How It All Began
This is the first of reader contributed stories on how their lives were impacted by motorcycles. Send us a message if you would like to add yours.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Jerry L. Hall, December 5, 2012
The question was posed – “How did you get started riding motorcycles?” So I sat down and pondered.....
When I was young I heard family stories about the young man who became my father crashing through the railing of an old wooden bridge on a gravelled backroad in rural Missouri. He was riding an old pre-WW II Harley. He and the bike landed in a shallow creek. The bike was in gear and continued to run for a short time. The drive chain was in contact with his upper arm and proceeded to saw its way through his flesh and bone. The surgeons considered amputating his arm but decided to use pieces of stainless steel and screws to hold the bones together. It worked. He had obvious thick red scars on his arm for the rest of his life. He did eventually regain full control and was a strong and able bodied man his entire life. He stayed away from motorcycles for more than a quarter century. He mounted up again only after I – his eldest son – began riding. He enjoyed riding his BMWs for many years.
His father – my grandfather – was sporting around on a bright red and white Allstate scooter about the time I was ten years old. When my mother wasn’t looking one day I took it for a very short spin down the block and back. No gears to shift and a big black brake pedal on the floorboard. Hurray!
About the same time we had neighbors who rode a Harley Sportster. He was much smaller than the average man. She was much larger than the average woman. I was amazed every time I watched her climb up behind him and slowly lower herself onto the small “piggy pad” that was mounted on top of the rear fender behind the solo seat. Anyone remember those? Where did that “piggy pad” go?
But my real commitment to motorcycles began in Vietnam. I often found myself passing time and drinking beer with a fellow soldier who loved to talk about motorcycles. I loved to talk about British sports car. As time passed our talks became debates about which method of conveyance was the best. One night we made a pact. If we both survived our time in Nam and returned to the Real World – he would buy a British sports car and I would buy a motorcycle. Then we would meet in a bar somewhere to continue our discussions and resolve our differences once and for all.
We both survived and I kept my part of the pact. Upon returning a motorcycle became one of my top three priorities. The other two had to do with reuniting with my wife and getting a good dog. (Motorcycles and dogs have worked out pretty well for me in this life. Wives are a different story.)
Not really knowing anything about motorcycles, I picked up a copy of the Sunday newspaper and turned to the want ads. The only brand I recognized was Harley Davidson. I called the first one in my price range and drove to the address. Yup! Looked like a motorcycle to me. The seller fired it up. Yup! Sounds like a motorcycle to me. We agreed on a price and I paid the man. Then I asked if he could deliver it since I had never rode one. I remember he had a strange almost panicky look on his face but agreed to follow my wife and me to where we were temporarily staying. Probably to ease his conscience he gave me a quick tutorial before he left. Front brake. Got it! Rear brake. Got it! Throttle. Got it! Clutch. Got it! Shifter. Got it! Kickstarter. Got it! Thanks. Good luck. Goodbye. And he was gone.
So there I was standing the neighborhood street with my newly acquired motorcycle. After managing to somehow start the beast I carefully aimed it straight down the middle of the street. I pulled in the clutch, jammed it into gear, gave it some throttle – and rocketed down the street with the front wheel bouncing on and off the pavement while I desperately tried to hang on and figure out what to do next. It wasn’t pretty but I survived. I did however choose to get off and push it back to the starting point. I repeated this process several times and I thought I was beginning to get the hang of it when my smallish wife eased in between me and the motorcycle. She pushed me aside and climbed on. She snicked it into gear and smoothly motored out of sight down the street – probably with a satisfied smirk on her face. Eventually she reappeared, pulled into the driveway, lowered the kickstand and climbed off. Seems she had some history riding motorcycles with an earlier beau. So is life and the gauntlet had been thrown.
I did eventually manage to attain some level of competence without serious injury. A few weeks later we settled in Colorado with the Rocky Mountains as our playground. It only took a short time to discover that Harley’s were not the best machine to ride on those wonderful mountain roads. So I swapped for a fine handling Triumph 650 Tiger and stayed with Triumphs for a number of years.
Over the years I’ve owned and ridden a number of motorcycles. If I could have kept every single one I would need a good sized barn to keep them in today. Some have become much sought after classics. Some not so sought after. But I fondly remember every single one. I have even fonder memories about every dog and cat that I’ve shared my life with. Not so much with the women......
Photo courtesy of Jerry L. Hall.