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

Monday, December 27, 2010

On The Road In 1979

San Joaquin Valley, 1979
Found this one when I was rummaging for a different picture.  My old business partner Chris and his wife, along with someone from my distant past.  Of more interest are the bikes, of course.  Brand new matching 1979 Suzuki 850's fully equipped with the best add-ons of the time: Vetter Windjammer fairings, Bates saddlebags with chrome bag guards, matching top boxes, and 24" tall padded sissy bars for the pillion persons.   Great bikes.  I still have a soft spot for the Suzuki 850.  

Later in the day we'd get popped by a nice CHP officer who took exception to us doing 80 mph on a winding country road on warm, wonderful day.  After we stopped he looked us over and said "Looked to me like you were doing 65."   "Yes sir" we replied,  "We were doing 65, sir!"  "I thought you'd see it my way" he said, and went on "You look like nice people, I don't want to take you to jail and spoil your day, but slow down."  He wrote us up for 65 mph in a 50 mph zone and we gladly signed our tickets. 

Oh yeah, someone stuck a WWII airplane in the roof of a gas station.  Post WWII roadside marketing at it's best.

update: The airplane is still there.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Or maybe this business is owned by Mr. Biker?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Saturday Wanderings

It's getting a bit chilly in the mornings, at least by AZ standards, and I'm getting old and soft, so I hadn't planned on riding the bike out to Coolidge Airport this past Saturday morning.  But the Mrs. had her heart set on going yard sale'ing Saturday morning so I did the honorable thing and rode the bike so she could have our only car for her own adventures.  I had suggested she take her scooter rather than our car but she exclaimed "I won't have room for anything if I buy something!" Exactly.

So I rode the bike to the airport and it wasn't that cold, in the low 40s, but it was the first use of my leather jacket this Fall/Winter.  Not bad, December 4 and still comfy.  And I rode home in shirtsleeves. Wonderful afternoon riding weather makes memories of the blistering Arizona summer heat fade away.

At the airport I got to see P-51 Mustangs fly in and out this time.   Great fun.  Even better, it's a rural airport and a very low key gathering so photographers are allowed to stand out near the runway as as long as we stay at least 100ft back from the pavement.  Most stand a bit further back because zoom lenses have all the reach needed and no one wants to be a bug on a P51 prop.

North American P-51D called "Stang"

It's really a great experience to be able to get so close to the planes when they are taking off or doing a fly-by, very much like the olden days of bike racing in America when crowds at a race track could get right down on the wall to watch the races.  All wonderful, at least until something goes wrong.  Most things worth doing involve some risk.

Amongst the planes flying in this month were two P-51D Mustangs, a Rearwin Cloudster, a Beech "Staggerwing", an Aero L-29 Delfin jet trainer, a North American T-28C, and a Twin Star twin diesel powered composite speedster from Germany.

1965 Aero L-29 Delfin from the old Czechoslovakia

Someone was talking to the owner of the L-29. The Delfins are not real pricey as jets go and the owner of the one above was said to have grabbed it in a down market for $45k. Then, as with other "good deals" like a used Ferrari, Chris Craft boat, or super model wife, the maintenance bills started to arrive.  I'm guessing motorcycles are dirt cheap compared to owning and operating any vintage aircraft beyond a Piper Cub replica.

A couple of more favorites from the day:

North America T-28C.  US training aircraft c1960
1944 Beech D17S also known as "the Staggerwing Beech"  This plane represented both speed and class in the 1930's.

The rest of the photos from the morning are here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Blast From The Past

One of the great things about blogging is making new friends but maybe the best thing is when someone I knew in the past finds me and they are still a good soul.   In this instance an e-mail in my in-box that just said “Cecils” in the subject line brought a message from Lee Holth.  Lee had come across my previous blog entry mentioning Cecil’s Cycle Center and it’s place in my life as a den of iniquity.  Lee and I worked together at Don’s Yamaha in Escondido about 1971 or so and went to the same high school. To hear from him again was very cool.
Lee's Del Mar Concours award winning CZ
Back about 1999-2000 Lee and I had bumped into each other a time or two at the Del Mar Concours where Lee was busy winning a trophy for a CZ motocross bike he’d restored, but since then we had not seen or heard from one another in about ten years, so I was happily surprised to get his e-mail and some photos. 

For a few days now we’ve been sharing stories of our early motorcycle days, high school, and other old guy crap.  Great fun and Lee has jogged some memories loose that might have otherwise been gone for good.  Here’s some excerpts and photos (with his permission) from our e-mails the past week or so:

“Hi Doug. Lee Holth here from Escondido, now in Nevada. I liked the story about ditching Sunday School to drool at the Brit bikes at Cecil’s. Too bad we lost him, but he'd resurfaced pretty regularly at Cycle Salvage the last few years..”  “He and Don had the coolest shops in town. Of course, Cecil had CZs [in addition to BSA and later Kawasaki - DK]. He told me a funny story of how he became a CZ dealer. Seems the New Jersey longshoreman ‘accidentally’ dropped an entire container full of ‘commie bikes’ into the bay while unloading and he was offered them at pennies on the dollar.”  

Friends, if you had known Cecil Oswald you’d have no trouble believing that story or any of the many others about him. 

Lee continued about a not untypical day at Cecil’s shop circa 1971: “One day he walked out with that maniacal grin and shouted ‘Who wants to be my MONKEY?’  As my buddy Lynn started to say ‘That sounds like fun.’  I suggested he wait a moment as another kid approached the big BSA sidehack desert rig and barely had a hand on the bar or a foot in the small standing area when it roared to life and away they went; off the curb into traffic, big U turn right and down the alley.  There was a parking lot halfway down the block; freshly oiled and sanded and you could hear the big British twin howling away.  A couple minutes later and they flew back out of the alley, U-turn left back OVER the curb, launching the entire machine into the air and sticking the landing, tossing the seemingly unsuspecting ‘monkey’ over the bar and flat on his back. Cecil looked around and blurted out ‘Who's NEXT?’  No one answered. Lynn thanked me. Cecil smiled and went back to work.”

Like me Lee’s kept busy at a variety of interesting things over the years and these days in Nevada owns a CZ repair and restoration shop and keeps an eclectic, CZ oriented website here.  He's been an editor for Mitchell Manuals for a while, owned a repair shop once before, a silk screen business, and generally kept himself amused with motorcycles and music over the last four decades.  While my own life has been anything but boring I have to say that I envy Lee at least some of his adventures.

click to see full size
Movie set fun
In our reminiscing I mentioned that one of my enduring memories of him was he behind the parts counter at Don’s Yamaha wearing a t-shirt with the cartoon character “Mr. Natural” astride a motorcycle.  I have no idea why that would stick in my mind all these years except that Lee was a big, smiling kid, easy to like and remember.  I mentioned that memory to Lee and he wrote back  “I did the art work on those original Don's shirts and STILL have one!”   How can you not like and respect a guy that keeps an old bike shop t-shirt for 40 years?

Sorry about your bike, kid,
we were young.
And one of my own memories from Don’s Yamaha Shop days:  “Martin and I and maybe you taking the new, little Yamaha Mini-Enduros off of the shop floor and flat tracking them in the empty lot back off the alley.  After the fun was over we sprayed them off at the 25 cent car wash and put them back on the show floor.  That happened more than once until Martin crashed and bent or broke something and a quick part swap had to be effected before we were discovered.  It didn’t seem to occur to us that we might get fired for thrashing bikes before they were sold as new.”   Lee denies taking part in debauching innocent Yamaha Mini-Enduros but does remember a Honda Mini-Trail and a backward riding contest  that led him into the side of a car in the shop parking lot.

Ah to be young one more time!  No, not really.  You can’t go back and it could never be that much fun again.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Like A Moth To A Flame

Like a lot of families in 1966 my family and I went to church every Sunday no matter what.  Not just to church, either, but to Sunday School too, and Sunday evening services and youth group meetings before those.  It is a fact that unless the Russians dropped The Bomb on us we'd be in church.  For my dad, nuclear war or obviously communicable diseases where the only acceptable excuses for not being in church.

Sunday morning for me was all well and good until I discovered motorcycles or at least the allure and want of them.   It turned out that motorcycle temptation lay close; the Devil often places temptation so conveniently.  In this case, across the street and just around the corner from our church, perhaps just 200 feet away there lay a den of sin and iniquity: a BSA dealer.

The shop was closed on Sundays, of course, but the front windows of the small shop let in enough light to illuminate the metal wickedness inside.  The glint of chrome in dim light can be a powerful thing to an impressionable young male mind and if you looked into the darkness long enough, you could make out all the curves and promises of those motorcycles.  Red painted gas tanks glistening like a Bathsheba's lips and chrome that shined like the Golden Calf itself, those things beckoned this innocent, small town boy.  If ever there were a door to temptation placed close to a church, it was Cecil's Cycle Center.

Not long after I turned 15 years old I was feeling rebellious enough to decide that peering through the window of the BSA shop would be more fun than sitting in a Sunday School class so one Sunday after my family got out of our car in front of the church, off I walked around the corner of the church building toward the Sunday School classroom and waited a couple of minutes.  I had sweaty palms.  My heart was beating fast.  Temptation was at full throttle.  Peering around the corner towards the main church building I ascertained that my parents had gone off to their own class.

With malice aforethought I made my break for the closed motorcycle shop.  I tried to walk casually as if I had every right to go there against my parent's wishes and knowing full well it would be bad, very bad, if I was caught.  I was at that age where I was feeling the first pangs of independence and wrongly thinking I had what it took to stand up to my dad should I get caught or that I was at least smart enough to not get caught.

For the next 45 minutes I stared through the window of the BSA shop eying the BSA 650 Lightning, 441 Shooting Star, and 250 Starfire.  The 650 BSA was too big and too grand, I thought.  At time when a 450 Honda was considered a big bike the 650 BSA was huge.  But the 441 Shooting Star, or especially the glistening blue 250 Starfire, those were something to dream about, to imagine riding, and to which I could aspire to own after I finally got a job when I turned 16.  I could image riding the 250 Starfire to school as soon as I got my drivers license.  Nothing could ever be cooler than that.

Every Sunday for the next few Sundays I'd slip away from the church and walk over and stare through the window and study the Beezers while my family and friends studied the Good Book.   I soaked up the bikes and the look of their many parts.  I tried to divine the purpose of their less obvious levers and controls and I even plotted to visit the shop one day when it was open.

And then one fine Sunday morn as I stood engaging in my secret, weekly bout of moto-lust, my dad walked up and surprised me.  It was not a happy moment.  "What do you think you're doing??"  He glowered at me.  I was properly scared.  No doubt the ancient Israelites felt the same fear when when Moses came down from visiting with God on Mt. Sinai and found them having a real blow out of a party in front of that Golden Calf.  Like the Children of Israel I could not think of a single excuse that didn't sound pretty lame.  I'd really done it this time, nothing I'd ever done was as bad as ditching Sunday School to look at motorcycles.  I got yelled at, threatened, yelled at some more, and then grounded for every Sunday for the rest of my natural life.   It was worth it.

I did feel bad about disappointing my dad.  Funny thing but parents never want to disappoint their children and children never want to disappoint their parents but somehow we always manage to disappoint each other in some way, first as children and later as parents.

I have to admit I never really regretted those first days of motorcycle awakening, of staring though the dirty window of that bike shop and dreaming of what motorcycle riding would be like, of buying motorcycle magazines and hiding them under the mattress of my bed.

Less than a year later Dad would let me buy my first motorcycle although it wasn't the gloriously blue BSA 250.   I guess he forgave me for my youthful errors and in turn I tried to do a better job of hiding my motorcycle related wickedness from him.

This post is featured on my blog’s page at Motorcycle Blogs.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Casa Grande Swap Meet 2010

The wife and wandered on out the annual swap meet at the Pinal Country Fairgrounds.  There wasn't anything in particular I needed but the chance to browse bits and pieces and old bikes and non-standard people is always worth the $5 each to get in.

First, of course, going in you have to get your hand stamped at the gate.  No silly picture or symbol but a proper skull as befits a biker event.   I believe this is my first skull other than the thick one around my brain.  Does this qualify as a tattoo or am I still not hip?

The vendor attendance seemed about the same as last year but there were way more people this year.  The swap meet doesn't attract much of the Gold Wing crowd, it's pretty much a V-twin sort of group with representation from both ends of the M/C spectrum from the Hells Angels to Bikers For Christ and Black Sheep.  I like the diversity.

Why is it that it's always the men who want to walk around with their shirt off?
H-D Headlight nacelle parts.  Like abstract art in aluminum.
Skulls aplenty. They seemed to be a theme today.

BSA single.  I kept shooting pictures of it and the owner finally said "If you like it that much why don't you just buy it?"  I didn't buy it.  I'm not as dumb as I look.

Possibly the oldest bike present. Another BSA with a few modern bits on it.  I'm not sure of the model but I'd judge it to be from the 1930s.
Continuing with the British thing, someone was offering a Triumph engine shoehorned
into a Greeves dirt bike frame.  This isn't unknown, they are called "Grumphs" but this is only the second one I've ever seen.

Naturally there were the usual lifestyle accessories to be found.
I love gas tank shots for some reason.  There were bunches of used tanks for sale. 
Some were aftermarket but many were OEM items. What happened to the rest of the bike?

Buyer's remorse?  "Ok, you got your roller, now my mother gets to visit us for a month."

Not to worry, the new paint will hide it.

More decor for the home. I've heard that Martha Stewart has one just like it.

There has to be a story behind this tank.  A pretty girl, sexy pose, now sanded over.  "Me bitter?  Nah!"

I talked to this fellow for a couple of minutes.  Larry seemed like a really nice guy. 
He has some health issues, uses supplemental oxygen. I asked him if he was still
riding and said "Every chance I get.  The bike is always gassed, tires aired up
and ready when I am."  I'm pretty sure I've seen him cruising around town. It's a
small town and Larry's a big guy.
Larry told me he made sure his oxygen tank was small
enough to fit in the saddlebag of his bike. Right on.

We saw several riders who have health or disability issues and got the impression that none of them were going to go gently into that good night.  One lady appeared to be about 80 years old, in a wheel chair, and later out in the parking lot her son had lifted her onto the back of his bagger and fastened some belts around her to hold her up.  I gave her the big thumbs up and she smiled happily.

Out in the parking lot there were some very nice bikes.  It looks like the chopper fad is well and truly over and baggers have taken their place.  I'm good with that.  A motorcycle should be rideable for more than 25 miles before it needs gas or the rider needs a chiropractor.
A customized Yamaha with a fake gun for a passenger footrest.
I have to think that it might cause some stress when or if the rider of the bike is
pulled over by the cops.

I understand the skull thing, you have to show everyone how
dangerous you are, that you embrace death and don't fear it.
I'd think that since motorcycle riding is fairly dangerous on it's own there wouldn't
be a big need to add pseudo-danger to the game.

These photos were taken with my new Olympus E-PL1 camera, the Sony NEX-3 having disappointed me enough in the using to send it back.  The Oly takes extraordinarly good photos although it has it's own short comings.

Next week we are off to the Great Southwest Scooter Fiesta.  I'm pretty sure it will be a different crowd there and probably not as interesting.  Should be fun though.  I wonder if the 81 crew from Mesa will have a booth?  Probably not but I'd pay $5 to see the reactions if they did.

Monday, October 11, 2010

An Unsatisfying Ride

Most of my rides for the last couple of years have been short ones, 60 - 100 miles, once in a great while I'll do 200 miles, but the 500 - 900 mile days of my youth seem to be well behind me.  I did do 430  miles on the Gold Wing a few years ago but the Kaw 900 is no Gold Wing.

So Friday I set off to ride 200 miles and see how I felt, thinking that in the next week or two I might head over to eastern AZ and make a multi-day ride of Highway 191, a 550 miles loop east from the vast 40on2 estate.  If Tennessee has "The Tail of Dragon" then Arizona must have the rest of the beast in Highway 191. Ninety or so miles of smooth, lightly patrolled road through the middle of no where with around 900 curves pretty much says it all. There's even a road sign warning motorists that the road isn't patrolled on weekends.

With no particular destination in mind at the moment, I set off from the house for a day ride with the new Sony NEX-3 camera in the saddle bag. Testing me a little and the camera a little was the basic plan. 200 miles should do it.

A stop in downtown Florence to play with the panorama mode of the Sony garnered the lead photo above but also showed once again that the Sony's panorama mode is flawed as it randomly chops off the right end of the scene for no apparent reason. See below.  Panorama mode is a neat feature if it works right, most often it doesn't.

Very sad. I'm losing faith in the Sony.

Thirty or so miles out the first decision needed to be made: Turn north towards US60 and Globe, AZ or south towards Tucson? I knew the old copper mining town of Globe held some good photo prospects so I turned north.

Some miles down the road I got to thinking about the familiar road ahead between me and Globe; the freeway section and the traffic did not beckon me.  I decided to turn around and explore my way down Highway 79 (also known as The Pioneer Parkway) which is the old back road between Phoenix and Tucson and less traveled than US 60. I'd wasted time but the miles still counted.

South of Florence I opted to turn east on Pisano Road and ride out to St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Monastery.

Why the good monks decided to build in the Arizona desert is anybody's guess but there they are, an oasis in the desert with a bright white, Greek style chapel topped by a stunning blue domed roof.  Elsewhere on the site a Mediterranean bell tower that stands above another chapel. The road in to the monastery is lined with pine trees and the occasional cactus. Arizona has lots of pine tress but not in this part of the State.  Maybe lining the road with pine trees is a Greek thing?  Usually in Arizona you find the small roads lined with little white crosses, remembrances of Saturday nights gone wrong.

I snapped a couple of photos but didn't take the time to tour the monastery grounds, something you can do for free if you can behave yourself.  Women must be dressed modestly and men must wear long sleeve shirts. I wonder, would wanton women, dressed immodestly, and men wearing rakish short sleeve shirts, be beaten with sticks and made to leave the holy ground? That's probably some other religion's gig.

The monks have built a charming and peaceful looking place and while I don't subscribe to their version of Christianity I appreciate their devotion and the grounds that they have created and to which they welcome others, believers or not.

Further south towards Tucson I turned and headed northward on Highway 77 knowing that it would take me the long back route to Globe.  As I started along I decided to detour through the town of Oracle and see what I might see there.   I followed a couple of signs towards a large state park only to find myself trapped on a narrow, two lane road, behind two smokey school buses that stopped every 100 yards. Very unsatisfying. So rather and eat diesel fumes for some unknown distance I did u-turn and headed southward again. Oracle wasn't a worthwhile detour but the miles counted.

South of Oracle is the 20th Century's monument to eco-ego, Biosphere II.  This grand experiment dating back a decade or more, and originally financed by various grants from institutions, was designed to create a "self-sustaining space-colonization technology." 

Apparently someone with more money than good sense got caught up in the notions of the old Bruce Dern SciFi movie "Silent Running."   Never the less, several scientists in spiffy jumpsuits locked themselves inside Biosphere II hoping to simulate a long range space mission.  Had they actually been in space they'd have been pushing up cosmic daisies in fairly short order.  Turned out that replicating earth's ecosystem is something on an order of complexity maybe only the aforementioned monks would really grasp.

Biosphere II substation
In the end the Biosphere was a bit of a laughing stock as a self-sustaining anything, but not to worry, one or two universities have managed to keep it running, no doubt at least in part with our tax dollars.  The amusing part is that the premise was that Biosphere II would be a self-sustaining environment but apparently these days they need two large generators to keep it going, if not a connection to that nasty old power grid the rest of us use.  I didn't tour Biosphere II, they want $20 for that honor, but I did leave a plump bio-donation in their nice, clean, environmentally friendly restroom.

It was getting late in the day so the I looped back to the Pioneer Parkway, seeing no pioneers at all nor feeling like one myself, and headed home.  One last interesting side road showing fresh pavement beckoned me to take one last detour so I took a chance.  It led to a landfill.  Sigh.  Moving along...

A quick stop in the woebegone farming town of Coolidge yielded this photo of the peeling paint facade of the former "Popular Department Store." Goodness only knows why it was ever painted with a garish color pattern some 20 years ago, maybe they got a grant from the same folks that the Biosphere people did.

I arrive home utterly beat. 204 miles on the trip meter. I hadn't actually ridden much of anywhere or done much of anything. I don't know why I was so exhausted, the weather was perfect, shirt sleeves all day, and the bike ran well.  Usually it's more fun to wander about.  Maybe I should have hung out with the monks for a while and called it good?  At least they didn't want $20 up front to see their digs.   I guess I need to ride someplace further away soon, ride to someplace worth the effort of getting there. Whether I really can do so on the stiff suspenders of the Kawasaki is something of which I'm not sure.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Motorcycle Camera Decision Time

A couple of blog entries back I laid out the choices I had in mind for a new camera for the wife and one that I borrow from her and carry more easily on the motorcycle than my Nikon D90.

It finally came down to two cameras, the new Canon S95 and the new Sony NEX-3. I'll spare you the techie crap, there are lots of reviews out on the 'net with that stuff.    I couldn't decide which to get, the cameras are different in physical dimensions, mega pixels, and philosophy. I fretted, I read more reviews, went to Best Buy to fondle the demo models there, and still couldn't decide.

The difficulty of the decision process was compounded by the fact that I had very little money to spend, so little in fact I decided to drag some old film camera junk, bike stuff, and R/C model airplane stuff out of the garage and put it on Ebay. As happens sometimes with Ebay, people with more money than sense paid too much for some of my goodies thereby leaving me we an excess of funds (a rare occurrence).   So naturally I then did the only logical thing, the guy thing, and bought both of the cameras.

I like the S95 for the Mrs. because of it's small size, it easily slips into a pants or jacket pocket, but also like the features and interchangeable lens of the Sony. The Sony will make a nice bike camera and take up less room in the saddlebag or tank bag than my Nikon does.

In due course the cameras arrived from Amazon.com and I went out this weekend to give them a quick try, shooting my Nikon D90 along side the point n shoots for comparison.  Back home, to my amazement, there was scant difference between the images from the little cameras and the big camera. There was a difference but for the average person it just wouldn't matter.  Only those of us who labor diligently in front of a photo editing screen will see the difference in shadow detail and highlight clipping and even then it shouldn't matter but it does.  If motorcycles are liberating, then trying to improve one's photography can be a trap.

From the Canon and the Sony here are some of the photos from the quick, late afternoon Sunday ride and the Saturday trip to my favorite airport.  These have no editing except for maybe a crop and straightening horizons (click to see the larger version if Blogger isn't broken again):
Camera: Sony NEX-3
Camera: Sony NEX-3

Camera: Canon S95
Camera: Canon S95
I was standing by the side of the road and heard a bike coming. I turned quickly with the Canon S95 and snapped this shot. Don't know the rider, I'll bet  he'd love to have the photo though.

The Sony has a very nice built in panorama shooting mode. It takes a series of photos and stitches them all together in the camera. Some distortion is obvious but still it's and impressive feature and one I'll be interested in applying to bike photos.  The image above, right out of the camera is about 8,000 pixels wide, more than twice or three times the size of a normal camera image. Click on the image to see the 1/4 size 2000 pixel version.

And from my Saturday trip to Coolidge Airport:
Camera: Canon S95. Airplace: 1954 Yakolav YAK-11

Camera: Sony NEX-3
Of the two cameras, the Canon S95 has an edge in image quality and a big edge pocketablility.  It's also less expensive by $200.  Slipping it into the pocket of your riding jacket is easy and leaves room to spare. I even rode for a while with it in the pocket of my jeans.   The Sony has some great bells & whistles but the photos are a tad soft and need a bit of sharpening in the computer, more than the S95 photos do.

My conclusion?  The Canon S95 might be the perfect camera out there right now for carrying on a motorcycle.  I give it a big thumbs up.  If you have big hands and like to handle a larger camera, the specialty features of the Sony NEX-3 are very cool.  I'll carry the Sony with me on the bike because I enjoy the features but the ultra compact size of the Canon makes it tempting to sneak it away from the wife when she's otherwise occupied.

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"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence

An Important reminder from the past:
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison