hawk. It looks about twice the size of the Hawk. With its long wheelbase and much more top heavy balance, it can be like riding a buffalo on the hills.
I bought it because I wanted a bike with ABS brakes, and there were very few options at that time. It was basically BMW. I was considering a Boxer, but they seemed to be having issues with surging.
The BMW was Midnight Black. It got knocked over while it was parked, by some miscreant. The fairing was cracked. When I got a new fairing, I thought I’d change the color. It’s Ducati yellow. It has a decal that says “Peril,” making it a visual pun: it’s the Yellow Peril. I couldn’t believe early one morning, about 5:30, while I was on my way to the gym, when I was stopped and about to make a left turn, an SUV decided to cross the yellow line and pass me. The car knocked me over, but aside from a scrape on the side of the bike, everything was fine. It was a hit and run; the SUV stopped, saw I got up, and then it took off. I was lucky: if I had started to turn, that two tons would have run me over. I’ve put about 12,000 miles on the BMW.
Assume for a moment that money is no object and importation laws aren’t a problem. What’s the next bike you’d buy, and what would you do with it?
There are many bikes I’d like.
A Honda GB500 would be at the top of the list. I met a shoe shine lady who was chatting with me, and it turned out she had recently sold one. I wish I had gone for a shoe shine a week earlier. I would have bought that on the spot. I see people asking very high prices for these bikes, because they know they have a following and they’re already collectible.
Then maybe a BMW R1100S, either with the yellow and black checkerboard design or the orange and silver. They are such elegant machines.
A Harley V-Rod. The new Harleys intrigue me. I’d definitely be interested, but they are too expensive.
There are bikes that are even more rare that I’d be interested in. When Triumph initially returned to the market, they had a Trident Triple. That had a straightforward, unpretentious design. A Moto Guzzi, one of the sporting versions.
I see many terrific vintage bikes in California. I love the Honda 400s that look as if they are mint condition and are still daily rides. There are BMWs with the toaster tank. Old Interceptors. There’s a 1980s bike, I’m not even sure which, maybe a Honda Hurricane (what became the CBR600) with a funny 1980s paint scheme of pastels – it looks like Barbie’s motorcycle, and I think it reflects its era perfectly.
If I had to buy a new bike, I’d go with one of the small ones. A Grom or the Honda 250. I prefer good handling to raw power. The exhilaration of speed also depends on the bike. On the naked Honda Hawk GT, 55 miles per hour feels the same as on the fully faired BMW K1200RS going maybe 90 miles per hour.
What’s the most memorable motorcycle trip you’ve ever taken?
I rode across the country more than 20 years ago. I outran a storm in Iowa, which lasted the whole day. I stopped at the Grand Canyon, and as I was leaving I had to fix something at the roadside, I can’t even remember what, and an old fellow stopped his car to talk. He explained he had had a Kawasaki back in 1972 or something like that, and he fell asleep while riding, and that was why he had the prosthetic leg that he then showed me.
It was a great solo experience, to see the country. I thought it would be butt fatigue that would limit my range for the day, but it really was brain fatigue. I talked to hardly anybody all day long, it made me realize I like people more than I supposed. I stayed at simple motels that I found along the way, for about twenty bucks per night. I ate at diners that were similarly down-to-earth, and it felt like a great adventure.
Do you listen to music while riding? If no, why not? If yes, what are some of your favorite tunes when you’re on your bike?
I listen to music some of the time. Usually, I’m in the city, and I want to be aware of everything. If I’m touring, I will put on something. I like all genres. So it’s everything from ABBA to Journey to Cowboy Junkies to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Mostly it’s got a beat and sounds good loud.
What’s your favorite piece of gear?
I always wear a helmet. I have a Schuberth modular and an old Shoei. I also wear boots, either Aerostich or BMW; gloves, by a company that went out of business, Thurlow; and an Aerostich hi-viz yellow two-piece suit. I doubt Andy Goldfine remembers this, but I wrote him a letter years ago, when I had a red Aerostich, suggesting he make a yellow one; I didn’t know it was called hi-viz. There was a men’s magazine that published for maybe a year and they had a feature where readers would name their favorite “guy” possession and they ran pictures. They had an issue with Ewan McGregor on the cover and they had the Aerostich suit with my name underneath. So I can say Ewan McGregor and I were in the same magazine together once.
Of these items, I’d have to say the Aerostich suit is my favorite. It is a brilliant design. I am so used to wearing it, I just walk around doing my shopping, with my helmet on and flipped up, and I forget that I must stand out. Can’t rob a bank in that outfit.
Too often, the first thing someone says after finding out you ride is something along the lines of “Careful, a friend of a friend got hurt riding a motorcycle!” What’s your usual response?
The strangest thing people have said to me – more than one guy has said this – is that they wanted a motorcycle and their parents wouldn’t let them have one because they’re an only child. What’s weird is if you think about it, basically the parents are saying if they had more children they’d care less about each one – they have spares. I know many people think motorcyclists are crazy. That’s too bad. Motorcycles are much more common in other parts of the world. And we’d be better off if more people rode them.
I find people, even if they don’t ride, like to talk about motorcycles. So I try to get them talking.
You have $25,000 to spend on anything in the world of motorcycles – 1 new bike, several old bikes, track days, a trip, you name it. How do you spend it?
Experiences are better than possessions.I’d definitely take a trip. Experiences are better than possessions. I love both my bikes, but what I love more is riding. The bike is the vehicle, literally. It’s the ride that matters. I definitely wouldn’t buy a new bike. Bikes improve all the time, but I’d rather buy a used bike that I had a shop check out, because I could get so much more. I also worry that bikes in the hot segments of the market are becoming too much alike. I look at the 600s that are available, and I really cannot tell one from another.
You’re not who I’d consider the stereotypical motorcyclist. When your colleagues discovered your enthusiasm for motorcycles, did that change any of your professional relationships?
The motorcycle is part of my identity now. It establishes that I am willing to take risks.I tell kids I’m the Yellow Power Ranger. They believe me. The motorcycle is part of my identity now. It establishes that I am willing to take risks.
Want to hear more from Frank? Check out his series of articles with the Huffington Post. And feel free to leave me some feedback – I’ve got some more interesting readers lined up if you’d like to hear more…
Header image from uchastings.edu