I have sometimes wondered if motorcycles are the center of everything in my life. The real question would be is everything in my life connected to motorcycles. At times it certainly seems so. Though I’d say my true center is my wife. I met her because a high school friend was at a wedding reception of another high school friend. My future wife was there to keep her sister company. I somehow was pulled into the equation. The rest is history.
That history began in earnest at that wedding reception. We danced, talked and laughed. We made a second date. It is a blur a bit and I’ll need to verify it all with my wife but when I knocked on the door her sister opened the door. I was slightly confused as they do look a bit alike. I was of course met with a good degree of scepticism as I was dating the little sister of the family, her older sister and brother held me at some distance. I had been warned about her dad, who I found interesting and we got on. Her mom will always try to feed me more than I can eat to this day.
Little did she realise at the time that her dad would become a big influence on me. You see Roy was rebuilding a motorcycle in the basement. He had rescued a 1966 Norton Atlas from his son. Bob had crashed it, continued riding it with bent forks. A mercy mission. And Roy’s chance to travel back in-time.
My experience with motorcycles was limited at the time to riding on the back of a friend’s dad’s Triumph and kick starting a Matchless. That was it. I’d seen police bikes and a Honda Dream and that was about it beyond minibikes and one short trip around an unplowed field aboard a Honda Mini-trail as a teen.
My world progressed like this, I’d stop in to see my girlfriend (future wife) and end up in the basement with her dad working on and learning about this old Norton Atlas. In turn my future father in law and I learned about each other.
I seem to recall it was the following summer we carried the engine in the frame out of the basement to the flagstone patio where Roy kicked the beast to life and revved the motor using a pair of vise grips on the old throttle cable. With no exhaust pipes installed, flames shot a foot out of either exhaust port as the 360 degree twin attempted to beat the flagstones into gravel. It was glorious.
A few months later the bike slowly blossomed to what you see above.
A year or so later I would buy my own Norton.
When I was still riding my first bike, a short-lived 1974 CB360, Roy and I went for a test ride he riding my Honda and I on his Norton. I was amazed at the smoothness of the big Norton twin, while my future father in-law commented on the profound high frequency vibrations of the 180 degree twin Honda by calling it a buzzbomb. Hence the short life of that motorcycle with me of 6,000 miles across that one summer and fall. On December 7th 1974 I traded the Honda and some money for my new 1974 850 Norton Interstate. By that point my girlfriend was now my wife and we set off exploring the world aboard this venerable machine.
Yes the Norton worked well for this, though there were some shortcomings related to the design and directly related to the motorcycle’ ability to carry any load on the seat and subframe. That did not dissuade us from travel. Expensive fuel costs of the time of some $.50/gal and 60-plus mpg fuel economy were key arguments in our choosing a motorcycle as our mode of travel.
When we moved to southern California a few years later we were now riding a 1974 BMW R90/6 with a full touring setup. The Norton would become a cafe racer, I later sold it for no good reason, though not before it was instrumental in getting me a job as a BMW mechanic. Yet another plot twist in my life’s adventure thanks to motorcycling.
Along the way now two of us met people we might not otherwise of come across. A few of those now some years down the road are still friends. That Old R90 was sold and a 650 was bought. We moved back to Colorado, the 650 was sold. I went to work for motorcycle shop. We met more people. A 1979 BMW R100 RS was found after a very long search. More people and experiences. Life long friends and life long habits formed. We went from motorcycle touring to world-class bicycle racing. First as a motorcycle mounted marshal then as a licensed official. Big and small races famous racers and legends and legends yet to be.
Would I have been pulled into cycling without the motorcycle? I’m not sure my orbit would have ever crossed the path of cycling had it not been for motorcycles. Being a mechanic working on BMW’s led to an invitation to volunteer aboard my own motorcycle as marshal. Then as an official motorcycle mounted cycling referee.
This link to cycling led to more experiences with motorcycles and bicycles. I got to meet cycling legends and watch as young racers became successful on the world stage and became legends themselves.
I took up cycling, more the training and riding than racing. Enough racing to enjoy. More working races though. Official, camera bike, referee, marshal. It was all good. More friends. And cycling stuck as a habit really. So much so that stopping cycling was only accomplished when work overwhelmed life and took all the time that wasn’t sleeping. Motorcycles were shoved to the back of the garage until the weather was warm and only on days when I could solo to work and home, not needing to shuttle kids. Cycling took over and became a family thing, first a kid seat squeezed onto the back of my team racing bicycle then later came the dawn of the bike trailer. Kids were hauled up mountain passes on bike paths, where they would later grow old enough to ride their own bicycles. As the kids grew we moved back to where the climate provided year round motorcycle riding. The kids were old enough to ride on the back of the motorcycle, so they got shuttle to and from school some days by motorcycle. This also began my wandering down the sport bike road for a while.
Trackdays increased as the bikes got more powerful. Still the motorcycle was a tool. No longer the vacation mount, but my daily commuter mount. Mileage increased to a high of 36,000 miles per year for a few years, then tapered off to around 22,000 at the end almost two decades later. In that time I made friends around the world because of motorcycles. One motorcycle rolled through the magic 100,000 mile mark, was sold and another bought.
That one managed the same milestone with little drama and a lot of fun. Another followed that one. This time I went off into adventure bikes. This bike doubled the 100,000 mile mark, but not without a lot of money on parts. A couple of tow jobs and some near misses. We had a time.
When that bike was sold I seriously contemplated quitting. I still had to commute. And that commute was sometimes hundreds of miles. The least was about 60 miles per day. I figured my options were a small eco-car that would qualify for solo use in the carpool lanes, but the motorcycle was the cheaper option. I had decided I wasn’t going to limit my choices of motorcycle this time. I didn’t really need two up capability for any real distance and if I wanted I could pick a solo mount. I let my mind wander a good bit too. Could I still fold my old body into the shape that fits a super sport? Did I want a small enduro? In the end I chose another adventure bike. A bike I’d sort of wanted and tested ridden a few over the years. I happened into a deal and it was done. Now a few years later and nearly 70,000 miles between us we’re pretty good at what we do. Not good, or pretty, but pretty good enough to get by.
And now here we are. I’ve retired from the long commutes. I spend most of my time riding my bicycle. This next last motorcycle spends a lot of time sitting in the garage. And that inevitably leads to my thinking I’ll see it and call this motorcycling thing quits. This happens mostly at night or when I’m away from home. Then I suit up one morning and ride up the coast road for coffee and a scone. Watch the ocean from the seat of the bike as my hands slowly absorb what warmth they need from the heated grips and I feel that v-twin pull. The front lofts as I blip the throttle just timing it right over the crown of the intersection. And I’m hooked all over again. There is no quitting. This is still cheap transportation and easily the best time machine there is. The brisk morning air with that faint wisp of bacon and coffee takes me back 45 years to a morning in Denver aboard that old Norton riding to breakfast. I can almost taste the pancakes from that day.
There are still new friends and old friends that I know because I met them on or because of the motorcycle.
My wife and I are still together, though our days of traveling by motorcycle are over. She is no longer seduced by the value as the cost in comfort has risen beyond her willingness to abide. Gasoline costs a good deal more these days so I too travel less. My old fingers don’t take the cold they once did and the work of changing a tire is something I have to recover from for a couple of days. Age and the mileage have seen riding friends pass away or move on to other amusements. A few of us remain and once in a while an email chain begins to snake its way around us eventually coiling us into a bunch where we head off to a common point and again have a small adventure. Old friends. Old motorcycle buddies on motorcycles. Motorcycles may no longer be so much the center of my life, but they are most certainly are at my core.