Motorcycles I Have Known

My father was called a Speed Demon‚ when I was a kid. As he roared down those country roads around our area, he saved his serious swear words for bicyclists. As he slid around corners or flew over a hill, some poor kid on a bike would cause him to swerve or brake, destroying his concentration. When I reached the age where I dreamt of owning a bike, he forbid it, “No bikes allowed!” he bellowed. I wanted one SO badly that I enlisted my mother. I don’t know what she did but, I was eventually given permission to buy a bike, “But don’t ever get in my way!” yelled my father.

I found a nice heavy one-speed machine for $7 and drove it until I was 18, long after I was a car owner. By then it was like George Washington’s hatchet; not one original part left including the frame. As I rode this thing, I imagined what it would be like to have a motor doing the work, especially as I pushed it up the hills. Later, when we moved into a developed area near Seattle-Tacoma Airport, I borrowed the motor-less little Doodlebug‚ from the boy across the street. I removed the Briggs & Stratton motor from my dad‚s lawnmower, installed it on this tiny contraption and buzzed around the neighborhood. Without a centrifugal clutch, the motor soon wore out. When the Japanese motorcycles started to hit the U.S., a friend bought a 250 cc Yamaha that felt very powerful. I took my gray-headed mother for a wild ride on it that caused some gray to turn pure white.

I was almost 40 years old when I bought my first motorcycle, a Honda Step Through 90. I was teaching in downtown Everett and could never find a parking place. It was a short ride from our house and I could pick it up and put it in a corner in the alley behind the building; perfect! I installed new tires and chain and polished it up so it looked great. One day, a kid about 12 years old pushed a motorcycle up to our second hand store. “My uncle gave me this but I’m too young to drive it. Do you have something I could drive off road?” I traded the 90‚ for a 150 Honda Dream, a bike more suitable to the street. This was a real classic; curved front fender like an Indian, square headlight, dual pipes, shiny black with whitewall tires. The clutch slipped and it burned oil but it was a big improvement over the 90. I found that with a stiff tailwind, I could go onto I-5 without being run over. The trip back had to be on side roads, however.

I had many adventures on this little bike. Once, I was caught miles from home in snow and cold without the proper gear and made it home by stuffing my cloves and coat with paper towels. I laid it down once at about 40 MPH to avoid a collision, spraining my wrist. I had to buy a parts bike to keep it running. When the clutch began to slip in earnest, I sold it for what I had paid for the 90. Cheap transportation.

My next (and last) motorcycle was a beautiful dark red BMW 60/6 fitted with a full Luftmeister fairing and Krauser bags. I drove this bike every day, winter and summer, putting 50,000 miles on it. I never went down or crashed, made one trip to California, was caught in many snowstorms and drove on ice a few times. One January day, I went to a BMW club breakfast meeting and found that I was the only bike there. Seems the riding season‚ hadn’t arrived yet. Is there a season for riding? This wasn’t the club for me. I was also invited by other bikers to go riding‚ on the weekends. I never did this as I used it to get where I was going, not wander around. I even rode it to musical gigs, my riding suit over my tuxedo.

I was a cautious but aggressive rider. I gave everyone lots of room so they could do dumb things without endangering me and if that meant speeding, so be it. I flashed my headlight at anyone who might not see me coming. My motorcycling days ended this way: I was driving in town in my little Datsun pick-up, had started through an intersection on a green light, when I was struck head-on by a new Lincoln Town Car. I drove as defensively as I had on the bike and it didn’t save me. I went to ER with a cut head and now owned a totaled pick-up, (the insurance nightmare is another story) but I was un-nerved enough to sell the BMW. As the new owner drove it away, my wife sighed a BIG sigh of relief.