In a short while our weather will be a tad chilly for frequent riding of motorcycles. Ah, a sad time indeed for those who love the brushing of wind against our face and the expression of freedom afforded to bikers everywhere.
My intermittent affection for two-wheeled motorized pleasure vehicles dates back to my early teenage years. There was a decades-long period where the affection waned to nil. Then about five years ago there was a feeling of covetousness as bikes and their helmeted pilots lured my eyesight. I wanted a motorcycle. I searched the classifieds … but I digress.
Feeling a need for transportation in my youth, I owned two Cushman Eagle motor scooters. One black, one red. Both marginally reliable. Chain driven with a two-speed transmission, the Cushman was not a model of design genius. It received its power from a massive eight horsepower, single piston engine that relied on a “kick” start.
Its spring-supported seat was large enough to accommodate a modestly hefty behind. Once I was encouraged to put 98 octane Sonoco gas in it. While it was definitely “peppy,” someone told me to drain it before I burned up the engine!
Today those same Cushmans, in excellent condition, can bring between $5,000 and $8,000. My black one cost $50 and the red one was purchased for $35. The years: 1955 and 1956.
My scooters were replaced, thanks to a full-time, after-school job. The Cushman was replaced by a ’48 Chevy convertible! Wish I had that today.
The Air Force sent me to Clark Air Base in the Republic of the Philippines in 1963. It was the largest Air Force base in the world until the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo on Luzon Island forced is closing in 1991. Being the largest base, having transportation was nice. Mine was a 1959 Italian-made Lambretta. Cost me $125.
It differed greatly from the Cushman. Although it still started by the “kick” (a lever, not a kick to the body), it had a windshield and gear changing was on the left handlebar. Pull the clutch lever and rotate the grip to the desired gear. Nice. Easy. The windshield was wonderful protection from the huge rice bugs that could give one a momentary concussion. However, during the torrential four-month rainy season the windshield did little.
It provided good transportation on the base for two years. Sold it for $125! But I really lost $7.50, which was the cost of an engine rebuild.
Then comes the decades-long absence of any two-wheel vehicle in my life. About five years ago, the riding bug hit me … ”gotta have a motorcycle.” The search began and ended quickly with the location and purchase of a 1985 Honda Shadow 500. It suited me just great. And since then I have learned that bikes are to fit the rider, not the other way. More on that.
I listened to other bikers. “For the mountains you need at least a 750cc engine” was the most common comment. However, the little 500cc Honda did just fine. After a year the desire for a bigger bike hit and hit hard. So the Honda Shadow was sold and I bought a like new 2001 Honda American Classic Edition with what is noted as an 800cc engine (really 750cc from what I was told). It’s silver gray and light cream color generated lots of comments.
But after riding it for a few months and a couple of “lay downs” at very slow speed, I decided again to change. Single-handedly trying to hoist a several hundred pound bike from ground level to upright just isn’t an easy task for an aging 150-pound frame.
So another sale and another search. This time I thought I’d revert to my first experience in the 50s: a scooter. Touted as probably the most reliable and easy for self-maintenance, I found a Honda Helix. Comfortable, capable of 65 mph with fantastic gas mileage. Mine averaged 65 mpg. During my period of ownership I changed the oil and plug three times with no problems. (I’m not a mechanic; however, I do own a few screwdrivers, pliers, etc.)
A couple of trips, one up to Hot Springs on I-40, were a tad nerve shattering. I was aware from years of driving that semis cause turbulent air in their aftermath. The turbulence made me feel like a Piper Cub airplane flying behind a Boeing 747. While I never lost control of the Helix, the whipping of the air resulted in a feeling of momentary lost control. Also, getting only 3,000 miles out of a $300 set of tires wasn’t expected. Scooter tires have to make so many more revolutions to get you anywhere.
For those considering a Helix, I’d rate it high for comfort, reliability and mileage. However, there isn’t extra power when you need it. It climbed both sides of Cowee Mountain just fine.
Where am I now? Back to a 750cc bike. Red and cream 1995 Yamaha Virago. Like new too. Has a windshield and thankfully the mountains are absent of rice bugs. Its padded seat, comparable in size to the thin form rubber and vinyl seat on the Cushman, is sooo comfortable. It has power to spare. Unlike the Helix, though, the miles per gallon are about 60 percent less.
Now I have the urge, not for another bike, but for heading out on the main highway like William H. Macy in “Wild Hogs.”
Why? I found a bike that fits me!
(Dave Redman is a Sylva resident.)