~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Once a rider, always a rider.

My dear ol' dad, at the age of 85, passed away back in January and this of course led me to pondering the past more than usual. I should ponder the future more but I can't remember the future.

I have no idea when my Dad first rode a motorcycle. He told me once that he nearly bought an Indian Four back about 1938 or so. He reckoned the coolest thing in the world would be have that Indian, some knee-high shined up motorcycle boots, and then astride that big Four, go call on his best girl. Given that the Great Depression was rolling right along back then it was a lofty dream of coolness on Dad's part. Working for $1.00 an hour in a fruit packing shed didn't buy many Indian motorcycles. Dad didn't buy the Indian but he did marry his best girl for which I and my three brothers are grateful. Had he shown up at her house on a motorcycle instead of a Model A Ford, Grandpa Brown, a serious minded Mennonite, might have chased him off straightway as too unreliable to court his daughter.

Someplace along the way Dad got a bike and he and Mom even took some trips around the Central Valley of California. At one point they each got small bikes, Mom learned how to ride, and they took a trip on both bikes. Sadly, I cannot find a single picture from those days in Mom's big box of family pictures. My son will have no such problem, he'll have more pictures of his ol' man's adventures than he'll know what to do with. I just hope he values them.

After WWII Dad managed to acquire a Harley franchise and an Indian franchise. He was ambitious and apparently couldn't be bothered with the long standing rivalry between Harley and Indian.

Dad was out for a ride one day with some buddies and one of the guys tangled with a car and went down hard. No helmets of course in 1949 and Dad's friend suffered a severe head injury. "Poor old Ernie was never right in the head after that" I heard from Dad more than once in the years to come. As Dad had a wife and two kids at that point, he decided the risks of riding were unacceptable and all the bikes and such got sold off. I sure wish he'd have kept that Harley franchise though. I'm not a big fan of Harleys or at least the current Harley cultism but I know a gold mine when I see one.

Dad didn't like to talk much about his motorcycle days, I suspect because he felt it would only encourage me. Mom told me a couple of years ago about how Dad and his buddies would get together, pull the mufflers off their bikes and race up and down the hill behind the house where they lived and how he once road his bike all the way into San Jose "at breakneck speed with no muffler on it." As she told me this story Dad sat a few feet away in his easy chair watching the ball game and ignoring us. I asked Mom loud enough for Dad to hear "Mom, do you mean to tell me that my dear old Pop was a hell raisin' motorsickle rider sometimes? Mom thought for a moment and replied "Well...yes!" Dad glanced darkly at me, apparently not appreciating having his "wild one" days brought to light. I doubt that they were all that wild but they were not an example he was willing to share with his kids.

When I hit 16 years old I began lobbying Dad to let me buy a bike. He recounted the story of Ernie and let me know in no uncertain terms that he'd be worried sick every day if I had a bike. Since he didn't just yell "NO!" and order me to go do yard work so I took this as a hopeful sign.

In a short time I wore him down and my first bike, a Yamaha 60 was acquired. I'd had it about a week when Dad walked up and said flatly, "Give me the key to your motor." I gulped and thought sure he'd changed his mind on me. I pulled the key out my jeans expecting never to see it again and Dad went outside. I heard the bike start and off Dad went. I didn't know if he'd ever even ridden anything that didn't have hand shift and a foot clutch.

He was back in about 20 minutes, walked in the house, handed me the key with a curt "Thanks" and went off to watch the news. Every so often he'd come to me, demand the key to the bike and disappear for a while.

When Dad finally retired he and mom bought a motorhome to go off and see the world and one of the first additions for the motorhome was a Honda Trail 90. As with zillions of other motorhomers the Trail 90 provided easy, cheap transportation when stopped somewhere and the motorhome was hooked up at a campsite.

Dad begin cruising around on the Trail 90 even when he and mom were not traveling. In time as he ventured farther a field he decided that the 90cc Honda engine was being worked too hard. I showed up to visit them one day at their home in Fresno, California and Dad showed me his new Yamaha 200 out in the garage. He carefully explained that it provided him with better range and would still fit on the back of the motorhome. In time he admitted to making day trips out of Fresno, winding through the farm country and even up to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains that make up the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. He remarked once that he'd covered a couple of hundred miles on the little 200 one day.

When he turned 70, persons who shall remain nameless convinced Dad that he was too old to ride safely and the Yamaha should go. He agreed. A few years ago I rolled my new Kawasaki 1500 Drifter out of the garage for Dad to look at and sit on. He was about 80 the time and told me "I should have never let them talk me out of the motor when I turned 70, I think I could have ridden safely until I was at least 75 or so."

I guess once the motorcycle bug bikes you never get entirely free of it unless something in your spirit dies. Dad may have given up riding but it wasn't because he wanted to. Lots of people own and operate motorcycles but not everyone is a rider. Riders have a certain gut feeling for the motorcycling experience that is never fully satisfied and once rider, always a rider.

Even though he let me start riding, Dad never approved of my motorcycling. I know for a fact he always regretted letting me get that first bike but maybe he just thought it was inevitable. When I'd get home late at night sometimes he'd be sitting there and tell me "I heard ambulances in the distance and wondered if they were for you." Dad did guilt pretty well but not well enough to get me off my bike.

One of the things I really wanted to do was race motocross but Dad would not hear of it. "I'll disown you if you ever race!" I didn't believe he'd really do that but it did make the impression that motorcycle racing was not considered an appropriate hobby for nice young men.

When I stupidly decided to get married at the age of 19 one of the first things Dad said to me was "You're going to have responsibilities now and it's time to give up your motorcycle." I begged to differ and allowed as how my fiancé actually liked motorcycles.

Immediately after getting married one of my first steps as a newly emancipated adult was to go into hock for a new Bultaco so I could go racing. I did pretty well at hiding my adventures from my folks until I crashed and burned the crap out my right arm on a Hodaka exhaust pipe. When I showed up for Sunday dinner at mom & dad's with my arm in bandages it was tough to pretend all was well so I confessed that I'd been racing and dad went silent. He didn't utter a single word to me for about three weeks but at least he didn't disown me.

With each new motorcycle I'd get another mini-lecture from him about how unsafe bikes were, how Ernie was "never right in his head" after his crash in '49 and how I was getting older and it was time to act responsible.

In time my marriage failed and I drowned my sorrows in another new bike...and another...and another. Some people drink, some do drugs, some consort with wild women, I just ride motorcycles. I thought any number of times about doing something else and even took up additional hobbies but somehow as interests came and went, the motorcycles were a constant.

When I decided to remarry in 1981 I took my fiancé over to California to meet the folks. They approved of her of course but dad did take me aside and tell me "You're taking on new responsibilities again, getting a chance to start over. It's time to give up the motorcycles." Considering that in his spare time he was bombing around Central California on his Yamaha 200 (which he said he didn't consider a motorcycle because of it's size) his admonitions didn't carry much weight. He was even less pleased when I told him I was teaching my fiancé to ride. The truth is, Dad liked motorcycles, he just didn't want his son risking his neck on them, something I did not fully appreciate until my own son got his first dirt bike, a Honda XR80.

Before I got married again I warned my fiancé "I spend too much money on hobbies and motorcycles and I'll never change. If you can't deal with that you shouldn't marry me." I'm not that smart but at least I'm honest. She replied "As long as you don't spend the mortgage money, it's ok with me." I was true to my word and so was she. I bought two Yamaha enduro bikes, a 175cc for her and a 250cc for me and we went trail riding on our honeymoon. Dad was not pleased.

After a time it came to pass that I bought my first and only Harley-Davidson, a brand new 1986 Softail Custom from Jerry Chosa at Chosa's H-D in Arizona. When I showed Dad a picture of the bike he pronounce it "a big brute" and asked if I was going to get a tattoo next.

Shortly after the Harley arrived my dear wife announced that she was pregnant. Sigh. I could read the handwriting on the wall: Goodbye Harley, hello baby. We called Mom and Dad to give them the happy news about the baby and Dad said "You're going to be a father now, it's a big responsibility, it's time to give up those motorcycles." I told him the Harley was for sale and he was pleased. I did manage to get 11,000 miles on the Harley before I sold it to someone I suspected was a hit man for drug dealers. Another story for another time.

The Harley was only gone a month and the baby hadn't even arrived yet when I got the shakes from being without a bike. I scrounged up what money I could and bought a 1975 BMW R90S from a fellow who'd done an excellent job restoring it. I had wheels again and another great BMW. Dad was not pleased and Jerry Chosa, who'd become a friend by that point, wasn't either. Annoyed two men with one motorcycle this time. What talent!

There were more bikes over the next 16 years or so including two after marriage number two ended. Bikes come and go based on my willingness to give into motorcycle fever. Like I said, some people drink, some do drugs, some consort with wild women, I just ride motorcycles.

Christmas 2003 found me at my folks house to spend time with Dad and mom; Dad was very ill with cancer and not expected to last much longer. I'd purchased my '03 Kawasaki 1600 Classic back in November and uploaded a picture of it via the Internet to my folks Ceiva digital picture frame. As I sat chatting with Dad who by that point was having trouble speaking, the picture of the new Kawasaki came up again on the Ceiva frame. I asked Dad if he'd seen the new bike. "Yes" he rasped weakly. "I'm not happy about that!" I chuckled and told him it was too late for me to change my ways and he said "I suppose so." Sorry Pop, you know how it is. Once a rider, always a rider. Rest in peace.


Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for such a great story.

Anonymous said...

Such a moving story, and reminded me so much of my own father that I am sure your and my father's might have been cut from the same cloth. Dad hung around with some pretty wild riders in the 1950s in Sydney, including Harry Hinton and "young" Kel Curruthers. Then when I was a teenager him and I went riding in the bush all the time. But when he turned 50 he seemed to turn against bikes, just as I was getting into them more and more. It was only in 2000 or so, when I was 35 and Dad was 60 something, that he spoke to me of his wild days with pride and a little smile on his face. A year or so latr he was dead, and I really wish I had more time.

You have to work hard on this father son thing.

Doug Klassen said...


Thanks for your thoughtful comments. It seems sometimes that fathers and sons don't really understand each other too well until it's way late in the game. My own son is 18 now and it is indeed a lot of work...and for both of us I'm sure.

Me said...


What a fantastic story. Thanks for sharing. Sounds alot like my dad as well.

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