It seems like I’ve had a passion for motorcycles my entire life but in reality it started when I was 10 or 11 years old. There was a vacant lot about 6 blocks away that was grown up in weeds. There was evidence that “something” used to be there. There were a few small mounds of dirt (visualize a bump about 8 inches tall). If you plotted a good course you could hit every one of these dirt piles while flying around the course on a bicycle. In our minds it was the greatest grand-prix race course ever. No one claimed ownership of this lot, it wasn’t mowed, it wasn’t suitable for baseball (Mr. Hulse’s plowed corn field was perfect for that) so we saw it as the perfect venue for our pedal powered racers.
Growing up in those days was way different (or at least I think it was). As a kid, you knew every kid in the neighborhood, where they lived, what they liked to do, and when they usually were available. One of the guys who lived a couple of blocks from me was the proud owner of a very used mini-bike. It was a weird situation. His dad told him not to let anyone else ride the thing (it was a repair thing – not an insurance / liability thing). This kid was quiet, shy, and didn’t have many friends. He didn’t like any sports
which pretty much put him out of touch in our world.
The mini-bike owner used to take it to the aforementioned vacant lot. He really wanted people to like him. He would let us take turns riding the mini, burning up the dirt race course. I think wide open it would run about 4 miles an hour but that was a blistering pace as long as you didn’t have to
pedal the thing. Gas was about $.25 a gallon so if we all chipped in a couple of pennies (or a nickel for the big spenders), we could ride most of the day on Saturdays until something fell off of the bike. I’m sure that his dad wondered how this mini-bike managed to get so bad every Saturday.
In the M-town Mini-bike Grand Prix activities there was no discrimination. We had as many girl riders as boys – we were way ahead of our times in this regard. The limit was 2 laps then you handed the bike to the next person in line. Obviously you could be on the course with your bicycle at any time. I
was truly living the dream and I’m sure that my lap times were almost the best. I say almost because the owner had figured out a way to hit one of the bumps just right and get the front wheel to come off of the ground. Spectacular – I estimate about an inch and a half of air under the front tire. The guys on TV that jump 100’s of feet in the air got their idea from us – I’m sure we were the first.
Once you hit about 12 or 13 the mini-bike thing is not cool anymore plus the girls lost interest. No longer cool, no girls, race course dirt mounds worn down, it was time for me to move on.
Fast forward to my 14th year. I was a band nerd and marching band was hard work. In the summer we practiced for the state fair band contest. We practiced at Fairfield elementary school which was 5 blocks or so from my house. I wasn’t old enough to drive so I had to hoof it to band practice. One
evening there I was looking really suave with my beat up oversized trumpet case in hand trying not to be seen on my way to band practice when I hear beep-beep. I look up and there is a fellow band member on a brand new shiny black Suzuki X6 Hustler (look it up). OMG (I just learned that one).
That bike is the coolest thing I have ever seen in my life. How can this guy – a trombone player of all things – have the coolest machine on the face of the planet? He was a year older than I was. In Indiana you could ride a motorcycle of any size once you had a “learner’s permit” which you could get at age 15. His dad was a real rebel and bought the motorcycle
but let his son ride it to band practice and now I was being offered a chance to sit on the back and make a grand entrance in front of all my band mates. Life is good.
I was hooked. Getting my own car was years away but a motorcycle seemed possible. Ok, not really. When there are 4 kids and only 1 income, buying a used bicycle is a luxury so I could only drool over the few motorcycles that were in M-town at the time. In fact, I knew of only 2. My friend’s and
a guy named Junior who owned a big bad Harley Davidson FLH. I never knew his real name – everybody called him Junior. He had the Marlon Brando look down pat. Black leather jacket, black leather hat (helmets
were not really normal) and great sunglasses. The big Harley even had some fringe on the saddlebags just like in the movies. Once again the cool factor was there – I think Junior was a used car salesman.
After school was out for the year (I was 15 now) I was hanging out at home waiting for my next baseball game. Another beep-beep and it’s a different friend on a Honda 160 Dream (look it up). He is wearing a gold metal-flake helmet. He pulls over gets off and says “you want to ride it?”. I’ve
never been in control of anything motorized beyond the mini-bike mentioned earlier. This thing is awesome.
My buddy says – “you have to shift gears. Here’s how you do it – pull this lever in, lift with your left toes until you hear a clunk then let off the lever (clutch). Here’s the gas. Any questions?”
“Uh – no, I think I’ve got it.”
“You want the helmet?”
“Uh – no, those aren’t cool.”
“Ok, I’ll just wait here until you get back but don’t be gone more than 5 minutes or so. OK?”
“Yep. Oh yeah, does this have brakes?”
“Oh yeah, great brakes – here’s the hand brake for the front – use it lightly. The back brake is by your other foot and it works just like the one on your old beat-up J.C. Higgins bike (look it up)”.
I have completed the motorcycle training class. Off I go, kind of. After killing the thing about 437 times, I was rolling. Hey this is easy. Now what did he tell me about shifting gears – oh yeah, pull lever in, lift with toe, wait for clunk, let lever out. Done. Roll on gas, engine revs, no go. Glance down
and see green light that is labeled “neutral”. Hmmmm. Pull lever back in push down with toes – seems logical to me. Let lever out. Bad move. I’ve just downshifted back to first at about 20 MPH. OK so
much for cool.
What happens if I do the toe-lift thing twice? Sounds logical. Wow second gear. I’m cruising now except for that stop sign about 15 yards in front of me. I’m doing about 30 and about 15 yards to stop. Ok, foot thing on other side, back tire locked up. Lightly on front lever. Engine dies, bike
stops immediately. Here comes my friend on the run. “I forgot to tell you to pull the clutch in as you are stopping or the
engine will die”.
That must be the advanced course. I realize I need to use both hands and both feet to actually make this go / stop. I accomplish motion in a much improved 268 attempts. I actually kept it running at the next 4 stop signs and even cruised past my girlfriend’s house. Cool has returned. Now I’m hooked and someday I’m going to get me one of these.
I manage to return the bike in one piece. Not sure how I made it. I never fell over, ran a stop sign, or had any near-death experiences. I’m sure the sight of me on that 160 Dream struck fear in the heart of old people and young girls were swooning (whatever that means). I’m officially a
motorcyclist. The fact that I don’t own a motorcycle has no bearing on that fact. Look out Marlon Brando.
Once again reality takes over. I turn 16, get my license, own a car, graduate from high school. I’m still a motorcyclist without a bike. As I’m getting ready to leave for college, once again I hear the now famous “beep-beep”. I run out the front door and find my uncle astride a beautiful 1969 Yamaha RJ-350C (look it up). Bright red, lots of chrome, it makes me turn green.
“You want to take her for a spin?”
“Is it yours?”
“Yes – I thought it would be great to own one. I rode a couple of Harley’s while I was in the Army and thought this would fun. Here’s the key.”
I’m never going to college. I’m going to ride off into the sunset just like on TV (“Then Came Bronson” – look it up).
My uncle told me “I’m riding to work with a guy and he’s picking me up here. When you’re done just leave it parked here with the key in it and I’ll ride it home when I get off work.”
I was on that bike for a couple of hours and never left town. My dad didn’t seem to mind and my mom had little to say. After all I was 17, had a job, was leaving for college and knew everything there was to know in the world. I had to have this bike.
The next day my uncle showed up as promised. He said that he didn’t really like the bike much. It just wasn’t the same as the Army Harley’s so he was going to sell it. Some negotiation followed with the deal being set.
Terms: I go to college – when I get back in 6 weeks if I still wanted the bike. I would need to get a loan and it was mine. Holy crap – $650 stood between me and freedom.
Six weeks went by. Dad went to the bank with me. I had a job but no credit history. The bank didn’t finance motorcycles but they would take a chance and give me a personal note for the money if dad would co-sign. After a stern lecture from my dad outside the bank, papers were signed, a check
was written, and I owned my first vehicle. Thank you to small town living – the banker had known me since I was a baby. Thank you to my uncle for giving up on the bike. A giant thank you to my dad who
believed in me enough to help me. I was 17 when this happened. I’m on the far side of 65 now and I have not been without a motorcycle since.
I’ve been in all 48 states, 5 Canadian provinces, seen a lot of things, met a lot of people, owned a lot of motorcycles, and cleared a lot of bad days by being on 2 wheels. I’ve taken long trips by myself, long trips with a lifelong friend and long trips with Mrs Henry. I have a lot of stories that relate to motorcycle travels but this is how it all started. If you want to hear stories about the adventures – ask me sometime.
One thought on “A Lifelong Two Wheeled Addiction”
Great read, Keep it up!