I have spent the vast majority of my life on two wheels. From riding a Schwinn Stingray to school, throwing newspapers onto porches pedaling that same Stingray…well…occasionally the paper ended up on the roof or in the shrubs…”sorry Mrs. Cleaver…”. I wish I still had that Stingray…do you know much that would be worth on ebay right now??!! About the same time I started getting really interested in girls I also got the motorcycle bug. My friend Byron down the street had a Taco mini bike that we terrorized the neighborhood on for years but now, it just wasn’t cool enough. I needed a real motorcycle.
My first experience being on a real motorcycle was when my dad came home from Vietnam in 1966. The first things he did was buy a new car and a new motorcycle. The car; 1966 Chevy Impala SS, the bike; a brand new Honda CB160. Looking back I wonder…why did he buy a big Chevy with a really big motor, I think it was the either the 396 or the 427, and then buy a ‘little’ motorcycle? If you’re goin’ big go BIG…he could have gotten a Triumph, BSA or a Harley… and in the words of the late John Belushi…”But Noooooooo” he had to buy a little Honda.??!!
I was fourteen years old and I was spending a few days with my dad when he took me on my first driving lesson out at the Marine Corps base…I didn’t get to drive the Chevy, I drove my step moms VW, oh well, you’ve got to start somewhere. But then…but then…came, “you want to ride the Honda?”… “gee Dad, let me think about this a whilel, YEAH!!!” I may have called that Honda 160 ‘little’ but when you’re fourteen, sitting on that bike was better than kissing the prettiest girl in school. And what did I do??…I promptly rode into the rear bumper of my dad’s new Impala…yes, I Impaled the Impala…sorry dad. A rather auspicious start to a long motorcycle career don’t you think?
I was fourteen years old when I started riding motorcycles, started racing at sixteen and you know what I’ve learned of late? I was a late bloomer.
In my job as a Moto Journalist I have had the opportunity to interview and spend time with every type of rider. Racers, travelers, industry types, photographers and everyday riders…it’s a great job. There is always one common denominator, the love of riding a motorcycle. Where does that love come from? Usually it’s dad, an uncle or a big brother…sometimes all three and occasionally it’s a friend who goes through the “this is the clutch, this is the brake,shifter…one down and three up” ritual with you. Most women I have talked with got the bug from a boyfriend or husband…I think they got tired of looking at the back of his helmet or, more often, telling themselves they can ride ride better than him.
About a year ago at the AMA Grand National Flat Track races in Pomona, California I was walking the pits doin’ my job…talkin’ to racers. I usually don’t spend too much time on race reports, I like to get to know the racer and the question I ask of everyone I talk with is…”how old were you when you started riding motorcycles?”. Everybody has a fun story about when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle.
On the way home from the race, I was mentally editing the interview’s and one common thread came through…nearly all of the riders I spoke with started riding very,very young. Somewhere between Pasadena and Fillmore I started reviewing all my roadracing interviews as well and I came up with the same thread. I worked through my interviews…MotoGP, World Superbike, AMA Superbike, AMA Flat Track, Motocross and here is what I found. Most all these champion racers were barely out of diapers when they started riding and racing. Take a guess, how old do you think most of these guys were when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle? If you said ‘four’, you win the prize…that’s right, four years old. At four years old pretty much all they could spell was PW50 or JR50 which, were the two most common bikes all these racers started on.
So what have I learned from all this research? I was a racer of no renown because I started ten years too late and that I’m going to have get my grandson a PW50 in about three years. Now if I can just convince his mother…..