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The one armed motorcyclist

Updated on October 19, 2011

Ever tried to ride a motorcycle with one arm?

There is a picture somewhere of me when I was two years old. In the picture I am sitting in a mini racing car with a 500cc motorcycle motor powering it. It is one of only two pictures I have of my dad with two hands.

The car was what we call a T.Q. or Three Quarter sized car and was in the Australian globe of death that belonged to father's older brother Jim.

My father his older brother Jim and his second wife had been stunt riders and motorcycle racers.

Dad lost his left hand in an explosion before I turned 3 while earth moving and blasting.

A whole stick of gelignite and 11 detonators went off in his hand when he was moving them.

My 600 Ariel.

Early Ariel Motorcycle and sidecar. (outfit)
Early Ariel Motorcycle and sidecar. (outfit)

After recovering mobility and his eyesight some 18 months later we moved from the city to the country, or bush as we call it here.

The next memory of a motorcycle in Dad;s life came soon after we had moved to the bush. Dad bought a huge motorcycle that was damaged.

The bike had been in a bad accident, but dad had his workshop and with access to a local farmer's blacksmith's workshop, even castings were repairable or new ones could be caste.

With a really good leather bellows the forge had even been used by dad to re-manufacture Damascus shotgun barrels and pistons for tractors and all sorts of things.

After about a week he fired the mighty Brough Superior SS 100 motorcycle up.

It had a huge 1,000cc motor made by J.A.P and would do a genuine 160klm or one hundred miles an hour.

My first ride on dad's Brough Superior SS100.

My poor mum! She stood on the gravel road while dad stuck me on a tiny rubber seat on the rear mudguard and told me to wrap my fist around his leather belt and hang on like hell.

I had been around dad long enough to know he would use a lot of horsepower whenever he had it, so I stuck to dads belt like a pro.

I had been in the shed helping when he was rebuilding the bike and saw the motor go back together and the bike take shape, and as I went to work with dad in the bush every day logging I was not scared of any machinery much by then.

He reached over the top of the clutch lever with his stumped left arm, pulled it in, put it in gear then took off at high speed up the road still sideways until the first corner, changing up through the gears while spinning the back wheel and digging a trench in the clay and gravel road. you need to remember that this is not a modern motorcycle by any means, and has very limited suspension.

We road up to a bush farm road, then turned around and came back twice as fast as we had come. "Always have to sort a bike out and feel the weight before you can use it hard" he said as he put it against the wire fence with the clutch lever carefully straddling the fence post.

I can remember most of our conversations till this day because dad always made sure I was listening before he gave me a new way to see the world.

I took his advice later when doing dangerous things like test riding bikes from my workshops where your life depends on your mechanic. I always "shook down" and carefully looked over any bike before I used it hard and that advice alone kept my backside off the tarmac for many years.

Dad was the best I had seen on a motorcycle. Even with one hand he was still the best for many years to come.

Mum remained terrified I would be killed all through my childhood.

A Real spirit.

Dad was rightfully proud that he could do a lot of things well with just the one hand and could be pretty spirited in demonstrating the fact when challenged

When dad realized his licence had expired he had to go to the local town to get a new one and re-do his license test. The cop came out of the police station when dad pulled up on the same huge Brough motorcycle because you could hear the giant 1000cc V twin for miles. He was flabbergasted when he saw that dad had one hand but had to agree that he seemed totally at home slouching across the bike he had obviously ridden there.

Dad soon told the cop that if he could handle a log truck and a dozer he could handle a bike, so the nice policeman let dad ride up the road while he watched. The way dad told it, he took off up the gravel driveway of the police station sideways waving his stump in the air! I for one believe he would do exactly that.He got his licence back and was to keep it until he died.

Cops and motorcycles.

Dad often got pulled up a lot by police wanting to see his licence, not because he had one hand, nobody noticed when he rode. It was the way he rode every day that got him in to trouble.

I was with him once years later in the sidecar of his Harley Davidson outfit (motorcycle and sidecar) on the way to work. Dad flew over the railway crossing by throwing the old Harley around the left hand turn with the outfit lifting it's wheel off the ground, then sliding its front wheel around the right hand corner with the front wheel sliding in under-steer then he straightened up and as usual lifted the side car wheel high of the road and kept it there for the half mile of straight road ahead when a police car came around the corner. They saw us before dad could drop the wheel back on the road and they stopped us.

The cops really gave dad a hard time about me being in the sidecar, but dad just grinned and said "you cant hurt this kid he sticks to that chair(sidecar) like shit to a blanket!" He got a fine.

Years later.

After I got married I was visiting my mom and dad one weekend at their home in the bush. Dad had purchased a very fast two and a half litre Brooklyn Riley Pathfinder car, which he had hotted up and offered me a drive. When dad offered me a drive in the Riley that meant I was expected to believe in his skills in having the car in top condition and I would be expected to drive it fast and confirm that it was a quick car. He would not accept a lesser judgement like it looks nice dad, hell no not my dad! To make the right noises about what a good car it was I had to push it hard first.

I took off pretty quick in the Riley and headed in to a left hand corner at speed on the asphalt feeling the Riley's four wheels drift in a controlled slide through the corner. I could feel through the precise rack and pinion steering that I was near the limits of adhesion only to have my dad came past me on the outside of the corner in the gravel, his back wheel spinning madly sending a rooster tail of dirt up behind him, waiving his left arm in the air and doing what looked like twice my speed on a hotted up old Triumph he had been building secretly.To ad insult to injury he then changed the dirty old thing in to top gear and disappeared out of site!

He kept riding bikes his whole life, and when i had motorcycle shops I always made sure dad got the toys he wanted. It was a joy to see him in retirement playing with his toys. He was a good dad, and an interesting granddad to my children who loved him, and there were not too many bad times I can bother to recall now, although we argued always it was good natured in the main, and I loved him.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hi readers of Earnest's hub. Sadly Earnest passed away suddenly several months ago. I am Earnest's cousin.His father Bill was like a father to me. Earnests stories bring back many a fond memory. Bill was affectionately known as Hookie or Bogga Bill

    • ronson80 profile image


      7 years ago from Morristown TN

      Dinnis (Anamal) done it Bless his Dear departed Soul.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thanks Keith. My dad was a major hoon, and loved speed his whole life.

    • attemptedhumour profile image


      8 years ago from Australia

      Hi Ern, sorry hoon. Great descriptive account as usual, i was with you all the way. Bye mate.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Hi Quark. Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I did love my dad, and he taught me as long as he lived. I was still learning about guns, watches, motorcycles and cars from him. He always seemed to have something fresh to tell me.

      You did not grow up with a father? You must be another survivor type! Some people like you seem to be able to adjust to whatever life throws up. I respect you and the way you have coped. I admire your approach to life, and as I get to know you I can see that you have a lot to offer. I am well pleased to know you!

      Dad road a 750 WLA Harley Davidson with a foot clutch for many years. The Brough superior was the first bike where he had the clutch lever on the throttle side below the front brake lever. He also changed the gear lever to the other side on some bikes with a hand change on the tank.

      When he was in his seventies I gave him a ride on a very fast GSX1100. He took off sideways as ever, nearly lost it a few times and then when he had the weight and traction worked out, he read-lined it from second through to fourth!

      Blew me away! He always admitted to getting slower as he aged, but slower than what? ....

    • qwark profile image


      8 years ago

      Hey Earn:

      It seems you turned out to be a "chip-off-the-old block."

      I would have loved to have had a Dad.

      You loved him and the way you turned out proved that he loved you too. I envy ya!

      I've been ridin' bikes all my life.

      How the hell did he clutch and brake on the bars with one hand?

      I know you'll have an interesting answer I didn't Think of.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you resspenser, I love to get comments on this hub, Dad was quite a character!

    • resspenser profile image

      Ronnie Sowell 

      8 years ago from South Carolina

      Loved the hub! Your dad must have been quite a character. Not a bad way to be remembered! I will have to visit some more of your hubs.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Hey thanks goldentoad, you know it's funny but you just get used to it when you grow up amongst it. I am a bit older and wiser these days.

    • goldentoad profile image


      9 years ago from Free and running....

      You guys are crazy and with some steel nuts.


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