My First Motorcycle
Set the wayback machine to the summer of 1962. A friend of my older brother’s gave me a ride on his Yamaha 250 YDS 2. He was careful to explain what we were going to do, how I was to deal with it, and how a motorcycle handled. He rode with skill, and at a controlled but exhilarating pace. When I got off the rear seat I had as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever had. It was obvious to me that I was meant to ride motorcycles.
A lack of funds and strong parental dissent (as in a loud “no” every time I broached the topic) left me to reading everything I could find about motorcycles. By 1967 I’d desperately wanted to own and ride a motorcycle, every day, for 5 years.
This was not entirely bad, as I was slightly more mature by the age of 20, and my reading had given me a lot of information about motorcycles.
Except how to ride one.
Things changed that spring. My mother was diagnosed with the terminal cancer that would lead to her death in September. My parents carefully planned world was shattered. Everything they thought they knew, and everything they’d based their life around was thrown into a cruel dumpster.
One day, when I inquired about getting a motorcycle, again, their attitude had become “Why not?”
I paid $400 for a slightly used (400 miles) 1965 Yamaha 250cc YDS 3 motorcycle, resplendent (to me) in glistening blue and white. The ride home was perilous, as the owner merely gave me the keys and wished me well. He was selling the bike because a car had turned left in front of him with no warning. This scared him so badly he did not want to ride any more.
With utterly no training other than what I had read about plus the knowledge of how to drive a stick shift car, I lurched into traffic, killing the engine at every stop light. My Dad was laughing at me in the rear view mirrors. He was a little desperate for humor at that time. And, there was little traffic.
I was soon riding it virtually every day, including weekly visits to a girlfriend doing nursing training in a town 45 miles away. In Minneapolis, this meant that by mid-November I was learning a lot about hypothermia by direct experience on these jaunts.
By spring my father had dealt with my mother’s death by abruptly selling the family home and moving to Seattle, giving in to the plaints from Boeing people who’d been trying to hire him for years. He left behind a very nice 1963 Mercury for my use. I had gone from no college transportation to a motorcycle and a car in one year. On a visit to him I mentioned that I would like to ride from Minneapolis to see him that summer.
To my utter astonishment he thought this was a good idea.
On to the planning. Virtually nobody took cross country rides on small bikes in those days. Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was written one year later and based on a trip where he used exactly the same route I did from Minneapolis to Seattle, including stops at identical campgrounds. Reading the first half of his book was a weird experience. Second half as well, for different reasons.
With the confidence of having no idea of what you are doing I ordered a fairing from some guy named Craig Vetter, based on a small ad in the back of a “Cycle World” magazine. Those first fairings were not the large touring models that made him famous and rich, but essentially road race fairings with taller windshields. The fairing would not fit with the front fender installed, so off it came. A 250cc two stroke with a racing fairing and no front fender – a perfect touring bike! A rear chrome luggage rack from Webco completed my preparations.
I added big blue Yamaha crossed tuning forks decals to the sides of the white fairings. Not many folks knew that Yamaha got its start as a musical instruments company, and crossed tuning forks was their logo. In fact, most did not know what a tuning fork was. Nothing much has changed there, but at the time I felt a little smug in my nerdiness.
I knew what a tuning fork was because my older brothers, both musicians, had borrowed one from the high school band director to tune the two loud horns in our 1949 Buick to create the most discordant two note blast achievable.
The fairing arrived the same day I purchased an engagement ring. The fairing cost $140 and the ring $143, the most money I had ever spent in one day on anything other than the bike. The wedding engagement lasted two weeks, so the Vetter fairing was the wiser purchase.
A guy living across the alley with a 305cc Honda Superhawk had virtually the same trip idea I did, so he would join me.
The trip was the most amazing experience of my life. We camped, we rode, and we had adventures. We separated in Idaho as Jim was off to Grass Valley to see his own parents. Shortly after that my luggage rack fractured, and was repaired by a welder at a feed store in small town, He left the rack on the bike and held a piece of cardboard between the rack and the seat. He would remove the cardboard just before it burst into flame as he welded, while I looked on in horror. With the rack welded and no damage to the seat, I was on my way. I think I argued him up to be allowed to pay him $1.00.
Jim rejoined me in Seattle a week later, and we rode back to Minneapolis. Nothing went wrong with either bike the entire trip. That was fortunate, as we carried no tire repair kits or tools or pretty much anything else I would have to have with me today.
The following spring I packed up my new college degree and all of my possessions in a twin axle Hertz trailer and hauled everything to Kirkland to begin my teaching career.
The 2nd day here I removed the fairing and did a deep cleaning and wax job. I also took off the cylinder heads to “de-coke” them and plied a torch on the baffles to burn off the two stroke oil. With the bike running perfectly, I took off for a test ride wearing penny loafers, shorts, a shirt, and my helmet and gloves. I had such a great time on a winding back road behind Newport that I turned around to ride it again.
I arced into a 25 mph corner at about 60. The left peg began to drag, but I did that all the time, so that was not a concern. It began to fold up, and I had done that a couple of times. Then the peg mount dug into the asphalt and began to jack the rear wheel off the ground.
Hadn’t done that before.
I attempted to put my foot down and “dirt track” around the corner, which probably would not have worked, but at that point I ran out of pavement and the bike and I flew into a ditch. I ended up sitting in the ditch facing back in the direction from which I had come, the smoking remains of my best friend next to me. A two inch sapling at been cut off with the sharp trunk jutting out of the ground – three inches away from my neck. Wisps of dust circled around me mixed with the odors or hot dried grass and two stroke oil. A ten year old kid ran up and said, “That was cool. Can you do it again?”
From all of my reading, I knew what to do. I began to feel for broken bones, starting at my feet. Then the legs, my ribs, and up to my arms. Just as I was starting to think I had gotten away with it my fingers found the huge lump in my right shoulder.
The kid led me to his mother’s house and she, a nurse, immediately called Overlake Hospital and the best surgeon she knew.
He came in to the emergency room and rotated my arm in a full circle. Ouch. Then he did it again. Bigger ouch. He then delivered the news: a separation and a needed operation. I uttered a four letter one word response that starts with “s” and the nurses were deeply offended by my language. One of them proceeded to prepare my shoulder for surgery with a metal bristle brush, scrubbing out the gravel and leaving a patch that looked like raw hamburger caressed with a fork.
The operation led to eight weeks in a sling, destroying any chance at a summer job and doing away with my plan to spend ½ of my year’s salary on a new Z 28 Camaro. I still want one, but now it would be a retro-mod and would cost $120,000 rather than $3,500. I also spend a lot of time staring into space pondering my own idiocy. The bike had survived, except for broken front forks, and I sold it to a guy for $100.
I don’t know what happened to the fairing, which I’d left off for the test ride, and that is a pity, as it would be worth a fair amount today.
That was my first ride, and my last crash.
Copyright 2015 David Preston