Motorcycle Holiday Gifts Across 50 Years
I purchased my first motorcycle just over 50 years ago. I learned to ride the pristine blue and white 1965 Yamaha 250 one minute after the first owner handed me the key. After only 850 miles, he was selling it because someone had turned left in front of him. The near miss frightened him so much he chose to sell the bike. Too bad for him, but wonderful for me.
There were no riding classes in existence at that time, and all I knew about motorcycles had been gleaned from five years of intense study of every motorcycle magazine I could get my eager little eyes on. That and two or three rides on the back of the motorcycles of friends.
I “learned” to ride it on the way home, my father in his car laughing in my rear view mirror as I killed the engine attempting to leave every stop sign.
Motorcycle “stuff” became my first choice for Christmas gifts from that day forward, and continues today. By the way, at that time, in Minnesota, all I’d ever heard of was “Christmas.” I chose “Holiday” for today’s title to honor all the cultures I’ve learned of in the past half a century. I think we’re all better off to celebrate whatever fits each person.
In the beginning, there was a beginning before the beginning. I’d been nagging my parents for permission to purchase a motorcycle for five long years, since a first back seat ride at the age of fifteen. As engineers aware of the risks of motorcycles and the rampant and mostly undisciplined enthusiasm of their son, they wisely said “no,” …over and over again.
However, in the fall of 1964 I hatched a plan to go go-kart racing with a friend who already had a race kart. We’d form a two car team and race the summers away. This made sense to my parents (!), and so for Christmas of 1965 I received the best helmet available at the time. The open face Bell 500 in gleaming white was an object of art to me. I would have worn it every day given the merest pretense of an excuse.
Alas, by spring my knowledgeable friend chose to enter water ski tournaments and retire from racing, so my plan was dashed. The helmet sat for two years, waiting…
In 1967 my mother was dying of cancer. This altered my parents’ perception of life, so now when I wanted to purchase a motorcycle, at the ripe age of 20, the answer was “sure, why not?” Or perhaps they reasoned this would take my mind off the looming death in the near future.
So I had a helmet. And now a motorcycle. Time for “stuff.”
Here is a brief compilation of the differences between stuff then and stuff today.
GLOVES: In 1967 gloves designed for motorcycle use were rare, in the sense that I did not know of any. Fortunately, in Minnesota everybody has ski gloves, even those intelligent enough to never venture onto a ski slope. Because really, skiing is dangerous! Ski gloves worked pretty well, but they all had these irritating little clips designed to hold them together when not in use. The little clips were scissored off and away you go. For summer use I had a pair of white handball gloves. Why white? Because many motorcycles, including mine, did not have turn signals, and the white showed up better at night when using arm signals for a turn. Of course, handball gloves are about the thickness of plastic wrap, and in a crash would be nigh on useless. My solution to this was to not crash.
Today – wow – spoiled for choice aren’t we? You have motorcycle specific gloves designed for pavement, or dirt. With armor or not. For rain or shine or both. With varying degrees of cold protection. Or even heated. I think I own about ten pair of gloves now. As they age and look a little down at the heel, (get the pun?) I can’t bear to throw them away. They sit in a drawer until I find a new rider to give them to.
If purchasing a gift, make sure you know what kind of motorcycle and type of riding is enjoyed by the rider who is to receive your gift. Size can be guessed (think larger), but keep the receipt. Every motorcyclist wants more gloves.
HELMETS: Again, technology has moved so far in 50 years. My last helmet cost more than my first motorcycle. And is worth it. If you’re going to purchase one as a gift, it’s best to do your research and/or take the recipient with you. I recommend a known brand from a dealer with a salesperson who knows what she or he is doing. Helmet fit is critical for long term safety and comfort, and the proper fit may be a little different from what you would think. For lesser (or more reasonable) sums, a new face shield would go well. Everyone wants a new tinted or clear shield, but again, know exactly what model of helmet it will be going on.
WARMTH: Here we find a treasure trove of items that will be welcomed with glee. In the beginning I used a bandana wrapped around my throat and chin and up over my mouth and nose. Part of this was ego. In those days, Formula One drivers and motorcycle racers covered themselves for protection with a bandana, and it looked racey. There were no full-face helmets at the time, or Nomex driving suits. When full face helmets came in toward the end of the 1970’s there was less need to cover your chin and mouth and nose.
Later I moved to a woven throat “tube” which I still have. I hardly use it these days because it’s been replaced by the same item in a light and stretchy fabric. Best accessory ever, as it keeps me warm and snug down to temps where the question is “Why am I doing this?” There are scads of them for sale and they are cheap – great gift idea.
To stay warm I originally used some sort of long johns under my jeans and a sweater, which was sort of OK. Unless it rained. Now your local REI or other outdoor store will offer all sorts of high technology tops and bottoms in fabrics of materials you’ve never heard of. They are light, easily washable, and vastly superior. Mine top and bottom set came from REI and is magnificent.
JACKETS: Back then the item of choice was a ski parka, which again, everyone in Minnesota owns. Fine for warmth, a bit less so in a driving rain, and utterly useless in a crash, where you would leave behind you an exploding and expanding plume of feathers or synthetic fillers – a plume that would begin to turn red toward the end of the crash. Don’t go there.
My first “real” motorcycle jacket came from a treasured “WEBCO” catalogue, and was black Naugahyde with while leather stripes down the sleeves. Cool? Oh my yes. Warmth? Not so much. Crash padding had not been invented at that time. Not sure how it would have done in a crash. Not well would be a guess.
Now you have choices, and all of them are exponentially better. Leather is stylish, while textile jackets and pants have caught up and surpassed leather in most ways. Except style. As gifts, you must again be sure you’re purchasing a product designed for use on motorcycles. A thin leather jacket with fabric cuffs will look snazzy until the first rain experience. Or crash.
Jackets are sort of like gloves. I occasionally purchase a new one, but seldom get rid of the old. I now have the “summer” textile jacket and the “winter” textile jacket. And a third textile jacket and two leather jackets that are waiting for me to do something.
If you are new to motorcycles and on a budget, you might check around your area for a store that sells “lightly” used gear. If you can find the right size in a jacket you like, you will have a lot of money left over for the other things on this list!
BOOTS: Back then; hiking boots of some sort. Not so swell in the rain, and lacking protection from the ankles up, but much better than tennis shoes. Gold Wing riders, you know who you are! Wearing tennis shoes for Gold Wing riders goes along with the stuffed teddy bear on the rear rack as an attempt to appear friendly. It doesn’t work, and it’s just silly. Dropping an 800 pound motorcycle on your ankle is not friendly.
I moved on from that to some sort of tall black boots, and then, in 1978, I ordered custom boots from Frank Thomas in England. The exchange rare was very favorable at that time. As directed, I sent tracings of both my right and left feet along with a check for about $85, and received in return exquisite boots that rose almost to my knees and were incredibly comfy. I wrote a letter to the company extolling them and got a lovely note in return thanking me and telling me my letter had been posted in the tea room for “the lads to enjoy.” Wonderful.
When I eventually replaced them I gave them to a dear friend who admired them, and they looked even better on her.
By 2000 you could get boots that actually were waterproof, although false claims to this had been made for 50 years prior. My first pair was worn to watch a road race, riding to the track in a pouring rain on a Triumph 600 sport bike. Bone dry. I walked around the spectator section stomping through 6 inch deep puddles, testing the boots. Still bone dry. I have not had wet feet for the past many years.
Again, if purchasing, I would go for a name brand and a good guess as to the correct size, and I would keep the receipt.
It is possible to go too far. When I owned a couple of superbikes (Muzzy Raptor and Kawasaki ZX 12R) I splurged and went all the way to a pair of top shelf racing boots. Looked the business and had protection all over for toes and ankles and shins and all. But off the bike, total agony to walk in. So unless you’re purchasing for a racer, stay away from pure race boots.
SOCKS: Well, everyone owns white athletic socks, right? But now you can get even such a mundane item as socks in a motorcycle specific product. I have some “BMW” socks that are impregnated with charcoal and are supposed to be “odor free” for – four days! I have never tested that claim, but they’re comfy and warm. Same goes for underwear, although simple jockey shorts do for me.
KIDNEY BELT: Here’s how far we have come. Back then these were common, a sort of girdle that went around your guts and lower back and held your innards in place on the motorcycles of the day, which tended to vibrate like an exercise machine. I ordered mine out of the “WEBCO” catalogue and wore it with pride, feeling like a “real” motorcyclist. I doubt it was necessary on a 250cc two stroke. Today I had to Google the item to make sure they are still available. I have not seen one in a dealership in 20 years, but if your person does a lot of severe off-road riding one might be a treat.
ELECTRONICS: Here’s a product area that did not exist at all in 1967. Electronics had all they could do to keep the motorcycle running. Ignition was by points, and filaments in head lights and tail lights and turn signals, if you had them, failed with monotonous regularity. In 1967 any English motorcycle owner knew all the “Electrics by Lucas” jokes, and had experienced many of them. A Zener diode was a weird name for a weird electrical system component.
My 2016 Triumph Bonneville now has, and this just astonishes me, a charging port for your smart phone under the seat!
A word of caution applies. You can now equip your bike, or a friends, with intercom systems, radar detectors, GPS, phone connections, radio, and on and on. But – is that a good idea?
Two cases in point. Ten years ago I wrote a piece of an on-line mag about why you should not have GPS on your motorcycle. I had several reasons for this, including that I knew two people who had crashed while looking at the display that was showing the corner they were about to miss. I also felt that you were better off to keep your wits about you and figure out where you were. And last, most of the great riding roads I know I found by getting lost!
I got a great response from a US Army combat helicopter pilot who was e-mailing me from somewhere far away. He agreed with me. He had begun his career with Cobra gunships, which did not have GPS. He was proud of his ability to fly a complex flight plan and arrive “on station” at the appointed time. Now he was in Apache helicopters, with all the latest mod cons. He said the younger pilots were in the habit of flying along at 160mph about 20 feet off the ground and never looking outside! Worse, he felt that his inner navigational system was being eroded.
I have a friend who has worked for Google for many years, to the point that he cannot tell me exactly what he is currently working on. He carries on his person a phone with all the latest. On a motorcycle trip – he leaves it off.
Speaking of maps – on my first long motorcycle trip I rode from Minneapolis to Seattle to see my father. On a spare day here, I decided I should go see this Space Needle I had heard about. I wrote the address down on a piece of paper. The third time I pulled over and stopped and pulled out the piece of paper to check the address again it occurred to me to… look up. GPS does not provide stories like that!
When you are riding a motorcycle, do you want music, or phone calls, or e-mails or Facebook postings or Tweets or whatever? I choose to have none of it at all. If I want to check on things I have a good excuse to find a small park and pull over and take a break.
Caveat Emptor. Sometimes a great product is one you may not want.
CLEANING: Back then, soap and water and whatever car wax my Dad had on the shelf. Today, again, a wonderland of pastes, dissolvers, unguents, creams, waxes, and more. Consulting with your local dealer parts person will help a lot. Good for gifts, as none of them are all that costly, and they are sure to be used. Also chain lube is handy, as long as the person has a motorcycle with a drive chain and not a shaft or belt drive!
RIDER EDUCATION: As mentioned, in 1967 there was no such thing. Now there are (in most areas) over a dozen courses on offer, from multiple providers. A beginner rider course, or intermediate, or advanced, on up to off-road riding courses, advanced cornering clinics on race tracks, track days, and race instruction. In fact, I think the best gift you could provide for someone (or for yourself) would be a gift certificate from a provider.
All in all, the golden days of motorcycles AND stuff are…right now.
Happy Holiday Shopping!
Copyright 2017 David Preston