Monday 5 December 2011

How and Why Did You Get Into Motorcycling?

Gary France (Flies in your Teeth) posed this question (although he referred to it as “motorbiking”) and so I thought I’d take a shot at answering.
It would have been about 1962 when Dad came home with an old and abused pedal-start motorbike, basically a bicycle with an engine attached. He gave it to us kids, along with access to his extensive toolbox (he was a mechanic by trade), and challenged us to get it running. I was the eldest, just barely into my teens, and with no manual, no parts, and no money (but lots of enthusiasm) all we managed to do that summer was to get it stripped down so that it became a pretty decent, but heavy, balloon-tired bicycle. But that experience lit two fires for me – one was a love of mechanics and all things mechanical; and the second was a desire to eventually get a motorbike that actually ran.
A couple of years later in my last years of high school the Japanese invasion was in full swing with people meeting the nicest people on Hondas all over North America. While our small town did have a couple of rough and ready types (or at least we thought so at the time) who rode Harleys or BSAs, getting a ride on one of them was out of the question. But then a couple of my school pals somehow managed to convince their parents to buy them new Hondas. One had a Dream 305 and the other a CB450 Black Bomber, and both carried spare helmets about 6 sizes too big for all the girls they were going to get. But the reality was it was their mates that got the free rides, including yours truly, as the girls didn’t want their bouffant hairdos crushed by a heavy and smelly old helmet. Besides, as I said, it was a small town and their moms and dads would find out in a heartbeat that they’d been seen on one of those “infernal death machines” and that would be that. I was working summers but there was no way I could afford a new bike, and the used market really hadn’t developed yet, so free rides whenever I could get them had to suffice for the next few years while I went away to University.
By 1970 I had graduated and was a shiny new Lieutenant in the RCAF. And I had an income! So one of the first things I did that summer was head down to the local Yamaha dealer and buy  my first bike, a Yamaha 200. I don’t recall the model designation, but I do recall that it was purple, and slow! I learned how to ride in the dealer’s parking lot, put on my $20, open face helmet (glitter blue), and weaved my way home. I was on that bike every chance I got and put about 500 miles a week on it just riding back and forth to the base and around town. But then one day, about two weeks into my ownership of the purple pride, I was nearly run off the road by a tailgater who didn’t appreciate me driving the speed limit (that’s as fast as it would go!), so it was time for a change. Honda had just released the 1971 CB350 with an advertised top speed of 102 MPH(!) and a list price of $999, so that very afternoon I was at the dealership placing my order and a couple of weeks after that I too was meeting “the nicest people”. I still consider that CB350 my first “real” bike. I kept it for about 3 years and put lots of miles on it, although it never, ever got close to doing 100 MPH, and believe me, I tried! (That milestone was finally achieved on  my first Norton.)
It’s now been 41 years since I bought that first bike and, except for a brief period in the early 2000’s, my garage has been home to quite a long procession of Hondas, Yamahas, Kawasakis, Nortons (lots of Nortons) and now a Harley. There have been cafe racers, trials bikes, off-road bikes, dual purpose machines and stock highway rides. Some years I’ve been able to rack up thousands of miles, and other years have been hard pressed to justify the insurance premiums, but it’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t change a thing.


  1. Canajun:

    I also had a '73 Honda CB350 but "got" it used around 1977/78. Bought it "sight un-seen" and it was delived to me on a flat deck trailer from 400 miles away. I still have the ignition key and I smile everytime I see it

    Your Yahamha 200 should have gone fast, was probably a 2-stroke

    Riding the Wet Coast

  2. @Bob - It was a 2-stroke but either geared low or just not tuned correctly. But, in hindsight, I agree; it should have been a lot faster than it was.

  3. I wish I would have started riding as early as you. Only 8 years in the saddle, but loving it.

  4. @Motoroz - As they say, better late than never. Thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment.

  5. The day your Dad bought home that old bike and challenged you to get it running probably did you the world of good and started you down the road of being prepared to try to fix things yourself. Mowers, fridges, bicycles and cars have probably all seen the benefit since. It makes you wonder where children today will get those same sorts of skills, but more and more they cannot even begin to repair things, so are faced with a life of throwing things away when broken.

  6. @Gary - Very true. Without all the specialised test equipment and electronics knowhow it's almost impossible to repair most modern vehicles and applicances. Perhaps that's one more reason I like motorcycles so much, although they too are quickly becoming part of the too-technical-to-repair world we're in.


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