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The Lure of the Motorcycle
I remember the first time I rode on two wheels... Well, almost two wheels... My parents bought a house from my grandparents, and in the garage I found an old gir'ls bike. It had belonged to my aunt, who is a few years older than me. This abandoned old bike was to be my introduction into the two-wheeled-world. Of course it did have training wheels. One day while riding in circles around the patio, I clipped one of the training wheels on the post for the clothesline. The training wheel whipped up and out of place and Voila! I became a master at left-hand turns! My dad saw I was doing well and took off both training wheels. Thus my love of two wheels was born.
Soon we moved out of the city to the suburbs and I was given a brand-new bike! It had 20" wheels, butterfly handle bars and a banana seat. It was painted gold and was from Sears. I loved that bike! I rode it so much that I wore out many sets of tires! And before any one had heard of 'BMX' I had learned why on modern bikes they design them with welded plates to attach the fork to the frame. My front rim was SO wobbly from all the hard landings coming off of jumps, and yes, my forks had to be welded back on several times! My prowess at riding wheelies and flying off jumps was not achieved without medical assistance. After one ill-constructed ramp broke (it was built at the top of three steps - DAH) sending me on a spectacular barrel roll and causing my head to land first instead of my wheels, I got to ride to the hospital in a police car and get 20 stitches in my forehead. I was much more careful in building ramps after that.
I had many other bicycles. The first 'grown-up' bike, was a Huffy 3-speed. It had 26" wheels and a really ingenious 3 speed shifting mechanism built into the rear hub. Then there was my first TEN SPEED! It too was a goldish-brown color, with a tan seat and oddly enough had a disc brake - on the REAR wheel. Anyone who ever rode on two wheels knows that the FRONT brake would be a better choice for the placement of a disk - but it was so cool at the time, it did not matter. The next bike was purchased with my own money. It was a Schwinn Traveller III. Red in color, 27" wheels and in those days you could get the frame size that fit you too. I don't remember the frame size - but the way you measured it was important - kinda like the inseam for pants! That was the last bicycle I bought for a long time. While I was evolving and maturing in the bicycle world, I was also getting into the motorized two-wheeled world!
I started small. I had Honda 50's, 70's then a 125. The Honda 125S was my first street legal motorcycle. Of course I took my test on a bigger bike, so as not to be limited to 500ccs. Thank you Warren Pierson for letting me borrow your KZ650 for that!
It didn't matter the size of the machine - the thrill was the same. My buddies and I would get up early in the morning and 'push' our bikes to the trails where we were allowed to ride. I always made a point to have permission to ride on the land I rode on. I even had it in writing. The sheriff's department often tried to intimidate us and tell us we could not ride here or there. So I took it upon myself to find the owners of the land, and draft a simple document allowing me permission to ride and releasing them from any liability. Having this in my back pocket one day came in handy when I was stopped while pushing my bike to the trails. The sheriff had taken to using an old blue Ford pickup truck so they could chase us down in the fields if need be. I guess they got tired of having to stop and watch us drive off into the fields, leaving them at the edge of the pavement. The sheriff had a little metal recipe box with 3x5 cards in it. He asked me my name and address as he filled out my card. I was now in his little hoodlum file. The smart-ass sheriff did not believe me when I said I had permission to ride on that land. He said I probably did not even know who owned the land. "As a matter of fact I DO" I told him, as I produced my little signed document. "Huh! You just made this up!" he sneered. "Why don't we go to the man's house and ask him if he owns the land and if that is his signature?" I offered. So he hefted my Honda into the truck and off we went. Luckily the guy was home, and he verified the authenticity of the document. The sheriff then offered to drive me home, but I opted to be dropped at my friend Bill's house which was nearest the land we were going to ride on. Of course the officer then went to my home and had a talk with my parents. I don't know what he hoped to achieve by doing that - as it was my dad's idea that i have written permission to ride anywhere and I wasn't doing anything wrong. I recall them mentioning that the sherriff stopped by, but that was all.
We would ride for hours. Around the trails, up and down hills, over dirt jumps... only stopping for necessary breaks like food, more gas or mechanical failures. I learned alot about how engines work and everything else to do with a motorcycle. My first Honda 50 was purchased with money saved from my paper route. One of the kids on my route had a Z50 that I had seen running. When he offered it for sale, all the parts were in a couple of plastic 5 gallon buckets. I took the parts and re-assembled it into a working machine. I learned how ignition timing worked, I learned how points worked and found you could convert any machine into one with breaker-less ignition very inexpensively. I learned all about every component and could take it completely apart and put it togehter again and it would work. But the mechanical knowledge was merely a means to an end. I did not want to learn all those things - I wanted to ride - but on my budget, sometimes you had to know how to FIX things if you wanted to keep riding.
The years went by... I found myself working at a car dealer. I had the best job for a car-crazy kid: I was the lot man! I got to drive all the new cars! And used ones too. Many times they would send me on trips to fetch cars. My favorite trip was whenever they would send me to Iowa, where there was a company that turned regular cars into convertibles! I would drive an un-converted, brand-new car there and bring home one that was chopped and turned into a convertible. Of course, I had to operate the top and make sure it worked properly! And by the time I got home it was well past closing time, so I would have to take the car home, parking it in my dad's garage overnight...
I worked in many departemnts in that dealership. I started in the body shop, then went to used cars in the prep department, I worked in new car prep and also was a parts driver. I knew all the ins and outs of the whole place. I had travelled to all the back rooms and knew where to find anything. Along the way, I made an intersting discovery! UPSTAIRS in the parts department, way off in a corner, was a like-new Honda XL350! It was black with yellow, orange and red stripes and red plastic fenders. It looked fantastic! And it was up there, just sitting there collecting dust. Every now and then I would sit on it, and wonder why it was there, who's was it? I never imagined that one day it would be mine! I did not think much of it - as far as me getting it. It was just an oddity - a motorcycle, upstairs, just tucked away in a corner... When I finally asked around and found the owner, he told me it was his kid's bike and he had taken it away from him. I could have it for $800. It had sat up there for 6 years! My thrifty girlfriend bought my Honda 125S for herself and loaned me the rest of the money so I would have enough to get it! Thanks Elisa! WOW! An old - yet new Honda XL350... It only had 763 miles on it! Somehow they got it down from there and I rode it around happily. I did not notice at first that my pants were getting soaked with oil. Apparently, it had sat there so long that the gasket material had dried out and the side cases were no longer sealed! A trip to the local Honda dealer solved that.
I have ridden and owned many motorcycles since then. But the thrill is always the same. There is something about being connected to the machine, and yet free to experience the open road that is hard to explain. Have you ever experienced the feeling of a jet as it takes off down the runway, then tips up and takes off? It's kind of like that. Or have you been on a roller coaster as it dives down a steep incline and then banks into a curve? It's kind of like that. Only you are in control! You twist the throttle and it goes! But it is more than that... You move and respond without even really thinking about it. The motorcycle becomes an extension of yourself... Yes, you are sitting on it... Yes, you are hanging on, and you are operating the controls - but it is like riding a bike. You don't think about what holds you up on two wheels as you ride around... you just do it.
It starts in the morning, when your eyes open. Whatever you do in the morning before you go out to your bike is not important. You do that normal routine and finally you go outside. There it sits. Your bike! Wiping the morning dew off the seat, you stradle it. Flipping on the run switch, opening the gas valve, setting the choke, turning the key... a slight twist of the throttle as you push the starter button and VROOM! Chug-chug-chug it goes as you let it warm a minute... Stand up. Choke in. A little gas. Feet up. Your day begins! It doesn't mater where you are going. Work, school or no where. You are in your element. Drivers on four wheels have no idea. They are so unaware in their little four wheeled cacoons. You KNOW the weather - you feel it! You sense the coming of a shower before they ever think about touching the wiper switch. Life on two wheels is so very different. Everything happens faster. You are much more involved with your surroundings. You have to be much more aware. Your senses are all operating at a higher level. You can smell that the car next to you needs to have its antifreeze changed, as it overheats. Looking over the tops of the cars, you can see traffic building in the distance, and take an alternate route....
When rain or snow forces you back on four wheels, it is such a let down. You sit in your armchair auto and navigate the roads like everyone else. You push the pedals to make it go or stop and turn the wheel to steer. But it is mundane. Like dancing with your cousin at a wedding. Like eating a meal with no taste. You were once a king, now you are a slave.
But wait! These are the days to visit the motorcycle showrooms! You must not lose hope! Snow melts, rain stops... Motorcycles will ride again! For now you plan your trips, dream of that new bike purchase, and wait...
These days, I don't need to listen to the weather when I wake up. At around 6:30 each morning, if I hear a sound like thunder - I know it is NOT raining, but is my dear neighbor, Richard, revving up his pseudo-Harley as he prepares to go to work. The the inevitable ROOOAAARRRRRRR! as he tears off down the street. God bless Richard. Someday he will be too old to ride. I guess I'll have to cut him some slack til then.