Story

“The top 10 list”

Story by Jim Barnard

 

Greetings from the first week of 2012. I am at present nicely medicated due to the bronchitis generated cough that has somehow pulled a muscle in my ars. Now, when I cough, I have to grab my right leg and hold it folded under me like a Crane (water fowl, not construction) so that the hurting is less. The marketable combination of Codeine cough medicine and muscle relaxer has made me keen on the idea of writing down a few old motorcycle anecdotes. Rather than creating a fabrication…like the Hustler Forum, or explaining something technical and helpful to others, I have decided to approach this just like I did when asked to speak in front of my trade organization or at my Cousin’s wedding: I will create a top 10 list just like David Letterman. This relieves me from the hassle of making sense for more than a paragraph or two at a time.

But ten of what would be interesting to this crowd? I guess that it would not be pandering to pick something that we all agree on: Old Motorcycles. Since it would not be fair to pick bikes that I owned from the past that were new then but are antique now, I will pick bikes that were no less than 10 years old when I was riding them. And to make even more rules before I begin, the bikes must have been registered and driven…not just trailer queens that sat in my office or were flipped to France to make a few Francs. Oh, it would help if the subjects of this story had a few worthy memories attached.

So that means I do not get to include the 1960 Ariel Leader 250 that was reputed to be completely restored and as luck would have it, seized as soon as I got it home. When I did get this beast going (thanks to the Scotty at the Classic Motorcycle in Terryville, CT) a left turn would cause the brake lever to be compressed into the fixed windshield so that the front wheel would lock up in a tight turn (as you would guess, this only happens in front the Fuzz [if you are 40 years old or less read here “Policeman”] or a bus full of high school cheerleaders on Rufies [ if you are over 40 years old please insert here “Spanish Fly”]. The bike never really got registered, so it is here by omitted.

 Also to be skipped is my one time dream bike a 1956 Harley Davidson KHK . I had paid a king’s ransom for this bike from a well known bike guy in Kingston, NY with the assertion that it was correct and ready for paint. New tank, various missing inner motor parts and a carburetor later, it was painted and ready for the first of many, many miles of vintage riding bliss. I pulled her out into the driveway, went through the KHK dance (that some of you may know well) and gave it one hell of a kick. To my wide eyed astonishment, the kicker neglected to engage the gear that would provide some needed resistance in the downward leg motion that I was now experiencing and with rag doll alacrity, my leg bent backwards at the knee so badly that I could not drive a shift car for 1 year as I used my left foot to work the gas and the brake whilst sitting at an odd angle whenever I drove myself around. Needless to say, I put it on ebay and sold it without ever riding it.

But I do get to talk about these:

 

[10] 1966 Harley Davidson M50S

Yes, I really did register this 49cc Aermacchi mopedy  motorcycle. I did not do it because it was right to do it (it is correct that in CT, this must be registered because it has a 3 speed gearbox) I made it legal because I thought it a grand idea to ride it in the Vermont Motogiro. Now, please understand that this was my first experience with the 2 day 250+ mile ride in some of the most picturesque mud mountains and boney wash outs to be found near the ski resorts of New England.  Yes, I knew that the M50 seat was very similar to Olga Korbett’s balance beam and yes, I knew that a Schwinn Phantom had larger wheels and a higher top speed, but I was in a swashbuckling mood and no amount of common sense could change that.

Now in honesty, I can relate to you that I quit late in day 1 after a torturous 136 miles. I was beaten by the rain and mud. I was defeated by the seat that stuck to my butt after only 100 miles, making an audible ‘POP’ as my starfish disengaged from it when I got gas. I was beaten by the third gear that would “boing” out as I tried to scale a large mountain and the gear box that required me to slow to 3-4 MPH to reacquire 1stgear. I was beaten by myself, who chose this cool Italian conversation piece, instead of a sensible Honda CUB 50 to be my steed in the modern version of the “Wacky Races”.

This bike is no longer with me as it went away in the big “Sell Off” of last year where 14 bikes were sold to make way for a new retirement home. Yes, I am only 50, but at this rate the house will be done when I am 65.

[9] 1973 Harley Davidson Sportster XLCH 1000

I bought this machine in 1986. It was my 5thmotorcycle and replaced my first wife (on the bike in the picture is her replacement).  When I got this bike it had a wide moderately extended front fork and was painted metallic beige (the color was reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s skin color in 1986) with a rudimentary wing on each side of the peanut tank. Many of you recognize the designation “CH” in XLCH and Harleys code for “Can’t Hardly ever start” if you’ve been drinking. I must say that as far as corporate ideas go, this was a solid one, but at that time in my life I was drinking quite a lot and this happened to be my “TT Special” or Tavern to Tavern bike.

Funny drinking story comes to mind here: I am tempted to relate this as happening to “my friend” or perhaps “this guy I knew who”, but I fear that those would be thin lies and with my memory with what it is today, I can’t seem to keep deception straight in my head.

Anyway…  It was not my first bar of the day when I found myself playfully bantering with a seeming single leather clad woman in Hartford’s “Park Place Tavern” of the mid 1980’s. I recall her looking like Joan Collins complete with the soft focus they used in the TV show “Dallas” to offset the signs of age on the actress to keep her “Foxy”. Since the woman I was talking to was not old or on film, I suspect that the blurriness was provided by tequila and not a camera trick.

 Anyway…  At some point the conversation turned somewhat less amicable and I was asked to “get the Fresno out of my bar” or something very close to that effect at about 120 decibels.  I thought earlier that she was single and at least not dating anyone in the bar, but now, based on what I was seeing, I had to believe that she was dating everyone in the bar. In a surprisingly short period of time, I had gone from being welcome to being very unwelcome by about 30 patrons of the esteemed “Park Place” Tavern. Those of us familiar with this bar in this era will attest to my peril and how things may soon get a little “Hollister” (not the clothes store either, but the event in 50’s California that prompted the movie “The Wild One”).

I hurried out of the front door as the entire bar emptied onto the side walk where my trusty XLCH leaned too far on its side stand (because of the too long forks). I threw my leg over the bike without kicking anyone as the crowd was very close and started it up on the first kick. My only thought here is that the Adrenalin coming off me in waves was actually flammable and acted like Ether causing the motor to catch right away.

During this whole time Joan Collins was ranting away at a pitch normally reserved for dogs. With my bike started and freedom just a “clutch in, then shift, then clutch out” away, I regained the power of speech, thank goodness “If you don’t tell me what made you so mad, (vroom) then how (vroom, vroom) can I apologize? (vroom, vroomScreeee)  F.U!”  At this point it was unclear even to me why I should promote Fairfield University to a passel of potential assassins, but the Screeee was the sound the rear tire made when not enough thought was put into a careful release of the clutch while a 1000cc motor was redlining.

At this point things moved along very quickly, yet in the silent slow motion that your body and mind collude on, to somehow better you chances of surviving something that invokes your flight or fight instincts. The crowd parted as the bike jumped forward. Apparently, I stayed on the throttle while the bike was flying off the sidewalk curb and onto Park Road in a desperate attempt to flee with some shred of dignity. Oddly, my rear wheel was more keen on escape than rest of the Sportster as it tried to pass the rest of the bike on the left. The XLCH and I must have looked like a flat tracker in a wide dirt turn where the bike is sideways yet moving forward under control …for a second or two, anyway.

I am sure that there is a detached scientific way to explain that next 3 seconds, but the best I can do is to say that at one certain point friction overcame inertia causing the bike to stand up straight and stop dead in the middle of the road. No, the 3 seconds are not yet over because now a third factor called centrifugal force has a profound effect on the rider of said machine. As the bike righted itself sideways at 20 or so miles an hour it did not stop at right side up, but rather completed the arc, much like the catapults of medieval days, tossing the golden tongued divorcee 20 feet further down the road to rest on the dual yellow line of the main drag. If my desire was to entertain a mob, I had succeeded. If my goal was to get out of Dodge, then I had better get off the ground before the cops , the Mob or Joan Collins could get to me. Luckily, I had made it 100’ away at that point (my bike only made it 80’) and that bought some time. The smack down had put the left side of my handle bars straight up in the air and the road left an impression on every part of painted sheet metal. The bike had to be restarted and did, as it seems that Embarrassment is every bit as flammable as Adrenalin. I headed not for home, but to another bar (that is another story for another time) with my left foot resting on the motor (that side peg seemed to be AWOL), my left hand 12” above my right one and both on the grips and still ‘yet to feel’ all the bruises that will show up in the coming days.

In the 25 years or more since this fateful day, I have heard this story repeated 3 times by people who I do not know, in bars other than the one it occurred. As you may guess, the story got bigger and better as time went by, to the point that the last retelling had the “me” character beaten up by the Joan Collins in some sort of a death match while the crowd cheered in a circle. Only once did I chime in to admit that that idiot was indeed me.

The bike got repaired and was driven another 2 or 3 years, before being sold so I could get a used Heritage Softail.  Back then, used Harleys were gold and could be ridden for free if you took care of them and sold them right.

[8]1974 Honda ST90

This is great little pressed frame Honda in the style of the CT70 Trail bike that I had so wanted in my youth. I have had CT70’s, they were not great as transportation, but this 90 was very usable. It had 14” wheels and could do 45 screaming MPH and it always started. I used this as a beach bike and I sometimes commuted over Avon Mountain on it when I wanted to be the first vehicle in a long, long line of cars.

When I was a kid, my parents wanted me to be an alterboy.  I had been dreaming about what it would be like to own a little Honda, because at that time, you could go almost anywhere in town on trails. The cops were still a few years away from chasing any kid who crossed the street on a trail bike, so this was still good innocent fun. Seeing the writing on the wall with the alterboy thing, I was able to strike a deal that netted me some wheels. My Dad settled on a Suzuki TS90. It was a small motor in a large bike with big wheels, saving me from a certain death by “woodchuck hole”. The real reason, I soon gleaned, was this bike was road worthy and he could put a few miles on it if he chose to. Now never mind that 11 year old me would have been much safer on a bike that I could touch the ground while sitting on and the only way I could dismount the Suzuki was to slow down and ditch it, I needed to secure in the knowledge that I was safe from woodchuck holes.

So the 12 year old me became proficient at three things:

*Riding a motorcycle (at least until stopping was required)

*Specializing at funerals while wearing a cassock and surplus

*Making deals that require a little give and take from both sides

That ST90 reminds me of why and how I got into motorcycling. The bike no longer is with me.

 [7] 1966 Honda 305 Dream

This CA77 is one of the very few bikes I own, that someone else lost their shirt on. I was lucky to have bought it at $3,000, a price that is well below what was put into it, never mind the cost of the bike before the “freshening”. This bike was my 5thDream that I owned, but only the 3rdthat I was able to get running. I absolutely love the unique design with the bedspring front link suspension, enclosed chain case, squared off fenders and 1950’s breadbox like tank. This is a bike I still have. It has survived the recent “is it art, ballast or do I actively use it?” sell off that has made me less of a head case curator and more of a normal hobbyist. The bike is clean and dependable and if 300 miles of Fall Moto Giro have anything to say about it; comfy under duress.

Most Honda guys say that the 305 to have is the Super Hawk. While the fun of the Super Hawk does not escape me, I prefer the more erect riding position of the Dream and because I feel so cool on the Dream, I don’t mind turning the throttle and waiting a bit for speed. A guy on a Dream should not be in a rush (however it is OK if he is erect).

[6] 1966 Triumph Bonneville Chopper

Who didn’t want a chopper in the 70’s? I remember all the Hollywood movies about chopper gangs and the girls that they got and I guess I bought into the whole outlaw biker thing. I was still in High School when I bought this bonny. It was a hardtail with a stupid rake on the telescopic forks that never compressed, but were so long that they just flexed. It was metallic brown (again not unlike Michael Jacksons skin color before any of his dubious procedures) sheet metal and frame, hex oil bag, 70’s bars with 6 acute angles, 48” tall sissy bar made from twisty square stock, king and queen seat and a peanut tank tilted so much that the petcock couldn’t access 1/3 of the gas. Oh, yeah… the gas cap looked like “Hager the Horrible’s” helmet.

There are 100’s of stories surrounding this particular bike, many of which would have been prevented if I was better acquainted with lock-tite. My grandfather (Gramps) was an Pratt and Whitney mechanic from the old days. I remember him telling me that he worked with Howard Hughes on his plane one day when Hughes flew in unannounced.

Gramps had always helped me with anything from science projects to fixing my bicycles when I was a kid, so I should have not been so surprised when one day I walked into his basement to visit and noticed a cylinder head on his bench. My Gramps was honing this cylinder with a portable drill as I walked up to say “Hi”. As I approached from the side I bonked my head on what appeared to be a stupid long fork hanging from the rafters. Then I noticed my wheel set under the bench. The peanut tank on the broom hook and the fenders were coated with some jelly that could only be paint stripper.

“Cylinders are pretty good.” He said.

Holy Crap! I thought to myself. Did I say out loud “I wonder what the inside of the motor looks like?” when I dropped the bike here for the winter?

“I knew you did not like the brown paint, so I began to prep this for new paint” Gramps said.

I began to wonder if I get to pick what color the pistons were gonna be painted.

“Since the motor was out, I thought it was a good time to check for wear” Gramps stated.

And that’s how my 66 chopper emerged into the spring of 1979 with black paint and the yellow “Bat signal” on the side of the gas tank.

See Gramps (Gordon Barnard with Peg Barnard) Below!

All the stories about this bike of being chased by the police, the debacle with DMV over frame numbers (Frame number? What frame number?) why we don’t ride on sidewalks and racing a motorcycle with a 13 foot long secondary chain are going to have to wait.

This bike was sold to make way for my first wife in 1984.

 [5] 1975 Rupp Centaur

Elvis had one. These were produced by Rupp and made in the USA…Ohio, I think. They are perhaps one of the great products that every few years get by the common sense auditors (like the inspector #5 whose motto was “They don’t say Hanes until I say they say Hanes”) that should stop a potential product that is risky or dangerous to an unwitting public. I lump a number of great products in to this category:

Lawn Jarts. It does not take a brain surgeon to figure out why these are on my list, it does, however, take one to assess the damage that these can cause. If you just emerged from a coma (jart induced?) you may not know that these were huge weighted steel darts that were thrown into the air near the opposing team of players standing by a hoop laid on the grass a set number of feet from the other team.  The game’s object was to bombardier the jart into the circle. To say that this alone was dangerous is a bit of an understatement, however, the likelihood that some “life of the party” will yell “Kowabunga”  and throw a lawn jart of death 100’ into the air to see the neighbors scramble like Fran Tarkenton under a blitz was absolutely to be counted upon.

Problem here is that natural selection (life’s bouncer that is supposed to keep idiots from breeding and weakening our gene pool) does not eliminate the natural selectee in this situation; it simply kills or maims an innocent, leaving the selectee alive to breed. Natural selection does, however, sanctify the following; Sky diving, skate boarding, texting while driving, stealing copper from switch yards, golfing in the rain, living in a trailer home, mixing crystal meth, smoking, riding a chopper, smoking in bed, snuff films, smoking on oxygen, mouthing off in the Park Place, auto-erotic asphyxiation, etc…

The Chevy Corvair, the Ford Pinto &all Toyotas from 2010. See “Unsafe at any speed” by Ralf Nader.

Fords with Firestone tires in the 90’s. Rock and roll over is not just a KISS record anymore…

The Rupp Centaur. These were produced to the tune of 1200 units in 1974 & 1975. They were made in 4 colors (blue, red, yellow & white) and in a single seat or 2 in line seat configuration.  The 2 seater actually has stirrups mounted outside the body to accommodate the passenger on back. I say ‘accommodate’ because you had better be dating the passenger because the passenger’s crotch is the driver’s head rest. The knees are not the only thing in the breeze. Do NOT take your or anyone’s grandmother for a ride on a Centaur. These are registered as Motorcycles in all the states. DMV will NOT know what to do with this machine. (Neither will AMCA judges) So be fair and bring your owner’s manual and any literature to your VIN verification and Sunday Judging. This will save you days and return trips to the DMV.

This machine was originally designed to have a super beetle motor in it. (They still will bolt right up) VW raised the price and Rupp went to Kohler for the cheaper 340cc 2 stroke snowmobile motor and tranny. Tranny is a centrifugal clutch. These motors failed when run steadily at high RPMs. They also ‘sploded when the injector belt failed or when it was too hot out.

In addition to these fatal issues, the fiberglass flexed too much and cracked; the front end was too light to take a corner under speed and you were so low that you were invisible to traffic. I do ride this sometimes. It turns more heads than a drive-in showing porn without a fence. I had assumed that it would be a great Memorial Day parade vehicle (excepting for the occasional WW2 Veteran on your neck) but as I can attest to, the thing will omit a swamp of blue smoke while on the parade route. This was so bad that I have been forbidden to be in the Simsbury Memorial Day Parade on this machine.

I still have this thing. Sometimes I think about selling it… but am glad that I have not. If there 400 of these things running now, I would be surprised. Oh yeah, Elvis’ red one is still at Graceland.

 

[4] 1971 Harley Davidson XLH 900 (Boat Tail)

Oh, how I loved this bike in the beginning! It was rare, it was odd and it was a flop when HD produced them in 1970/71. Every one that I talked to (except that Tim guy who has the Blue one) .got these only after they sat on the show room floor until all the “normal” fendered XL’s and XLCH’s were sold off. They bought these and went right home to strip off the fiberglass tail and installed a stock fender before getting a beer at the local clubhouse.

In hindsight (in this case hindsight is not 20/20, but is rather myopic) the Willie G seat section was so stunningly ugly that it somehow breeched the 180 degree separation and was also astoundingly beautiful. HD made these on some 1970 models, but learned in 71, where you had them as an option for $60. The $60 bought you the 65 Biscayne taillight, the plastic/vinyl seat, the glass and an under fender in steel. Mine was the touring XLH with bags, wind screen, 4 gallon turtle tank and electric start.  The bags had weathered to a yellowish non white that clashed so badly with the Birch White paint that they had to be removed (but looked great on a sparkling green XL)

I am afraid that the Sportster 4 speed gearbox, iffy brakes, high center of gravity and untamed motor is why I ended up parting with this bike. I never really rode this thing in the symbiotic sense of man and machine melding as one. I mostly kind of sat on it and hoped not to fly off the road or under something moving fast in the other direction.

You may remember this bike from a feature in “American Iron Magazine” a few years ago. This bike was used as a trade in towards a side car for my 97 FLHRI.

[3] 1965 Harley Davidson Sprint C 250

Since I cannot have 3 #1 choices, here is my first #1 choice, but is numbered #3. Nothing tickles me more that hitting a local HD open house and parking this gem in a long line up of new Harleys. This bike has the kick stand on the right. So when it is near modern (Hell, almost all bikes, really) bikes it leans the other way. Duck, duck, duck, duck, GOOSE, duck, duck… You get what I mean.  The “Work to Ride/ Ride to Work” club always gathers and stares at it. Most of the history ignorant modern riders wait until I am out of ear shot and make statements like “Look how AMF ruined the company” or “These Hummers were actually made in Germany” and more of the sort. It usually throws the doubters to see the aluminum side cover with H A R L E Y – D A V I D S O N cast right into it or how the grips would be correct on a 1965 FLH.

Aside from the cool history of HD buying Aermacchi Nautica (HA! Spell check just told me I have misspelled Earache Nautical) around 1960 and using the Italians to compete with the Japanese and the British instead of the “Milwaukie made” model 165, Pacer, Ranger and Bobcat, it is a terrific rider. I love the torquey way this thing jumps when first is engaged and flies with a throaty growl. It is balanced and smooth. The engine pulse syncs with your heartbeat and makes you one with it. You feel the street and taste the air. Sure, it’s a limited bike that you may want to stay local with, but you are alive every moment you are on this bike.

At this moment, this bike is getting the wheels rebuilt and the 65 paint scheme done in Sparkling Violet and Birch White by fellow Yankee Ross “Guy” Puleo at Sonny’s of Lowell, Ma. It is a Keeper and I hope to put many miles on it this year.

[2] 1971 Velocette LE 200

LE stands for “Little Engine” and is possibly the result of the British sense of humor that thinks a “slapping your dance partner with a fish” or “Upper Class Twit of the Year” contest is funny. True that this is a funny little machine that was popular with the British Police earning this bike the nickname “noddy bike” due the fact that a mounted Policeman did not have to salute his superior while on his LE, he just had to nod.

This bike is a 198cc flat opposing head shaft drive water cooled rubber mounted 4 speed with sprung saddle in addition to the front and rear adjustable suspension. Very unique ride and virtually silent running. This specific bike is the 2ndto last Velocette off the assembly line in 1971 as the plant was in receivership and out of business. I have a photograph of this actual machine and the very last one to be made on the assembly line from a British newspaper story about the plant closing. When I got the bike, she had 125 or so original miles on the odometer. I have put about 225 more on it. I retired this bike because I feared the original Dunlops would soon let me down and I did not want to change a thing on her.

She is in the AMCA Winner’s Circle and has more than 20 trophies on her wall. She is now for sale and may well be at the MidAmerica Auction in May at the Motorcyclepedia Museum in Newburg, NY.

[1] 1959 Triumph 3TA 350

I like the enclosed look of this little Triumph as well as how civilized it rides. The look was not universally appreciated when it was first sold to the public. It seemed to suffer the same fate as the  XLH Boattail. People tore the extra sheet metal off and rode it as a normal fendered bike. But for me, I would not be too interested in a 350 from 59 without it being an original survivor.

The ride is very balanced and vibration free, at least in comparison to a 500 or 650 Triumph. Although I dislike the light metallic blue paint, it is way better than the burgundy paint that so many of these had. This is the only bike that I have ever bought in a different country. I used “Cotswold’s Classics” and had a pretty good experience with them. The shipping was another story. It arrived in New Jersey and was there for 2 weeks before I was notified. It was subject to a $60 per day storage charge that is likely to amount to big money if the shipper (who is the storage company) does not inform you that the bike has arrived. Then it dawned on me that it was destined to arrive in Boston, not Jersey. But before I could figure this out, yet after I paid a bribe to the dock master in Jersey, it was on a truck to Boston where I had to leave vacation to pay another bribe to retrieve it on the dock there. I got there right away, but not before a fresh crowbar mark had appeared on the bathtub.

When the screaming in my head was done echoing, I drove this home and have loved it ever since. She is a keeper and I hope to be able to fit it in the 59 Fleetwood I have for my casket, along with my 1971 Ovation Breadwinner, Eerie #1, 1964 George Dickel Powder Horn and several pounds of jerky.

 

Submitted respectfully,

Jim Barnard,

7 Richard RD

Simsbury, CT 06070

jgbarnard@aol.com

860 670 4501

www.nemusclebikes.com

www.themelonfarmers.com

www.northeastlightning.com