The Sportster Years
After a year and a half of riding my trusty little CB160, I was ready to move up to a bigger bike. When I started looking, I was like a kid in a candy store. In the day, dealers would actually let you test ride bikes and weren't all that worried if you took an hour to check one out.
My first stop was to visit John Laramie and Manchester Honda. He put up with me dropping by on a weekly basis and wasn't surprised when I wanted to try out some bigger bikes. First up was the original CB450 Honda.
Two things were readily apparent: the CB450 was a big bike for it's time and it was unmistakably a Honda (black tank, gray fenders). It had plenty of motor (it would walk away from a Triumph 500), handled good and was a fun ride. But, I didn't buy it. The first 450's were just butt ugly. So, I looked around the shop for something different.
The dealership also carried Kawasaki motorcycles. Two of them caught my eye. One was a sharp looking 500cc triple. You could get a speeding ticket sitting at a stop light with this bike. As he handed me the keys, John gave me "the look". I knew this was going to be a blast. I left the shop looking good, riding right and actually stopping for traffic lights. I kept a reasonably sane pace until I got onto I84. Then all bets were off. I opened this bike up and got the surprise of my life. Nothing! Well, nothing until I got her wound up, then all hell broke loose. It took off like a greyhound that got stung in the butt by a wasp! Man, this little bike was screaming. I figured I found my next ride. That was until I entered as exit ramp. Three little gremlins showed their ugly faces. 1. This bike was a flexi-flyer. Who ever designed the frame for this thing must of had a death wish. 2. This bike was so light, a pebble in the road almost landed me on my rear end. 3. The brakes weren't up to the power on tap. When I handed the key back, John gave me the all knowing look. I wore my experience on my face and didn't have to say a word.
After a few days later, I returned to try out a Kawasaki 650cc four stoke. This was a really neat bike. Not big on power, but smooth torque, good handling and, for me, it was eye candy. Kawasaki did a retro design of a pre-unit construction European parallel twin. The separate transmission case gave this bike a solid, no nonsense look. It would have been a good move up. But, my buddies talked me out of it. They just didn't like Jap bikes and I was tired of hearing it.
A few weeks later, I stopped out to see Burt Ives in Columbia, CT. Old Burt knew how to treat people. Burt, Ralph Strong and Freddy Marsh were the old school dealerships in our area. I liked the feel of the shop and ended up buying a 1964 Harley Davidson Sportster H.
The H model was a kicker, but had a battery instead of the Fairbanks Morse magneto the XLCH had. It was easier starting, had a milder cam and had plenty of punch for it's time. It was a "real" motorcycle: manual spark advance, no throttle return spring, hard clutch pull and a distributor that mounted on top of the right motor case. It shook, rattled and rolled. It had the sound, the look and the name. Finally, no one would make fun of my ride (except for old Indian riders). Now, nothing could hold me back. I was going to travel, see New England and find new adventures along the way........
Once I got it started!
This was the easy starting Sportster. But, I failed to mention, I weighed 128 lbs soaking wet. I know this, because there were plenty of hot summer days when I was soaking wet by the time I got it to fire up. Oh, it was really good at farting and belching flames out the pipes. My neighbors will attest to that. Once I got it started though (usually right after I threatened to trade it in for a Honda) the sound and vibes made me forget the pain in my right leg and I'd be off, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
That is, until something rattled off or just quit working.
I've had bazaar things happen while riding, but nothing prepared me for this machine. I knew Sportsters were noted for shedding parts onto the road. I had no idea how totally unreliable a bike could really be. Every ride was an adventure. One night, the head light fell off. On the road to Laconia, the carb vibrated loose. I held it snug with my knee until I got to a garage and replaced the machine bolts that shook lose. Looking in the rear view mirror was a joke. I could have a Mack truck on my tail and never know it. I couldn't corner it without sending sparks flying. I actually welcomed the day I blew a rod. Finally, I was free of the beast. More importantly, I stopped listening to what my buddies had to say and made my own choices as to what I rode.
Oh, I swore I'd never own another Harley.
I stuck by that for 37 years.
Now I own another one. They finally got it right.
However I went through eight different rides before I made the big jump back onto American Iron. I'm glad I did. Each had it's own personality and helped me build memories that carry with me to this day.
Life is an adventure.
My Sportster years drove this point home!