Do you ever miss being a new motorcycle rider? We all have different stories of how and when we rode the first time. Some of us were pre-teens, some of us were teens, some in our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and beyond. We all had different reasons for why we started to ride and we all had different levels of instruction (or lack of instruction.) No matter what stories we have to tell, there are things that every single one of us has that can’t be taken away or changed, and those are our rookie riding experiences.
What a rush being a newbie was!! Sometimes I force myself to think back to those times – when everything about motorcycles and riding them was exciting and new. Yep – those times those wonderful times. I remember – it was….
It was late 1969 and I had just returned from serving in the Army. During my two year absence, my best friend growing up, who had also been my next door neighbor since we were just little guys, had started riding motorcycles. I believe when I returned home he was riding a Norton. It was winter in Michigan, so I didn’t see him ride, but going over to his house I did see the bike a lot.
Fast forward to early March of 1970 and we were experiencing one of those pop-up “warm” days that come along in late winter or early spring. For those of you who live in the northern states or in Canada you know what I am talking about. The temperature gets ALL THE WAY UP TO 40 degrees (somewhere between 4 and 5 degrees Celsius) and we would think that it was the middle of summer. My buddy, Larry, came riding by. He sure did look like he was enjoying himself………..and I’m sure that he was!!
There I was 21 years old, single, with money in my pocket watching my best bud ride off on his motorcycle. So you can pretty well guess what I did next. I didn’t pass GO, I didn’t collect $200, but went straight to the local dealer. I remember that Anderson’s was a little store/shop located just outside the downtown area of Pontiac, MI. As nosey teens, we used to go in and look at the four or five Triumphs and/or other bikes in the front while the salesman/parts man/repair guy (pretty much all the same guy) was in back working on bikes. This was; however, right after the “You Meet The Nicest People On a Honda” campaign, and during a booming economy, so Anderson’s had a big, brand new building on the main drag near Pontiac. It had a huge showroom with colorful rows of Hondas and Yamahas. There was a real honest to goodness parts counter and a bustling service area.
I walked in and ran into an acquaintance from the neighborhood who was one of the sales people. He didn’t have to do anything, but stand there and wait for me to tell him what I wanted. It was kind of like one of those movies where some little kid is looking at dogs at the shelter. They love them all and then, wham, it happens. They see THE dog and the rest just disappear. It was the same with me on that dealership floor. I was looking at all the shimmer and shine and the rainbow of colors and, WHAM, it happened. The little, orange, Honda CL350 Street Scrambler stole my heart. All the other bikes in the room were no longer there. I HAD TO HAVE THAT ONE!!
I made my way to the sales desk never taking my eye off the bike and I knew the bike was watching me as well and was just as excited about going to its new home as I was to take it.
But, I was facing one little problem. I had only been on the BACK of a motorcycle once in my life and I had NEVER driven one. I worked a different shift at General Motors than my buddy, so he was at work and I couldn’t call him. So I called Ron, a friend I worked with and someone I knew was savvy about how to ride a motorcycle.
A few days had passed since that balmy 40 degree day we had experienced earlier. The day I purchased the bike and had Ron come to help out was a dismal, gray, Michigan March day with temps in the high 20’s at best. Being the trooper that he was, Ron rode the bike the five miles from the dealership to my house and I followed in his car. It was there in the front of my house that I received my “Motorcycle Training.”
After thawing out about 10 minutes in the house, we returned to the sidewalk where the Honda was waiting. And this is almost exactly how the instruction went: “Get on the bike….ok…..this is the throttle, this is your shifter. From neutral to first gear is one click down and you click up to shift to higher gears and click down to get back to first gear. When in first gear you gently toe up to neutral. Don’t worry about it if you have to search for it because you’ll eventually get the feel of where it is. Here is your clutch. This pedal is your rear brake and this lever is your front brake, but don’t ever use your front brake. Ok, pull in the clutch and start it.”
That is how a frozen acquaintance teaches motorcycle 101.
I started the bike. Holy Horsepower Batman!!! What a feeling. I felt like I never had to move and only had to sit there with the bike running beneath me. I would be happy forever, but Ron wanted to go home, so he wanted to make sure I could move. I knew how to drive a stick shift so I was able to make the bike move and after a couple of tries I even got to second gear. Man I was happy. Who cared that it was only 28 degrees out (well, Ron did!!)? My progress, so to speak, was good enough for Ron and he was gone.
During the next two weeks I spent much of my free time riding up and down the street and around the neighborhood getting a feel for the bike. Then one day it was bright and sunny and warm (sort of), so I headed out for another neighborhood ride. I started the bike and went down the street into the neighborhood, around the block, and headed back towards my house. I had done that same thing 20 or 30 times over the previous couple of weeks, but this time something was happening. I felt different. My house was getting closer, but I wasn’t slowing down. My eyes were focused on the highway a block further up the street.
I pulled up to the stop sign……looked to my left….no cars…..gas, clutch out…..WAHOO! I was riding!! I rode up to the local shopping center, pulled in, rode around the parking lot, back on the highway, and home. I knew that everyone was watching me and were thrilled at seeing the guy riding by on that motorcycle. I stopped at the light, down shifting as I slowed, and putting my feet on the ground….WOW! I eased out the clutch and zipped past block after block toward my street. Did I turn in?? No way.
I rode for a good hour before I pulled back into my yard. Only then did I realize how cold I was. I dismounted the Honda and bubbled over with excitement and pride. I was already excited about my next chance to ride again. And you know what? I still feel that way.
That was nearly 43 years ago. There are grandparents out there who weren’t born yet when I had that experience. Nixon was president, there was no such thing as a self-serve gas station, and we only had four channels on the ONE television in the house. Am I still riding? You bet! I have gone through several bikes since that first little Honda. I live in Florida now, and on average, put 13,000-15,000 miles a year in the saddle. I ride to Michigan at least once every year. I have qualified for two Iron Butt certifications and I ride to work EVERY DAY. I have 43 years of riding stories. Only you, all my brothers and sisters in this wonderful motorcycle fraternity, can understand that looking at your motorcycle, climbing on your motorcycle, starting your motorcycle, and riding your motorcycle……IS STILL A RUSH!!!!
When and where did your story begin?