Me, Myself, and… The Motorcycle!

February 23, 2019 0 By Chris Canton

So I was reminded how it all came to pass that I became one of those that were transfixed by the sound and sight of a Harley as a young kid sitting in the back of the family’s 1964 Impala Station Wagon, cruising up 1-95 on a visit to relatives in New York. Well, there wasn’t just one Harley that did the transfixin’ – I’d have to say, more like maybe 10 or 15! I rationalize now, they could  have been members of a club – maybe The Outlaws?, whomever the predominant club was around the corridor between VA and NY. Not sure but the time period was between 1969-1971, I think. They had all the signs of a club ride. I just don’t recall any especially colorful insignia on the back of their vests, but maybe an Eagle or something having wings was in the mix somewhere? (I do have an affinity for the eagle formed likely from my subconscious); Don’t recall skulls and cross pistons, specifically. But I do recall some specifics: Sunglasses, black boots and blue jeans with vests flapping in the wind, women on the back with long flowing hair wearing bandannas, tatts up and down the arms, unlike my father who had just one on his right upper arm (the unit insignia from his stints in the Civilian Conservation Corps and the date April 13, 1933). So we’re riding alongside- or rather they were riding alongside us for a time and the biker looks over and notices me, mesmerized, looking out the window towards him. I think he flashed a thumbs up sign or gave an obvious nod and smile towards my father who was smoking a big cigar at the time and had his arms positioned in the manner on the steering wheel that showed off some muscle mass. A moment later some loud blast from the exhaust propelled him far ahead along with the rest who had followed.. It was a sight – such freedom – They were much like aliens, yet people, on these bikes, not in cars like the rest of us, dressing very comfortably, leaning back reclining and going in the same direction we were. Where were they going to end up? It certainly sparked my curiosity. There was banter back and forth between my father and mother and us about this brief interaction- that I do know. I think it was that same time when I mentioned I wanted to have one of those when I grew up! I recall my father saying not till you’re 18 when you can do what you want! That threw me for a loop. I did not think about the danger it posed to my life the way he thought of it. He himself wasn’t a rider and regarded them only as dangerous and foolish if you rode those for the fact you could easily be killed just trying to have fun. I think he had known friends that perhaps were killed. He did bring up the company name Indian every now and then and of what he remembers about that brand.

Suffice to say, that was the groundwork that was laid before me. Fast forward quite a ways past 1969 to when I was a young adult. My best friend had acquired a Suzuki 650 or maybe even larger-I recall it was beastly with a huge gas tank. he couldn’t wait to have me accompany him to the parking lot and take it around for a spin. So it being in my DNA to learn this art of motorcycle riding overpowered the warnings and dangers (heck I survived popping wheelies on my spyder bike and jumping off curbs so, that’s as far as I thought about dangers associated to what I was passionate about. I’d have to take my chances. I had no choice as a kid who seen all I saw, and who dreamed the dreams I dreamed. I got on that bike the moment he said “you wanna try it out?” and I never looked back. Never fell, just was a little excessive on the clutch at first, but managed to go and stop and use my feet to steady myself! I loved it…
Fast forward maybe a year or so later and I was catching an old movie that was airing called Easy Rider.. I was never big into movie watching at that time and while growing up, so somehow I had missed it until that evening. I was mesmerized yet again – in a big way! and it wasn’t so much about the drugs or the long hair and hippy scenes and all that. It was mostly about those bikes and the freedom of taking up and just getting out on the road and doing this trip to (wherever) it didn’t matter- I didn’t even pay attention to know at that time of first watching that they were going to Mardi Gras– I heard the words but didn’t know much about it or where it was. I just knew they were out west somewhere heading out to some festive place a few States East of them. And I focused on the structure of the bikes, and the paint scheme, and how they sat on them, almost to the point of really not knowing anything about what statements were being made and what the movie was suppose to be about. And then that scene where Peter Fonda removes his watch from his wrist and tosses it on the ground cemented that passion firmly into my DNA structure!

For me, the freedom said enough, and so what it took to get there wasn’t as relevant as just getting yourself on the road. And so eventually I did the same. For me it was a vintage Honda 350 (’71 I believe) I say “vintage” even then because this is about 1981, and a lot had changed. But I was lucky this bike was garage kept, very low mileage, and yet I only paid $400 for it by the owner who had since retired and lived nearby our west coast town of FL. At the time it was my only transportation, so if you talk about that sense of freedom that I highly valued, you will eventually wind up listening to me tell you about my trip from FL to VA and back, the excuse being to attend my sister’s wedding. Looking back, not much to tell – other than I accomplished my unconscious bucket list item of being on 1-95 (although farther south), doing what those bikers did and experiencing similarly what I had only wondered about up to then: That is being on the highway from the perspective of being on a bike while most of what we know as “cagers”  (those in cars) surrounded you. And I did the run without a windscreen for two 13 hr total stints of travel time back and forth! Like every adventure, it does has its suspenseful moments.  I did not have many.  It never rained either coming or going back, and I never laid it down, nor was threatened by anyone or had a close call worth recalling.  But I did have one worth sharing.  Imagine riding along, you pass a sign, no gas for 35 miles, so you fuel up at that last exit for fuel,  and ten miles down the road,  you experience a sudden sputtering of the motor!  You notice your fuel line had actually separated itself from the carb and was spilling a strong stream of gas on the ground aside you! you somehow manage to stop the leak, cut the line neatly, attach it back onto the carb and pick up where you left off now wondering if you were going to make it to that next gas station of not!   I did make it to the station and all turned out ok, so that was that. that quick fix was much like an obscure dream, needless to say and I’ve pretty much blocked those details out of my mind.  The thought of being nearly stranded in the middle of nowhere just over the border to FL, just won’t allow it!  Again that angel on my shoulder cannot be thanked enough! All in all this trip represented that same feeling from having run a marathon. I use that analogy since I did do the ride without a windscreen! Some in life have done things like this but not everyone. I loved that sense of freedom, albeit expressed in that manner at whatever the risk/price to be paid. It was a part of living the life, going down the road I chose.

So the bike did me well and I eventually sold it, for financial reasons. No accidents or misfortune from the experience- just regret that “all good things must come to an end” was a part of the equation in life. Here’s where we sometimes look back and realize there are things in life we never quite move on from. The bike and its culture was one of them. A few short years later and I was on a bike again, first a ’77 Honda 550 Supersport, which, for a time, crudely chopped out with extended front forks and sissy bar. Rode it a few years, and nothing really happened- no serious accidents, although I once slid completely sideways on its side on an oil slick for a good 30 yrds. or more while exiting the IH-35 interstate near my home in Austin, TX at the time! I say nothing happened because nothing did!  I came to a rest, nothing was broken. A women came up behind be got out of her car and asked me if I was alright. The bike was heavy enough to have actually pinned me down, so I couldn’t really get enough leverage to get on my feet. I had to ask her to lift the back slightly by grabbing hold of the back  wheel and lift up. I got to my feet, and as sure as the angels must have been interceding on my behalf in the medical department, I brushed myself off, and could still walk just fine without any limp! I  Was wearing thick heavy clothing, so got back on, feeling a bit humiliated for needing this woman to render aid, thanked her while barely even being able to look her in the face and rode  home telling myself the whole time, “this didn’t happen… this didn’t happen!”  Till this day, I have to think for a moment, did it happen?

So it obviously didn’t end there. Although becoming a bit superstitious I thought I’d move on and owning a bike wasn’t a part of my life for the time being. But time has a funny way of putting aside all your passions even if you deliberately try and ignore them. This time I had more money to burn and my sights were set on learning more about the coveted Harley Davidson which I regarded as king in the motorcycle world. Finally, I could come to terms with exactly what it was like to experience that particular pitch of sound coming from the exhaust of a V-Twin by HD, just as I had heard as a kid sitting in the back side of the ’64 Impala that wild summer day. As I strolled through Bud’s Harley in Austin, which is long since closed down after many years on its east side location, I set my eyes on a used ’88 Sportster 1200. My God, I did it, I thought to myself, I agreed to terms of a sale and finally took ownership of that zenith brand of bikes. The bike itself, I recall at the time, would vibrate itself into a frenzy at stop lights and turn heads as it moved ahead on the Green light. My passion rose again- set its path, and continued. A guy and his Harley. A passion and a way of life to go along with it– to whatever degree you wanted. The bike itself had the final say whether one decided to wear a vest or not, or fly colors, or ride alone, with a friend or with group. It was part of a cultural tradition that you could venture forth however far one wanted– I guess it depended on your passion and your angle of experience that drove that. For me, I experienced quite a bit of the Harley and its culture and what I know is that I still ride to this day.

I’ve somehow manged to get a bit into the older age range but all the more at home with my counterparts riding Harleys – some riding baggers, some bobbers, some straight stock with moderate accessories. Me, I am a history buff, and in so being, I have been more partial to that time period of when I was a kid; that mid to late 60’s through 70’s, early 80’s era. For right now, I ride a somewhat customized ’84 Ironhead, still in its transformation which was just about the last of that older era when they stopped making Ironheads and went with the evolution motor ever since. I have the generator version rather than alternator which I’m proud of, and I went so far as to change it out to a springer front end  which brings forth that tradition from the bygone era. I also have a 750 Yamaha Virago motor and trans set in a chopper frame with 45 degrees of rake, and a leftside hand-shifter, a bike whose looks alone I couldn’t pass up. The first to keep in my collection of bikes from my favorite era. I aim to keep that time period alive like a lot of the aftermarket industry that allows many to keep their favorite time periods alive whether it be though a muscle car, old truck, or motorcycle. I choose to do it by sharing my passion with my colleagues and younger ones, and fixing up my bikes or moving on to another and keeping the old this time.  It is, after all, an attempt to preserve a choice that worked for me that can work for those who feel it as well. Things change, this we can all agree on. Still some things just stay the same and their change is simply “enrichment” plain and simple, just like better gas or more efficient ways at preservation. Easy Rider, so well preserved as a cultural Icon. You’d seen it at first in the theater, you saw it on vhs later, and finally DVD and cable or internet networks. It’s still the same- still speaks of the roots of that culture, and shows one path of freedom along its way. Take from it what you will. I took the bikes and the open road. And my next stop? A Shovel-head build much like the ones Indian Larry had made before he passed on. Although still in the back of my mind, in the “maybe, maybe not status”, I cruise eBay once in a while and check prices on welders, and scan Youtube to acquire some more knowledge and some piping as I write. My mind doesn’t forget I took several classes in welding once upon a time, even though I do at times. I continue to save some extra money, dream of jigs for bike construction, knowing that those obscure bucket list dreams, at least for me, have a way of coming to fruition. It has a life of its own whether I play a direct role or not eventually and when the time is right, that phone from my subconscious always finally rings and I am always undoubtedly at an idle moment to answer it like a long lost friend!