Memories of My First Road Bike – a Harley at Age 15

T’was the summer of ’72 when the laws of the Sunshine State permitted a youthful 15 year old to drive; not alone mind you, an adult was required as co-pilot, and only during daylight hours except for motorcycles. For a kid yearning for freedom, and parents all too ready for him to be self-sufficient, the outcome was as set as stone.

I’d been riding the old Honda 50 scooter my dad brought home one day all over our little slice of creation since I was in elementary school. A friend had given it to him after sitting idle for years in the back of his garage. For my brothers and I, it became a daily diversion. We put thousands of miles on it back and forth around the 10 acres we lived on with occasional sneaked forays around the surrounding farms and nurseries. Any one of us could tear it down and rebuild it in a matter of an hour or so when needed and we all became experts at siphoning gas out of mom’s car. It was the perfect machine for a bunch of rowdy boys, almost as indestructable as we were, and there were few games or fantasies we couldn’t work it in to.

Now the day had come when I would get my first real bike, a bike that would take me out on the open road and free the world to me. Best yet, I could ride it to school! When you’re 15, that alone elevates your level of coolness exponentially, and my time had come.

There was but one limitation imposed by the state, a limit of 5 brake horse power. This essentially capped the displacement at 100 cc’s or less and restricted you from riding on the highways (at least in theory). We set upon the dealerships to determine which to choose from. I pretended to look at them all, though in my heart I knew what I wanted. At 15, you’re very in tune to what’s the coolest based on your circle of friends, and the bike of the day, the primo ride, was the Honda CB100. It was the fastest, the most powerful, producing just enough below the 5 BHP limit to pass muster, and the best built of the class, at least in my small piece of the planet. To have one of those was to rank at the top of the status.

The lessons of adulthood do not come easy though, and despite my summer spent bagging groceries and hiding the illicit tips we accepted for carry outs, I was coming up short. The Honda was priced at $600 and I had socked away but a little over $400. The parents weren’t budging. As my birthday drew closer, the prospect of that Honda grew dim.

Then came the day when my dad and I piled into the truck and he pulled into the Harely-Davidson shop. I was bedazzled by the ruthless machines that lined the floor, the throaty roars that bellowed from the service department behind the store, it was a trip to fantasy land. We worked our way through the various models all of which were obviously way out of reach, yet my mind flooded with images of me on one of these beasts. And we found it.

There, in the back corner of the shop was a tiny little bike, mostly drab in appearance and somehow lacking in any visible evidence it had come from the same gene pool as it’s beastly brethren. It was the Harley 90, a two stroke diddler that had little more going for it but the less than prominent name on the tank. Gutless and frail, a product of Harley’s acquisition by some company that made bowling balls (AMF), this was not their finest hour. But, the price was right at $400, and comforted by my dad’s assurance that my grandpaw had ridden a Harley so it was in my blood, the papers were signed.

Some laughed when I arrived at school. Harely’s reputation at the time was about as low as you could go and my bike was the embodiment of that perception. It struggled to squeeze 45 mph with its 4 speed gearbox, while my friends with Honda’s could hit 65 with a good tail wind and had an extra gear to play with. Still, I rode that thing everywhere that year, and I entered the world of motorcycling that would remain with me from then on.

I never saw the demise of that bike. My brother 11 months my younger “borrowed” it one day, and when I found it missing the next reported it had caught fire and burned. He claimed he abandoned it in the woods somewhere but I’ll never know for sure. It was soon forgotten when it’s replacement was found as I was now old enough to ride whatever I wanted and a new bike entered my life, a faded orange metal flake Honda CB 450. It was another pig, but I rode the hell out of it and learned the skills of road riding that would stay with me to this day, but that’s a story for another day.

Wayne@americaridesmaps.com

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