Having been born in 1939 just before World War II started, new motor bikes (as the Brits call them) were not being manufactured due to the war effort. The companies like BSA, Norton, Triumph and Royal Enfield were hired to make items required to fight the war. BSA and Royal Enfield however were commissioned to make special models for the army and the riders were called Dispatch Riders. Carrying messages from one point to another.
The war lasted till 1945 and I was 6 years old when the country revived itself. I was always thrilled by motor bikes of all shapes and sizes and I collected every brochure I could find from bike shops and read them every night. Soon some started to reappear on the roads. Petrol (gasoline) became more available and people who owned pre war bikes like the Triumph’s, Norton’s, BSA’s or Vincent Vellocette’s, brought them out of storage to ride once more.
A common sight also was the guys riding the used army bikes, still painted Khaki brown and still equipped the same. The army auctioned off these bikes very cheap and they gave good mileage and were easy to repair, albeit they were pretty ugly. Cars were out of the reach financially for the average worker, unless you were a lawyer or banker or such, but these bikes became ideal transportation for blue collar workers. The funny part was most people bought the same riding gear the Dispatch riders wore from Army Surplus stores, like the jackets, boots and leggings. To understand, you have to know it rains most days in Scotland and it is usually cold and damp so riding isn’t always a pleasure, unless you’re like me.
Shortly after the war, the Post office bought a large amount of BSA Bantams. They were two stroke 125cc little put puts, used to deliver telegrams or special mail by teenagers just out of High School. They got about 120 mpg and could be lifted by one man. I loved them and couldn’t wait to work for the Post Office. You could hear them coming blocks away because of the little screaming noise the engines made, unlike the typical noise made by the big 4 stroke Bangers.
My first serious love for motor bikes, the type of love that gives you butterflies, happened when Speedway racing was introduced in Europe. The sport originated in Australia and caught on very fast in Scotland. Every big city had a speedway team and in Glasgow, my home town, we had two teams. The Glasgow Tigers and the Ashfield Giants and they were very big rivals. If you’re not familiar with the sport it consists of a half mile oval dirt track on which four bikes will race four laps. There were two riders from one team against two riders from a visiting team.
The bikes were fascinating. They had a single stroke 500cc engine made by a company called “JAP”. They had a clutch, a one speed transmission and no brakes. They had tremendous torque and roared down the track, reaching speeds of 80 mph on the straight sections. The riders would just get off the throttle as they entered the corners, stick a foot out on the ground with a steel boot and accelerate out of the corners, the rear wheel in a controlled slide and riders almost touching each other.
I was very fortunate because my mom and dad became big fans, so I got to go every Wednesday evening when the races were on. As luck would have it that was the only night my parent’s shop was closed. Of course by this time I was about 8 and already in boarding school with the Monks but when I was home on Holiday I got to go.
It was a thrill to watch and you soon got to know the riders and of course you had your favorites. The Tigers had 3 excellent riders I loved, Joe Crowther, Will Lowther and Ron Johnson. These guys hardly ever lost a race, but when the Ashfield Giants came to our track, they had a guy called the “White Ghost” who always gave them a run for their money. In those days, all riders wore black leathers, that’s all there was but this guy had a custom set made and they were white, hence the name.
One evening we were at the track and I don’t know how, but my dad got me and him into the pit area. I will never forget that night as long as I live, when I was introduced to those guys, shook their hands and got to sit on Ron Johnson’s bike. Sadly for me there were no “quicky” cameras in those days.
From that day on I don’t think I ever slept well because I could smell the high octane fuel in my nose and I dreamt about being one of them. Believe it or not when I turned 16 I begged my dad to send me to Australia to learn how to ride. That was the only place that taught Speedway riding. Do you think he did? I guess it was a slightly unreasonable request. I really think I would have been a good rider but we’ll never know.
Here’s a funny story. There was a novice rider called “Whaler Joe”, he got that name because he would work a season on the whaling ships, make enough money, then come ride as a novice rider for a season. They had one race a night for novice riders and “Joe” was the squirmiest rider you ever saw. He never finished a race because he crashed every time he rode. The crowd loved him because he never gave up trying but he was a really bad rider.
As popular as Speedway was, it started to die off due to the fact all the good riders started to go to European teams as they made much more money there. I was devastated when the tracks started to close down, especially the Glasgow Tigers, it depressed the heck out of me. Most of the Speedway tracks were converted to Greyhound racing tracks. Scotland’s working class is very big on gambling as most people just above poverty level usually are. Horse racing is number one, then the greyhounds and then football. There are “Bookie” shops almost on every corner and they are legal. Also they had Football Pools, like a lottery system where you would pick teams that would win lose or draw. Prizes were about one million pounds, about 3 million dollars and the winnings were tax free.
I was serious when I said I asked my dad if I could go to Australia to learn to ride and when he said no, it was no big surprise. I then said “OK will you buy me a street bike instead, that’s a lot cheaper that sending me to Australia”. I felt that was a fair offer but his response was not only quick but it had a threatening tone to it. I had started my apprenticeship by then and was earning a whopping equivalent of $6 a week so I told him I would buy my own. I managed to save the money with my mom’s help, a little here and a little there for chores etc. The day came and I told my dad I was off to get my bike. He informed me if I bought a bike I could look for somewhere else to live. I saw my mom wink at me so off I went.
She loved motor bikes too for some reason so she was my ally. After studying all my brochure collection over the years I had settled on the bike I wanted but couldn’t afford, so my next choice was the little BSA Bantam. Actually the only one I could afford but at least I would be riding. I went to the local BSA shop and I gleamed at the brand new models for over an hour. Eventually the salesman stopped bugging me, I guess he got tired of hearing “I’m still looking!!”.
The moment came when I made my purchase, a brand new 125c.c. BSA Bantam two stroke, three speed transmission with a red tank, red oil pan covers and red mud guards (fenders). It had a solo seat (it wouldn’t carry two people), a kick start you could turn with your hand and last but not least a horn. They prepped the bike and brought it to the curb. I donned my black vinyl jacket (couldn’t afford leather) new leather helmet and goggles, swung the kick start and the little engine screeched into life. Off I rode to the DMV to register her. It was now 1955 and I was the proudest 16 year old in Glasgow. By the way as usual it was raining. You had a grace period to get insurance and you could ride if you put this large red and white “L” plate on front and back of your bike till you took the test. That designated to other drivers you were learning.
I arrived at the DMV and got in line with my paperwork. There was a guy in front of me with a real double breasted leather jacket and black gloves. Obviously a brother rider of which there were very many in those days. He turned to me recognizing my imitation leather jacket I had on and said “whit dae ye ride?” Proudly I told him I just bought a BSA Bantam. He looked at me for a minute and as he turned to face the front I heard him say “Huh ah can run faster.” I can’t describe how I felt at that moment. I turned and went back outside to where my little machine was parked, fired her up and went back to the BSA shop. I explained my dilemma and since I hadn’t registered it, they agreed to take it back providing I purchased something else.
Not being able to afford anything else, I had to go look at their used bikes. There she stood a 1950 Matchless 350c.c. single cylinder. She was maroon and black with chrome fenders, a four speed transmission with a compression lever due to her high compression engine and an advance and retard lever for the spark. She even had a mirror. The bikes in those days only had center stands and it took practice to get them on the stand. They were heavy bikes and tall.
Lucky the price was the same so we made the trade and once again they wheeled it out to the curb. The mechanic gave me a quick five minute instruction on how to start her, the gear sequence which was one up and three down and how to operate the advance and retard. I got the hang of it so I shut off the engine he had started for me and proceeded to start it myself. I found the TDC (top dead center) of the piston stroke and put my right foot on the kick starter and I stood on it. It didn’t move. So I had to release the compression some more to where the pedal was half way down then with all my might I jumped on it and the engine went “Fewf!!”.
If you’re not careful that pedal can backfire and break your leg. So after fiddling with the compression release, the advance, the choke on the carburetor, the TDC I kicked it over and that huge single cylinder came to life. What a thrill, I sat on it while it was still on the stand and you could feel that thump run right up your spine. I rocked it off the stand and almost fell. The bike was so tall I couldn’t reach the ground with either foot and I barely slipped off the seat in time to catch her. I turned off the engine and pushed it over to the curb then put her back on the center stand.
LEARNING TO RIDE
At that point I got back on and went through the starting procedure again. This time it was much easier, I was getting the hang of it. I mounted her from the curb and rocked her off the stand with a toe reaching the curb. So with that toe on the curb I could hold it, put it in gear and let out the clutch. It was a bitch of a machine to get going because of the long strokes, it was easy to stall her but I loved every moment I had her.
Now I’m only 16 and apart from taking the Bantam to the DMV I never rode a bike before and here I am riding 15 miles through the busy streets in the center of Glasgow. There were cars, buses and Tram cars all around me and nobody pays attention to those large “L” plates, it’s your own neck. I wasn’t worried about navigating traffic, my concern was if I had to stop at a traffic light or stop sign, I had to make sure I was next to the curb.
Anyway I made it to my home and when my dad heard the engine he came outside. I was poised for a heated conversation but he looked at the bike and said. “That seat is too high for you”. Next thing I know my dad had that seat off and in 1955, I saw the first double seat with the front half of the upholstery cut down. Trust me he invented that. Only we didn’t know that would be the thing many years from now. I could then touch the ground with one foot and start my life as a Biker. Run faster than this one, buddy.
This was a tremendous machine to ride, the sound of that big engine thumping along was unmistakable, acceleration wasn’t its strong point but you could have pulled a beer cart behind it. Top speed was about 80mph on its best day. Very few bikes did the “TON” in those days. That was the expression used for any bike that could do 100mph or more. Shifting gears was an art, if you shifted a bit too soon the RPM would drop like a rock from the sky and you would have to shift down again. It really wasn’t as hard as it sounds, the engine told you when to shift by the sound once you got used to it.
I didn’t have lots of time to ride for pleasure so I grabbed any opportunity I could. I rode it to work, rode it to my dad’s Café where I worked evenings, rode it home, no matter the weather. I worked 7 till 4 as an apprentice then worked every night except Wednesdays at my dad’s Café, including Saturdays and half a day Sundays.
I had a close friend at work, Jimmy Dempsey, who decided to buy a bike and ride with me when he could. We lived close to each other so we rode to work together every morning. Some evenings he would come to the Café with me so we could ride home together. His bike was a used 1951 Triumph 500 Speed twin. It had a 500c.c. twin engine and could outrun my Matchless in any gear. It still didn’t reach 100mph but close to it. It was a better bike than mine but cost more than I could afford and by this time I wouldn’t trade my Matchless for all the tea in China.
I did eventually get rid of those embarrassing “L” plates when I sat my test. The way it works in Scotland is the inspector gives you a route to follow on your own and he will be at different vantage points to watch you and you won’t know where. If you stall the bike when you take off, you have failed. That day it was pouring rain and the roads in the area for the test are all cobble stones. I was super nervous because at one point he will suddenly appear, stick out his arm and you have to make an emergency stop without stalling the engine. He also monitors your speed making sure you are not crawling along. I did the stop, followed all the traffic laws and passed. I did skid a little on the emergency stop but that was acceptable. I thanked my dad under my breath for cutting my seat or I would never have made it.
MY FIRST INTRODUCTION TO CONCRETE
It was a Saturday evening in July and for a change it was nice and warm. The café wasn’t busy so my mom told me and Jimmy to go for a ride. Off we went down Argyle Street in the center of town, traffic was light. As I mentioned, most of our roads were cobble stones in those days with the fixed tram lines in them so you had to be careful crossing the metal rails, they tended to be very slippery and you had to cross them on an angle. Especially when the roads were wet. The trams rode in the center of the road and the lines were about 10 feet from the curb. If a tram stopped to let passengers off or on you had to stop till the tram resumed its journey.
I was in front with Jimmy following a few feet behind me, we were cruising at the speed limit of 30mph, we had no where special to go so no rush. I observed a small van coming in the opposite direction but didn’t pay too much attention to it when suddenly at an intersection it made a turn across the main road and hit me broadside. It sent me flying about eight feet and my bike was trapped under the front of his van. Its bumper had hit my ankle and I was in severe pain. The guy came over to me and I could tell he was drunk. Mobil phones hadn’t been invented yet but a beat cop was coming down the street and he called for an ambulance from a police box. I told Jimmy to get the cop and tell him the driver was drunk. Then the ambulance came and took me away.
I was taken to the Southern General hospital, although it was better known as the Suffering General. Because motor bikes were so popular for transportation the bigger hospitals had a special ward just for bike accidents. I was put in a bed about 7:30pm and by 9pm I was in surgery. I had a broken ankle in two places that needed repair so when I woke up it was about midnight and I was in extreme pain. I told the nurse but all they gave me was aspirin. The doctor hadn’t prescribed any pain medicine and in Scotland doctors were Kings, you didn’t dare disturb them.
The good news was my dad was waiting there for me to wake up which was a nice surprise. Once he knew I was ok, he had to go home. My mom never did visit me the two weeks I was in the hospital. She had a phobia about hospitals.
In the morning I got to get a good look at the ward, there were about 12 beds on each side of the room and they were all filled. Directly across from me was a guy with a half body cast, both legs in a cast and one arm. I called over to him and asked what happened to get so banged up? He said he was a pedestrian coming out of a pub and he stepped off the curb just as a bike sped by and knocked him for a loop. As much pain as I was in I couldn’t help laugh, he laughed too. He had no idea what happened to the rider, he was unconscious.
The doctor finally did his rounds and came to talk to me. My leg was in a cast and slightly elevated on a pulley. I remember he said he hopes I learned a lesson that bike riding is dangerous. I said it wasn’t as dangerous as walking, look at the guy across from me. He laughed then said he meant what he said and pointed to the ward full of wounded bikers.
Two weeks later I was home and while I was in there Jimmy had my bike taken to the repair shop. I had them paint the maroon parts a nice blue and she looked awesome. Jimmy came over to the house and we managed to cut a hole in the side of my foot cast so that my shift lever would slide in and I could change gears. When that was done we went for a short test ride and it worked. I was back in business again. I was 17 by this time and it is amazing how little fear you have of what could happen to you, I could have lost a foot or a leg had I been hit again or just slipped on cobble stones. The other amazing thing is my dad didn’t try to stop me. I think by this time he knew it was hopeless. I wanted to ride and I would do anything to accomplish that. I was still riding as much as I could but work made it so that I hardly ever rode far or for fun, mostly transportation.
MY NEW PILLION PASSENGER
A pillion passenger is someone who rides behind you on a dual seat. I met a girl named Charlotte, she was 15 and it truly was love at first sight. It must have been, I married her and we were married 41 years before the Lord took her. I don’t think she loved to ride with me but she wanted to be with me and that was the price.
We were out on a ride one day and on our way home it started to rain pretty heavy. I don’t know if my tires needed air but the bike was much more squirmy than usual on the wet cobble stones so I took it easy and let the bike glide where she wanted over each stone. Next thing I knew the front wheel just went from under me and down we went. I saw Charlotte gliding along on her butt and I was on my belly sliding behind the bike on its side. We came to a halt and luckily we were unhurt. A few people came rushing over to Charlotte to help her up and make sure she was ok, no one came near me.
I got up and with two volunteers got my bike back on its stand. The damage consisted of a few scratches but she was sound enough to ride except for the clutch lever which was broken. I had a pair of pliers in my tool kit so I grabbed the clutch cable and pulled on the pliers when I had to shift. It was awkward and I shifted as little as possible. Charlotte was a bit shook up so I suggested she take the bus for the rest of the way but she insisted on getting back on with me. On we got and went the last 5 miles safely. I was so proud of her.
My riding continued as usual until I turned 18 and had to do my National Service. I reported for my physical along with Jimmy and another friend Harry Murrin. I was the only one to pass the physical and was told to report to a Scottish Infantry Regiment, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the RSF. Jimmy got sent to the REME, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and Harry joined the MP’s the Military Police. The mandatory time to serve was two years.
POST MILITARY SERVICE
I won’t go into detail about my heroism in the service because this is about motor bikes. There are a couple of points however. Before I reported to my Unit a young apprentice kept bugging me to sell him my bike and I finally agreed. The other major thing I did was to get engaged to Charlotte as we agreed to be faithful to each other. I was gone for most of the two years, partly overseas in Cyprus and then stationed in Shornecliff in the south of England. Just before my time was up we were stationed at Edinburgh Castle where all Scottish Regiments take a turn at guarding the Castle. Then I was discharged.
The first thing I did was marry Charlotte and then I was supposed to go back and finish my 3 remaining years of my apprenticeship as a sheet metal mechanic, but for some reason that didn’t appeal to me. Instead I got employment at a bakery delivering bread etc. in a van to shops. The second thing I did was to repurchase my Matchless it had only 300 miles on it since I sold it and was in good shape.
I thought I was set, I had my two loves my bike and I married my sweetheart and had a fairly good paying job. The bad news was I had to start deliveries at 4am in the winter and I would ride my Matchless on snow covered roads in the dark at 3am to get to work. The bike handled well in the snow, even on black ice which I hated but rode on occasionally. My problem wasn’t the weather it was the time. I was often going to be late so I rode a bit faster than I should but I always made it. I did have an accident however but not on the bike, in my van. I backed into a tight entry to a store and scraped the side for which I promptly got fired.
Now out of work Charlotte begged me to go finish my apprenticeship. Having been in the Service I was entitled to my job back when I returned but only for one year from my discharge date. I had been back 14 months. I went anyway and requested to finish my five years. I was told no as I had let the year’s grace expire. I was about to leave when the Manager asked me if I still played the drums (that story is in my other book) and I said yes. He said he would reinstate me if I agreed to teach basic drums in the Boys Apprenticeship Club one night a week for a year. I jumped at it and went back to work at the Sheet Metal trade which was to be a blessing when I immigrated to the U.S.A. a few years later.
However before starting work again I decided to take a week and go on a long ride. Blackpool is a town in England that is very popular with Holliday goers, it’s on the ocean and has a permanent Fairground and caters largely to visitors. This was October and I knew the Holliday season was over and I would have no trouble getting a room. However it was getting cold but I wouldn’t let that stop me. No matter what riding gear you wore the cold got through but we had a trick we used. Put plenty of newspaper under your sweater and it acted as a great insulator.
The journey was about 200 miles, doesn’t sound like much but there were no freeways back then and practically all single lanes each way. That meant passing lots of trucks on the way. It kept you awake. I headed south in the morning and it was brisk but dry. Once out of the city I cranked it up and made good time, including a meal and gas stop I was in Blackpool in six hours. I checked into a B&B and the landlady was a sweetheart and took good care of me. I had a good sleep and woke up early Sunday morning. I told her I’d be leaving early and she had breakfast all ready for me. A hot cup of tea and I got ready to go.
It was pouring rain when I stepped outside and although I had a Barbury waterproof rain jacket on, I only wore a pair of jeans so my ass and legs got wet right off the bat. I hadn’t gone a mile and my lower body was soaked as were my gloves. That caused me to get a bit chilled but I wanted to get home so I kept on going. About half way home I came to the Shap Summit, about 2000 feet above sea level and very steep. The higher I rode the colder it got and I’m talking cold. Then the rain turned to snow and I could hardly see and had to ride at a snail’s pace.
There’s a Café about two thirds up the hill and I had to stop. My fingers were numb and I couldn’t feel my knees so I went in and had a hot cup of tea and sat a while. It was nice and warm in there and I fell asleep at one of the tables. The waitress just left me alone. About a half hour later I woke up and decided to go brave the storm. The snow had stopped but it was still bitter cold. I bought a couple of newspapers and stuffed them down my pant legs and my crotch.
Believe me it helped. Traffic was light so I got going at a good pace and the rest of the way was uneventful, thank God. It was dark when I got home and Charlotte asked me how it went and I said “It was great” and I meant it.
My dad had sold the Café and bought a fish and chip shop and Charlotte worked there. Financially we were doing ok with her wages and mine plus what extra I made playing in a Jazz band on weekends. We had a small apartment we bought so I decided I would like to upgrade my bike. After a lot of research I found a used 1956 Triumph Twenty One. This was a Silver Blue 350c.c. twin with the “Bath Tub” design, which meant the rear end was totally enclosed in a cowling. I could put both feet on the ground which was a nice feature for me and it was very smooth. I no longer had to mess with the advance and retard but it still had a compression release which I never had to use after learning to kick start the Matchless.
I no longer worked in my dad’s shop so I had more time to ride and went on many day rides around Scotland. It didn’t take long before I was disillusioned with the Triumph Twenty One. It was smooth as I said and comfortable but slower than a snail. I couldn’t get that bike to go faster than 70mph and riding through the Scottish countryside you meet many other bikes which all flew by me. Outside the City limits there was no speed limit back then other than the roads were narrow and very twisty which that controlled your speed.
In those days motor cycles being as popular as they were, all us young guys thought we were racers. When you left your City limits you were fair game for a challenge. As you were riding along a bike would pass you then slow down to let you pass him, then he would pass you again putting out a challenge to race. It was common on a Sunday and I never refused the challenge so this made me rethink my choice of ride. I traded the Twenty One in for a brand new 1963 Triumph Tiger 110. This was my first bike that could do over the “TON”. It was also Silver Blue with the Bath Tub design, basically a bigger version of the Twenty One. It had a 650c.c. Twin engine that could literally do 110 mph. I liked the Bath Tub model because it kept a lot of the water or slush off the back of your legs and in Scottish weather any comfort was a plus.
I remember the day I picked it up from the dealer, I rode over to my mom’s little grocery store she owned to show her my new bike. She loved it and when I fired it up to go home she came outside and with a big smile I heard her say “You look great on a bike” boy did that make my day. I know she would have had a bike if she had been a man but in those days women didn’t ride bikes. Hardly any drove a car.
One Sunday Charlotte and I went for a ride from Glasgow to Ayr which was a seaside town about 40 miles away, again through twisty country single lane roads. Many times the corners would be blind due to high hedges so you had to be careful. It didn’t take long before I was issued a challenge which I accepted but when I took off Charlotte was beating my back to let her get off and I did.
I soon caught up with him and the race was on. It was about a 10 mile run and when I saw a short straight piece of road I grabbed full throttle and that baby flew by him on his Norton. We continued a few more miles but I could see I was gradually pulling away from him and he turned and went back. I also turned because I had left my sweetie on the side of the road about 10 miles back. That was an unpleasant reunion and it never happened again.
The area we had bought our apartment in was called Kelvin Haugh which was pronounced Kelvin Haw. Like most parts of Glasgow it had its local gang. Their slogan was “We come fae (from) the Haugh and we’re feart (afraid) oh F— Awe”.
Our house was on the third floor of a three story building and I parked my bike at the curb outside our street entry. One day I had a knock on my door and two guys were standing there with biker gear on. They asked if that was my bike down there and we soon struck up a conversation. They rode with another two guys and the four of them went on Sunday rides together and invited me to join them. Charlotte was delighted now she didn’t have to go with me, I had buddies.
These guys were not gang members but their older brothers were and they were tough in their own right and knew how to handle themselves. It is hard to explain but when you are from Glasgow and go to a smaller town there’s usually some local tough guys want to take you on because Glaswegians have a reputation for fighting. Working in my dad’s Café I had my share of throwing drunks out and having a punch up or two. I could handle myself too.
Smiddy was the leader of the four, then Pudgy, Eddie and James. Smiddy had the same bike as me, Pudgy had a Norton Dominator, Eddie had a Tiger 100 and James rode a BSA Red Rocket with a full fairing on front. We started to ride together on Sundays and work on the bikes now and then. We were all very careful about maintaining our machines. Because I had access to materials and machinery I made myself some racing handlebars, which made the bike a “Café Racer”. Smiddy loved them so I made him a pair. Accessories like that weren’t available in those days so we were one of a kind.
I remember one occasion when we arrived at a small town called Kilmarnock and went to a Café to have a coke. Pubs were closed on Sundays. About 6 guys came in and asked us where we were from then said they would wait for us outside. We finished our drinks and went out to the bikes and they were waiting as promised. The biggest one charged at us and quick as a flash Smiddy knocked him on his ass. Another two came and we were in a fight. It didn’t last long, another two went down and were kicked hard with biker boots then the other three took off saying they would be back. We got on our rides and got the hell out of there. I guess it was one of those days though on the way home a driver almost hit James and Smiddy rode up to the car and yelled at him to be careful. The driver flipped Smiddy off so a tire iron came out and Smiddy smashed the guy’s side window. At the next intersection the guy turned off and was gone.
In Glasgow there was something called the “Glasgow Fair”. All the major factories closed down for two weeks and everybody went on Holiday at the same time. Don’t ask me why that’s how it was done. James had a buddy who drove a large van around Scotland putting up Large Gas Station signs. The four of us planned a trip to follow him and we would sleep in the back of the van at the overnight stops he worked. It was a great trip and we saw parts of Scotland we would never have visited. We rode a total of about 800 miles which is a lot over there without incident.
Back at home we went on our usual Sunday ride but it turned out to be very unusual. Smiddy was up front then Pudgy then me and the other two behind. Not bragging but I could handle that bike and I had no fear racing into a bend but compared to Smiddy the rest of us were novices. We were on a tight country road and Smiddy went round a tight right hander, Pudgy tried the same but couldn’t hold the corner and ended up across the road and through a big hedge. I kept going to signal Smiddy to stop the other two stopped to check on Pudgy.
We crawled through the hedge opening that Pudgy had made and he was lying badly hurt. It wasn’t the hedge that hurt him there was a cow on the other side and he center punched it. Luckily the hedge slowed his speed a bit. The bike was destroyed but the cow got up and walked away. We had to get out of there or the farmer would have shot us so we dragged the bike across the road and hid it under a large bush. Then we got Pudgy on the back of Smiddy and took off to the nearest Hospital about 15 miles away. Pudgy had three broken ribs and a broken arm otherwise he was fine and was released the following day. He went back at a later date to retrieve the bike but it was a right off and it wasn’t insured. That ended his riding career on his own bike but now and then he would ride on back of Smiddy.
One night my wife and I decided to go to the movies and we were standing in line outside the theatre when I heard a Triumph coming. The Twin had a distinctive sound so I turned to look and it was a bike exactly like mine. Nice bike nice sound. After the show we walked home and I looked at where my bike should be but it wasn’t there. It had been stolen. That frickin bike I saw was mine. I had insurance so I reported it to them and the police. About two months later the police came and told me they caught a guy throwing a stolen bicycle in a used quarry. It was full of water so they dragged the quarry to find it and up came my frame. It had been stripped so the insurance paid me off but not enough to buy a new bike so I had to put that on hold for a bit.
My wife had always wanted to go to America. I wasn’t so keen. I had what I considered a good life with the bike, and I had since completed my apprenticeship and now making a journeyman’s wage, I was also doing well with the band I was in so why move. However we all know the power of a woman so off we went to the United States. It was February 1964 when we went and ended up in California. That story is in my other book also. We landed with about $60 in our pockets so no bike for a while.
It took about three years before we were on our feet enough for me to get a toy. In California you needed a car so the bike was strictly for my pleasure. Off I went and bought me a Triumph TR6. It was Identical to the new Bonneville but had a single carb instead of two. I chose it for that reason because I heard stories that the two carbs were hard to keep in sync. It was a great bike, what the hell it was a Triumph!!
I rode it to work and back every day but I soon learned in California drivers are not as aware of bikers as they are in Scotland and you needed four pairs of eyes. Motorcycles were not as common. I had almost been hit a few times so there was a new learning curve. Obviously it did not deter me from riding.
My two younger brothers moved to the U.S. and the youngest, Michael was like me. He loved bikes and we got him a BSA 441 Victor. Although there were no dealers left who sold British bikes 20 of them came crated and were sold in one day. We were lucky. I was friends with one of the mechanics in the Honda shop and he thought I’d be interested being Scottish. I called him and we went down and bought one. I taught Mick how to ride. He took to it like a fish in water so we started going on day rides together on weekends.
Again like me he wanted more so he saw an ad in the paper for a red 650c.c. BSA Spitfire for sale. I’d never heard of that model so we went to check it out. It was a Marine who had it for sale. He bought it when he was in Guam and brought it back. We bargained with him and because we were the only ones who answered his ad ended up bringing it home. It was a gorgeous bike with a huge red 5 gallon tank and a great sounding engine. We sold the Victor for more than we paid for it so he came out pretty good on the deal.
One Sunday we rode up to Big Bear me in front and him trailing. We got near the top and I was speeding through the corners as I loved to do and occasionally I would have to slow down to wait for him. He waived for me to stop and he told me something was wrong with my bike, when I cornered black smoke came out. I explained to him that was the rubber foot pegs hitting the road. We continued and he tried to pass me on a bend. He came inside me but couldn’t hold the turn and started to push me out. There was a shear drop on my right and although I was leaned over I had to play with my brakes to slow down enough to let him use my part of the road. He kept behind me the rest of the way, his face was white.
Charlotte and I took the same road to work, but I left earlier than her. After I was at work about a couple of hours she called our office to talk to me. I went to the phone and she was hysterical and couldn’t even talk. Eventually I found out when she drove to work there was a bike accident and the bike was identical to mine and was pinned under a truck. There was a body nearby covered with a sheet and the police wouldn’t let anyone stop so she hurried to work to see if I would answer the phone.
She begged me to sell the bike and after what I saw her go through I sold it much to my sorrow. Two years later we had moved homes to a nicer district and the roads were wider and less traffic so I decided to get another bike but a small one. Triumph bikes were no longer sold in the U.S. and Honda was up and coming with new models and very good prices. I would have loved a Harley but way too expensive. I decided on a small bike just for fun so I bought a Honda CM450. It was my first experience with an electric starter and boy do you get spoiled quickly. “Back in the saddle again.” a song sung by Roy Rogers, a famous movie cowboy back in the black and white movie days. I can never explain the feeling I get when I ride a motorcycle, I become a different person. I’m happy, I’m free, and it’s euphoric. Plus I’m probably a bit crazy. Who wants to travel in the heat, the cold, the rain and wind when you can buy a car for the same price as some bikes? ME!!
Well you can guess the little 450 soon got me a wee bit bored, so time to upgrade. I had one minor accident on that wee beast but no harm done. I was coming down a hill with a stop sign at the bottom and I didn’t notice a vehicle had dumped all its oil at the sign. I put my brakes on and slid right on my side. ASSHOLES!! I picked the little thing up, engine still running got on and said a few words and proceeded on my merry way.
Honda motorcycles were coming into being, making similar models to Harleys but cost less than half the price although I will admit, every time I pulled up to a Harley and heard the rumble of that engine my mouth watered. I am Scottish that makes me thrifty not cheap. So back in the Honda dealer shop I spied the 750 Night Hawk. This was an In-Line 4 cylinder with 4 carburetors that flew to a top speed of 125mph and the seat height was perfect. Since my Matchless days this is always an important issue with me and my short legs. Now we’re talking bikes, it had a sports feel to it but still very comfortable. I never had a single problem with this bike and the carbs always stayed in sync. It had a drive shaft instead of a chain so that was new for me. Also it had front disk brakes a five speed transmission and a light clutch. I loved this machine. The drive shaft meant no chain maintenance required and no oil being thrown up all over the back wheel.
I kept that bike a few years but then Honda brought out a new model that looked very similar to Harley’s Mid Cruiser models so I figured it was time for me to cruise instead of fly. It was the new 750 Magna. A V4-Twin engine, all disk brakes 6 speed transmission, low cut front seat (like my dad did) and slightly raised bars allowing me to lean back a little. Some said it was uncomfortable on a long trip but the ergonomics seemed to fit me perfectly. Now at least I felt like I was on a Harley Cruiser until I pulled up next to one. Their riders always seemed to look down on someone with a different make, unlike Scotland we were all a brotherhood no matter what you rode, unless it was a BSA Bantam. I’ll never forget that asshole in the DMV.
My son was into Club soccer and we would travel all over the State to watch him play. Of course he drove with his mom and I went on my bike. It wasn’t that I had to ride I just HAD to ride. I would actually get depressed if I had to ride in the car. I got friendly with another dad and his son was on the same team. He also had a bike, by chance the same model Honda as mine, so we would ride together. We both joined an adult soccer team so we rode to our son’s games on a Saturday and rode to our games on a Sunday. Thank God Charlotte was understanding.
She was a very understanding lady and although she rode with me in Scotland when we moved to the States she wouldn’t put her butt near a bike. Can’t say I blamed her, it was much more precarious here, bigger cars going faster and drivers being distracted.
The distractions were the fancy radio systems they played with, putting make up on while driving, etc. Mostly applied to female drivers of which there was no shortage. Sorry ladies.
Our sons got older and got out of soccer so I lost my one and only riding buddy. My brother was married now and sold his bike so I was solo again. We had taken up Motocross Racing on Sundays, he had a British Greeves and I rode a Montesa. Before long, we both switched to 250c.c Husquavarna’s and we had a shop sponsor us for parts. Steve McQueen rode out of the same shop and we got to know him a little. Everyone in the shop was courteous to him and didn’t bug him about movies. He was an excellent rider but on race day he had to change his riding gear and number each race. This was because the Studio would send out spies to see if he was racing, which per his contract he wasn’t allowed because of possible injuries. Nice guy though.
He would show up on race day in a nice big trailer and always some gorgeous blonde in it which we all tried to get a peak at. But same rule applied we left him to his privacy and only chatted at the track. I could have had a bunch of souvenirs from him, gloves etc, and sold them for big bucks after he died but that didn’t sit right with me. Only thing that bugged me was we were struggling to pay for our bikes plus upkeep, he could afford ten bikes, but his Fan Club bought him a brand new bike. Go figure!!
BAD DAYS AHEAD
After all the years of street riding in Southern California, splitting lanes, horrible traffic conditions, I never came off. Narrow squeeks but never had an accident. One day at the office my buddy asked me to go to lunch. It turned out to be a long liquid lunch and I was hammered. We didn’t go back to work and he missed his ride home. So I threw him on back of my bike and off we went in 5 o’clock freeway traffic.
It was stop and go so I started splitting lanes and could feel myself wobble between cars. I hit a car and tore off his wing mirror but I kept going. He was stopped. I finally got my friend home and all of a sudden I was sitting on the bike in my garage, parked sideways.
I was terrified and had no idea how I got home in one piece. “There but for the Grace of God…….” My wife came home from work and found me sound asleep on the floor, half dressed. She left me there. Her rule was if it’s self inflicted then suffer. I never rode and drank again. In the car ? Sometimes, lol.
I still kept my dream of owning a Harley some day. But the Scotsman kept getting in my way. I could buy 2 Hondas, very good bikes, for the price of a Harley. Didn’t make sense.
My poor wife developed cancer and it hurts to go into that. We were now married 41 years. After suffering for 18 months, one day she said she wanted to go for a ride in the car and get some sun. We went out and she directed me to a brand new Harley store just opened in Orange County. She wanted to relax in the car with the sun on her face, and told me to go in the store and window shop.
I was in there in a heart beat, sitting on everything in the showroom. Being a small man I fell in love with a black “Lowrider”, the chrome gleaming at me. Anyway I wiped the saliva off my lips and went out to check on my sweetheart. She asked me if I saw one I liked, I said I saw 14 bikes I loved!! She said “Look at me, Life is short, go in and buy the one you want”. Tears ran down my face but I knew what she meant, so I purchased the Lowrider and went back later with my son to pick it up. I now own a Harley.
My wife Charlotte died shortly after that, and I didn’t get much riding done. She became a Hospice patient and was bed ridden so I was home almost all the time. Fortunately I owned my own construction company and could do that.
Being a widower I now had plenty of time to ride but it wasn’t the same. No one to come home to and share the day. I found out about the HOG group run by Harley and decided to join. There were about 100 members in our chapter and I met a couple my age and we hit it off immediately. They were Dan and Rosie, whom I stayed friends with all these years. I’m now 80 and Dan is 82, both of us in less than perfect health.
I kept my Lowrider but as I was riding much longer miles, I decided to buy a Road King. It was more suitable for long rides and very comfortable. Also I met a very cute girl Donnette and the Road King was perfect for two up. Now riding was fun again with a companion to share with and Donnette loved to ride. We got married after a couple of years and moved to St. George Utah, a quaint small town.
ST. GEORGE UTAH
Utah is a gorgeous State to ride in with beautiful scenery almost anywhere you go and by this time my wife was riding with me on her own bike. Let’s diverse here.
I taught her to ride on the Lowrider but it wasn’t an easy bike to cruise on. I had the motor upgraded and it was very quick on the throttle, in fact it threw Donnette off accelerating too quickly. She was an excellent rider but needed something more “Cruiser” type. We found the ideal used bike for her, a Heritage Classic and she loved it. We started going on long weekend rides together and to some Harley events. It was on one of those events her bike got stolen and the worst part was her $4,000 wedding ring was in the pocket.
A new wedding ring and a new Heritage Classic. Thank you insurance company for paying for “some” of it. We were gathering a bunch of grand kids by this time and Donnette made the choice of being safe for them and gave up riding. As they say. It’s not IF you have an accident it’s WHEN.
So once again I was solo. I bought a new bike called a Road Glide, very smooth, bigger engine and 6 speeds instead of 5. Put a lot of miles on that bike. As I said I rode in California in lousy traffic for 41 years and never had an accident. Here I am in sleepy St. George, cruising down the boulevard at 40mph and a girl to my right makes a left turn and slams into me.
I had the bike fixed at a shop owned by a guy who rode with a group called BACA. Bikers Against Child Abuse. He was headed to court to support a child who was sexually abused and invited me to come as a spectator in the court room. I went and after the court he introduced me to about four of the guys. They all had road names to protect their families from retaliation by Perpetrators and their families. He was called Hammer, I met Shots, Lil Guy, Nails and Pinky. A name he hated.
Long story short I joined. This was just what I was looking for. I could ride and also help abused children. My name became LOCO because a printed list came out and you couldn’t read the “MA” in Maloco, just the “Loco” part so it stuck.
I could write a hundred stories about my experience in BACA. They have Chapters in almost every State, in Canada, Netherlands, Italy, France and Belgium. I was fortunate to ride with the Italians, the country where road signs are a suggestion and it’s every man for himself. Quite an experience.
Time for a new bike, we sold Donnette’s bike and my Road Glide and I purchased what was to be my last bike. A 2011 Street Glide and I think my favourite bike of all. I put a lot of miles on it with BACA but my “Mentor” in BACA was Shots and he and I put lots of miles on our bikes just going here and there.
One memorable ride was to North Dakota, the week after the big August Rally, “Sturgis”. His wife (and my favourite lady), Cassie’s dad had a home there and we went for a visit. We had lots of fun that weekend but come Sunday we headed back. We rode 1200 miles all the way back, a long long ride and after close to 12 hours in the saddle, I was getting drousy.
We stopped at a gas station and tanked up for the last time. We had about an hour left and Cassie gave me a small can of something. She said “Drink this”. I did. It was a “5 Hr Pick Me Up” of some kind and off we went on our last leg. Remember I am 74 years old by this time but we made it. I got home exhausted and crashed on the bed but my eyes were wide open and I couldn’t sleep. The frickin 5 hr tonic still had about 4 hrs left. Grrrrrrr Cassie!!!
Again I have lots of stories about BACA but this is about the bikes I owned. Well about 4 years ago I was 76, still riding, but I jumped off the tailgate of my truck and damaged my hip. Turned out it needed replaced but before they could do that I needed open heart surgery for a double bypass. So January 7th, my birthday, 2015 I had a Double Bypass. Then in March my right hip replaced and in May my left hip replaced. That folks ended my riding career. I sold my baby, it went to California, and I reired from riding.
Some people suggested a Trike. I tried one I bought for Donnette but she wouldn’t ride it and I hated it. It’s not riding, so I had to settle for my little Mitsubishi SUV, and I love her.