A Motorcycle Retrospective

The other day, I saw an auction at Throttle Yard for the first real motorcycle I bought, a Bultaco Metralla.  In this case, the bike was the newer 250cc 1971 model given to Kenny Roberts by Sr. Bull, so it was worth a bit more (I think it sold for at least $15,000) than that 1970 era $500 I paid for my 1966 model.

This got me thinking about bikes I have owned.  I don’t have any photos of my earlier bikes, but via the wizardry of  “The GOOGLE” and image search, I found a picture of all my older bikes more or less as they looked when I first acquired them.

March 1970-Dad’s 1957 Sears Allstate Scooter with Sidecar

Here is a picture of his 1957 Sears Allstate 125cc scooter with sidecar that Sears OEMed from Vespa.  This is a picture of what it must have looked like when he bought it in 1957 in El Paso, TX and rode it home to Las Cruces, NM.  When Dad picked me up at kindergarten or grade school with the scooter, well, my stock certainly went up with my schoolmates.  It was a major promotion in my status when he let me ride on the “buddy seat” behind him instead of sitting in the sidecar.

When my parents moved from Las Cruces to New Haven, CT, in 1962, Dad shipped the scooter and rode it in the summer for several years while he was in grad school at Yale.  However, Connecticut winters were not kind to it as it wintered outside.

I got interested in it in the spring of my senior year in high school, 1970.  It had rusted badly and Dad hadn’t ridden it in quite awhile.  If I recall, it looked a bit more like this picture, which is not an actual picture of Dad’s scooter but sure reminded me of how bedraggled it looked when I dragged it out from behind the garage.

After detaching the sidecar (the bottom had rusted out), I proceeded to fiddle with it for a weekend or two until I got it running. It fired up in a thick cloud of blue smoke from the long dormant two stroke engine.  Of course I had to ride it … just down the driveway since I didn’t have a license.  Ok, you can bet how long that lasted before the inevitable, “Ahh, its a quiet neighborhood, I think I’ll ride it around the block.  No one will care.”  Net result, I ended up hooked on motorized two wheeled riding.

But, the week before I planned to take my motorcycle license riding test the intake port shattered.  Dad figured that was the end of my riding and his worrying.  I, of course, had 18 year old resourcefulness and wasn’t planning on giving up so easily.

Fond Memories:
1. Getting picked up at school by Dad.
2. My First ride around the block.
Adventures:  Shattered intake port.
Time Owned:  About 2 months
Miles Ridden: Less than 10
Lessons Learned:
1. Finding out that I can get a motorcycle running again if I just keep fiddling with it long enough.
2. Sears may list parts, they may let you order parts, but they don’t have to ever deliver them.
3. When you scratch the cylinder bore, new rings won’t fix it.
1957 Top 10 Rock Tunes
1. Jailhouse Rock – Elvis Presley
2. Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On – Jerry Lee Lewis
3. That’ll Be The Day – Crickets
4. Bye Bye Love – Everly Brothers
5. Great Balls Of Fire – Jerry Lee Lewis
6. School Day – Chuck Berry
7. Rock And Roll Music – Chuck Berry
8. Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly
9. Lucille – Little Richard
10. Rocking Pneumonia & the Boogie Woogie Flu – Huey “Piano” Smith & the Clowns
1970 Top 10 Rock Tunes
1. Layla – Derek and the Dominos
2. Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel
3. Let It Be – The Beatles
4. Your Song – Elton John
5. Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine – James Brown
6. Lola – The Kinks
7. Who’ll Stop the Rain – Creedence Clearwater Revival
8. Fire and Rain – James Taylor
9. Paranoid – Black Sabbath
10. All Right Now – Free

June 1970-My First Real Motorcycle, Bultaco Metralla 200

A friend in high school who had bought a 250 Honda had a neighbor who was selling his 1966 Bultaco because he wasn’t riding it much.  It had about 1000 miles on it and looked like this when I first saw it … except it had a glow of Divine righteousness all around it if I recall correctly and I was smitten.  🙂

I rode it around the guy’s yard because I didn’t have my motorcyle license yet, just the learner permit, and almost dropped it in a muddy spot but managed to keep it up right.  I told him I’d be back in a week and pay for it.  I believe it was $500 of my hard earned money, but I had just gotten a job at Subway Store #1 and was pulling down the princely sum of $60 a week.  I had enough in my savings account to do the deal and I was going to college in New Haven so I could rationalize this as practical, cost-effective transportation.  At least until winter …

The next week I took possession and rode it home with just my learner permit.  Of course, I hadn’t told Mom and Dad I was buying a “real motorcycle”, so the reception at the back door when I parked in the driveway was “chilly”, as if February had suddenly arrived in June. The next day I went to take the riding test.  That consisted of riding in a straight line, shifting into second gear and stopping before a white stripe while not falling off.  “Ok son, you’re good to go.”, said the State Trooper who conducted the riding test.  Such was the licensing requirements in 1970.

On the way home, a guy in a car pulled up next to me and proceeded to deliberately try to run me off the road.  It was many years later before anyone ever tried to deliberately hit me again.  That early experience cemented the reality of risks you have to manage when riding a motorcycle.  You’re mostly invisible, and sometimes you are the enemy.  Ride accordingly.

I was going to college at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. My Dad was a professor so tuition was free and I was living at home.  In October of my Freshman year I crashed into a left turning car in an intersection almost proving my father right who had said when I brought the Bultaco home, “You will kill yourself on that motorcycle in 6 months”. The accident settlement netted me $5,000 in 1970 dollars. That turned out to be the silver lining in this cloud.

Fond Memories:
1. Riding with my friends on the back roads.
2. Finding out that riding a MC in college is a chick magnet.
1. The first motorcycle accident and spending a week in the hospital recuperating.
2. After getting the bike repaired and repainted, having the crankshaft shear in up state New York.  It took 9 months to find a replacement.
Time Owned:  2 years.
Estimated Miles
: Maybe 2,000
Lessons Learned:
1. You are invisible or folks just don’t like you and figure they can hassle you since they are bigger than you are.
2. From my accident – You have to use the front brake not just the rear.  Left turning cars can kill you.  Helmets save lives.
3. Two-strokes can kick back when you start them, and that smarts.
4. Exotic bikes frequently don’t have parts available.
1971 Top Rock Tunes
1. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
2. Imagine – John Lennon
3. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
4. Let’s Stay Together – Al Green
5. Maggie May – Rod Stewart
6. American Pie – Don McLean
7. Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who
8. Brown Sugar – The Rolling Stones
9. Just My Imagination – The Temptations
10. Family Affair – Sly and the Family Stone

June 1972 – Leaving Home to Go West, Kawasaki S2 350

By the fall of my Sophomore year, I decided to strike out on my own.  I planned to transfer to New Mexico State and I figured I could pay for college and live on the accident settlement of $5,000 for two years and finish my engineering degree.

Of course, as any fool knows, young men ride motorcycles when they go west.  This was abundantly clear on TV and in the movies.  I needed something up to the task of a 2,100 mile trip, a bigger bike with a larger engine.  I shopped around looking at the Harley 350 Sprint, Yamaha R-5 350, Honda CB 350 and Kawasaki S2 350.  When I walked into the Kawasaki dealer and saw the S2, I entered my “Red Motorcycle” phase.  This thing was definitely “Ready for Lift Off” even when parked and I thought it was clearly up to the task of cross country riding.

I think I paid $900 in 1972 dollars.  I bought it and then told the folks I was planning to ride it from New Haven to Las Cruces in July. Riding a motorcycle would be great fun and inexpensive.  They failed to see the logic.

This was a crotch rocket with a triple cylinder two stroke.  But, it got about 25 mpg, had a 3.5 gallon tank and a frame made out of beer cans.  I got used to cornering with a constant wobble.  Due to my inexperience, I just assumed bigger bikes always wobbled a little in the corners.

For the trip I built a rear trunk out of plywood and mounted it on a luggage rack I bought.  I got some army surplus canvas bags and made tank panniers that hung down on each side of the gas tank for my tools and 2-stroke oil.  I put my sleeping bag on top of the tank so I could lean forward on it to rest my arms. Two duffel bags were bunged onto the passenger seat and I could just slip in between all that to sit.  I also bought a leather jacket and pants from the Harley dealer and still own them to this day and yes, I can still wear them. 🙂

My college friend, Phil, was planning to head back home to LA so we put my footlocker of clothes and a few other worldly possessions in the back seat of his Karman Gia and on Monday, July 5 we headed west.  I recall my mother waving and crying as I rolled down the driveway filled with anticipation of the adventure to come.

Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Agnes has gone through Pennsylvania that weekend, so the weather was cloudy and raining when we left New Haven. It soon got a lot worse and we had to stop outside Wilkes Barre, PA as I was frozen due to rain suit leaks and too short legs in the pants.  As I tried to put the heavily laden bike on the center stand, it got away from me, rolled forward, fell over and broke most of the front brake lever off.  As I stood there shivering in the pouring rain Phil helped me pick the bike up. I seriously thought about quitting and going back home. I didn’t. I learned a great deal about motorcycles, cross country riding and myself in that week.

Fond Memories:
1. Getting up at 2:00 am, sneaking down to the garage, wheeling the bike down the street, firing it up and going for a ride on hot June night.
2. Riding all winter in Las Cruces instead of only 6 months in Connecticut.
3. Riding home as the sun came up on a spring morning in New Mexico.
1. There is rain, and then there are Tropical Storms.  “Frog Strangler” is a term that graphically defines the adventure of riding in the wake of a Tropical Storm.
2. Two stroke engines need air to keep cool, especially triple cylinder engines with oil injection controlled by the throttle. I was drafting behind a tractor trailer on the interstate on a cold Sunday morning riding from Tucson to Las Cruces when the engine seized.  As the rear end locked up the bike immediately started skidding at 65 mph.  I grabbed the clutch to get the rear wheel rolling again and pulled off the side of the road.  I changed my pants and put my heart back in my chest.  A few minutes later, I got it running on two out of three cylinders with a nasty knocking sound but made it the remaining 200 miles home.  The rings had momentarily seized and total cost to repair was $30 for new rings and $10 to re-hone.  I was lucky.
Time Owned:  2 years.
Estimated Miles
: 15,000
Lessons Learned:
1. When you buy rain gear, make sure the pants cover the boots when sitting.  If not, plan to see water overflowing the top of your boots as you ride and your feet freeze.
2. Hypothermia happens pretty fast at 50 MPH if you get wet, even in 50 degree temps.
3. Tropical storms cause floods not just in the streams, but on the roads.  And 18 wheelers going the other way means you ride through a wall of water, so keep your mouth shut.
4. Oil your chain every other gas stop.  If it’s raining, make that every gas stop. I didn’t and had to replace both sprockets and chain in Las Cruces.  You could cut your finger on the sprocket teeth they were so worn away.
5. You can ride 2,000 miles with a broken front brake lever.
6. Gas stations close in small towns in Oklahoma on Sundays. Carrying a spare 1 gallon gas can when riding a bike with a 100 mile range is a good idea. I got to empty my 1 gallon emergency can twice that day.
1972 Top Rock Tunes
1. Superstition – Stevie Wonder
2. Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone – The Temptations
3. Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
4. Lean on Me – Bill Withers
5. Heart of Gold – Neil Young
6. Walk on the Wild Side – Lou Reed
7. You Are the Sunshine of My Life – Stevie Wonder
8. If You Don’t Know Me by Now – Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes
9. I’ll Take You There – The Staple Singers
10. Tumbling Dice – The Rolling Stones

August 1973 – Japanese British Twin, Yamaha XS-2 650

After my Junior year at New Mexico State, it became clear that the cost of college and living had exhausted my resources and I was fast approaching “flat broke”.  Jobs in New Mexico didn’t pay much.  So, I decided to return to Connecticut, get a full time job, take a couple night classes at the University of New Haven and somehow get my degree finished. The 350 had proved too small for that ride, so I traded up to something more capable. I found a used red 1972 Yamaha XS-2 650 at the local Yamaha dealer.  This was my first four stroke, my first twin and my second red motorcycle.

The gas tank was bigger, the mileage better and the frame didn’t bend as much when cornering.  All great improvements over the S2.  However, as fate is often fickle, it got trailered back to Connecticut as my then girl friend decided she wanted to go east with me and so we took her car, attached a trailer, loaded the bike and drove to New Haven in August where we lived in sin together in an apartment as I tried to finish my degree.

Fate wasn’t finished. I met the head of the Mechanical Engineering department and told him my plans. He looked at my transcript and told me he wanted me to be able to finish on time, so I should come back the next day.  When I did he showed me how to finish in one year but it required me to go to school days and work nights. So I took the deal and got a job on the grave yard shift at a wire mill. I rode the 650 to work and back and to school after I got off work.  However, the sleep deprivation did me in by November.  The head of the department once again stepped in and saved my bacon by offering me an internship so I could pay the bills and stop the night shift.

Just before finals, I went off the road and crashed the 650 on my way over to my brothers house after class. I was distracted by my book bag starting to come off the luggage rack missed a bend in the road and went over the handle bars landing on my left shoulder in a vacant lot. I was lucky there was a vacant lot where I went off the road. The bike survived and I ended up with a dislocated shoulder.  It took more than 6 months to get full use of the shoulder again.

I wanted to go back to New Mexico after graduation and look for a job, but I couldn’t ride the 650.  My brother decided to go with me and see about moving out there. So, we drove out in late May with the 650 front end in a tow hitch trailing behind on its rear tire. I ended up in Albuquerque and it took me until October to get a job interview in the oil and gas industry.  The interview was in Farmington 180 miles away so I rode the bike to the interview.  I hit fog in the mountains about half way there and once again learned how quickly hypothermia can get you.  I did get the job despite shivering for the first 30 minutes of the interview while I drank copious quantities of hot coffee.

Fond Memories:
1. Exhaust note of a vertical twin motor when rolling off the throttle.
2. Finally being able to ride again after three months of physical therapy on my shoulder.
1. Working at the wire mill I dislocated my right thumb just before the end of my shift one day.  I learned you can work the throttle using only your wrist, no fingers, which I had to do so I could ride home. Its amazing what you can do when you have no choice.
2. Turning around to grab a book bag, and then turning back to see I was running off the road straight at a brick wall.  I missed the wall and the phone pole next to it, jumped the berm next to adjoining vacant lot and ended up in heap.
3. Getting a job despite being unable to stop shaking from cold at the beginning of an interview.
4. Hitting an enormous pot hole in a corner in the dark and finding out the next day the impact had torn the seals out of a rear shock.  So that’s why the bike wasn’t handling so well.
Time Owned:  2 years.
Estimated Miles
: 6,000
Lessons Learned:
1. British twins vibrate a lot even when the Japanese make them.
2. Hypothermia happens pretty fast when you ride through fog at 40 degrees.
3. Keep your eyes on the road and don’t let distractions get the better of you.
4. Your mind works fast when things are going to S%$& if you don’t have the time to be scared.
5. When you hit a large pot hole in the middle of nowhere, stop the bike and look for damage.
6. When you stop the bike to look for damage in the dark, have a flashlight so you can actually see it.
1974 Top Rock Tunes
1. No Woman, No Cry – Bob Marley and the Wailers
2. Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd
3. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet – Bachman-Turner Overdrive
4. Rock Your Baby – George McCrae
5. Lady Marmalade – LaBelle
6. Autobahn – Kraftwerk
7. Help Me – Joni Mitchell
8. Waterloo – Abba
9. Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe – Barry White
10. Tell Me Something Good – Rufus

August 1975 – Bavarian Iron, BMW R75/6

Well, now I had a job and was no longer broke for the first time in almost 3 years.  But drilling holes in the ground was not my thing so I took an opportunity to transfer to Denver, CO to work with gas processing plants.  Amoco, my employer, paid a flat stipend when you moved to cover “incidentals”. When I was told how much it was, I asked my boss if that was fair because I was single and really didn’t have any incidentals.  He told me to shut up and take the money.

I had been looking at BMW iron for awhile and as soon as I got to Denver, I took my “incidentals” money and bought a brand new 1975 R75/6 paying about $2,100 cash from a wad of bills in my pocket. I always wanted to do that.

As I rode it home from the dealer, I realized what a difference a well designed frame and smooth suspension make not to mention how there was almost no vibration compared to the XS-2.  Wow !!!  I sold the XS-2 and began my Bavarian motorcycle phase.

I still own this bike.  It now has more than 106,000 miles on it and you can see the story of its recent restoration on one of my web pages.

Over the Christmas holiday in 1975, I rode it to Phoenix and back to see my friend Phil who had accompanied me on my ride to New Mexico and ended up being caught in a snow storm west of Santa Fe, NM.  After picking it up twice from being blown over on icy roads, I gave up and went back to Albuquerque, flew home and then rode it back to Denver the next weekend when the high was about 10 degrees.  Unfortunately I left my winter gloves in the taxi on the way to the Denver airport, so I rode with my summer weight gloves. I had to keep my hands in the pockets of my down jacket so my hands didn’t get frost byte and leaned my torso to get the bike around the corners. I learned that even with a faring, down jacket and down pants, the wind chill at 60 MPH on a 10 degree day will suck the heat right out of you.  I got to know many coffee shops on the way to Denver.

I met my future wife while riding this bike and we had our first date on a cold February night when she rode on the back with me out into the wheat fields east of Denver.  Later that year I road raced it in MRA races held at various tracks in Colorado.

In 1976, I decided to go to graduate school. But before I did, I rode it from Los Alamos, NM to New Haven, CT and back again logging my first 1,000 mile day.

After we got married, my wife and I rode together as much as circumstance allowed as she had gotten her own BMW, an R75/5.  For the last 35 years, both my wife and the bike have been “keepers”.  🙂

Today, it looks like this after the restoration. And now, it’s my youngest son’s ride. He put 90,000 miles on it in four years. Like dad like son I guess. 🙂

Fond Memories:
1. Riding home from the dealer … SMOOTTHHHH.
2. Taking my wife for a ride on the back on our first date.
3. First 1,000 mile day in 22 hours.
4. Finishing the restoration and riding it the first time … SMOOTTHHH.
1. Scraping valve covers in the curves of Rocky Mountain roads.
2. My first novice road race, crashing, getting back up and finishing second.
3. Feeling my left foot getting cold while racing and then finding out I had worn through my boot in the corners while I was hanging off.
4. Riding into a blizzard, giving up and then having to ride back out.
5. Losing the rear brake when the rear drive seal went.  Glad it wasn’t the front brake.
6. Riding in 10 degree weather from Albuquerque to Denver without my winter gloves by keeping my hands in my down jacket pockets and leaning to steer.
7. Riding in a sand storm really sucks.  It takes a couple days to finally get clean and your pipes are no longer shiny.
8. In Houston, my neighbor was drunk one evening as he was driving home.  About 50 yards from my house as I was headed to the store, he pulled into my lane, head on, forcing me to the curb to avoid a collision.  He thought it was funny.  I provided graphic verbal evidence to the contrary.
Time Owned:  41 years.
Estimated Miles
: 106,000
Lessons Learned:
1. You have to lube the drive splines unless you want to spend an afternoon beside the road in no-where New Mexico waiting for a tow from you neighbor.
2. If you rev to 8,500 when the red line is 7,200, that tap, tap, tap noise is a bent push rod.
3. Hypothermia can happen after awhile if you ride in 10 degree weather even with down coat and pants and gloves.
4. If you decide to ride into a snow storm, remember, you may have to turn around and ride back out of it as well.
5. Time really slows down when you race.
6. Old bikes from Bavaria never loose the ability to seduce you.
7. Rebuilding an old bike is time well spent.
1975 Top Rock Tunes
1. Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
2. Bohmemian Rhapsody – Queen
3. Walk This Way – Aerosmith
4. Kashmir – Lead Zepplin
5. Tangled Up in Blue – Bob Dylan
6. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
7. Thunder Road – Bruce Springsteen
8. One of These Nights – Eagles
9. Low Rider – War
10. I’m Not in Love – 10cc

February 2005- Cookie Monster Comes Home, BMW R1150-RS

In the fall of 2004, I hit 100,000 miles on the R75/6 which was a goal of mine when I bought it.  I put 22,000 miles on it the first year I owned it and I figured it wouldn’t be long before I met my goal.  As the saying goes, life is what happens to you when you’ve made other plans.

The next acquisition was an R1150-RS in February 2005 that I named Cookie Monster.  I found it with 106 miles in Sioux City, Iowa.  The dealer, Dave Bak, took it for his own at the end of the season, but soon decided he would rather have a GS.  I drove up and trailered it home to Denver.  I’ve ridden 110,000 miles on Cookie so far and he is still running well.  Below is a picture of Cookie on Dave’s showroom floor.

And a picture of Cookie showiing some of the modifications I’ve made.

I’ve completed several Iron Butt Association rides on Cookie Monster including two 1000 miles in 24 hour, a 1500 mile in 36 hours and a 2000 mile in 48 hour ride.  Onward 🙂


5 thoughts on “A Motorcycle Retrospective

  1. Pingback: Honda Announces the Launching of 2011 Honda Motorcycles and Dirt Bikes | Sales Training Brisbane

  2. Pingback: A Motorcycle Retrospective « Motorcycles & Other Musings - Vehicles Spot

  3. Ya know, there’s enough stories there to perhaps write an entertaining book! In the style of Peter Egan perhaps? Truly amazing that we survive the stupid crap we did in our youth eh?
    Merry Christmas to you and yours Brook….my continuing thanks for your ever ready and sage advice when it comes to R Beemers!

    • Hi Dom,

      Hmmm … It is amazing how many adventures happened that could have been tragedies. Perhaps I’m an example of what not to do. 🙂


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