It’s Seasonal

As September hits I’m reminded of many things. Mostly, riding in the fall and how the summer days felt when it was unbearably hot. Looking back now those hot days seem like they were tolerable. School for everyone is in session, and growing up in a small town it’s classified as a big event. One particular hot day in August, on the first day of school, I wore a shirt that I was sure would be my favorite. A typical August day, in a school without air conditioning could suffocate a horse. But even your soon to be favorite shirt (that happens to be flannel) can become a sweat shirt in this heat. Really Mom? Sending your kid to school in a flannel shirt? I’m sure it was my decision and I fought her every step of the way until she caved in. Chalk it up to learning the hard way. To this day, every time I put on a flannel shirt I think about this. In the seventies there was no such thing as a “heat day” where kids got out of school because it was too hot. Instead, every day was “suck it up” day. So I did.

It’s a wonder how fast the seasons can change when we are lost in our day-to-day lives. Go to work, come home, ride a little and repeat. All the while trying to do the things required of me around the house. Before you know it the weather is changing and the days are getting shorter. I keep telling myself that it’s only a few short months until Spring and we’ll be fine. But hold on, I still have some riding to do and believe me the chores aren’t done. In any case I will ride this winter as I do every year, but as far as everything else…

Every season has its advantages and disadvantages and some seasons we like more than others. But when it comes to hot or cold or dry versus wet it’s all good. Just remember, it’s all temporary and it’s just a few short months until it all changes again. Apparently as a Freshman in high school on the first day of class, I lacked the depth and knowledge of both fashion and common sense. I made it through the day none the worse for wear and with a valuable lesson as my reward. After all, I was a Freshman and you can’t expect anything more from me. Just ask my mother!

The Explorer In All Of Us

Growing up “small town White City” isn’t a bad thing. Looking back it was a great time to just be a kid. Riding all the back roads around town gave me a great sense of direction and a good idea how far you could go on a tank of gas before hitting reserve. Practicing wheelies and power slides outside of town where no one could see or hear you was good as to not raise any eyebrows and to keep my mom and dad in good graces within the community. But it didn’t stop me from practicing those wheelies on my way out-of-town! So much for being a kid…

You never knew what you would find. Maybe an old cemetery where I would get off and check out the headstones, and sometimes find one with a familiar name from White City. It all helps put the pieces together on how far out side of town the farmer’s family went. There was always old farm equipment parked from days gone by and left for dead. But no headstone was necessary. Their names were painted right on the hood.

At times I would be parked on a hill miles from town and look off in the distance and see the Mor-Kan grain elevator in the distance calling me home, but I wasn’t quite ready. More power slides and wheelies to be done and who knows what else. You would rarely meet anyone on these back roads but when you did there was usually a friendly wave and once in a while you might stop and talk for a few minutes to a class mate whose family farmed as they were on their way to town. 

At one time I was pretty good at both wheelies and power slides. After all, practice does make perfect. But as all things do, the dirt bike needs gas and I’m hungry, so back to town we go. I often wonder if my parents really knew what I did on those long summer days on my motorcycles. Gone for hours and coming back dusty or skinned up. Not all wheelies were successful! I’m sure they did though, even when they didn’t say anything about it. If any of you know anything about a small town, it’s hard to keep a secret. Or maybe it was the marks in the gravel from my power slides as I left town…

The way we were

They say that everything comes full circle. Old becomes new again and fads come and go. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and I will tell you there are certain parts of that era I really don’t want to see again. Hair styles and leisure suites, bell bottoms and fringed jackets, I can live without. But there are many things that I miss as well. Three-wheelers! I had several in the 80’s and even raced them competitively. They were a great source of fun and as far as I was concerned, safe. At least as safe as the person riding it.

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I never felt out of control or in “danger” at any time, and I don’t think the evil three-wheeler had it out for us. Looking back I think they were a very neccessary part of our lives and was just a step to the four-wheeler we love today. An absolute hoot to ride and race, it’s weird that future generations will have to look at them from a history perspective.

Countless hours of play riding in all kinds of weather, all year round. Water, snow and mud were just a normal day and you could ride wheelies FOREVER!

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Sure, you had to ride them differently than anything else. Steering with the rear wheels, sliding around corners, transferring your weight to stay on it was a workout. A solid rear axle made it interesting and unless you picked up the inside wheel as you were turning, it wanted to go straight. The first time I rode one was a 1980 Yamaha Tri-Moto 125. A friend and I were riding out in the country North of White City and happened along a farmer friend of ours that was using his Tri-Moto for checking on fences. We stopped and talked to him and it was really the first up-close encounter I ever had. Beautiful yellow plastic, big balloon tires and a freakish long saddle. With no suspension, a guy like me had to wonder how it handled.

The next thing I know, I’m being offered the opportunity to ride it back to his house about a half mile away. I jumped at the chance and Grady and Mike took off on the dirt bikes and left me to figure it out! Rope start, semi-automatic transmission and no instructions on how to turn it. Couldn’t be that hard! It started easy enough, with one pull of the rope. Great! I clicked it into gear and turned the grip. But the grip didn’t turn. Thumb throttle. OK, so maybe it’s a little different than what I’m used to. I give it some gas and run right into the barb wire fence. Grady and Mike are long gone and I’m in some episode of the “Twilight Zone”. Nothing is what it seems and Rod Serling is standing just behind me with a suite and thin black tie on (didn’t that come back into style?) smoking a cigarette saying “Jeff, just when he thinks he knows it all…he enters the Twilight Zone”. I back up a little give it some gas and once again, right  into the fence. After a few minutes I get it going and for a half of mile I never felt sure of what would happen next.

It didn’t take me long to figure it out and of course, I had to have one of these things. So after owning several and racing a few and many, many hours of fun, they were gone. I actually remember when Suzuki came out with the first four-wheeler. I drove an hour to a Suzuki shop to see it in person. I really didn’t think at the time anyone would want a “four-wheeler” because three wheels had to be better. I also made the same assumption when cassette tapes first came out and Beta versus VHS. Don’t ask me about stuff like that. I still have a closet of stuff waiting for old to become new again.

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The quiet hero

Exactly when did the kickstand come into existence? Obviously early bicycles had some sort of “prop” to hold it up when parked, but let’s think about this for a moment. Over a hundred years ago when motorcycles were first coming into our lives, they had a device to lift up the back-end which allowed it to stand up on its own and also to turn the back wheel. We always think about how amazing motorcycles can be but we never give any thought to the kickstand itself. Henry Ford didn’t have this problem, but the Harley and Davidson boys did. Someone, probably the quiet guy in the back of the room, actually had to say “we need a way to hold this thing up”. And as we have designed and improved the motorcycle over the years, the kickstand remains relatively unchanged. How awkward would it be to ride up in front of the club house, stop and lay your bike on the ground? Filling it up with gas would be a challenge as well. We so take the simple things for granted.

Have you ever seen the tough guy in the movie ride up on his bike, stop in front of the biker bar and put his kickstand down? A few. But now let’s have the same scene with the bad guy laying his bike over on its side as he gets off. Not so much. What kind of background music would be playing for a scene like that? A quick getaway would require help from innocent bystanders and you would for sure know who your friends are. And if you ride with a group it’s obvious that the one with the smallest bike would be the last to get on. After all, he’s helping the rest of you with your bigger bikes.

It is so much of what a motorcycle is, but it doesn’t get any attention. Where would we be without it? A lot stronger as we pick these beasts of burden up off the ground. So as you read this you need to realize that right now, at this very moment, your motorcycle is standing up and leaning on its kickstand ready to ride. Here’s to you my friend!

Practical

As I was pumping my usual $12 worth of gas into my Heritage, a older gentleman walked over to me and floored me with the question “is it practical?”. He was driving the required older gentleman’s car, a Buick, which I have owned a few myself. I know the fuel economy of that wonderful engine, and it is nothing to dismiss. Usually when I get asked a question from a stanger at a gas station, it’s “where are you headed” or “how many miles to the gallon do you get”. But never “is it practical”.

So I thought about it and answered with “only if you ride it”. He continued about his love for motorcycles and how he wished he was still riding. I could see it in his eyes and he was very sincere in his words. We had a great talk and he was on his way as I was mine.

The ride home I couldn’t help but think of this exchange. The truth is there a cars that get as good of mileage as my motorcycle and yes, that would make them more practical. Enough to carry more than two people, cup holders, radio, storage, heat and conditioned air. Why didn’t I think of that? But I ride because I want to, not that I have to. I ride all year long as long as it’s not dangerous and saving gas is just a benefit. Most of my friends ride as recreation and wouldn’t think of riding the way I do, and that’s OK. They have their passions and I have mine. To me a boat doesn’t make sense but I don’t have any interest in that particular form of recreation. And that too is OK. But if you want to ride a motorcycle to save gas you have to ride it. A fair weather rider I’m not and I have the miles on my bike to show for it. Sixty degrees and a twenty percent chance of rain, will you ride? Probably. Forty degrees and a twenty percent chance of rain? I will. Most folks will look outside and say it’s just easier to take my coffee cup and jump in the car. It’s not convenient to ride for a lot of people, with dress clothes and laptops. I don’t have much hair, so helmet head isn’t an issue for me.

There are a lot of forms of transportation that are not practical. The distance to our destination comes into play as well as what we need to take with us. My saddle bags are full for any of you who have followed me, so apparently I have a lot of stuff I need to carry as well! I’m fortunate to be able to ride almost daily all year long. Some winters are worse than others but you know what I mean. If there is one point I want to make here is this. Be passionate about what you want in life. Bicycling, running, sports cars or boats. Enjoy your hobby as I enjoy mine! If you haven’t experienced riding a motorcycle or are curious about it, ask someone who does. Then someday it might be me that walks up to you and asks “is it practical?’

The Road Home

I have been living in this small town in Kansas now for about 45 years. White City hasn’t changed much over time and the same could be said about the people who live there, me included. That isn’t a bad thing, it’s just how it is. From White City you have to travel about twenty miles in any direction to get to another “incorporated” town. Skiddy, (look it up!) which is “unincorporated”, named after Francis Skiddy,  is about seven miles from White City and I’ve seen that town slowly turn into a memory of what it once was. The Pepsi sign on Mann’s Grocery is still there but the roof is not. The Standard station is a house now but for anyone with any history in the area, you know what I’m talking about. A church and a school are still standing but that’s about it. Population hasn’t change as there are maybe 20-25 that are living there.

Riding to work the past few days has been interesting. There is work being done on a pasture to remove a tree line for new fencing. I know some might think I’m a motorcycle vagabond, traveling the two-lane highways, sleeping on picnic tables and writing this stuff on discarded paper bags. The reality is I have a job and have traveled this road from White City for over thirty years. So as this work is being done the landscape around Skiddy is changing. Somewhat of a shock for a small town guy like me. I can only imagine the shock the citizens of Skiddy are experiencing as they are a smaller community than White City! Change just doesn’t happen that often so when it does it almost always makes the newspaper.

But this morning the trees have all been removed and now you can actually see around the curves for any oncoming cars or tractors. And I must mention it’s a nice view of the small valley into this pasture. This tree line has been there as long as I can remember and has defined this section of road. It’s forever gone and I’m a little sad. I know this road like the back of my hand. Now it looks like the back of someone else’s hand! At least this half of mile where the trees are gone!

I like it and as progress goes, so does Skiddy. A new fence will be up in no time and the cattle will have a new view of the passing traffic. I use the term “traffic” loosely as I passed two cars this morning in the first fifteen miles of my commute. And that’s OK, as a small town guy will tell you, “some, or a least most, things never change”!

 

 

 

Motorcycles to Anamosa – J&P Cycles Open House

A couple of years ago I rode to Anamosa Iowa for J&P Cycles open house. The end of June was perfect and the weather was good with a slight chance of showers for part of the trip. But no worries, with warm weather a little shower wouldn’t matter. I left after work on my Heritage and planned on making Des Moines Iowa to spend the night. I don’t normally take the interstate but I needed to make a little time so look out big trucks and speeding cars!

A nice night in Des Moines and back on the road to Anamosa. You know at the time I had not ridden through Iowa on a motorcycle, so I was looking forward to it. It was also going to be my first trip to J&P’s and I couldn’t wait. The National Motorcycle Museum was also on my list, so quite frankly I couldn’t get there fast enough.

Now let’s be serious. We’ve all been to things like this, but as I pulled into the parking lot of motorcycles, I was amazed at the turn-out. The people working the event were directing people and it seemed like a well organized group. Very impressed! But wait this was just the beginning. In a box not far from me was a four inch square piece of plywood to put under my kickstand. what a great touch. That says to me that these people understand me and what is important to bikers in general. It’s weird to talk about a piece of wood like this but in that four inch square it might have well said “welcome my friend, we don’t want your bike to fall over”. Nice touch and I haven’t even walked through the split-rail gate to get to the open house.

The day was spent walking and talking to a lot of vendors and folks milling around. It was a beautiful day for watching a stunt show and some synchronized riding. All in all a great time. Fun and professional at the same time. Afterwords, a trip to the National Motorcycle Museum was just amazing. The history within those walls is a lifetime of labor and love for all that maintain it and enjoy it.

The trip was great. The food was good and the host John and Jill Parham, their son Zach and crew were awesome. Thanks for all you guys do and the passion you have for our sport, it’s history and future. You are good people.

If you ever get a chance, go. I mean it. GO! And tell the folks at J&P Cycle’s thanks. See you again this summer!

Time Keeps on Tickin’

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Just to the left of center, mounted to the frame of the windshield on my Heritage, is a clock. A nice analog Formotion spot clock that I’ve had for many years. It keeps perfect time and looks good too. I know what you’re thinking, “Jeff, you ride and give the impression that time doesn’t matter. That a clock and ‘the man’ go against all biker culture”. Well, I must say that when riding I usually can’t see my wrist watch as my jacket sleeve or the cuff of my glove covers it up. And as much as I appreciate the “bad boy” image you think I portray, I’m more punctual than pissed off.

In the early part of the movie Easy Rider, Peter Fonda takes off his watch and looks at it for a moment, then throws it down into the dirt, just before he starts his epic journey with Billy. Very dramatic but it probably wasn’t a gift from a family member, or possibly it just didn’t keep good time, unlike my Formotion spot clock! But for the world I live in I might need to be somewhere and it’s nice to see how late I’m going to be.

But that clock also means more to me than just the time itself. It’s a constant reminder that time doesn’t stop. That means for you and me it just keeps going. A twenty-minute ride home, the clock will tell me I made it in the average time it always takes me. But twenty minutes is also the amount of time I just spent doing something I love. Something for me and my sanity. A break from talk and music and the sounds of everyday life. But it also tells me that right now in the garage, my Formotion spot clock is ticking as if to say “Jeff, listen to me. Life is short. Enjoy it as time is running out”. Do the things you love. Make the time to ride. Don’t let a cool day or a slight chance of rain make you stay home. Time is passing us by and if you listen closely you can hear your motorlogical clock ticking.

Now I’m not the kind of guy that normally thinks like this. Really, I’m not. But there are times when you realize that whether you golf, fish, ride motorcycles or whatever, there’s no time like now. I’m not saying that we need to know what time it is all the time, but know that any time you’re not doing what you want is time you can’t get back. Now don’t go quitting your job, and hitting the road to get away from ‘the man’ like Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. But if you feel like taking your watch off and throwing it down, that’s ok. It would be a symbol that time isn’t going to control you. And that is my point! YOU should control your time!

 

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Lost and Found

Here I am cleaning my motorcycle. It’s been awhile and it needs to be done. I ride all the time and just like your car and all the stuff you carry, it gets to the point where my saddle bags are full. Full to the point that I can’t get the required loaf of bread in it when I am asked to bring it home after work. So as I sort through what is necessary and what isn’t, I find that I’m just a sneeze away from being a hoarder on two wheels.

The very top is easy. A lighter pair of gloves, and a hooded sweatshirt. Check. Tie down bungee cords and rain suit, check. A hat for those horrible helmet hair days, and a pair of sunglasses. Broken of course. And another pair of gloves. And who couldn’t use those? What is this, a multi-tool? Great! More bungee cords and a single glove. The left one  must surely be in the other saddle bag. I mean, why would I keep a single glove? As for the bottom of the bag I find my insurance and registration card in a small zip-lock baggie which has a hole worn in it and some small things like sun screen and lip balm, and receipts for milk, bread, soda, chips and dog food!

One bag down and one to go. A tool roll and bug cleaner. Micro fiber towel and a pair of sunglasses. Not my style and I’m sure they’re not mine. Probably a find on the road somewhere and to good to throw away. Tennis shoes and teryaki beef jerky, and it’s still good. Another rain suit that has a story all to itself and wait, another bag of beef jerky that is not so good! That one was from a trip to Dodge City two years ago as it still had the receipt with it. Has it been that long? Not the trip…the beef jerky. I thought it lasted forever. For a second there I thought I saw the end of time where canned goods and beef jerky both had the same expiration date. Nearing the bottom I find the source of a lot of discussions about memory loss and the onset of aging gracefully. A Blackberry cell phone. You guessed it. The trip to Dodge City where I swore I left it in the Hotel. After many calls to them and all but riding out there to prove them wrong, I have to admit they were right. It’s funny how I knew every detail of the trip, where the phone was sitting in the room plugged into the charger, and the exact moment where the employees were making long phone calls to distant relatives while I was on the return trip home. But alas, phone records showed me otherwise.

So it’s been a couple of years since I’ve sorted through the necessities of the road. Now I have a little more room for this season’s travels, and soon I will mention the back story of the second rain suit. Melted leg and all! If I can remember it…

 

The View from the Road

It happened a couple of times every year. The family vacation to Colorado or Nebraska was a good trip and it was always nice to get out of the small town and hit the road. Me being the youngest of three kids, my place was sitting between my brother Danny and sister Jan in the back seat. I don’t need to say anything else to all of you “youngest”, but it was the least comfortable place to be because there was no window and nothing to lean against that didn’t punch you. At times, before I started growing like a weed, I would actually lay on the rear deck in the back window. I can hear it now, “How could they allow their child to be in a car unrestrained and in harm’s way”? It was the late 60’s and early 70’s so what do you expect! Most people didn’t think about that and admit it, you’ve been there.

As my sister grew up and left the house there became more room in the back seat which was good because I was growing as well. Then it became my turn to sit by the window. We didn’t have cell phones, i-pads or dvd players. The only thing we had was an 8-track player in the car with Gordon Lightfoots’ Greatest Hits playing, and our imaginations. So for many hours driving across Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado I used my imagination to keep me occupied. Mostly pretending I was on Roger DeCoster’s motocross bike just inside the fence line along the highway. Jumping the fences as they came up was easy as someone had conveniently placed a mound of dirt there for me to get over it. If the path got to be impossible I would move to the ditch and continue. After all it was MY imagination! Speed wasn’t important, I could keep up with the car no matter what. I was that good.

When my brother finally moved out I had the back seat to myself. It’s funny how lonely it can be even when you didn’t like the cramped conditions to begin with. So as the road trip began, it was my mother and father, me and Gordon Lightfoot. The Fury III was a large car and the vinyl seats were comfortable. For those of you that don’t know, vinyl is a material that was designed to adhere skin to car seats. Lucky for me I was a self conscious preteen at the time and always wore jeans.

 I found that my imagination has remained with me. I still look at the terrain along the road and the tree lined roads with fences. The ups and downs and the deepness of the ditch. I don’t imagine myself riding along the car as every great motocrosser has to retire sometime, but I have to admit that I have watched my shadow rolling along beside me when riding my motorcycle. Wow, I look good! And you would think I would know every word to every song Gordon Lightfoot sang. And maybe I do. Some things you just can’t forget.