Riding Yamaha XSR700s From Dusk 'til Dawn
WORDS Chris Nelson IMAGES Kevin Bennett & Matthew Jones
A biological adversity to nighttime means most of us know the night less intimately than we do the day, so we can only imagine what a night may hold: debauchery, seediness, oddities, and the uncouth truths of humanity. But still, we want to see it for ourselves, to celebrate the night like we do our days. To not just enjoy the nightlife but to stave off sleep and explore a night in its entirety — because it's there and we can.
7:22pm, downtown Los Angeles at sunset.
34.0407° N, 118.2468° W
I yawn, then yawn again, then yawn four more times. “Cut that shit out, we’ve got 12 more hours,” says photographer Matt Jones. Doubt is painted across all of our faces; morale is low. Matt’s breath smells like coffee, contributor Jessie Gentry is slumped over the ruby red fuel tank of her Yamaha XSR700, and photographer Kevin Bennett pines for a nap. We tried to prep for this shoot by staying up as late as we could last night, but not one of us made it past 2am. We need to get moving, if only to stoke momentum. When the sun tucks behind the L.A. skyline, we ride toward Santa Monica. As Jessie and I lane-split through a heavily congested highway, I yawn some more. Riding 35 mph on a motorcycle on the highway is a bore, even when you're bookended by cars with drivers who are sexting, tweeting, and catfishing.
8:21pm, parking garage in Santa Monica.
34.0195° N, 118.4912° W
We're both long and lanky, but Jessie and I fit comfortably on our XSR700s. Beneath fluorescent lights, we park and pull off our riding gear, discussing the bikes as we do. "It sliced through traffic on the freeway like it wasn't there," says Jessie, calling her bike a "city ripper." New for '18, the XSR700 is an $8,500 urban-centric motorcycle with a low seat height, a manageable 410-lb curb weight, and aggressive-but-classy styling. Jessie likes that you can unbolt the aluminum side panels around the fuel tank, allowing for easy customization. Gimmicky, I think; the removable rear subframe is more my taste. Jessie and I dive deeper into the XSRs, volleying descriptors back and forth: nimble, sharp, slim, punchy, mighty, approachable, responsive.
10:11pm, Harvelle’s Blue Club in Santa Monica.
34.0156° N, 118.4946° W
“That all depends on whether you perceive time as a flat circle or not,” yammers Kev. The situation has grown dire; at this pace, we won't make it past midnight. Harvelle's — a small, 87-year-old jazz bar just off Santa Monica's Main Street that has staged performances by Albert King, Joe Louis Walker, Vintage Trouble, and many, many more — is crowded but quiet, not exactly the energetic scene we need. Then the lights dim, the band begins to play, and a narrator introduces “Marijuana Madness,” a burlesque show that depicts the racially-motivated criminalization of cannabis during the prohibition era. “Where there’s jazz, there’s sex. And where there’s sex, there’s weed,” says the narrator as Miss Marquez appears from backstage, her green hair bouncing as she strips off her clothes and sensually dances across the bar. Another dancer follows and keys in on Kev, who is admiring the dancer's glitzy, crimson lingerie from his bar stool. She reaches down, pinches his cheeks ... then slaps him, hard. It’s hilarious and hot — the second wind we needed.
12:22am, Cozy Inn bar in Culver City.
34.0095° N, 118.4131° W
The motorcycles parked out front tell me my friends are here. Cozy Inn is a charmingly simple dive bar that opens at 6am, wears multi-colored Christmas lights year round, plays classic rock, and offers pool, darts, shuffleboard, and virtual bowling. Half of my friends stay inside to drink whiskey and Miller High Life while the rest of us go outside to play dice. “The game is left-right-center,” explains Matt as we each toss three bucks onto the ground. Matt takes the pot, and my friends are sure they’ve been hustled. The bartender yells, “Last call!” and we look around at everyone, asking who’s coming with us. Blank stares and meek smiles, quickly followed by goodbyes.
2:37am, downtown Los Angeles.
34.0553° N, 118.2498° W
Fellow man has forgotten us, and it feels pretty good. I hear humming street lights, a drunkard’s lonely song. We walk down the middle of Grand Avenue, between the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Walt Disney Concert Hall, looking down at Lower Grand through openings in the road. There’s Jessie on her XSR. With a thumbs up, she does a giant burnout, the smoke billowing up from her level to ours. A pungent, intoxicating smell engulfs us. The engine's bark is bigger than its bite, echoing through the rows of buildings around us. I look for cops, security guards, trash collectors, anyone who might ruin our fun ... but there's no one. Just us and an empty city. I can’t see Kev but hear him say, “We’ll stay up until we hate ourselves, and then we’ll wake up tomorrow and hate ourselves even more.” The drowsy delirium and groggy hangover that follow a sleepless night. A cruel reality.
3:52am, Pacific Dining Car.
34.0555° N, 118.2660° W
“I called my ex and said, ‘I have a testicle infection, can you watch the dog?’ And she said ‘no.’” Everyone laughs at Matt’s misfortune. We sit around a large table in the empty Pacific Dining Car, a classy 24-hour restaurant that has been a staple in L.A. since 1921. The waiters tiptoe around us and the leather booth creaks and pops as Kev stretches out, half asleep. We pray to our coffees and do everything we can to avoid lulls in the conversation, discussing where we grew up, what Netflix shows we like, and which sexually transmitted diseases scare us the most. Our food arrives: an assortment of omelets and eggs Benedict, shaved steak salad and lobster truffle mac ‘n’ cheese. There’s no standard fare at four in the morning, and coffee pairs well with everything.
4:24am, Angeles Crest highway.
34.3167° N, 118.0058° W
Jessie is anxious. She’s worried the XSR700 might be overwhelmed by the steep, challenging road that writhes through Angeles National Forest just north of downtown. I’m worried, too — but about unseen animals crossing in front of me, my weary body failing me, and the thick mist dampening the pavement, fogging my goggles, and ripping the light from the XSR’s headlamp into millions of useless fractals. Every mile we climb, it gets colder, darker, more dangerous. Then, a thought from the void: Faster still. I roll on the throttle. The 689cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin builds power naturally and effortlessly. The narrow chassis is taut, the suspension is dialed, and the XSR700 jukes and dives with the precision and grace of a sport bike. I’m bolder with every passing corner, flirting with ABS as I trail brake. I glance back and see Jessie’s bike bob and weave in the blackness as she becomes more comfortable with this environment. Our fears fade the higher we go, clipping apexes in the dark. When the fog clears, the first light of day breaks.
6:03am, above the clouds at sunrise.
34.3167° N, 118.0058° W
Matt and Kev dance along cliffs like excited children, cameras pressed to their faces, mesmerized by the scene the sun reveals: a soft blue sky and lush greenery framing a valley filled with opaque, low-hanging clouds. We made it, here, experiencing this moment together. “As a kid, the most fun way to connect with someone was to lock arms, look into their eyes, and spin in circles until the rest of the world became a blur,” says Jessie, smiling from the saddle of her Yamaha. “I felt like the four of us were spinning in our own circle, all night, regardless of whatever happened around us.”
At times throughout the night, it felt like we may never see dawn again. The thought devastates me: a life without dawn. We take our days and nights — the sunrises and sunsets — for granted, wanting what tomorrow holds, unable to appreciate the moments we’ve earned. By celebrating one night, we rekindled our relationship with the time we have.
This content was produced in partnership with yamahamotorsports.com