Motorcycles I’ve Owned and Loved

not mine 1936 INDIAN CHIEF

In the winter of 1957/58 I convinced my Dad that he needed to help put a small gasoline engine on my English 3 speed bike.  It was a good time of the year to ask because he wasn’t busy doing the heavy ranching stuff that was necessary in the summer.  Oh, we had to feed and water livestock and other chores but it wasn’t as busy as summertime.

He found a way to mount the engine to the frame, but when we rode it very far it would throw the drive belt or something would break.  We both got frustrated with constantly repairing the contraption.  The maintenance costs were, by comparison, higher than a military jet fighter,  It was my good fortune to discover one day, not long after the latest disaster, to find a 1936 Indian Chief motorcycle parked at the local CO-OP.  It was at the side of the building, snow piled on top of it.

I don’t know how much he paid for it, but we loaded it in the back of the pickup.  After we unloaded it we pushed it into the shop and cleaned it up.  I put in fresh gas, changed the oil and checked the spark plugs.  I can’t remember how long it took to get it running, but we did.  To my horror it would only run for about five minutes before the pistons sized and it would stop.  I had to wait until the motor cooled enough for the pistons to move again.  But when it did run it made a wonderful noise, at least to me.

After about a week of messing with the motorcycle Dad and I had reached overload. It was back to the CO-OP with the Indian.  Wayne said that he would give us credit toward a 1949 Harley Davidson.  Wayne guaranteed that the Harley would run!  Boy was he right.  I could get it into fourth gear only occasionally, which was probably a good thing, because it was fast!  Heavy and fast

Leaving the house I had to ride 3/4 mile uphill on a dirt road.  It was two miles of gravel before I reached a black top road.  Travelling that trail taught me a lot about balance, acceleration, braking and paying attention.  If I tipped it over I had to have help pulling it upright.  It was a great road bike except it would vibrate you to death on a long ride.  Driving the gravel road to the black top taught me early to pay attention.  There were two sharp curves on that gravel road and one time I went into the first one way too fast.  I was daydreaming when I went into it, and pretty quickly I found myself headed for the ditch.  I managed to keep it upright and out of the barbed wire fence and finally regained control.

1949 Harley Davidson

The Harley was no fun to ride in the pastures.  What I really wanted was a lighter , more agile bike.  I really wanted a “scrambler”.  By this time I had been to enough motorcycle races to know that a smaller bike with knobby tires would do the job that I had in mind.  A classmate had a 1955 Triumph Speed Twin that he was willing to sell, and Dad was willing to buy the Harley.  The Triumph was mine!
Transitioning from the heavy Harley road bike to the lighter Triumph required another skill set.  The clutch moved from the left foot to the left hand.  The gear shift moved from a lever on the left side of the gas tank to a foot actuated lever on the left side.  The hand clutch was problematic for me.  I either killed the motor by releasing it too quickly or did a wheelie, leaving a rubber trail and flying dirt.  The incident that finally caused Dad to help me understand how to properly work the clutch was a crash.

1955 Triumph Speed Twin

I had left the bike inside our machine shed and when I returned I discovered that Dad had moved one of the tractors up to the doorway.  This tractor had a hydraulic device on it called a farm hand that allowed us to move hay.  It had several long metal fingers sticking out front which could be tipped or raised to lift the hay that it had collected.  When Dad parked the tractor he dropped the farm hand but had left the fingers tilted up.
I started the bike, revved it up and popped the clutch.  The front wheel came up off the concrete floor and the rear tire tried to get traction.  I realized immediately that I was going to hit the left side tooth of the loader.  The left side of the engine hit the tooth which threw me off and flipped the bike up over the top of me.  When I recovered enough to get up I found that the exhaust on the left cylinder had been ripped off and part of the flange on the head of the cylinder had been cracked.  But what was even more horrifying was that I had seriously bent that tooth on the front end loader!  When Dad found me I was frantically trying to straighten the bent tooth with a sledge hammer.  He checked me for any injuries that I may have sustained, inspected the exhaust on the bike and looked at the bent tooth.  “Son, you’re gonna have ta learn to use that damn clutch.”
When I bought my first car I used the bike as a down payment.  I had wanted a Porsche, but got a Volkswagen Beetle.    Sadly, I totaled it in the Snowy Range driving to Saratoga.
I bought the Horex in college.  I remember very little about it except that it looked cool, was exotic and had the aura of a Grand Prix bike.  It was a one sided love affair.
I had bought a 1949 Chevy Panel Truck from Freddy, my room mate during the course of my junior year in college.  He told me that it was a “hot car” when he sold it to me.  I had a different interpretation of “hot car” than his.  It had a raucous exhaust, big carb and a noticeable presence.  I  found out late that what he meant was “stolen”.  I traded it for a Triumph Tiger Cub.
The “Cub” was a fun bike which served me well  during the summer and fall of 1966.  The most memorable moment  I had with it was giving my girlfriend a ride for a fun summer outing and discovering that it was blowing oil all over her white tennis shoes!  She hadn’t said a word for miles!  I was shocked and embarrassed when I looked down to see her foot bathed in oil.  (Shudder)!
When I returned to university I found a new BSA 250 Scrambler.  To me, that was the  ultimate bike to have at the time.  It had everything.  Scrambler exhaust with muffler cut outs, (A twist of a knob would open the baffles of the exhaust so that it would blow through unrestricted) knobby scrambler tires and more ground clearance than the road bikes.  Because of the engines high-compression there was a valve that could be opened so that when kick starting the bike, it would take less “kick” to get it started.
I had it for about two months when my draft notice arrived.  I sold it to my high school friend for what I had in it and went off to the Army.
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2 comments on “Motorcycles I’ve Owned and Loved

  1. Will says:

    Great tales Doug. I still like Triumphs, My older cousin had a BSA I thought was sweet. My last bike was a 2000 900cc Triumph. Three cylanders, a “bonnieville” lay out on their sport frame. I am not sure that it woudl go under 120 sisnce on the freeways I never did go slow. I wreaked in town whe a subburna forced me off the street. I was doing abou 35 and thank god I wrestled and played football, me and the bike tumbled through a yard. Decided horses were safer yeah right.

    • oldpolo says:

      Thank you. I had to chuckle about your horse comments. I have been hurt more times by horses than ski, car or motorcycle wreaks. Did I mention that they are also high maintanence. The Triumph 900 sounds like it would have been a heavy bike. I won’t ride anymore, especially here because the traffic is horrible.

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