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I used to ride motorcycles way back when (an expression which translates to “Damn, I’m old.”). I started riding when I was 14, always on borrowed machines. I bought my first motorcycle for $200, a used Honda CB-160. I rode that thing for a couple of years, then sold it—for $200.

In college, I sold my car and bought two motorcycles—a Honda CB-450, and a Honda XL-125. I rode those for a couple of years until I started dating a gal who refused to ride (makes dating tough, but she had a car). Unfortunately, both bikes got stolen. I ended up buying a car, then broke up with the girlfriend.

After I joined the Navy and went through a year and a half of OCS, Nuke School, and Prototype, I bought a Honda CB-650. My roommate and I loved riding through the Connecticut countryside, although the frost heaves in the roads made us keep our speed down.

I was married (wife #1) when I bought my last motorcycle. In fact, she encouraged me to trade my 650 for a bigger bike. I ended up buying my first non-Honda, a Kawasaki 1000 shaft drive. I installed a Vetter fairing and the Samsonite Tribar luggage system and turned it into a sweet touring machine, one I would drive from Connecticut to Raleigh and back many, many times. Divorced the wife, kept the bike.

When I met my current (and in her words, “his final”) wife, she wasn’t all that keen on riding. I can’t blame her—I don’t like riding on the back of a motorcycle either. However, I continued to ride up to 1996, when I finally decided it was time to hang up my helmet. It’s not that I was tired of riding, but the roads down here aren’t well maintained, and other drivers seem to not give a [redacted] about motorcycles. Still, I could be talked into getting a new, small-displacement street/trail bike. But instead of the beautiful teardrop gas tanks from my youth, the gas tanks today look like someone holding up a fluorescent diaper.

In fact, if I could have any bike now, it would the classic Honda SL-350:

It wasn’t the best off-road motorcycle, but IMHO the best looking.

I’ve ridden in beautiful weather, heavy downpours, even snow. However, it’s probably safe to say my riding days are over. Damn, was it fun . . .

(Sorry, I think I used “I” more than Obama did in any of his speeches.)

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There are 26 comments.

  1. OldDanRhody, 7152 Maple Dr. Member

    Stad: I could be talked into getting a new, small displacement street/trail bike.

    Same here. The most fun is in accelerating in some fashion (speeding or slowing or cornering), which you can do with a lightweight bike at low speeds if that’s what works for you.

    • #1
    • December 8, 2019, at 10:12 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  2. Fritz Member

    Just out of college and to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, I got tickets to some music festival in upstate New York, to which we would ride from Philadelphia on my BMW 750. Yay, Woodstock! (Because of the bike’s maneuverability when the roads were clogged for miles, we were able to escape after the food ran out and the rains would not stop. Heard the rest of the music of the weekend on the radio.)

    We also enjoyed touring around the Pennsylvania countryside, even did some camping with that bike. Great fun and good times.

    But too many attempts by thieves to make off with my bike, and later motorcycle-hating parking garage vandals, forced me reluctantly to sell that gem. It was not for another few decades that I acquired another bike. This one, a used Honda Nighthawk (I think 650cc?) was fun, but in the intervening years, I had not only slowed in my reflexes and lost eyesight acuity, but apparently had also become invisible to drivers in their humongous SUVs. That led to choose caution over bravado, and so my biker days were over. Fun while it lasted.

    • #2
    • December 8, 2019, at 10:52 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  3. Arahant Member

    Stad: When I met my current (and in her words, “his final”) wife

    Yeah, cause she’ll take you out.

    • #3
    • December 8, 2019, at 10:53 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Over the years I had three bikes. I started with a small, electric-start Honda, a 175cc IIRC, that had been used by ABC News to ferry newsfilm to and from LaGuardia airport. It still had the ABC logo, which gave it some cachet. (I’ve learned that “cachet” is a fancy term for “makes the girls look at you a whole new way”)

    The next one was the first new vehicle I ever owned, a two-stroke Harley, a beautiful if compact brute that I rode through New York City winters. I bought it with overtime money I made projecting “Jaws”. It had that big “cop” windshield to make the blasts of arctic air a little more tolerable at speed. No electric start; an Electra-Glide it was not. If you wanted to ride on Sunday, you had to start kicking it on Thursday. I sold it to one of my brothers when he went into the Army. He later managed to total it, on a narrow road somewhere in the South. Where? I forget…at the time, to me anyplace south of the entrance to the New Jersey Turnpike was all the same. 

    The third was superficially more sedate, a Suzuki 500 twin. Back to electric start, thank God. I put that big windshield on it and it was fast and reliable. It had an unusually long saddle; once when my girlfriend and I were out riding, we spotted a friend of hers and squeezed her in too. For the rest of the ride, guys on the sidewalks gave me envious grins that, frankly, I cherish to this day. 

    But the classiest two wheel ride in town wasn’t mine. It was a Vespa scooter that was formerly the messenger bike of the Vatican pavilion at the 1964-65 World’s Fair. It was painted gold on both sides with the Papal symbol of the triple tiara and crossed keys to the kingdom. God’s own ride. 

    • #4
    • December 8, 2019, at 11:06 AM PST
    • 10 likes
  5. Phil Turmel Coolidge

    So, you’re shopping, aren’t you?

    • #5
    • December 8, 2019, at 11:13 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  6. Tex929rr Coolidge

    Still at it at 62. An interesting thing has been that many of my riding buddies of similar age have left their light weight sportbikes for giant adventure bikes – BMW GS’s and similar bikes. We are currently down to 4 (since Mrs Tex also rides I can get away with it). I’ll admit, since I bought my GT350 my riding time has decreased.

    the Mrs with our two 750’s

    Yamaha R1 (998 cc)

    Yamaha FJ-09 (847cc)

    • #6
    • December 8, 2019, at 11:28 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  7. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    BSA (British Small Arms), Vincent and Norton were the coveted Brits of the Seventies. A “snortin’ Norton” delivered plenty of oomph for the money. Regrettably in that era all UK bikes leaked oil. The cheapest new motorcycle back then was a Jawa (yep, that’s where the word comes from), made in Czechoslovakia, the “Communist bike”. 

    • #7
    • December 8, 2019, at 11:29 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  8. PHCheese Member

    The first wife encouraged you to ride? Must of had a bunch of insurance.

    • #8
    • December 8, 2019, at 11:32 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  9. Arahant Member

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    Vincent

    Now you’ve done it.

    • #9
    • December 8, 2019, at 2:20 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  10. Stad Thatcher
    Stad

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Stad: When I met my current (and in her words, “his final”) wife

    Yeah, cause she’ll take you out.

    She once told me, “The only way you’re getting out of this marriage is with a toe tag.”

    • #10
    • December 8, 2019, at 2:21 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  11. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I got a Yamaha 125 CC trail bike and my in-laws to be thought I had joined Hell’s Angels. 

    At the time I lived where there were lots of trails and I tried to avoid riding on roads. Everyone I knew that drove a bike to get somewhere they had to go, wound up in an accident. I only rode when I wanted to. I wanted a bike that had a reasonable amount of power, but I could lift up over a log across the trail. The 125 suited me fine.

    Eventually, development took over all the local trails and I stopped riding. If you are local to Northern Virginia, when I had the bike, Tysons Corner II was a huge gravel pit. It was like the back side of the moon and on weekends, there would be dirt bikes, dune buggies all over the place. It is now all shopping centers and office buildings.

    • #11
    • December 8, 2019, at 3:50 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  12. Doug Watt Member

    The first street bike I ever rode, a classic British Sunbeam. A compression release kick-starter, drive shaft, and the classic sit-up and beg rider postion. The photo is from the internet, but the bike I rode had the front fender license.

     

    • #12
    • December 8, 2019, at 3:56 PM PST
    • 7 likes
  13. Annefy Member

    My husband was on his second motorcycle when he and I started dating, just after he graduated from college.

    He didn’t have a car, but usually borrowed one for dates.

    But what fun we had on the motorcycle, many day trips to Santa Barbara, San Diego, Malibu and Mulholland Drive (natch)

    We took a couple of road trips; one from California to Washington, east to Montana, through Glacier National Park, north through Jasper then to Edmonton where I had a cousin, then southwest to Vancouver Island to see more cousins. Then a hellish two days on the 5 when he got three speeding tickets and I was fighting (and losing to) the stomach flu.

    5,000 miles guarantees breakdowns and adventures and we had our share. Rebuilding a petcock in a parking lot of The Bent Bike in Washington, running out of gas outside of Edmonton and JY having to help a farmer with some hay before the farmer would spare a gallon. Met a lot of fine and helpful people. I’m convinced that since you’re not in a car you’re more approachable; I think we had conversations with people at every gas stop who gave us tips and shared stories.

    According to legend he decided to propose on that trip; which he finally got around to a year later.

    (I nearly made a required and long-repeated caveat, that if you ever meet my mother and the trip comes up, she was told that we were “traveling with friends”. Then I remembered she’s been gone for three years. Old habits …)

    A year after that we had a big wedding; our honeymoon was a trip up the California coast on the motorcycle.

    The years passed and many babies were born; he finally gave the motorcycle away to someone back in the late 90s.

    JY can remember every highway and every stop in every small town (the restaurant that was also a fish museum in MT has stayed with me. The parking ticket in Coeur d’Alene still pisses me off ). It’s also the trip where I fell in love with America.

    We’re hoping to re-create the trip soon, while we can still remember the way …

    • #13
    • December 9, 2019, at 12:21 AM PST
    • 9 likes
  14. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    What a lovely story, Annefy! Thanks for telling us about it. 

    • #14
    • December 9, 2019, at 12:28 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. Annefy Member

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    What a lovely story, Annefy! Thanks for telling us about it.

    Thanks Gary! I’m feeling positively nostalgic. Our kids absolutely adore their father, but the motorcycle had definitely added to his cache. And hats off to my mother and father; they knew a good thing when they saw it, and JY definitely filled that bill. But I think of how many times they saw me jump onto the back of that motorcycle, and they never said a word.

    BTW, JY’s favorite story. By the time we were in Glacier, it was freezing. I was wearing multiple layers of jeans, a sweatshirt and a leather jacket. 

    On trips like that you are passing and nodding to people that were as old as JY and me now, driving Goldwings with matching jackets and radio sets to talk to each other (I had to whack JY on the back of the helmet when it was time for a pit stop). It was so cold that JY would wrap a bandana over my face, then I would put on my helmet.

    One older couple with matching accessories were loading up; the older guy looked at JY and our bungie cords and mismatched accessories and said, “Buddy, you don’t know what you’re missing.”

    JY wrapped the bandana over my mouth and said, “Dude, you don’t know what YOU’RE missing”

    • #15
    • December 9, 2019, at 12:44 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  16. Retail Lawyer Member

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    BSA (British Small Arms), Vincent and Norton were the coveted Brits of the Seventies. A “snortin’ Norton” delivered plenty of oomph for the money. Regrettably in that era all UK bikes leaked oil. The cheapest new motorcycle back then was a Jawa (yep, that’s where the word comes from), made in Czechoslovakia, the “Communist bike”.

    Yesterday I finished the oil change on my 1969 BSA Victor. It is amazingly irritating to work on, and is such an assault on the rider’s senses I think it is capable of inducing an “acid flashback” after a few hours of riding. It must be the crudest machine still on the road. Very fun in its element, though. The knowledge base required to keep an old Brit bike on the road is diminishing rapidly . . .

    At the other extreme I have a 2004 Suzuki Vstrom 650. It is so reliable and good it is actually boring. Not particularly sensual, though. You still have to shift it and know about gears, so the knowledge base required to operate even a modern motorcycle is slowly diminishing. I rode it from San Francisco to Montana and back this summer. As the Kinks once sung, I’m “one of the survivors, a motorbike rider”.

    • #16
    • December 9, 2019, at 8:59 AM PST
    • 5 likes
  17. Slow on the uptake Thatcher

    Started out with a Honda Super Cub my dad brought back from Japan. Later on CB 400-4 took me too/from college, 45 miles one way. Then to/from work in Houston traffic.

    Rode it into the ground.

     

     

    • #17
    • December 9, 2019, at 10:20 AM PST
    • 6 likes
  18. James Lileks Contributor

    Got a Honda 65S the glorious summer they finished I-29 between Fargo and Grand Forks. For a week or so great stretches of the road were closed to traffic, and I’d ride up and down on the freeway with my cousins. Ah to be 14 and immortal again. 

    Moved up to a Honda 175, but laid that one down on a gravel road north of the airport, and was disinclined to ride again for a while. Closest I get these days is casting longing looks at Vespas.

    • #18
    • December 9, 2019, at 11:40 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Back then, the cool thing to do was act casual and understated about motorcycle accidents: “Oh yeah, I dropped the bike doing fifty”.

    There was a saying at the time, the “90/90 rule”, probably exaggerated but with a good deal of truth in it, that 90% of serious bike accidents happened to riders who’d been riding for less than 90 days. 

    • #19
    • December 9, 2019, at 11:47 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  20. Stad Thatcher
    Stad

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Got a Honda 65S the glorious summer they finished I-29 between Fargo and Grand Forks. For a week or so great stretches of the road were closed to traffic, and I’d ride up and down on the freeway with my cousins. Ah to be 14 and immortal again.

    Moved up to a Honda 175, but laid that one down on a gravel road north of the airport, and was disinclined to ride again for a while. Closest I get these days is casting longing looks at Vespas.

    Calling @ejhill! I think we have the cover pic for the next Ricochet Podcast . . .

    • #20
    • December 9, 2019, at 11:47 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  21. Stad Thatcher
    Stad

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    There was a saying at the time, the “90/90 rule”, probably exaggerated but with a good deal of truth in it, that 90% of serious bike accidents happened to riders who’d been riding for less than 90 days. 

    It used to be the right way to learn was to start on a small bike and work up to the larger, faster models. Nowadays, you get some young sailor who takes his bonus money, then goes out and buys the fastest thing he can afford. Small wonder the Navy made MSF training mandatory if you wanted to put a base sticker on a bike.

    Yes, it takes quite a while to level up one’s safety consciousness and skill set on a motorcycle. I bet if you took that 90 days out to a year, the % of serious accidents would go up to 99% . . .

    • #21
    • December 9, 2019, at 11:53 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  22. Cow Girl Thatcher

    The first photo is us in 1974, just married. He was in the Navy and stationed in San Diego. We drove up to Mt. Palomar. The bike is a 1932 Knucklehead Harley-Davidson that he’d transformed into a very awesome chopper during high school. (He transitioned from horses to motorcycles when he was about 15.) But I’m still not sure how he navigated it around the hills in our neighborhood with the foot pedal clutch and brakes…because he still needed one foot on the street at a stoplight. I just sat on the back seat and said nothing.

    This photo is us in 2019 celebrating New Year’s Day in the Mojave Desert where we live now. We’ve lived in four states since we married, and had four different motorcycles. This one is a 1969 Shovel-head Harley-Davidson. He’s been driving this one for almost thirty years. I still sit on the backseat and say nothing. It’s been very fun to share these rides all these years. He says when he can’t drive the Harley anymore, then he’ll get a pink Vespa!

    • #22
    • December 9, 2019, at 12:19 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  23. Arahant Member

    Cow Girl (View Comment):
    He says when he can’t drive the Harley anymore, then he’ll get a pink Vespa!

    He’s a keeper.

    • #23
    • December 9, 2019, at 12:54 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  24. Concretevol Thatcher

    Those old Honda CB’s are great to build cafe racers out of!

    • #24
    • December 9, 2019, at 1:02 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  25. Slow on the uptake Thatcher

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Got a Honda 65S the glorious summer they finished I-29 between Fargo and Grand Forks. For a week or so great stretches of the road were closed to traffic, and I’d ride up and down on the freeway with my cousins. Ah to be 14 and immortal again.

    Moved up to a Honda 175, but laid that one down on a gravel road north of the airport, and was disinclined to ride again for a while. Closest I get these days is casting longing looks at Vespas.

    It was gravel that got me, too – but outside Texarkana. Remember the slide beginning, then the bike was flat down and all buggered up while I was kind of kneeling on top of it with nary a scratch on me wondering what had happened. Not one single car stopped to see if I was okay. 

    • #25
    • December 9, 2019, at 2:41 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  26. Cow Girl Thatcher

    Annefy (View Comment):
    But what fun we had on the motorcycle, many day trips to Santa Barbara, San Diego, Malibu and Mulholland Drive (natch)

    My first (and only) motorcycle rides have been with Mr. CowGirl, and we’ve traveled those same roads. I’m so glad to find out that I’m not the only Motorcycle Mama on Ricochet!

    It is the best thing, ever. I love the necessity of cuddling up close behind him. It keeps us a team after all these years.

    • #26
    • December 9, 2019, at 11:14 PM PST
    • 5 likes