50+ Years of Motorcycles
My dad was a biker in his youth (and later in life became a full fledged, middle age crazy, hard core, hell-bent-for-leather Harley rider, but that's another story) and my early memories of motorcycles begins with his Indian Chief.
My first tastes of motorcycling, at least in my memory, were tightly linked to pain. I have a nice scar on my right hand where the Chief fell over on me, handlegrip pinning my hand to the concrete. The second most memorable experience was on a ride.
I would sit in front of my dad, somewhat astraddle of some nether region between the seat and the gas tank. The gas and oil filler caps, one on either side of the tank made for great handgrips. So we're sitting at a stoplight and my dad's foot slips off of the clutch (ya, it was what they called "suicide" for just cause), the bike jumps the curb, and scares the dickens out of both of us. This was my painful entry into manhood and biking all at about the tender age of about 4 years, for you see, when that Chief jumped the curb I was too young to appreciate the pleasures associated with testicles but I sure learned how much pain they could bring.
With this great background, it was only a matter of time before I had to be self-inflicting the pain. In fact, most of my visible scars are associated with a motorcycle in one way or another.
When I was about 12 my dad scrounged a Whizzer out of the junkyard. The rod bearings and crank were shot but he showed me how to stone the rod journal and make a set of bushings out of old car bearings. It worked pretty well for a few hours of service and then the bearings were shot again. I would make up several sets of rod bushings and carry 2 or 3 sets in my pocket, along with a Phillips screwdriver and a 7/16ths end-wrench. I could ride that old Whizzer for about 3 to 5 miles and then the rod would get so bad it wouldn't pull me. Down on the side it would go, I'd jerk off the side cover (Phillips screws), pull the rod cap (end wrench), stick in a new set of bushings, and be back on the road in less than 15 minutes. What a pain in the butt!
After this fiasco, at about age 14, I upgraded (pun intended) to an Allstate moped. I either paid $50 or $100 (sure hope it was $50 because in looking up the history I see that new was less than $200). This ride brought me my first ticket, my second crash, and another testicle experience. The seat was a steel wire frame with a rubber seat cover. The cover was slightly torn at the front so the metal frame came through, kind of like a saddle horn. Well, I had to try to hot rod that 50cc moped. You could wrap it out going down a good hill and that little ol' ring-ding-ding engine would crank out about 8,000 RPM for a top speed of about 35 mph. So here I am wrapping it on one day, all laid down like a sport biker, probably getting close to 37 mph when the spark plug wire pops off and grounds on the frame. 8000+ revs of magneto grounded to my testicles! I'm frozen in place until the rpm's and voltage drops to a level that I have my nervous functions back again. Lucky I didn't jump the curb too.
I had a basket case BSA but it doesn't count since I never got it running. In the process of reassembling it my dad talked me into porting and polishing it. I ground a hole through the intake port so it went to some other poor soul as a basket case.
Next up was a 1951 Indian Brave 250cc, one lunger. Got it running for a brief period but before I could get it licensed the rear wheel bearing went out. Spent months trying to find a replacement and even tried to engineer a rebuild of the axle so I could use available bearings, no joy. Can't remember what ever happened to that bike, probably didn't ride it over 5 miles total. Wouldn't be surprised to find the title stashed in my papers somewhere.
Number 5 was a 1954 NSU - 100cc single cylinder. Never really rode it on the street but did try some dirt biking with it. I played with this off and on for several years. Mostly off since it was in storage a lot. Fact is, I had this bike from about 1968 until 1992 when I gave it to a coworker. Wish I would have put it up for sale because in looking for some pictures I see that the Illustrated Parts Breakdown book that I had with it had some value.
In 1975 I finally became a real motorcyclist with the purchase of a 1973 Honda CB350F (inline 4 cylinder). This was a baby CB750F. Accessorized it with a fairing, road bar, box (and old surplus Army ammo box) and rode it daily until 1977. I proved the statistic that says, "most accidents are in the 1st year". Riding down Virginia Beach Blvd in Norfolk when a lady pulled out of the parking lot a broadsided me. I was lucky, just a severely bruised leg and some minor damage to the bike. In retrospect, even though the cage was legally at fault, I was responsible. I firmly believe that if you let somebody hit you, then you weren't driving "defensively" enough.
I traded a house for my next motorcycle a Honda CB500F.
How this came about and the pictures of transporting 2 motorcycles across country with a '67 Ford Falcon are worth a look.
The CB500F was a great motorcycle and served me well. SoCal is a great place to motorcycle and I spent many happy hours touring the mountains and deserts of California. Went on my first official road tour with this bike - completed the 1978 California 1000 with a fellow rider, Bruce Davidson, on a BMW R/75. Round trip total of 1350 miles in 40 hours. This was the most I had ever ridden at once and while it was fun, I vowed to keep my daily totals to less than 500 miles.
About 1979 I got interested in VW Trikes. Gathered all the brochures and specs and decided to build my own. Well, it had to get done on a shoestring budget. Raising three kids and buying a house on Navy pay and Patty's PacBel service rep job didn't leave much for toys. Started the project and actually made it to the point of a test drive with less than $600 invested when my Navy tour was up and we moved. The trike project got put on hold for 11 years (see Return to the Trike).
We moved from San Diego, CA to Dallas, TX in 1980. Since the Navy wouldn't transport my Honda I planned a great 2-week trip touring the Grand Canyon and riding the Rockies. It didn't pan out that way and I have a sidebar for that recap.
Motorcycling in and around Dallas wasn't much fun after SoCal. In fact, it was downright scary. My experience with cages up to this point was that they usually didn't have an awareness of motorcycles. In Texas, they not only saw you; they actively tried to hit you. When I slid out on the entrance ramp to Central Expressway at Northwest Highway, I first worried about my relationship to the motorcycle and the upcoming curb. When I felt that was under control I next wondered about the car that had been behind me, was he getting stopped okay? Imagine my surprise when I looked over my shoulder and saw that he was passing on the inside!! A motorcycle and a rider skating down a ramp and this fool just whizzes past us! Decided that bikes and Dallas were like mixing oil and water. So 5 years and 35,000 miles later the old CB500 brought me $350.
After we moved to Raleigh, NC in the summer of '86. I kept hinting to Patty that this was great motorcycling country. Finally, in the spring of '91, after 5 years of hinting, I found a deal on an "82 Suzuki GS1100GK that I couldn't pass up. I gave $1350 for it and the guy threw in about $700 worth of accessories.
Patty said, "Well if you want a woman to ride on the back of that motorcycle with you, you'd better find one." I'm still looking.
The Suzuki went through several major trips and a couple of variations. I painted it the Mercedes Teal blue in '92 and fixed up a sidecar I had inherited from my dad. Patty wouldn't even ride in the hack. I did pick up one gal that loved riding in that hack. In fact, she never missed a chance to jump in, my dog Sally. (picture to come)
The Return to the Trike (1991)
In the spring of '91 my son, Jacob, came home from his freshman year at U of F, and bugged me to finish the VW Trike. Yes it had been moved across the nation and had languished in neglect for the last 11 years. We redid the frame and controls and got it wrapped up for him to ride back to school in the fall. Building a motorcycle is not too hard but as they say, the devil is in the details. Seems that the final touches are what takes forever. Our trip from Raleigh, NC to Gainesville, FL with the trike is another "moving" story.
At the turn of the century, 9 years and 30,000 great miles later, the Suzi and I parted ways. As is frequently the case with love affairs the romance ends and the man is lured away by a younger more nubile chassis. My temptation was the BMW K1200LT. BMW claims that they produce the "ultimate driving machine" and I can vouch for their claim.
One year and 12,000 miles later I am still in love with this bike. Patty says it better not end because it is my last motorcycle. Well… it may be my first and last brand new motorcycle. I'm only in my 50's and you don't quit riding because you get old, you get old because you quit riding.
This was originally written in 2001. I guess I need to update.
The LT served me well. I put over 160,000 miles on it doing many Iron Butt rides and 2 Iron Butt Rallies. In 2012, when it needed more maintenance than I felt like it was worth it was retired to the parts bin. I'm still selling parts off of it from time to time.
The newest ride is a 2013 Triumph Trophy SE. The LT still holds the record as the only new bike, I picked this one up with only 4000 miles.
I have a big riding season planned for 2014/15 so we will see if the Trophy meets my LD riding demands as well as the LT did.