I live in southern California and regularly rub elbows with guys who have ridden motorcycles since they could walk, those who know every bike model and detail, and others who had number plates and raced in nationals at places like Ascot Park; it wasn’t like
that for me.I was raised on Long Island, which did not exactly put me in the hotbed of motorcycle culture or activity. In the early 1960s, dads were working, moms housekeeping, and kids were on their own.I was about 12 or 13 when I fell in with like-minded bad-boys Gene and Bob. We took a 20-inch bicycle and jury-rigged a four-horse- power Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engine onto it. Primitive could be an adjective to insert here, but that would be an insult to primitives.I remember the flimsy stock front brake that made more noise than anything else. The term stopping power is often used to describe braking action, but neither word could be applied to our machine, which had a rear V-belt sheave, for example, attached to the wheel by screws and bits of old sheet metal.Amazingly, it ran. With one hand on the bars and the other reaching under the thigh to operate the butter-fly on the carb, it could attain frightening speeds. Distant memory has me guessing that it did about 40, but 25 is a more realistic number.Either way, I flew around the block and through the neighborhood a few times, wearing shorts and sneakers (auxiliary brakes), making a racket and totally, inexorably, head-over-heels in love with riding.It took about a week before the Nassau County Police showed up and nabbed me on McLean Avenue. The two cops took one look at the bike, threw it in the trunk of their squad car and drove off. I don’t remember them saying much of anything.The story might have ended there, but the addiction was already too great. We built another, and then two more over the next year — each slightly different with questionably sourced parts, and each to be ridden until The Man found us. We never got in any trouble, but the bikes always disappeared in the squad car trunk, never to be seen again.We began riding more varied routes, often after dark, and since gas stations in our town were closed at night, we had to resort to filling the tiny tank by emptying each hose outside the shuttered gas station. These acts were probably illegal, but we figured
somebody had already paid for those hose-fulls. We never got caught doing this and it provided many miles and many smiles. Thanks, Esso.Such was my introduction to the art of riding on two wheels. Now, after riding for more than four decades, and as I ponder the purchase of a Yamaha TT-R50E for my almost-three-year old grandson, the choices are myriad and so sophisticated. I like that, but would never trade my first experiences riding a home brew piece-of-crap scooter for any other introduction.Column from Ultimate MotorCycling magazine. For subscription services, click here.