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Cards in the Spokes
By Brian Blangsted

Back in a time before our super, safety conscious attitudes overrode our thought processes, my uncle Jerry introduced me to motorcycling. At my young age of six, he unknowingly unleashed a passion in me by letting me ride in front of him on his brand new Yamaha 175 Enduro. By allowing me to twist the throttle and steer, with him holding the outsides of the handlebar, I felt the motor come alive and roar as it responded to my twists. This experience was the greatest milestone of my young life; a significant emotional event I’ll never forget.

From this point on when I rode my bicycle, I always made motorcycle sounds as I imagined I was running through the gears at full throttle while peddling as hard as I could. Soon my sounds were replaced with the sounds of playing cards set to brush against my spokes. The faster I went, the louder the roar. As if adding horsepower, the neighborhood kids and I were adding as many cards as we could to our bikes to make as much noise as possible. We were loud and very cool.

A few years later, a friend of mine, Chris Becker, and his mom came to live with my mother and I. He had a Briggs & Stratton mini-bike, and the day they moved in, I rode that thing up our long driveway and into the cul-de-sac and back until dark. Twist the throttle to go; push the foot pedal to stop; gas it hard; stop like crazy; back and forth. I was in a trance.
After a couple of weeks, my mom’s boyfriend, Ken, bought me my very own Briggs & Stratton mini-bike straight from Montgomery Ward. Now it was race time! Our mock drag races up the driveway confirmed Chris’ was a little faster; mine a little quicker as I would be off the line first with him catching me on the way into the cul-de-sac. Life was good.

Many times we would coast our “race-bikes” down to Chris’ dad’s house, which was a couple of miles away. Next to his dad’s house was an open lot with wild weeds growing with a dirt circle track in the middle of it. We soon figured out that if we started off to the side in the weeds, we could pin our throttles and do our best Elmer Trett impressions, doing long burnouts with our feet on the pegs as our spinning tires turned the moist green weeds to mush. And when we didn’t get too carried away, we’d turn and blast our way onto the dirt circle, racing each other until the dust got so bad we couldn’t see our way around, laughing and choking the whole time. Kids being kids.

Chris’ dad was a real motor-head and took notice of our mock racing. Soon he rewarded Chris with a new, gray Honda XR 75; over-kill for the open lot, but Chris’ dad was into over-kill. I think I loved that bike more than Chris did, and continually hounded him for yet another ride. We swapped riding that thing for months on end. We had one heck of a time riding his “real” motorcycle, but sadly, Chris and his mom moved to their own place and we didn’t see each other much after that.

Before long, I met the kid up the street, Chris Stoneham, who had a Yamaha 60 Mini Enduro. He, his dad and brother would load the 60 in back of their station wagon and go riding, which must have been three times a week. Soon, I was tagging along and was getting lots of use of their machine. They encouraged me to ride fast, as fast as I wanted, with everyone getting enjoyment watching each other ride; his dad included. I had a great time riding with them, but I knew I needed to get my own “real” motorcycle.

One day while my father was taking me back to my mom’s house from yet another weekend visit, I spied it; as we passed Foothill Yamaha (a shop that is still there I’m told), I saw a red and white Yamaha 60 Mini-Enduro sitting outside with the other used bikes.

“Stop; go back!” I pleaded with my dad. Soon I was sitting on the bike checking the price tag. Two hundred dollars! “How am I going to come up with $200.00?” I kept saying to myself. “Dad…!”
He wasn’t interested (from a safety point of view).

Weeks passed as I was carted back and forth between Mom’s and Dad’s house, each time seeing that Yamaha 60 with my name on it, just sitting there waiting for me to rescue it. Somehow I managed a deal with my mother (I wore her down!), with the biggest part of the deal that I never be caught riding without wearing my helmet.

Soon we were driving into the Foothill Yamaha parking lot. I immediately jumped on the 60, and almost as quickly, a salesman came to the rescue. With our intention of purchase noted, he asked if I wanted him to start the bike.

“No thanks,” I replied and promptly kicked the Yamaha to life as I was now an old hand at starting a Yamaha 60.

I sat there listening as it warmed up and my heart began to race. Clutch in and a click on the shifter and I was rolling, going through the gears, end of the parking lot and back. After a couple obligatory spins around the parking lot, my mother bought the bike. (Blinded with bike lust, I was lucky it didn’t turn into a bomb.)
With no way of hauling my bike home, and me damn sure not waiting for delivery, I proceeded to coast, push and surreptitiously ride my “real” motorcycle the 10 or so miles home. I suppose I was the happiest kid in Sunland, California that day.

When I arrived home, the neighborhood kids swarmed to the bike, barely believing that it was really mine. After a few weeks went by, I was soon teaching all of my neighborhood friends how to ride. After Christmas that year, four new mini-cycles were in the neighborhood.

Having this new bike created a problem. Chris Stoneham and his family still went riding a lot, but now that I had a bike, it was too much of a pain to load our bikes into their station wagon, so I eventually stopped going with them (which I’m sure relieved Chris’ dad of a headache). When I was lucky, Chris Becker and his dad would pick me up and take me with them to Indian Dunes so I could ride real motorcycle tracks; not to mention watch Marty Smith and mini-cycle champ, Jeff Ward, do their stuff. Awesome times.

But the real problem though, was finding a way to get to some good riding without having to rely on someone else. With no intention of leaving the 60 at rest, I figured out how to sneak through the neighborhoods to the “wash” that came from Big Tujunga Canyon. But Chris Stoneham wasn’t allowed to go (something about parental supervision), and Chris Becker (whose XR75 was now bored and stroked!) only went riding with his dad, which wasn’t that often, so we all eventually went our separate ways. I will, however, always owe both Chris’s and their dads a debt of gratitude.

At this time, my neighborhood friends I taught how to ride now had mini-cycles. Without anyone to haul us around, we soon ventured to the wash. With lots of riding area, we spent most of our time there, but there was this dirt road, a fire road that rose up out of the wash and disappeared into the mountains. We would blast up that road a ways, but we usually turned around a few minutes after we lost site of the wash.
Before long though, we were fueling up the night before and waking early in the morning with the anticipation of conquering that road.

Once in the wash, we were gassing it hard, splashing across the creek that flowed across the wash with everyone doing their best to keep our front tires dry as we headed up the dirt road that was calling us.
We stayed on the main fire-road and just kept gassing it, going up and down the gears as we did our best to emulate dirt trackers going endlessly from corner to corner, having a blast as we kept going higher and higher into the mountains, further and further until we had to stop and catch our breath. From our resting spot we could see for miles and view additional roads for future exploration, but the mission this day was to reach the top.

After the bikes had time to cool, we continued our way up. Each time we crested a hill another would lay ahead. Finally we were there; the top. From were we stood in our mountaintop jubilation, we could see for miles around. Camelback Mountain sat parallel from us across the big canyon from where we came; at the bottom was the little ribbon of asphalt that follows the canyon to the Angles Crest Highway. And to our rear was an endless sea of mountaintops. Our mountain, that overlooks Hansen Dam, must be considered to hold the equivalent of fire-road nirvana.

We had conquered our mountain. Life would be different now.

Up through the first year of Junior high, this mountain would call to me as it was a grand backdrop to Mount Gleason Junior High, and almost daily I would arrive home from school to grab my motorcycle to finish the day exploring the mountain fire roads, many times alone; my riding buddies slowly stopped going as their parents wised up about our daily whereabouts. For me, my mother worked from the time I got home from school and was home before I awoke for school the next morning. With her being tired, sleeping, or at work, she had a lot of faith in me, but little knowledge of just how much riding I was doing. Often I wouldn’t arrive back home until darkness set in. (This actually helped me to circumnavigate the neighborhoods, though.)
From the endless riding, the Yamaha 60 became “the little bike that could” as it began to run rough and die from heat stress on the way up the fire roads, but after cooling off, it would continually take me to my destinations. I knew though, this was the precursor to the end of my riding. With only my lunch money to put fuel in the tank and oil in the motor, major maintenance was a luxury I couldn’t afford.

I rode the Yamaha 60 literally to death. Near the end of its life, the spokes in the back wheel wouldn’t tighten anymore and the rear tire would randomly rub the inside of the swing-arm. The compression was non-existent as I was able to “kick-start” it with my hand. The front suspension was completely sacked-out and the rear brake was worn so far past the wear indicator that if I hit the brake, it would lock up until I manually lifted the brake pedal. I suppose the bike was 105 in bike years. I finally had to resign myself to the fact my safety was in great jeopardy if I continued to ride it, and with that, I leaned the 60 against the garage wall in despair, knowing it was not going to take me to my mountains anymore.

After some time, I finished junior high with my mother mandating that I move to my father’s house, who in turn was moving north. Apparently, I grew quite discontent without my Yamaha 60 riding outlet and was heading toward trouble, and Mom was also moving out of state for a better job.

My last time to look at my Yamaha 60 before leaving for my dad’s new house, for an unexplained reason, I leaned down and unscrewed the gas tank emblems and took off the shinny chrome gas cap emblazoned with the Yamaha tuning-forks and put them in my pockets. I stood there this one last time looking at the remnants of my first motorcycle, and remembered.

Twenty something years later, I still have those emblems and that shinny chrome gas-cap. Every time I rummage deep into my motorcycle things and run across them, my complete spirit stops as my mind races back to those treasured days of my younger, carefree life. Holding these things that are the tangible evidence of my youth, I can feel my past, and when I look into the shinny reflection of the gas-cap, I can catch a glimpse of the time that was and remember.


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