Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Bikes That Built Me

A fellow blogger, Gary France, recently published pics of the bikes that he has owned in his lifetime. After reading it, I began thinking about the bikes that I have owned and realized that these bikes did, in many ways, build me.

I grew up in a lower middle income neighborhood on the edge of a dusty West Texas town. While money was very tight for every family I knew, it was not uncommon for a motorcycle to appear in the driveway when the male teens approached their 15th birthday, the age at which we could obtain a motorcycle driver's permit in Texas. As teens, we were a sometimes wild, but a pretty industrious group of kids - mowing lawns, paper routes, working at the local Whataburger, and other typical first jobs to earn a little coin. And we were more than willing to put up a fair share of those proceeds towards the purchase of our first bike.

My story was no different. I inherited a paper route from an older brother when I was 13 and immediately began dreaming of buying a motorcycle when my first month's profits were deposited in the bank. For two years I delivered the paper route on my bicycle - 15 miles twice a day in the sun, wind, rain, sleet and snow...uphill both ways. I saved every dollar and constantly worked on my parents to let me upgrade to a motorcycle. My mom was a big believer in the perils of motorcycles and, to this day, I'm not sure I ever won her blessing. But I did eventually get the bike.


Photo from the Internet.

It was a 1973 Suzuki TS100 and it was a real beauty. Our neighborhood was surrounded on three sides by a vacant field, a creek, and farmland. This "enduro" model was the best of both worlds - most of the creature comforts of a street bike with the suspension and tire clearance that could handle some light off-roading. The 'light off-roading' occaisonally included jumping over friends and their bikes using self-made moguls as launch and landing pads. The only accessory added was a luggage rack that made it easier (and safer) to hold my worn newspaper delivery saddle bags.

I learned a lot from that first bike experience. First, long-term goals can be realized if you work hard. Two, salesmanship. Not only did I have to sell the paper delivery service to my customers, I had to sell the concept of certain danger on wheels to my highly risk averse parents. But even parents couldn't argue with the concept of business productivity. I was now able to deliver my paper route in half the time! Three, despite what it looks like when Evil Knievel does it on television, coming down after a high jump can hurt! Why didn't they ever include those, "Please don't try this at home" warnings back then?

Four, my mom was right, motorcycles are dangerous. I had two accidents on that bike - the only accidents that I have experienced! One that involved taking a shortcut where I shouldn't have and hitting a single strand of barbed wire that an annoyed farmer so kindly put up. And the other involved being hit by a drunk driver at 2am, which gave me my fifth learning - the advantage of leverage. The drunk driver was a car salesman driving a demo car and while the accident did little more than swing my rear tire out from under me, breaking the gear shifter, and scraping a couple of places on the bike and my butt, he was scared to death of the potential legal and criminal consequences. A tidy little settlement soon followed.

My sixth lesson was...re-sale matters. I got my money's worth out of that bike from the paper route and fun alone. I kept it in tip-top shape and sold it to an airman at the local Air Force base for almost what I paid for it three years earlier and I've been wheeling and dealing ever since.

My second bike came along when I was in college. I don't recall exactly how it happened, but along the lines of bigger is better, I bought another Suzuki enduro, the TS400, my junior year.


Photo from the Internet.

I used the bike to go to/from work, but really didn't get all that much use out of it as I recall, though it did provide some additional learnings. First, just because you're older doesn't mean you have to grow up. The reality may not always match the memory, but you have to give it a try once in a while. Second, brand matters. Maybe it was because my first bike was a Suzuki. Maybe it was because Suzuki really was the better bike in the day. But you couldn't have sold me any other brand at the time. And the third lesson was...re-sale matters. I made money on selling this one. Wait a second, I can ride for a year for free AND pull a profit if I buy right? Hmmm...

I then entered the dark years...some 20+ of them where I didn't own a bike. Oh, I would occasionally get the itch and ride a friend's bike, but life just happened and I went a LONG time without riding. Then Phil showed up.

Like many of us, Phil had been on/off bikes over the years, but somehow got the bug to buy a Harley. A beautiful Road King, I might add. I think he knew from the day he rode up that I was in trouble, but it took me a few more months to come to that realization.

My day came when I happened across a 2000 Heritage Softail Classic. It was painted two-tone, Aztec Orange and Diamond Ice, a color combination available for only two years (1999-2000). The Seller had won the bike with a $10 raffle ticket, rode it for less than a year, and was selling it so that he could buy a ranch (including mineral rights) that would soon be determined to be in the heart of a natural gas field known as the Barnett Shale - the largest onshore natural gas find in the United States. He easily turned that $10 raffle ticket into a $100K royalty stream.  

Photo from the Internet. I didn't have the whitewall tires,
it but otherwise looks like my maiden Harley!

My bride was a reluctant biker wife, telling me, "I'm not going to be one of those biker bitches you hear about." We went to the local H-D dealership that weekend and within 15 minutes of walking in the door, my lovely bride came up with both arms full of leather and lace exclaiming, "Look what I found and it's all on sale!" She too had crossed over.

The Heritage Softail Classic was a great bike, but I made the mistake of riding a friend's Road King Classic about a year later. By then, we were taking regular overnight trips on the bike and the Road King's touring frame seemed to provide a MUCH better ride. So I made the ultimate Harley transaction - converting a friend of mine from a crotch rocket to my Heritage and rescuing a Road King Classic from an owner who never used it. And a new rider group was born.



IMO, the Road King Classic will be one of the classic Harley models. This bike was my primary ride for eight years, but along the way, we sampled a few others. After a few years of riding bitch, Liz decided she wanted to move into the rider seat. She took the motorcycle safety course and her graduation present was another classic, a 1997 Heritage Springer. 




The Heritage Springer was a pleasure to look at...and rode like a brick. Looking back, it was not exactly the best bike for a new rider, BUT LOOK AT IT! Determined to enjoy her new-found freedom, Liz cut her teeth on it and did very well on the open road. But with limited time to ride and hone her skills, she eventually opted to return to the passenger pillion and we sold the bike to a nice gentleman in Florida who was returning to riding after a long absence. He flew-in for the day. I picked him up at the airport, brought him back for a test ride and inspection, then back to the airport. He was absolutely giddy on the ride back, calling the shipper on his cell so that it could be delivered at the earliest possible date.

But I'm a trader at heart, so we dabbled in a few other bikes along the way...


I rescued a Fatboy from a guy who had been out of work for a while and had to quickly relocate to secure a new job. On the ride home, I discovered it needed new cylinder gaskets and I needed new jeans (mine were soaked with oil). Also a 1997 model, it was a lighter and smoother ride than the Heritage Springer. Once all the repairs were made, it became the first bike of a new rider in Houston. His wife said that he smiled all the way home.

A few months later, I ran across a deal on a 2001 Dyna Low Rider. Thinking it might be the bike to get Liz back in the rider seat, I bought it and shined it up. But it was a busy time for both of us and Liz's back condition was really starting to be of concern. After five months of sitting on the trickle charger in the garage, we reluctantly put it up for sale so that another first time rider could get his charge.



We're now touring with a little more creature comfort - a 2009 Ultra Classic. I just couldn't resist the upgrade in the larger engine, 6-speed transmission, new touring suspension, and new electronics that wasn't available in the trusted 1999 Road King Classic. And the cruise control is icing on the cake!


The lessons learned with these bikes followed those in the early years:
  • Buy what you will ride - it really doesn't matter what brand or model, just get out there and enjoy!
  • Only buy what you can easily afford - you don't want your passion to become your burden, and
  • If you buy right up-front, you can (almost) ride for free!
But the greatest lesson learned is to enjoy the wind in our hair, the smell of flowers (and, in Texas, occaisonal dead skunk), and reconnecting with each other. Liz and I have always enjoyed driving to explore the great USA and doing it on the bike makes the experience even more vivid.

Every bike has a story. What's yours?

© 2011 TRHG Holdings LLC

3 comments:

Gary France said...

Good to hear from you and it has been a while since you posted anything! You have had some great bikes along the way and all interesting in their own way. While I have been able to do much more on the later bikes I have owned, I have some really fond memories of my early bikes – it is clear from reading this post that you have the same. Nice post, very nice.

Radar said...

Gary,

It has been too long since my last post. I've had this one in the works for some time, but was struggling to find good pics of all the bikes from the past.

Fond memories indeed. My first bike created such a sense of freedom and triggered the explorer gene in me. I've cherished every ride sense.

I'm still thinking about how to pull off your photo challenge...

Thanks for reading and commenting. Enjoy your time in Spain.

Radar said...

"...every ride since!"

I hate not having editing capability in the comments!