I have spent the vast majority of my life on two wheels. From riding a Schwinn Stingray to school, throwing newspapers onto porches pedaling that same Stingray…well…occasionally the paper ended up on the roof or in the shrubs…”sorry Mrs. Cleaver…”. I wish I still had that Stingray…do you know much that would be worth on ebay right now??!! About the same time I started getting really interested in girls I also got the motorcycle bug. My friend Byron down the street had a Taco mini bike that we terrorized the neighborhood on for years but now, it just wasn’t cool enough. I needed a real motorcycle.
My first experience being on a real motorcycle was when my dad came home from Vietnam in 1966. The first things he did was buy a new car and a new motorcycle. The car; 1966 Chevy Impala SS, the bike; a brand new Honda CB160. Looking back I wonder…why did he buy a big Chevy with a really big motor, I think it was the either the 396 or the 427, and then buy a ‘little’ motorcycle? If you’re goin’ big go BIG…he could have gotten a Triumph, BSA or a Harley… and in the words of the late John Belushi…”But Noooooooo” he had to buy a little Honda.??!!
I was fourteen years old and I was spending a few days with my dad when he took me on my first driving lesson out at the Marine Corps base…I didn’t get to drive the Chevy, I drove my step moms VW, oh well, you’ve got to start somewhere. But then…but then…came, “you want to ride the Honda?”… “gee Dad, let me think about this a whilel, YEAH!!!” I may have called that Honda 160 ‘little’ but when you’re fourteen, sitting on that bike was better than kissing the prettiest girl in school. And what did I do??…I promptly rode into the rear bumper of my dad’s new Impala…yes, I Impaled the Impala…sorry dad. A rather auspicious start to a long motorcycle career don’t you think?
I was fourteen years old when I started riding motorcycles, started racing at sixteen and you know what I’ve learned of late? I was a late bloomer.
In my job as a Moto Journalist I have had the opportunity to interview and spend time with every type of rider. Racers, travelers, industry types, photographers and everyday riders…it’s a great job. There is always one common denominator, the love of riding a motorcycle. Where does that love come from? Usually it’s dad, an uncle or a big brother…sometimes all three and occasionally it’s a friend who goes through the “this is the clutch, this is the brake,shifter…one down and three up” ritual with you. Most women I have talked with got the bug from a boyfriend or husband…I think they got tired of looking at the back of his helmet or, more often, telling themselves they can ride ride better than him.
About a year ago at the AMA Grand National Flat Track races in Pomona, California I was walking the pits doin’ my job…talkin’ to racers. I usually don’t spend too much time on race reports, I like to get to know the racer and the question I ask of everyone I talk with is…”how old were you when you started riding motorcycles?”. Everybody has a fun story about when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle.
On the way home from the race, I was mentally editing the interview’s and one common thread came through…nearly all of the riders I spoke with started riding very,very young. Somewhere between Pasadena and Fillmore I started reviewing all my roadracing interviews as well and I came up with the same thread. I worked through my interviews…MotoGP, World Superbike, AMA Superbike, AMA Flat Track, Motocross and here is what I found. Most all these champion racers were barely out of diapers when they started riding and racing. Take a guess, how old do you think most of these guys were when they first threw a leg over a motorcycle? If you said ‘four’, you win the prize…that’s right, four years old. At four years old pretty much all they could spell was PW50 or JR50 which, were the two most common bikes all these racers started on.
So what have I learned from all this research? I was a racer of no renown because I started ten years too late and that I’m going to have get my grandson a PW50 in about three years. Now if I can just convince his mother…..
It was a beautiful fall Saturday afternoon in the San Fernando Valley made all the more beautiful because I didn’t have any yard work to do. I had already gone for a good street bike ride and was now sitting in my garage with my ‘a little less than trusty’ Bultaco Pursang wondering what to do. A year ago, almost to the day, I sold my faithful Matador to a fellow enduro rider because he wanted a Bultaco Matador and I wanted a Pursang. Good enough reasons don’t you think. The man that bought my Matador was an interesting story in itself. I first met him during the overnight at the Greenhorn Enduro a couple of years earlier. A buddy of his drove up to Ridgecrest to meet him, help him with anything he needed to do on his bike and drink beer. It was long night for those two.
I woke up the next morning with frost on my sleeping bag, it gets cold in the desert at night! I climbed out of the bed of our truck heading to the porta john and here were these same two guys passed out next to their truck still in the clothes they were wearing yesterday. The rider was still wearing his boots. On the way back I went over and did my best to wake the guy up but after 15 minutes of shaking, yelling, poking and prodding, this guy was still dead to the world so I gave up. And besides, I had to get ready to ride.
Two hours later, this guy on a beat up old CZ pulls up next to me at a checkpoint, asks me if I was the guy trying to wake him up. I said yes, he looked at me and my motorcycle and said, “nice bike, next time try a little harder, thanks” and off he went.I saw him at the end of the Enduro, walking along with a beer in each hand looking for something, or someone. Turns out he was looking for me. He thanked me again for my efforts that morning, handed me a Lucky Lager beer and then asked if I wanted to sell my bike? I told him no, I liked it too much. This little “do you want to sell your bike?” scene happened at almost every Enduro I rode for the next two years.
At the end of a particularly grueling District 37 Enduro, I was sitting on the tailgate of the truck too whooped to take my boots off and here comes Mr. ‘You want to sell your bike yet?’ carrying the usual two Lucky’s. He hands me one and asks the usual question. This time I shocked him, “Sure, how much you give me for it?” “I got three hundred in my truck, I’ll be right back”. Half hour later my step dad and I are driving home with only one bike in the back and three hundred dollars I didn’t have that morning.
So, here I am sitting in the garage staring at the Pursang that the three hundred dollars, along with some help from the guys at Steve’s Bultaco in Van Nuys , California got me. There are no desert races this weekend so maybe I’ll just go trail riding, even though a Pursang is not what you would call an ideal trail bike…I wish I had my old Matador back. I call a couple of friends about going riding but everyone has plans, oh well, I didn’t really want to go trail riding anyway.
Two beers and a bike wash later, my friend Tim wanders into the garage carrying two beers that I swear he got out of my refrigerator, and parks his butt on my BSA. “Whaddya doin’ tomorrow?” he asks. I told him I wanted to go riding either up Angeles Crest on the Beezer or maybe dirt riding somewhere. “You ever ridden Motocross before?” he asks. “No and I don’t have any plans to”. Two more beers and enough badgering by Tim, I’m changing the gearing on my bike for motocross.
Sunday morning as the sun is coming up, Tim and I are heading to Indian Dunes, a cycle park about 30 minutes from home. Indian Dunes is a big place, two motocross tracks, a flat track, and miles of trials in the surrounding hills. I had been to the Dunes a couple of times before to watch motocross and ride the trails but never to race. To say that I was a bit apprehensive would be an understatement. I had been racing in the desert for years, even rode a TT race a couple of times, but the push, shove and knock you off your bike world of motocross was going to be new and I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it.
Tim spent the whole time driving to the track telling / convincing me how much fun motocross was and how I was going to do great. On and on he went, giving me tips on the start, the first corner, the jumps, using the berm…etc,etc. After a while I tuned him out and started thinking of ways I could gracefully get out of this. I couldn’t use the old “the bike won’t start’ or, ‘ I think maybe it’s seized’, Tim’s too good a mechanic for those excuses to work. I couldn’t even pull off the ‘I’ve got a hangover’, he’s ridden with me when we were both hungover. I was doomed, I was going to have to race.
After signing up for the race, Tim in the expert class and me in the novice group (Novice??…how humiliating…I’m an Expert in the desert…) we had an hour or so to practice before the official practice sessions started. Off to the ‘easy track we went, and so did everyone else. I got bumped, knocked down, stalled my bike twice coming out of a corner, and run into a tree. If this is what they call practice what’s the race going to be like?? Now, I’m thinking maybe I could go ride off on one of the trails into the hills and come back after the race and say I got lost, or maybe I could crash and break something important so I couldn’t ride like, say, my arm…Ok, that last idea wasn’t such a good one. It looks like I’m still doomed to race.
Back at the truck, Tim starts right in giving me more tips and encouragement. Start in second gear, don’t get caught on the inside of the first turn, take the second jump on the outside and use the berm for the next corner, stay wide on the last turn ‘cuz that’ll give you a good run down the straight and into turn one and watch out for the guy on the Maico he worse than you…Thanks Tim. I’m sure he said a lot more, but after the first five minutes all I could hear was my poor motorcycle saying “I wanna go back to the desert…I’m not having fun…”.
Walking back from the outhouse I heard those dreaded words over the loud speaker…”Novice class to the start, novice class to the start”. As I was getting my helmet on I decided that my only goal in the first moto was to not fall down. Probably easier said than done I thought, but that was the goal.
As the starter was getting everyone lined up in position I couldn’t help but notice the kid next to me had to lean his bike way over just so he could put his foot down. Ok I thought, I can at least beat this kid off the line. The flag dropped and that kid was gone like he was shot out of a gun! And me…I stalled the bike right there on the starting line. Ok, I’m last but I haven’t fallen down…yet. A couple of kicks and the Pursang lights off, so do I. Turn one is littered with bikes from a pile up…uh, guys, there’s only room for two bikes to get through the first turn side by side. After picking my way through the tangled bikes I’ve got clear track in front of me. Let’s see what was it Tim said about the first jump? Too late, it’s behind me now. Hey, guess what, I’m actually catching up to someone!! Here we go, second jump…stay to the outside, use the berm, it worked, I passed the guy like he was standing still…well actually, he was laying still. Who cares, it wasn’t me on the ground. Two more laps, passed two other bikes, they were were still upright, hey this motocross stuff isn’t so bad after all.
After fifteen minutes of this pounding my body was screaming at me. My arms were pumped up, my thighs were burning and I think every filling in my mouth had been bounced out along with the teeth they used to be in. Only five more minutes in the moto, I can make it?
As I rode over to the truck, Tim was standing ready to catch me as I fell off the bike completely beat up. “ Wow…you did great!! Did ya have fun? Motocross is way better than desert racing yeah!?!” I couldn’t even answer. Tim leaned my bike against the side of the truck, handed me a canteen full of cold water and just started laughing . “Man I can’t believe you stalled on the line?!, what gear were you in? Second like I told ya? and you should have seen yourself over that first jump…I thought for sure you were gonna do a ‘flying W’…” Now he was laughing so hard that I couldn’t help but laugh too.
I watched Tim’s first moto to get some ideas on how to do it. I watched the leaders, of which Tim was part of , and, I watched the guys in the back of the pack, figuring that that would be where I would be racing. At the end of his twenty minute moto Tim rode over to the truck, parked his bike against the fender and instantly started planning his next moto. All I wanted to do was wash two aspirin down with a cold beer.
An hour after my first moto was the second one, I had to beat myself up one more time today before I could go home. I was lined up next to the kid that was too short for his motorcycle again but this time he was leaning the other way? I thought he was just trying to psyche me out..it was working, I almost blew the start again. The flag dropped, the kid shot off and I actually got a decent start. Remembering the melee at the beginning the first moto, I backed off just a bit and sure enough, five or six bikes got all tangled up and I went right by..ha ha, I’m getting the hang of this motocross stuff. Or so I thought.
About half way through the moto I was in a heated battle with two other riders including the guy on the Maico that Tim said was worse than me. This battle went on for three more laps before I was getting just too tired to fight. This is a bad time when you’re a racer, your race mentality (read ego) takes over and good sense just goes freewheeling down the track without you. Coming to the second jump I was on the outside (like I was told) planning my attack on the guy in front of me, when out of nowhere comes another racer with the same plan as me but he was going a lot faster.
When I finally opened my eyes and mentally counted all my body parts, there was my buddy Tim looking down at me with a big grin on his face…”man, you should have seen you fly!! I wonder if anybody got a picture of you?” and then as an after thought, “oh hey…you OK?” Without waiting for my answer, he picked up my bike and said “How good of friends are you with those guys at the Bultaco shop?” Not what I wanted to hear at that moment.
Tim went on to place second, I think, in his moto and combined with his first moto finish, gave him third place overall for the day. Not bad considering he spent a lot of his time babysitting a novice motocrosser.
We drove home that evening, me licking my wounds and Tim just going a mile a minute telling me all about how funny I looked flying over the edge of the jump heading right for the tree, legs over my head and still holding onto the bike with one hand. On and on it went and I don’t think Tim stopped laughing all the way home.
When we got to my house Tim headed straight for the fridge and returned with two cold beers, “beer before unloading, that’s the motocross way”. When we finished our beers we unloaded my beat up Bultaco, dumped my riding gear in the corner and opened up a couple more beers. We didn’t talk much during that second beer, I was too beat up and I think tiredness finally hit my friend.
Tim hauled himself out of the chair and made his way to his truck. I stayed in my chair because I couldn’t move. As Tim drove away, waving his trophy out the window, he yelled out, “I’ll call you later this week about going again next Sunday!!” Fortunately when Tim called on Thursday, the broken parts of my motorcycle were on back order, as in I hadn’t ordered them yet back order, but I didn’t tell him that.
When my parts did come in, I promised my Pursang that there would be no more motocross for us, the desert was our home. And there friends is the story of my first, and last, motocross race.
One note here, I don’t have any pictures of Tim and I from that day as a matter of fact I don’t have any pictures of Indian Dunes Cycle Park so I got these from Elrod Racing at www.elrodracing.com. Thank you.
The last Motoworld blog post was all about getting friends together to watch the season opener MotoGP, do some bench racing, eat, drink and plan our spring road trip. While everyone was arriving with pots and plates of food, boxes of beers and good munchies we had a great motorcycle movie on in the background. The movie going was ‘Riding Solo To The Top Of The World’ by my friend Gaurav Jani from India. Riding Solo is a wonderful travelogue that I believe every traveling motorcyclist should watch, it really put’s ‘Long Way Around’ to shame.While waiting for racing to start, enjoying all the good food and visiting with friends, more and more friends became captivated by the movie to the point of ” hey, record the race, let’s watch the movie, then the race”. After watching the races, we finished the movie. After the movie was over and everybody headed home a new idea was hatched…a way to get motorcycling friends together, and another good reason to consume mass quantities of food and beer, wait, who ‘needs‘ a reason for the last two?
Most readers of this blog are probably old enough to remember Drive-In’s and most of us who did go to Drive-In’s can’t remember the movie we ‘watched’…because the windows were too steamed up. The Drive-In in my town was $5.00 a carload… including Steve and Artie in the trunk along with a couple of six packs. So I got to thinking, with Drive-Ins extinct how can we motorcyclists recreate that wonderful piece of Americana, but on motorcycles? Welcome to the Ride-In Theater.
Here are the rules, you have to ride your motorcycle, no cars. Admission is cold refreshing beverages and your company. The Fillmore Ride-In Theater has popcorn, hot dogs and lawn chairs. But now, what to show? I went through my collection of motorcycle movies and came up with a selection that I’m sure will please everyone. We can’t show all of these on one evening so it gives us a nice summertime of motorcycling entertainment.
We start the Ride-In season with the best of all time motorcycle movie, ‘On Any Sunday’. If this movie doesn’t stir your soul, you should trade in your motorcycle for a minivan and call it quits. Next would be Peter Starr’s ‘Take it to the Limit’, truly the greatest motorcycle racing movie made. From Trials riding to Roadracing to Drag Racing, Desert racing and MotoCross, this movie is nothing but pure excitement and a great Saturday night Ride-In movie date.
About mid July, we bring out ‘The Worlds Fastest Indian’. A great feel good movie about a real legend in Land Speed Record Racing. Having been to Bonneville with a race team, ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’ brings back a lot of good memories and feelings. You have to watch this movie every once and awhile…just because.
August brings to the big screen…actually my barn door…Robert Redford and Michael J.Pollard, also known as ‘Little Fauss and Big Halsy’. There’s just something about this movie that just plain works. You’ve got Robert Redford at his hunkiest, Michael J. Pollard at his quirkiest, throw in some good racing…you can’t go wrong on a warm summer evening at the Ride-in. Oh, and Lauren Hutton doesn’t hurt the movie either.
Labor Day weekend we wind up The Ride-In Theater season with ‘Faster’. A good look at the inside of MotoGP racing. Excellent racing footage along with some great behind the scenes filming, interviews and commentary. Just in time for the end of the MotoGP season.
So, come on all you motorcycle movie fans out there, drive-in ‘s may be extinct, but Ride-In’s are alive and well. Oh and by the way, that little screen in the picture above isn’t what we’ll be using, I just couldn’t find a big ‘ol white sheet to cover the whole door for the photo, but I promise I’ll find one before Ride-In Theater season starts, but you get the idea anyway.
Steaming up the windscreen on my BMW could be a bit challenging but a lot of fun. I think I smell popcorn…see you at the movies.
…or, “Um, you know”, or…”so…um”??
The main part of The MotoWorld for years has been the podcasts. Great interviews, travel stories, opinions and MotoNews. Putting together a good program takes time; researching news, rumors and new products. Deciding which interviews go with which news pieces and / or rumors and of course choosing background music. But before all that, comes the dreaded interview editing.
In all honesty I love editing. It’s a whole zen of it’s own. I learned the skill while working as a disc jockey and commercial producer for a rock n’ roll radio station in New Mexico a number of lifetimes ago. At that time, it was splicing pieces of reel to reel tape together with a razor blade and editing tape, today it’s a mouse button…but it’s all the same and I still love it. I think.
This morning while editing interviews from the AMA Roadraces at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana California last week, I realized that other than editing myself out…which makes the interview sound much better…most of my time goes into taking out the “umm’s”, the “umm, you know’s” and the ever popular “so……….umm’s”.
A couple of years ago while interviewing a very popular racer, we were joking about the “umm’s” and he told me that at one time while being interviewed the PR person in charge would count on his fingers each time he said “umm”. It became a running joke…and don’t worry Jake, I won’t tell anybody who the racer is.
So this morning I finish my interview edits for the new MotoWorld show and I counted the “umm’s”, “you knows”, the “umm, you know’s” and the “so…..you know’s”. Then being the math wiz I’m not, started calculating how many of those edits have I done over the years. Counting on my fingers and toes….30,312…give or take 5. Who ever said being a motojournalist was easy. OK, ummm… back to work.
This has a been a tough year. Losing friends and motorcycles, motorcycles are friends too actually. I found out yesterday that the man that caused my sickness…riding and racing motorcycles…passed away a while back.
Michael Norton Spence was my step dad. I have mentioned him in posts of late and I find it interesting that because of those posts I learned of his passing.
Michael was born in 1935, took up flat track racing in the early 50’s, and roadracing a little later. The pictures of he and his brother racing back then are great, I wish I had them. Michael took me under his wing in the mid 60’s and created this monster that has lived in me ever since…the love of motorcycles. We raced in the California Desert together for a few years, rode every twisty road in Southern California and destroyed a few motorcycle’s along the way.
I have numerous memories of time with my step dad…some good, some not so good and some just plain memorable. I learned to figure out how to get a motorcycle running again when you’re stranded in the desert or on a Highway in the middle of nowhere, how to tune a motorcycle by ear and why Triumphs are the best motorcycle’s ever made…well, I still own one, so I guess he taught me well??
A favorite memory I have comes from the trip home from a race in the desert. Just your basic ‘Hare and Hound’, 100 miles across the Mojave, but..it was my first trophy..third place in the ‘Open Novice’ class. I was on top of the world. The day got better…we were passing the old ‘395 Cycle Park’ in Adelanto, California where a TT race was going on. We stopped to watch a bit and I ended up getting a chance to ride in the TT on a Bultaco Astro 250, too much fun. I didn’t do all that well, but I followed my basic race philosophy…don’t crash and don’t be last, I succeeded.
It was a really hot day in the desert and what is always great on a hot day?? A cold beer! Two guys covered in dirt, in an old truck with a couple of beat up motorcycles in the back and one of the guys is only 17. Let’s stop at the next roadside bar we see. The Rocket Inn. A dive outside of town, people that have been sitting at the bar since opening time (6AM), a really bad jukebox, really cold beer and no ID required. A great end to a great day. It is a great memory. Oh, and the really, really good part, I beat my step dad in the race…by a long way!!
I moved to New Mexico in 1973. My move to New Mexico was on my motorcycle thank you; at that time a 1972 Kawasaki 750. Unfortunately it was also at that time Michael and my mom parted company. I lost touch with my motorcycle mentor. I tried to find him a couple of times over the years since with no luck and actually thought I saw him once in a restaurant.
The man that got me started on this life long path of motorcycling was killed while walking across a road near his home in Las Vegas. Over thirty years later I found that he was an associate professor at a local college and still riding his old 1952 Triumph Speed Twin.
Thank you Michael for sending me on this path. I owe you much my friend. I hope you are riding your motorcycle in heaven and I know that heaven for you is riding that bike.
Once a motorcycle racer, always a motorcycle racer. Some sort of genetic defect I guess. I went from desert racing to enduro’s, back to desert racing and then on to my real love, roadracing. I had hurt myself pretty badly in a desert racing get off and bouncing around the puckerbushes was no longer an option for me. Thats Ok..it’s too hot in the desert anyway, well except in January and February when it snows.
In 1981 with my friend Ted Toki, it’s off to the original Keith Code California Superbike School at Riverside Raceway. At the end of the day we were whooped but we had our AFM racing licenses in hand, thank you Keith and crew. Now came the hard part…roadracing ain’t cheap. It was a great time to be racing, heck, they still had a 50cc class!!! So many interesting bikes, crazy ass modifications and a lot of fun.
Fast forward into the mid nineties, after a taking a few years off to raise a couple of kids on my own, the urge was back. Off to Willow Springs I go, piloting a… Honda Ascot??? Hey, it was kinda cheap (the race motor cost four times as much as the whole bike!!!) and a lot of fun. Singles racers are a very weird bunch, a close knit family and all families are weird. But in that group I developed some very close friends. We all raced WSMC, AHRMA, AFM and CCS. So what has that got to do with the title of this post you ask… sit right back and I’ll tell you a tale, a tale of a crazy group…that started on a Monday night…OK, sorry about the Gilligan thing.
A little while back we all seemed to semi retire from roadracing…businesses, families, paying for kids college educations..you get the picture. But, we’re all still racers, it’s that right wrist thing…
Our friend and fairly close neighbor Jay, has a five acre hunk ‘o land and a couple of Honda XR100’s. A frenzy of tractor work, buying up more XR100’s…let the fun begin!!
Monday Madness was born. During the ‘Daylight Savings Time’ period, our group of ex-racers and a couple of other friends would gather at Jay’s, on Monday’s, for some slidin’ around the track, good food and of course…good beer. Hey they’re only 100cc bikes, we’re not going that fast, it’s only a sixteenth of a mile oval…we won’t get hurt. Thats what we told the wives. Uh, yeah. Remember, we are racers and we have to win, friends be damned. Bumping someone off the course, sure. Running over someones foot, natch. Cutting the corner, wouldn’t you? Hitting someones kill switch at the start, yeah. All in the name of friendly competition?!
Very large contusions (read..really big nasty bruises),some painful sprains and a couple broken bones (small ones)..hey, thats what beer is for..pain killer. Well, after a couple years of that, the wives got a bit tired of playing nurse when we got home. We had big smiles on our faces, and the women just shook their heads.
Monday madness came to an end a while back, recovering from all that racing was starting to take a little too long to heal, we do have jobs to go to on Tuesday. A number of us took our newly discovered flat tracking skills to a real flat track race, vintage bikes and us, vintage riders. We all went with two goals in mind..don’t fall down and don’t be last. We all succeeded.
Heather and I were sitting in bed last night and somehow Monday Madness came up, I got a big smile on my face and surprisingly, so did she. I miss Monday Madness…I’m still a racer.