I bought my first motorcycle two months after my 21st birthday. Up until that time my parents had forbidden my having one and had refused to co-sign a loan for me. However, having come of age and being gainfully employed in the defense industry, I proceeded immediately to my friendly neighborhood BSA dealer and purchased a brand new 1966 Lighting "Rocket". A 650 cc verticle twin, dual carb, candy apple red and chrome combination of artistry and engineering. This monster was advertised at the time as "The worlds fastest motorcycle", so could there have been any other choice?
Of course, I had never actually ridden a motorcycle before. The Salesman had to show me which control did what. Which hand lever was the brake, which the clutch etc. and the same for the foot controls. I almost killed myself just riding it home. But god, was it FAST! What a feeling.
In those days in California a man came-of-age all at once. When you turned 21 suddenly you could get married, vote, sign a legally binding contract and, of course, buy alcohal. I proceeded to do all of these things except get married with great gusto. (I almost got married too, but that's another story.) In retrospect I don't think I actually grew-up until I hit 30. I was certinally very immiture at 21. They say god takes care of fools and childeren. What follows is pretty fair evidence that this is true, because at the time I was both.
It was a friday night and I was pretty drunk. I had had the Rocket about six months and I was no longer afraid of it. In fact, I thought I had become an excellent motorcycle rider. It would be years before I learned better. I never set out to ride when drinking. It's just that being new to both I did them both at any opportunity. I was riding north on Canoga Ave. in the west end of the San Fernando valley trying to get to the next (and last, it was 1:30 AM) nudy-bar up in chatsworth before it closed. I was also trying to beat my friends there who were riding in a cab on another route. So I choose this night to finally let the Rocket all the way out and see what it could really do. The advertising had claimed a top-end of 135, and I wanted to know if it would really do it!
I had lived within two miles of where I was riding for over half my life. I new this road like the back of my hand. It took a little "S" bend about half-a-mile out of town and then ran dead straight for almost four miles. Three and a half miles up the road there was a wash about 20 feet deep and 100 feet across. A 1000 feet past the wash it went 90 degrees left. If you missed this turn you went straight into a junk-yard. An eight foot wooden fence with piles of dead cars right behind it. Less than two weeks had passed since the last time I rode this way. My plan was to shoot thru the wash, fly out the other side, and then start shutting-down for the left turn. So as not to die in the junk-yard.
Throttle wide open, chest on the tank, I'm screaming up the road. Out of the bottom of my eye I see this flash of yellow dots on the rode. Then thier gone. I wonder "What the hell was that?" And then the mist lights up red all around me. I look over my left shoulder and there's a "Freeway Flyier" cop car twenty feet behind me! (Freeway fliers were 1960 389, tri-power, Pontiac Ventura's that LAPD had had tricked up to catch hotrodders and drag racers, which were rampant in the valley in the mid sixties.) I roll off the throttle and almost go down at 125+ just from the engine breaking skiding the rear wheel. The cop car almost runs over me. I pull to a stop and try to get the kick-stand down. The passenger side cop runs up and yanks my arms behind my back. This pulls my head up straight for the first time since I stopped. I am staring at the fence of the junk-yard! It's about a 100 feet down the road. The cops give me a ticket for reckless driving and call me a cab.
I should have died in the wash. At that speed I would have carried the down slope and sandy bottom of the wash and crashed headlong into the up slope on the far side. This would have literally torn the front end off of the bike and sent me head first into the slope at 100 mph plus. I would have died instantly. But there was no wash! Sometime in the last two weeks they had built a bridge across it. Thats what the yellow flashes were, freshly painted yellow center lines on the brand new bridge. So I survived the wash because it wasn't there anymore. But the wash was going to be my landmark to know when the 90 degree turn was comming. So even with the new bridge I should have died in the junk yard! No way I make that turn at 125. But the cops catch up with me in the 1000 feet between the bridge and the junk yard. They'v been chasing me flat out for three and a half miles, and they catch me right there! Amazing!
Incredibaly, even after this "incident" it took several more years and a serious wreck for me to lean not to drink and drive. Fortunatlly the Rocket got stolen a couple of months later.
It's been thirty years since that night and I think about it every once in a while, but I still can't explaine it. Just lucky I guess.
I rode British street bikes for several more years after that. Mostly Trimph 500cc Tigers. But in 69 I moved to northern California and got a new job. There, I met a crowd of dirt bike racers and, of course, jumped right in. It took four years of dirt track racing for me to figure out that I simply valued my life far to highly to ever be any good at racing. You see, to win you have to be willing to push it just past the edge. Not to the edge, but slightly behond. You have to be in the proccess of falling down all the time, yet still be in control. Very touchy stuff. So after four years of great fun (It really is a gigantic high to pitch a 200 pound racing machine sideways into the sweeper at the end of the main straight-a-way at 90 miles an hour, what a rush!) I retired from racing. But the lessons I learned on the track, how to ride on the edge, how to control a bike in really tight situations and such have saved by butt on the street many, many times in the years since.
So if you are thinking about getting a motorcycl, get a little 250cc trail bike first. Take it out to your local off-road park and ride the hell out of it. Get a good "full coverage" helmet and a full set of leathers and just go for it. Find out what it feels like to slide the rear wheel right up next to you. How to slide both wheels at once. How to recover when the front end starts to wash out. Most importantlly, learn how to use your front brake in tough situations, including while turning. I know far to many street riders who are scared to death of using thier front brake. They barely touch it even going straight and won't use it at all in a turn. Your front brake provides 60-70% of the stopping power on a motorcycle. If you don't learn to use it you are going to hit something sooner or later, because as manueverable as bikes are, sometimes there's just no where to go. The skills you develope in the dirt will take good care of you all your riding life.
Night racing at the old Hayward Speedway (spillway!) (19K jpg)
The MS charity "TT" at the Salinas Rodeo grounds. (21K jpg)
After I quit racing I didn't ride at all for several years. I was past 30 by then and had other priorities in my life, but I really missed it. So in 1981, at the age of thirty-six, I bought my first Harley. A little rootbeer metalic brown Sporster. It was great fun around town, but after my first road trip on it I knew that I needed something bigger. In 82 I bought a new 74 inch FXR. This was a truly great bike. Black and chrome. Almost a hundred horse power, 5-speed trany, rubber isolated engine, triple disk brakes, totally cool.
In the summer of 83 I had the once in a life time experience of riding it all thru the Gold country and the Serria Mountians. The winter of 83 had been horrindous. All the Serria highways had been washed out. The Merced river had flooded Yosimite. By late spring Cal-trans had repaired and resurfaced all the old moutian roads, like California highway 49. Hundreds of miles of brand new two-lane black top winding through the hills. And I had it all to myself because the news coverage of the flooding had discouraged all the tourists from going to Yosimite and the moutians that summer. It was glorious. I rode highway 49 from end to end. Sonora, Columbia ect. And then highway 120. Gardnerville, the Iron Door saloon at LeGrange, spent a couple of nights in Yosimite valley and the Hetch-Hetchy.
At Hech-Hetchy several water falls spill of the canyon rim right into the lake. By the fourth of July the run-off from the previous heavy winter rains, floods and 100 year snow pack was incredible. The roar of the falls crashing into the lake was deafining! The water was 18 inches deep over the spill way and the dam was quaking from the water running thru the wide open gates for the hydro-electric generators.
From Yosimite I rode over Tioga pass to Mono lake and then north, up 395, to Reno. Best rode trip I've ever been on. It was an awesome experience!
In 86 I built myself my last Harley. I started with an old 1963 FLH frame, motor and trany. I put a shovel top on it and a sidewinder 93 inch stroker kit in the old Pan bottom end. Fat-Bob tanks. The front end and swing arm off of an 83 FXR, with mag wheels and disk brakes on both ends. Open primary with belt drive, Barnette clutch, 2 inch S&S carb and a 60 Kv ingnition. I built the exhaust myself. They looked straight but had a little 3 inch baffle right at the tips, inside, to give just enough back pressure to make it run right. I loved this bike. It started on the first kick 80% of the time, and in three kicks 99% of the time. Of courese, if it didn't start by the third try you were going to be there awhile, till it dried out inside. This is the bike I'm riding in the picture on my Homepage (Also on highway 120 near Yosimite).
In 92 or 93 California Governor Pete Wilson (The worlds biggest ass-hole.) signed the California helmet law. I sold my Harley shortly thereafter and haven't ridden since. I miss it dearly, but I'm past fifty now and will probably never ride again.
Here's a picture of me enjoying a ride in the Serria's on my last Harley. (37k gif)