I started riding when I was five, on a used Taco 44 mini-bike that had a 4 hp Briggs & Stratton engine. I rode the hell out of that thing, until one day the gas leaking from the tank seam caught fire and it burned up. Dad had a 5 hp Tecumseh-powered Bonanza mini-bike that I rode after that, but it just wasn’t the same as the ol’ Taco 44. Funny story: The very first time I rode the Taco, I took off down the sidewalk wearing my metal-flake gold Bell helmet with the bulbous visor. (Remember those?) I didn’t know how to turn it. I smacked into a low brick wall and went into the rose bushes at a friend’s house.
When I was ten, dad bought a well-used 1964 Yamaha 80. This was one of the ones with the stamped-steel body. It had no lights, and the tailpipe was restricted to about a 1/2-inch opening. Man, was that thing loud!
When I was twelve I had pneumonia. I got over the pneumonia, graduated from sixth grade, and had my birthday (my birthday is in mid-June) all at the same time. My triple-combination present was a brand new Yamaha 100 Enduro. It was purple. I rode that until I was 17, when my dad bought us a matched pair of Yamaha 250 Enduros.
My next bike came a very long time later, a 1979 Honda CX500 I bought from a coworker for a dollar. It had 33,000 miles on it when I bought it. When I sold it, it had 65,000 miles on the clock. This old thing had a very useful accessory; a throttle lock. I’d been laid off from my job, seven miles from the office, and the company re-hired me in San Bernardino – 70 miles away. It could get a little chilly in the Winter (I saw 33 or 34 degrees on many occasions), so I’d turn the lock on and warm my hands on the Moto-Guzzi-style cylinder heads. One day I was riding along at 70 mph with my hands in my pockets. A coworker passed me on the right and gave a hilarious double-take. When I got to the office he was telling everyone I was a mad man.
In 1994 I got a new Yamaha XJ600 Seca II. I still have it, with 80,000 miles on the odometer. One three-day weekend in the '90s I went for a ride. My apartment was at the 10 and 405 interchange, and I headed west to Santa Monica. I took a right up PCH. I figured the bike knew where it was going. I found myself on the 101. A few hours later I was pulling into the Laguna Seca racetrack to look around. By the time I quit riding I’d made it to Novato, then turned around to find a place to kip in San Raphael. Little did I know that there was some sort of Art festival in San Francisco, and a renaissance faire in Novato. No room at the end. I went to a motel and they had one room left. Only there was a guy ahead of me. He thought $50 was too much to pay for a room, so I got it.
The next morning I rode down PCH on the way home, and it was torture. Cool and foggy, and the bloody motor homes wouldn’t go over 45 mph. As you know, both of my knees are damaged. My right knee really doesn’t like being bent. When I got to San Simeon I had to get off the bike and walk around for a bit. PCH being too slow, I went over to the 101. Remember that this adventure started out as just a little ride. I was wearing a denim jacket. I got to Ventura and it was dark and damp and cold. But I was in the home-stretch. I slept very soundly in my warm apartment in L.A. Probably 18 hours of riding, over two days, I was cold, my knee hurt, and people were too slow. But I wouldn’t have missed the experience.
In 2003 the ol’ Seca needed new tires. I went to the shop, and – it wasn’t my fault. Honest. I’m not the one who put a RED 2002 Yamaha YZF-R1 in the showroom! It was really too tempting. But a couple was ahead of me, and they saw the splash of red in the midst of the silver and blue 2003 models. They bought it. I’d dodged a bullet! But then the sneaky salesman said he could get one for me too. So you see? It really wasn’t my fault! I was just going in for tires! Those were the most expensive tires I’ve ever bought. Fortunately, I was in the one dealership in the entire country that sells below sticker. Tax, license, dealer prep, transportation – everything – was included in the price, which was $1,000 below MSRP. And since I was buying the previous year-model, it was $500 cheaper. For the same bike as the 2003s, only RED. And here it is.
I was laid off a couple of months later, and moved into the house I’d just bought in Northern Washington. No more riding almost every day of the year. Cold, wet, and slippery maple leaves all over the place. I probably have around 5,000 miles on the R1.
Overall, I have between 120,000 and 140,000 miles on motorcycles, over 100,000 miles of which are lane-splitting on L.A. freeways.