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
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.
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”
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.
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
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
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
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
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.