I grew up in the 60s in the Lehigh Valley (PA), where I now live again after moving around to various states (of mind). I chopped my first bike at age 12, much to my parents’ chagrin. I’m sure they thought I’d gone over to the dark side even then. The guys across the street were a few years older than me and had motorcycles—which were cool—so I wanted to own a bike like theirs. From the time I bought my first bike at 20, I’ve never been without for very long.
I’ve always loved tinkering on my bikes…maintaining, repairing, and customizing them. It seems I’m always in the midst of a bike project or planning a bike project.
Over the years, I’ve watched bikes go from cheap and simple to pricey and outlandish. Even though there’s a lot about the new bikes that I like, there is something great about old bikes. So a few years ago, I started picking up classic Japanese bikes and parting them out online. Being around old Hondas and Yamahas again reminded me of the ‘early years’ and the thrill of taking something stock and making it my own like I did in 6th grade. For a long time now, I’ve wanted to do the adult version of that and build my own bike.
After stumbling on the Dirtbag Challenge, the spark was lit again, and with a little encouragement from my wife (…it didn’t take much), I decided to dive in.
For one thing, I’ll be turning 60 this year and I’m not sure how long my back will hold out, both for riding and tinkering. For another, I have the space and time right now, and I don’t know how long that will last either. So…it’s time to seize the day. Hopefully in a few months, I’ll be taking my home-built bobber out for a spin. That will be cool.
My wife thought it would be fun to keep a record of this to look back on someday, so she set up this site to capture me in action (or inaction, as you can see). She’s in charge on that front; Mollie (the shop dog) and I are just along for the ride. Hopefully she will let us take breaks from time to time.
The long version
My thing with motorcycles actually began with one of my first bicycles. I had a simple, one-speed black bicycle but wanted a Stingray like this.
The parents weren’t going for a new bike just then. So the summer before 7th grade, I chopped that little black bicycle in the back yard. Using whatever tools I found laying around in the garage (e.g., pipe wrenches), I removed the fenders, chain guard, wheels, seat and handlebars.
I bought a set of ape hangers at Coplay Discount, along with very bright orange spray paint which tapped the piggy bank. To get the all-important banana seat, I asked for an advance on my allowance. I was told I wasn’t even allowed to have a banana seat. Too radical, I guess, so I had to put the old seat back on, but I ditched the fenders and chain guard in the trash.
I thought that was the coolest bike ever because it was MY bike! Of course, the parental units didn’t think much of it. It took less than a year before they offered to help me buy a brand new bike to replace the ‘eyesore’ I had created. I was psyched…at last I was gonna get that stingray.
Not quite. The parents weren’t going for a stingray this time either, and I wound up with an English 3-speed which looked like this only in black.
Oh yeah, way cool…NOT. So much for anything involving two wheels and parents.
The next summer, I was introduced to Mini Trail bikes. Two friends had Honda 50s and we’d ride in the corn fields behind school. As far as I remember, they looked like this.
They were the coolest. I wanted one more than anything. Despite the repeated pleadings, the parents would not hear of it. They were in total denial about their son’s obsession with bikes. That was, until they realized bikes were here to stay…which was probably about five years ago or so. Yeah, I’ll be 60 this year.
Then came high school. My friends and I found a dirt bike track with jumps and trails that rented bikes. We rode when we could afford it. Time on the trail went fast. My brain would shut off and I’d ride non-stop until time was up. No time to stop or talk.
I didn’t own my own bike until after high school…a brand new, off-the-showroom-floor 1976 Honda 550-4 SuperSport in—wait for it—orange, the same color as that first bike I chopped up in 6th grade. I learned to tinker with that bike. Most friends had Harleys which were cool but the 550 was quicker, faster and a fun bike, even by today’s standards. This bike got me hooked and opened the door to all things cycle.
Shortly after that was a 1974 Honda 750-4…more of the same only bigger and faster.
Then came college with no money and a 2-stroke Yamaha 250 for $250. I don’t remember the year or model. It was a street/dirt and looked like this DT (left). This bike was a great little bike for in town, country and dirt roads with fantastic gas mileage.
In 1990, I settled down enough to afford a motorcycle again. This was the start of riding touring bikes. My first was a 1982 Honda GL1100 Interstate with bells and whistles (right). It was one tricked-out pony and beautiful to look at. Wish I’d had the foresight to keep it.
After this, there was a flurry of bikes. I may be off a bit on some of the years, but it went something like this:
In 1994, a brand new 1994 Suzuki Intruder 800 (below). It was ok but I didn’t like some of the styling cues. It got me from the burbs of Lansing, MI, to downtown using back roads and some highway romps. It wasn’t for two-up riding or touring.
In 1995, a 1988 Honda Gold Wing (below). This was the first year for the 1500cc motor and the contemporary Gold Wing styling. It had more storage than the 1100 Interstate and was faster…a real nice bike.
In 1996, a brand new all-white 1996 Honda Goldwing 1500 SE (below). Luxury on two wheels. Great for touring.
In 1999, a new but left-over 1998 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 (below). I liked this bike quite a bit and did more work on it than any other because I had my own garage space. The bike came apart for paint, changed out the air box and exhaust system with carb rejet, changed risers and bars with cables, etc.
In early 2004 I picked up a 1999 Suzuki Bandit 1200 (right). All I have to say about that is, what the hell was I thinking?
I guess I had to find out what all the fuss was about with sport bikes. It was uncomfortable as hell, though, and it only took me a couple of months to get that itch out of my system and get back on a cruiser.
Amen to that.
In the summer of 2004, I got a 2002 Victory V92C (left). This was my keeper—or so I thought—and I did have it for about 6 years. I became very familiar with it and did all the maintenance, repair and customizing work on it, except for the big bore kit and cams.
That bike was bad and fast (for a heavy cruiser). After attending a Harley open house and checking out the new lineup, though, I started lusting for another bike again. Amazing how that happens.
A couple of years ago—looking for another ‘project’ and a little bit of side income—I decided to try tearing into old bikes and parting them out on eBay. The bikes were Hondas and Yamahas from the 1970s and 1980s.
Searching for old unloved bikes to part out brought back memories of simpler times and my early days of riding. I rediscovered a fondness for old Jap bikes and old Jap muscle bikes like the CBs, KZs, XSs and GSs. As people say…”they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” Carbs instead of EFI. No warehouses filled with aftermarket parts. Reasonably priced bikes that were bullet-proof.
What’s old is new again, at least for me. Things have come full circle back to chopping up a bike like I did in 6th grade. Only this time, you better believe I’m getting the seat I want…and I won’t be using pipe wrenches.