27 May 2014

My First Motorcycle, Part 2

Welcome back. Today’s blog post concludes the guest post by Jay P. that began last Friday (My First Motorcycle, Part 1).

About the time I was lusting after a driver’s license, ”Honda 50” motorcycle/ scooters were all the rage. Attempting to garner a bit of that market, Harley-Davidson arranged for the Italian company, Aermacchi, to build some small motorcycles. Imported Harleys! Most motorcycle guys, Joe included, were unimpressed with this plan. Still, getting in on a portion of that “scooter” business might not be a bad thing.

There were two models of the red 50cc bikes. One looked like the girls’ variety with a strange bubble sort of gas tank sitting on a downturned frame. The other one had a long rectangular gas tank with the lines of a real motorcycle. The largest import at the time was the black 250cc Sprint model with its giant single cylinder jutting out forward, unconfined by a frame. These were strange renditions of Harley-Davidsons, but there they were, new and shiny, squeezed in that tiny showroom between Schwinns and shovelheads.

They weren’t what a Harley-Davidson should be but they did have those words on the tank. That was the decal my dad thought a motorcycle tank should have on it. Maybe I might be able to talk my parents into allowing me to climb onto one of those. My dad never had an interest in motorcycles but he also never met a motor he didn’t like, enjoyed visiting Joe at his store and always took me along.

In those days, a prospective Wisconsin driver could get a “temporary learners permit” at 15.5 years of age. With that, the “learner” could operate a car with a sufficiently experienced driver riding along or drive a motorcycle alone. I don’t remember if there was cc-displacement restriction but there was no skill test required for the cycles. This, happily, was the loophole I could use to convince my parents that they would not need to transport me places a full six months earlier if they would only let me get one of those “Harley 50s.”

Jay’s first motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson
50cc, was built in Italy by Aermacchi.

And so, at about 15.1 years, I submitted my request. I planned ahead, of course, because I anticipated these negotiations would not go swiftly. My mother had once witnessed a motorcycle crash and would oppose the idea of her kid riding, but I eventually prevailed. In time for me to be road ready by my 15.5 year birthday, mom and dad relented. The deal however was that any cycle I drove must have a windshield and I would always wear a helmet. No problem! Just about anything they demanded short of training wheels was going to be acceptable at that point.

I had a job, my dad had taught me how to bargain and Joe was a fair dealer. Before that half-year birthday and my “temps,” I was riding in circles in the backyard. This strange little version of a Harley had a left-hand clutch that, when pulled, the rider also twisted that grip to shift gears. It was all new to me so the odd shifter didn’t seem to matter. It was wheels with a motor, freedom beyond the Schwinn, and I loved it.

I would take long drives to nowhere on warm nights. I customized it with accessories whose brackets would break from fatigue caused by the buzzy little 2- cycle engine. I was hooked and progressed to the other Italian Harleys; the 125 Rapido, and the ankle busting 250 and 350 singles. I often wondered about those cool Japanese bikes with push-button starters, but like other Southsiders, I was pretty loyal to dealer Joe.

Eventually, Joe got older and there were rumors that Corporate Harley wanted bigger, new showrooms that Joe couldn’t afford or may not have been interested in. In time, another Harley dealer opened a new shop in Oshkosh. That must have been hard for Joe to take. Now there’s none. Joe got hurt when a cycle he was working on fell in his cramped shop. A few years later National Cycle was torn down and replaced by an office building.

Also eventually, I sold the kick-non-starting Italian Harley 350 Sprint and came home with a kick-instant-starting Yamaha 250, 2-cycle, twin. Of course, a windshield was clamped to the handlebars. My dad was impressed with that Japanese machine that worked so well and began buying his own motorcycles. He still held Harleys in high esteem. When he passed away, he was the proud owner of a new 1984 Harley Tour Glide and 1983 BMW R80ST. After 45 years of riding, I’ve inherited the Harley and also own two BMW RT’s. I still seem to need the windshield models.

Many thanks to Jay for his essay and to you for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed it. Maybe you remembered your first cycle or bicycle. Was it a Harley? A Schwinn? Any comments or emails about the post would be greatly appreciated by Jay and me.

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