Who amongst us does not hold their first bike in reverence? The Honda 305 Scrambler, the Triumph Trophy, that Harley Sportster, maybe even a dirt bike like a CR 125 or a YZ 80. Whatever your initiation into “the life,” that particular bike is parked in the shadows of your imagination forever. Occasionally, when you see it on e-Bay or at a swap meet, or parked at the local shop, it catches your eye and you go back 15, 20, 30 years, and you think. You think how it felt, you remember how it smelled, the feel of the cracked pleather seat scratching your leg below your frayed cut-off blue jeans. You think how simple it was back then. Just you and your bike. What else mattered? It takes you back to a time when you were, in fact, the coolest kid on the block. When mere mortals still rode bicycles. When those “children” you played with just last week roller skated and skate boarded to places you cruised your moto-sickle to, the park, the corner, Timmy O’Connell’s house or the local fire station for all the ‘other’ kids to see you in your coolness.
The first real internal combustion bike I sported was a 3 speed Honda 50, ‘mini-trail.’ I did have a small homemade scooter complete with obligatory ‘Briggs and Stratton’ that never really ran right, partially because it was built by a five year old and his dad, a plumber, in an unheated shed in the winter months of 1969. But, it sure as hell never leaked water and always flushed. In that year my parents had a ‘camp,’ otherwise known as a dumpy summer shack, located in the heart of the Catskill Mountains. We summered there and used it on winter weekends when we would escape from New York City, and it is where I learned the thrill of combining fuel, combustion, ignition and exhaust. My Honda Mini Trail was bought with the blood money of a thousand cut lawns, skipped lunches, and odd jobs (and I mean odd). That was the year that I became cool, even if only by my own small measure of the phrase.
I recall how tough I felt when I buzzed into the local ball field on my ‘mini-trail’ for little league games. Or, how not tough I felt when the local cops dragged me home to my dad for riding on the streets. I cried in shame for fear of disappointing him. I was seven. They left and he hugged me, told me to keep off the streets and bought me a helmet the next day with a wink. Needless to say, as it was for you, it was the beginning of something big for me. In my consciousness of biker thought, it was a revelation that I had become something I had craved since my first hot wheel, or better yet, my first Evel Knievel toy. I was a “biker.” It was and is a feeling, a thought, a consciousness I’ve reveled in for over 40 years now. Over the decades, after perhaps hundreds of bikes, I’ve pined for that first ride. I’ve seen her at swaps, often in “Bike Trader” often thinking, “Hell, my kids are ‘gifted’ smart, they’ll get scholarships, they won’t miss a few grand in the college fund,” never really pulling the trigger on the little old Honda purchase.
Then last Sunday it happened. I was at the ABATE swap meet and my friend Chuck and his son eyed an early 70’s Honda ‘mini-trail.’ Same as mine but orange not blue. Chuck’s first bike too! Ron Higgins, of “All American Cycles” in Decatur (motto: “Putting it in the Streets”), had this nice original Honda mini bike for sale, for less than a grand! Chuck said to me, “Hey man, you got a grand cash on ya’?” “Well, Uhh, no, I wish I did – if I did I’d buy that bike,” I said. Ron exclaimed “Take it, just get me a check Monday.” Wow, I was a bit envious but Chuck saw it first. Nonetheless, there we were. Both eyeing Chuck’s new prize. The grins locked on our mugs must have given it away. I’m sure we stared in reverent silence for 20 minutes examining every familiar bolt and weld, Chuck’s son looking even happier than us. Before you knew it, without a word, Chuck kicked the damn thing to life and I jumped on the back, just like it was 1971, and we were off. I could almost smell the fresh cut grass of my old little league field. I could hear the distant yells of the kids on the corner drowned out by 50 cc’s of 4 stroke heaven. Away we went, across the parking lot, Chuck jamming through the gears, me hollering like a 7 year old.
The sight of two grown men racing across the parking lot, two-up on a Sunday afternoon, both clouded by the mists of childhood memories, must have been quite a site. I am certain I looked cool on this bike in 1971. Now, not so much.
Well, signing off for now. Remember, ride strong, ride safe, and in the end, make sure you ride home.