Howdy! Grab a chair an’ a beer! Ya know, we, as humans, can be influenced in a lot of ways. Some good, and some bad. (like that kid Mom warned you about in junior high school, who grew up to be a minister. Bad call, Mom…) A lot of that influence is already there in the back of our minds, and in our genetics, and all it takes is a gentle nudge to change our lives forever.
My mom wasn’t really a fan of motorcycles. When I was a little kid, about three or four years old, my dad had an old Harley Flathead 80 that he raced now and then at the Cotati, California, clay track. (I believe that’s what it was called at the time.) Mom put up with it until she saw me on the tank while he took off down the road, both of us laughing like maniacs from the center of a huge dust cloud. Not sure why, but the old Harley disappeared shortly after that, and we also got a new, more comfy couch.
The years went by, and Dad remained bikeless, spending most of his free time as crew chief on Class D and Class A sports car racing teams. Then one day, about 1962, he came home with a big box of parts that had at one time been a little Honda 50. He snuck it in when Mom wasn’t home, and handed me a repair manual.
We both expected the smelly stuff to hit the oscillating air appliance, but apparently, the new furniture appeased her enough to let the little Honda, and us, stay. I spent many hours trying to make sense of that book, since at that point, most of the manuals were in Japanese, but, like Playboy magazine, the pictures were eventually sufficient for the job at hand. (Yeah, I know… bad dog!)
When the little red beast was finally running, Dad took a hacksaw and cut the back of the muffler off at an angle, and I never heard such a beautiful sound as that brassy, annoying, raucous burble coming out the back. It was so much better than playing cards in bicycle spokes! Mom didn’t know it yet, but I was hooked!
The first ride around the block was an experience I’ll always remember, no matter how many other motorcycles I’ve owned, and there have been many dozens, because it was my first taste of freedom. Dad knew that motorcycles were in my blood, and I’m sure Mom did too, since my grandparents, uncles, and cousins all rode, and I guess he got tired of watching me search for my destiny, so he gave me that gentle nudge I was talking about earlier. Before long, I found that I could sneak out the gate at my junior high, and run the two miles home, bringing the Honda back and parking it in the bike rack. I was the only kid in eighth grade with a motorcycle, and quickly became a rebel without a clue to the other kids.
After I’d ridden the little Honda around for about a year, a new guy moved in across the street. He was probably in his thirties, with that typical “muffler shop guy” look; dark curly hair in a DA, (ask your dad if ya don’t know what that was) and the ever-present pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in the sleeve of his white T-shirt. Levis and engineer boots completed his ensemble. The best part was that he had motorcycles! Not just one, but a bunch of big, noisy, greasy, loud motorcycles! Most were British, and he raced what was then called scrambles, or hound and hare. I began to hang out at Dave’s a lot, and looking back, I don’t know why he put up with my dumb questions, but he did, and I soon learned how to properly kickstart a motorcycle without being tossed into low orbit; how to clear a flooded cylinder using a match and needle nose pliers; how to set points, rebuild an Amal carb, and hundreds of other useful tidbits that have served me well.
About that time, a friend gave me a wrecked 1955 Ford. Dave needed the engine, and offered to trade me a 1956 AJS 500 scrambler for it. The damn thing was temperamental as a grizzly bear with PMS, but once it started, the rumble and massive torque left the little Honda forgotten in the garage. I got in a lot of trouble with that old AJS, because it wasn’t anywhere near approaching street legal, but to a 15-year-old, technicalities didn’t mean much, and it saw a lot of street time. By this time, Mom had given up, and kept the dog off the furniture so it would last longer. She also knew she could track me down by following the trail of oil that seeped and bubbled from every seam, pore, and gasket on that old beast.
As time went on, bigger and better bikes came and went, and the little red Honda and the AJS found other homes. Over the ensuing years, I’ve owned at least one of about every brand made after 1936, including British, Japanese, Yugoslavian, and Italian, in everything from 50ccs to 124 c.i. monsters, and never owned one I didn’t like. I guess I was influenced in my life choices by a lot of factors, but I’m thankful every day that Dave didn’t raise chinchillas!