Editors note: Mike has been a long time follower of this blog, and maybe the biggest die hard rider that I've known. He's been known to put a lot of miles down at any given time, and my only complaint with him is he keeps showing me roads in my own backyard that somehow I've missed. I've been asking him to give me his story for a while.
Following the Front Wheel….
I have been wanting to put to print these recollections of my motorcycle life for some time. After some prodding by Alan Dunn it is finally a reality!
I was 6 years old when my uncle put me on the back of his 53 Indian for a 5 mile trip to town and that first ride created a memory that I have revisited so many times, and yet it never wears out.
It wasn’t until four years later(1960) that three of the local riff-raff in my small coal mining town had Harley Panhead dressers that I would see parked together around town, but for some reason, never riding thru town. I knew at that point I wanted to ride something faster than my bicycle. A friend of mine a year older than me had a 1964, 90cc Honda. In 1965 he loaned me his bike, he borrowed one and we rode 100 miles to an amusement park. It was the first time I ever operated a bike and I wasn’t old enough to have a license. I damn near hit a car head on when I crossed the center line on a hard corner but I eventually understood that “close” does not count when it comes to accidents. In the Spring of 1966 I finally got my first bike, a new 1965 Honda 90cc street bike for $400.00. The first week out of tenth grade I took off from PA with the same friend and we rode to Daytona Beach on the two Hondas. One thousand miles of two lane US 1. The Hondas would hit 60mph with a good tailwind and going downhill, but 55 mph was a more realistic top speed and they got 85 mpg. So off I went on my first big road trip. I had 30 dollars in my pocket, a blanket, a small bag with a toothbrush and a change of clothes. I spent 10 dollars on gas going down and back with some in and around miles while there. We slept on the beach and every night locals would come down and light bonfires and share food, which amounted to hot dogs and wine. We bought hot dogs every day to bring to the fire and by the time we headed for PA 5 days later, we spent another $5.00 on food. I later learned those bonfires were used by the fishing boats to determine distance to the shore. We rode straight thru, down and back which took 24 hours each way, and I spent a few dollars on the road for candy bars and soda pop. I arrived home the day before I started my summer job and still had $9.00 of the original $30.00. We repeated this trip that same summer a week before we went back to school. Those first two trips are still some of the best times I had on a motorcycle. My friend who first got me on a bike passed a few years ago and I regret I never looked him up years later to relive some truths of the trip. If you shared some great times with good people don’t wait to reconnect with them. I blew up the motor on that Honda shortly after getting back from Florida in ’66 which turned into a nasty war of words with American Honda as they didn’t want to honor the warranty. They claim I abused the motor, I claimed it was normal wear and tear. I lost the war and moved on to a 1949 Panhead that a friend said needed a new transmission. I paid $75.00 for the bike and when I opened the primary the primary chanin was laying on the bottom. The new chain cost me exactly what I paid for the bike and I was back in business. I rode it for one summer and my friend bought a new 350 Honda and he beat me in a few drag races so the Panhead had to go. I bought a new 1968 Honda 350 Scrambler and my buddy could still beat me in a drag race! Not long after he blew the thing up and I found out from the dealer he was mixing alcohol in his fuel and burned two perfect dime size holes in the pistons. That Honda ran like a scalded dog, if only for a relatively short time! This time it was a lesson I’m glad I didn’t have to learn on my own! I sold the 350 Honda in late 68 and became a Private in the US Army in January 1969. I didn’t ride again until 1973 when I bought a new 1972 Sportster. It was a great bike and I had it until 1976 when I got a new 76 Dyna Fat Bob. That Dyna bike broke my heart! It was my dream bike turned into a nightmare. The first 6 times I took it out for a ride it broke down! Three times the coil went bad, twice the carb vibrated off and another time it fouled a plug. I got disgusted and sold the bike and bought a slightly used Kawasaki KZ900. I pounded that bike for 10 years without a problem other than it had a lot of frame flex that would sometimes create a death wobble above 85mph. It scared me more than a few times but I soon got the hand of bringing it off the shakes. For twenty five years the fastest I had ever gone on a bike was that Kaw and I had it at or a little above 135 mph a few times. When I see one today I’m puzzled as to why I am still alive.
I had a family when I had the Kaw and with the responsibility of providing and I eventually sold it to a guy on installments who must of fogot he owed me the money. Lesson number 2! For the next 15 years I bought street and dirt bikes that were seriously neglected and repaired them for resale. I always had 4 or 5 bikes in stages of repair and 1 or 2 for sale. They provided a few hundred dollars a month of needed funds and kept me engaged in what I loved doing. With the kids raised and a life altering divorce, I was left to my own devices which took me down the path of riding motorcycles and consuming alcoholic beverages. Mixing the two over the next 7 years brought me some of the most rewarding and some of the most disheartening moments of my life. Bikes owned during those seven years were a Suzuki 700cc, 1400cc, 1500cc, a 95′ HD Softail Custom, a 355HP Boss Hoss, a 2001 HD FLHT Standard and a ’62 Panhead. I rode everyone of those bikes, except the Boss Hoss across the US. I did have that Boss Hoss up to 145 mph, the fastest ever on 2 wheels for me! Friends lost over those 7 years are more than I care to count but not more than I care to remember. It was also during this time two friends and myself started hanging out calling ourselves the “Lonesome Losers”! It was mostly an excuse to ride and drink beer. We had great times and we did plenty of riding/drinking and there were a lot of folks that we met along the way who felt they fit the mold. As with everyone who passes thru this life some stick and some keep searching. Either way I hope they all find what they are looking for. If not, keep searching cause these perfect moments in time that come around in life, show up either, when least expected or when needed most. If I had not survived those times I surely would not want my friends to feel guilt over not intervening when they could have.
In the words of Robert Hunter:
All I can derive from learning lesson #3 was that it was expensive, in more ways than monetarily.
At the end of this period I met my 2nd wife who absolutely saved me from myself. My riding today is much less about bar to bar and more about coast to coast and all the great people and places between that this country has to offer. Maturity has nothing to do with the wanderlust, although advancing age does! Currently I am riding at any given time an ’05 HD FLHT Classic, a ’99 BMW R1100RT, and the 62 Panhead, still. I also in the last few years had or have a 76 BMW 600cc, 81 BMW, R65, 68 BSA 250cc, 72 Yamaha XS 650 and a 85 BMW K100. This Fall I am planning on riding in Mississippi and visit gravesites of as many Delta blues artists as I can find. In 2021 I am in the early stages of planning to ride the 62 Panhead from Ballarat, CA to New Orleans to retrace the route of the movie Easy Rider with Alan Dunn. I became aware of Alan thru his blog, years ago while researching some info on Route 66. That led me to his Easy Rider blog of which he is an authority on all things related to the film.
In the mean time, follow that front wheel!
Mike “No Rush” Frew