Motorcycles I Have Ridden – the Lost Files
(Or some of #1 – 92)
Since the first of the many lists I compiled of motorcycles I’ve ridden seems to have meandered into cyberspace, I’m going to make some anecdotal comments about the first few dozen of them. At least the ones I can remember. Thou shalt be thus forewarned: this mass of typing will be of little interest to anyone other than the more crazed of my motorcycle brethren. I may go back to this from time to time and add more as they burble up in memory. The reason for creation is so that when I am older and even more gray (is that possible?), I’ll be able to use these notes to reminisce. Probably to the great annoyance of those unfortunates enlisted to care for me at some point, but I digress…
1965 Yamaha YDS3
- First bike! Purchased in August of 1967. I was 20 years old.
- Only 400 miles, and $400. Blue and white
- First owner frightened by a car turning left in front of him
- Ridden for two years, including Minneapolis to Seattle and back in 1968 – camping.
- Added one of the first Vetter fairings – essentially a road race fairing with a taller windscreen. White with blue Yamaha “tuning fork” decals on the sides. That necessitated the removal of the front fender – cool!
- Destroyed in a ditch at 60mph in June of 1969 by a rider who was behaving like an idiot – me. Separated shoulder.
Honda 305 Superhawk
- Owned by a college pal who went with me on my first big trip.
- Painfully obvious that it was a much better bike than my Yamaha, although my friend was kind enough not to mention it.
- Dead reliable, fast for its day, and capable of almost anything
1969 Honda 450SS
- Second bike owned. Purchased in September of 1969. $875 I think, with less than 900 miles.
- First owner had removed the side and center stands, worked on them with a grinder for days, and then had them chromed.
- Silver, with gold “lightning” graphics on the tank.
- Gorgeous, and in many ways my best friend. I had just moved from Minneapolis and knew my Dad (Bellevue) and the staff of my first school – that was it.
- Ridden for two years and 19,000 miles, including Seattle to Berkeley for Christmas (1969), Seattle to Minneapolis and back (1970) and Seattle to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1971.
- A snapped cam chain in St. Pete ate the engine. I flew back with helmet in hand.
1969 Honda 350 Scrambler
- Two of them, one in blue and the other red. Purchased by two teacher friends I was renting a house with. Rode at least one of them at a staff party – faster than I should have. Impressive bike.
1972 Honda 500 4
- Purchased in September of 1971 – 3rd one sold in this state. Gold.
- A perfect motorcycle; so perfect it was boring.
- Used for our honeymoon ride down the coast of Oregon in March of 1972.
- Featured in “2 X4,” an article I wrote for “Road Rider” magazine. One of the first bits of writing I got paid for. “Road Rider” is now “Motorcycle Consumer News.” They also published a poem I sent them that is too embarrassing to reprint here. Trust me.
- Sold for funds to purchase a rolling wreck of a 1958 Corvette
- Belonged to one of my junior high students. Spent a fun afternoon bouncing around a vacant lot trading off with this 14 year old girl. Today that would get you fired – rapidly.
Honda 450 CL
- Purchased as a “commuter bike” in 1976.
- I didn’t think the badly faded green paint on the tank would bother me, but it did.
- Stupid mufflers with the welded seams
- Functional as a motorcycle, but not very inspiring.
1977 Yamaha 750 Triple
- Purchased in summer of 1977. Silver with blue graphics. I added an owner’s manual and a license plate burglar alarm – came to just over $2,000. The house we had just traded up from paid for it.
- Rode it for 22 years and almost 50,000 miles
- Added a copy of a BMW R90S fairing in black. Narrower bars from a Euro-spec Norton. K&N filters, S&W shocks, and (eventually) a MAC exhaust.
- Fantastic motorcycle
1976 Harley Davidson “CR” Sportster
- This was Harley’s entry into the Café Racer craze of the 1970,s and they were late to the party with a bike that looked the business but was seriously flawed.
- I had a weekend and summer job at “Drager’s” which at that time was an aftermarket shop on Dexter Avenue. A customer came in and wanted to get some passenger pegs for his girlfriend, as a CR had none. We found some that could be bolted around the shocks.
- As I gushed over his bike (I do that a lot) he asked if I would like to ride it.
- Once underway I noticed that Harley had taken a few short cuts. The instruments were Honda 750 items, for one.
- All was fine until I got to a corner, and it would not turn. The frame geometry was such that it cornered only with great effort. I scared myself silly, but did not crash. I mentioned this to the owner and he said “Yeah, I probably should have mentioned that.” Um. Yeah
1977 Moto- Guzzi
- Weirdest bike I’d ridden to that point. Two humongous cylinders jutting out to either side. It sounded like a farm tractor. The shift felt like you were moving ten pound gears. And yet, within ten minutes it all began to make sense and I really enjoyed it. Dull brown and not much to look at, but extremely capable. Over a 20 mile or so ride it felt like there was a hinge in the middle of the frame. I reported this back to the owner and he said he felt it too and wondered if I would notice it!
1971 or ’72 Triumph triple
This deserves a story. Originally belonged to a colleague of my friend. The colleague left for a high-paying job in Saudi Arabia, or something like that, and left it with Alan to be sold. Alan was not able to find a buyer, and occasionally tried to ask his friend what to do. He never heard from the friend again, and started to ride the bike occasionally to keep it in fine fettle. I had been lusting after this bike for some time, but when I took it out I wondered what all the fuss was about. Right side shift, as well, which frightened me. In any case, it seemed all roar and not all that much speed. When I brought it back Alan discovered that the middle spark plug lead had come loose. With all three cylinders firing I quickly learned what the hype was all about. Seriously fast for the day.
This bike was the first of my experience that seemed to have a personality. An evil one. It always seemed to me that it dearly wanted to kill me. I don’t know why.
Months later Alan and I were out for a weekend ride down one of our favorite roads. I looked in my rear view mirror and he was doing a somersault in the road! No bike! In fact, he had crashed into a ditch.
He sat there with a broken shoulder, while I rode the Triumph back to his house. The bars and I think frame were bent, so to ride it I had to hang off about a foot to the left, while remembering the shift was on the wrong side.
I don’t know what eventually happened to it.
1982 Gus Kuhn Replica of a Norton John Player Replica
There’s a mouthful. While working on a car or bike of some sort at Alan’s house (we did this about once a week for years) a friend called from eastern Washington. He was visiting a guy on a farm and found that the guy had an “old Norton” in the barn, in pieces, and it looked sort of odd.
“What sort of ‘odd’?”
“Well, it has a fairing on it with two headlamps.”
Alan and I paused and stared. Could this be one of the rare and valuable street bikes Norton built to capitalize on their “John Player” sponsored race bikes?
“Is it white with red and blue stripes?”
“Hmmm. How much does he want for it.”
“Tell you what. You buy it, and if you decide you don’t want it bring it over here and I’ll buy it.”
Which I did a couple of months later. A Norton! With a huge fuel tank for endurance racing, rear set pegs, clip on bars, and the swoopy road race fairing with the twin headlights. I was pretty excited.
Research showed that it was not a real JPR, but a kit of parts produced by a go-fast place for café racer stuff in England called Gus Kuhn. I spent the winter spraying the white fiberglass tank with cans of black rattle can paint, which did not work all that well in the cold, and then applied some gold Norton decals. Alan pretty much re-engineered and re-wired the entire electric system. It looked pretty cool.
That was the best part. But to start it, you had “tickle” the carbs until raw fuel over flowed, and then fold out the shortened kick start lever. You would romp down on it, which would slam your ankle into the foot peg, which did not fold. As a 1982, it did have an electric starter, but the early ones were famous for not having enough grunt to turn the engine over. You would repeat this a few times and it would start. Once underway, the limited clearance of the grips and the enormous fuel tank (I think it held eight gallons) would restrict the turning circle, so you needed a width of a freeway to turn around.
On a warm day on a flowing back road it was fun, but then so was my Yamaha triple. In due time I sold it for $2,000, splitting the profits with Alan.
1999 Kawasaki ZRX 1100
Purchased in 1999, as I sold the Yamaha to Alan. In a riotous paint scheme of white and green with purple, which inexplicably looked fabulous. A big old bus that returned 45mpg at any speed, never used a drop of oil or water, and offered extremely stable handling. Hidden storage area under the seat as well. One of my favorite motorcycles of all time.
2000 Buell Thunderbolt
My first “company” bike. Jim Boltz called the regional Harley sales manager and told him we needed to “borrow” the bike assigned to him. Then he gave me a dealer plate and told me to go to Eastside Harley to pick it up. The service manager at Eastside had to call the boss and say “You mean I am just supposed to give this guy the bike?” yes.
It was brand new, and I had never ridden a Harley before. I pushed it out into the sunshine and started it up. It sounded like a paint shaker machine, or that something was seriously wrong with it. They all do that, sir. I prayed I would not kill the engine, because all of the technicians were standing there waiting for this doofus to screw up. I rode it out of the dealership, and once on the freeway the vibes and noise toned down and it was a very nice bike.
This was their sport tourer, with very nice large saddlebags. To my horror, I scraped one of them on a post one day, and covered the damage up with a Harley sticker. Nobody ever noticed.
1997 Muzzy Raptor
What an adventure! Rob Muzzy ran Kawasaki’s road race teams for many years, with great success. He also sold exhaust systems, etc. out of a race shop in Bend, Oregon. He 1997 he chose to make some exotic sport bikes out of the Kawasaki 750s that were the core of his race team’s success. Jim Boltz of Cycle Barn heard of this, and the original deal was that Muzzy would create 30 examples of the “Muzzy Raptor,” and Cycle Barn would purchase all of them. They came in two varieties – the milder one was $14,000 and the more race-prepped edition was $18,000. That was a LOT of money at that time. Cycle World magazine did a road test of one of them that fairly oozed moto-lust all over the page.
Muzzy decided to make more, and Boltz decided to only purchase 10. In the end, I believe there were 56 of them. Most were raced, and the Raptor is the only street legal bike to ever podium at an AMA Superbike race. They featured lots of “unobtanium” parts for the time. A full titanium exhaust, hand formed solo seat body with ram air, flat slide carbs, Marchesini magnesium wheels, and on and on. It was essentially a combination of every go-fast piece available at the time with a Muzzy-refined engine.
I went to work for Cycle Barn in 2000, and they had two of the original 1997 bikes left. Unsold. I came up with a whacky plan that Cycle Barn would sell me one of them at a sharply reduced cost. I would ride it on the sport bike rides I was leading, and someone would want to purchase it. I would then split the profits with Cycle Barn. This whacky plan had serious flaws I will get to, but it went forward. Cycle Barn sold me the bike for $6,000, with 30 monthly payments of $200. They then raised my salary by $200 a month. So the bike was mine for the cost of the insurance.
The day I purchased it someone called from Salt Lake City who wanted to purchase the other one! I asked the finance woman to hurry up the paperwork before management changed their minds about the weird deal I had agreed to.
Late that night I got a call at home from a salesperson. The couple from Salt Lake were flying in the next day and wanted to hear the Muzzy run, but the other one had not been prepped, so would I please bring mine back to work.
I explained that mine now had three coats of wax on the gloss black paint, and that it was raining. I would drive my car to work and then bring the couple back to my house to hear it run. That is what we did, and I will never forget standing in my garage with this couple. As the bike warmed up we could watch the titanium exhaust change color. Once warm, blipping the throttle produced a blue flame a foot long out of the pipes. We went back to Cycle Barn and they purchased the last one, to add to a pretty extensive collection of high end bikes they both rode.
My plans for the bike went awry almost immediately. The riding position was so radical that the eye port on my Shoei was too low – I could not see. A new Arai solved that. Worse, riding it was an extremely intense experience that for some reason reminded me of playing football. When I got home from a ride I would be so amped up I had to walk around my garage for a while to calm down. It was suxh an all-encompassing experience that I did not want to have any other motorcycle within 50 yards of me, so leading rides did not work well. Plus, of course, the mirrors were useless.
The suspension was so hard it was virtually solid at any speed less than 85 mph. Above that it was silken. The flat slide carbs were designed to accept full throttle at high rpm. If you gave it too much too soon they would “drown,” and you could wait while the ignition cleared itself.
One day I was riding to work and all of a sudden the revs shot up. Had the clutch failed? No, but the road was wet and I was on a blending white painted line, and the rear tire had spun up. This did not bother the bike at all, but certainly got my attention.
Again, most of them were raced, and crashed. The couple in Salt Lake put stock body work on theirs so it was better at sport touring! By 2002 I had probably the best Muzzy Raptor on the planet. With 1100 miles, no races, and no track days.
I sold it to a fellow in Ohio who had a sport bike shop. He later sued me for shipping damage, (which was a completely bogus charge) and I had to fly back to Ohio for a trial in small claims court. Which I won.
In the end, I think I sold it for $12,750, so I made a $3,000 profit and Cycle Barn got back almost all of the money they had spent. Whew! I still have a promotional sign with all of the specs and colorful graphics. I just need a big man cave to display it.
Honda Shadow 1100
- Eminently practical cruiser than did everything well
- While riding it on the freeway, the right hand mirror came loose. I reached across to tighten it with my left hand and hit the kill switch with my wrist. That was exciting.
Suzuki cruiser of some sort and year
This one made a real impression on me. I wanted to ride it home to check it out and a salesman asked me why I would want to ride it, describing it as a “piece of shit.” I replied that I had never ridden one, so I would find out for myself.
In this era (2000 or so) all the major Japanese companies made multiple cruisers of varying displacement that were copies of Harleys. Being Japanese, they could not understand why Harley would soldier on with such an antique engine architecture, so they could not help themselves and improved it. They added water cooling, shaft or belt drive, fuel injection at times, and so on. By doing so they lost the vibration and “potato potato” exhaust cadence that made Harley. This one was (I think) an 800cc version in a lovely cream and green paint scheme.
Long before I reached home I had sussed the intended buyer. A man or woman who wanted a motorcycle to ride once in a while, when the weather was perfect. The big trip for the year would probably be a ride around Mt. Rainier. The bike asked very little of the rider. It was comfortable and extremely easy to ride. The foot controls were mildly forward for that cool guy profile, but not out of reach of anyone’s leg. The handling was predictable, the brakes adequate, and the sound barely there.
Once home by daughter and wife came out and gushed all over it. They thought it was beautiful! I questioned why they thought so and the response was “the classic lines.” I sputtered on at some length about the radiator and the other things that were definitely not part of anyone’s definition of classic lines, and they were unmoved. To a person with only a mild interest in motorcycles, this one, glowing in dark green and cream with ample chrome, was beautiful. End of story.
So it was not my cup of tea, but I could imagine the customer who would like it. The salesman needed a check-up from the neck up.
Harley Fat Boy
Another bike that taught me a lesson. Looking at it, I just knew I would hate it. Fat Boys had solid disc front and rear wheels, so a strong side wind would affect the bike. Foot boards reduced cornering clearance to about nil. Lots of chrome, and a wild black with red and yellow flames. Oh my. And forward controls, again, but more out there than on the Suzuki.
Determined to hate it, I wandered up the street on my way home, my feet waving helplessly in the air as I tried to locate the brake and shift controls. Little power, heavy as an oil tanker, mediocre brakes, and no cornering clearance. And then something really odd happened.
I was having a great time! For reasons hard to explain, it was just so much fun to ride! Did it appeal to my inner 8 year old? I don’t know, but I loved riding it home, and then back the next day, and I rode many more of them over the next few years.
I was not a “Harley” person, per se, but I could see the appeal. Over the years I met many fine people who were passionate Harley riders, and although I disagreed with many of their opinions about other brands, I could at least identify with why they loved their Harleys. Ironically, by the time I left Cycle Barn after almost ten years, I’d ridden a couple of hundred Harleys of every description, assuredly more than any of the folks I’d met had experienced.
- Mega-heavy cruiser
- Essentially a Gold Wing without most of the bodywork
- I actually liked it better than the Gold Wing
- I rode one from Lynnwood to Smokey Point and back, and half way there was horrified to note that it was brand new! It had been parked with the used bikes and nobody thought to tell me.
That’s about all I can remember. For now.
Copyright 2016 David Preston