Some Things Change
After my perfectly satisfactory first bike, a 1962 Honda CB72 (called a 250 Hawk in the States), I spent the rest of the ’60s on Euro bikes, British ones, Spanish ones and Italian ones, because...well, I’m not sure why.
When I bought that Honda, I’d owned an 850 Mini, ill-suited to US roads - and a 120 Jaguar Fixed-Head coupe that I couldn’t nearly afford to maintain. I can’t imagine that I’d formed anti-Japanese sentiments. I had never owned a Japanese car nor had anyone I knew.
Somehow though, without exposure to marketing, I absorbed the conviction that real riders shunned Japanese bikes in favor of purer-blooded European mounts. Granted, until the mid-’60s and the 450 Honda twin, most Japanese bikes were smallish, but oh my did they run...
In those days I believed unexamined (as many of us did) lots of things that were based on prejudices from earlier years or decades, passed down from guys who knew even less than we did. For instance...
Multi-grade oils and detergent oils were commonly available in the ‘60s. Most motorcyclists believed that using either invited mechanical disaster. You heard that using slippery oil early in your engine’s life would prevent the rings from seating. Detergent oils would surely foam (Hey, they had soap in ‘em, right?) in your crankcase or oil tank and refuse to circulate, starving your engine of lubrication.
Where did we get those ideas? Who knows...
In the US, many of us were wary of Shell products, fuel or oil. We saw that the makers of our British bikes recommended Shell products - in the owners' manuals or by decals on our oil tanks. But we were sure that US Shell products were different and harmful to our Triumphs and BSAs.
If we were running low on fuel and a Shell station appeared, we bought just enough to reach a station whose fuel we could trust. No kidding.
I remember a persistent story about a rider who’d had a car turn suddenly across his path. Instead of braking, he’d “laid ’er down,” meaning flopped his bike down on its side, as if a low-side were the most effective way to scrub off speed.
You never heard it called “layin’ IT down,” just “layin’ her down.”
Maybe “layin’ her down” was felt to be more effective than braking only the rear wheel, for fear that a hard application of the (puny) front brake would somersault you over the handlebars. Or maybe putting both the motorcycle’s wheels between you and the crash might help somehow.
As with many of these moto-legends, no one knew anyone who’d actually done any of this. No one knew anyone who’d blown an engine with Shell in it or multi-grade in it. No one knew anyone who’d hit a car because he’d used brakes to stop instead of the damn crash bars.
Perhaps most strangely, I remember hearing that a few guys knew how to make any motorcycle go faster than other guys could, even the bikes’ owners. They knew something mysterious, those guys, about how to operate a bike’s twistgrip. Wizard throttle-twisters, they were.
Like Nigel Tufnel in Spinal Tap, whose amp dials went to 11, these guys knew how to open the throttle further than merely against the stop. The secret, as I recall, was in how they gripped the throttle or rolled it on. How they managed to turn it to wide open-plus.
Some of this “lore” came to us riders of imported bikes from our Harley-riding friends. In those days, Harleys had push-pull twistgrips with stiff wire inner throttle cables. The cable ran inside the bar, I believe. Maybe it took two and a half full turns to get your old 74 Overhead wide open.
Maybe it took a wizard in a yacht cap and gloves with fringed gauntlets.
As I think about these old fables and old Harley riders, I’m reminded that still widespread in this great land is the idea that we are safer riding without helmets.
Helmets, we’re told, especially those proven to have protective value, limit our vision and hearing ability and weigh so much they can break the neck of the person they were bought to save.
Imagine being told by your home state that you have to wear such a thing.
And while wearing our helmets we feel so bulletproof we ride over our heads, crashing far more often than smarter riders who choose to go without. As you know, I’m not making any of this up.
But not everything has changed. I remember a cartoon in Cycle World, the first sophisticated motorcycle magazine published in the US. Joe Parkhurst, RIP, started Cycle World in his kitchen in 1962, I’m told, about the time I bought that 250 Honda.
For a period in the ‘60s Cycle World featured a cartoonist whose stuff was described to me by a psych-major friend as “the work of a schizophrenic.”
If you have a collection of old CWs, and you recognize this cartoon from my description, please photocopy the page and the mag’s cover and send the result to me ℅ this forum.
I remind you that this cartoon was drawn in the mid-’60s, before anyone knew what a poseur was, decades before designer customs or the Ducati Diavel.
In the drawing’s pen scratches we see a couple on an old ‘Glide, windshield, leather bags with conchos and fringe, big ol’ hinged dual-seat, lots of lights. They are attired identically, in black horse-riding trousers and high boots, black waist-length jackets with white piping and black yacht caps with white bills.
They appear to be stopped at a lonely country crossroads. He’s looking over his shoulder and speaking to her. He says:
“Darn it, Charlene-Louise, we must be lost. Ain’t nobody seen us in hours.”