A crazy man gives a kid his first motorcycle

Giving my motorcycle to a friend's son. Another's generosity got me on the path and I'm continuing the gesture.

A crazy man gives a kid his first motorcycle

(As told from the crazy man’s perspective)

The story actually begins at this spot in 1986 but it doesn’t become apparent until a little over a month ago.

This is the spot when I was 13 years old, a friend of the family put me on their son’s 2-stroke Yamaha 125 and told me to try it out. I had driven 3-wheelers and a 4-wheeler a couple times in the past but this was a whole new ballgame. It took me 4 or 5 tries to give enough gas and let out the clutch slow enough to not stall it. I finally got it rolling, shifted up a couple gears and wound it up until I got into the powerband. I WAS HOOKED! The 3-wheelers and 4-wheelers were suddenly forgotten as a way to have fun. THIS is how to have fun.

This friend of the family took it upon themselves to go out find a similar bike for me. A few days later an ‘81 Yamaha IT175 shows up out at our farm. My father said “This is too expensive of a gift, you have to take it back” but after seeing how much I really wanted it, finally gave in. I wore the usual “full gear”: open face helmet with goggles, denim jacket, baseball gloves, jeans and hi-tops even if it was 100 degrees out. That 2-stroke bike would fly 80mph+ with a scrawny 13 year old on it all over the back roads I could find within a tank of gas. Everything was great for a while. I rode through rain, snow, etc. and loved every minute of it.

One day I was doing a top speed run and came over a hill to find a curve that I knew I couldn’t stop for. I grabbed the brakes, pulled hard as I could and finally was thrown over the handle bars. I slid to a stop on my back in a barbed wire fence. All of a sudden the bike flopped on to my leg and the rear wheel was a couple inches from my face (open face helmet, remember?) and still spinning fast in 6th gear. I was able to work out of the barb wire fence without getting cut up and got a few more inches away from that spinning knobby that wanted to grab my face. All of a sudden there was a pain in my leg. I looked down and realized that my leg was still pinned under the bike and the exhaust was burning me. I yanked my leg out, stumbled over to hit the kill switch and realized that the burn was the only real injury I got out of this wreck.

I limped the bike home and blamed the bike for the wreck. I made up something about the brakes locking up and throwing me without saying anything about how I had just topped 85mph moments before on gravel in the hills. The mount between the tach and speedometer broke and my dad wired them back together. I rode it around like that but much slower. The friend of the family heard about the “accident” and said “We’re getting rid of that dangerous bike and getting something safer”. We went down the local Yamaha dealer and looked around. I really wanted an XT350 but they only had an XT600 on the floor. I sat on it and could get the balls of my feet on the floor but we all knew that it wasn’t going to happen. Then we saw a brand new ‘88 TW200 and knew that it would be great. They haggled on the trade in and final price but the dealer was overmatched and it went out the door far below MSRP. We took it home and my dad just said “I give up. You need to pay them back for this”. (I eventually paid half of it and got the title in my name)

I drove the TW200 everywhere that I took the IT175 but it didn’t go nearly as fast. It might not have been fast but it was stable and just wouldn’t quit. I tagged and titled it after a while of riding back roads and still had it when I got married. I’d probably still have it today if someone hadn’t taken it from our apartment complex (no insurance, planned on getting it going in the spring). I saw it a year later at a pawn shop. It was stripped down and repainted but still had the JB weld on the engine case from a nick in one of my many adventures (plus I checked the VIN).  I ran to tell my wife but we had a Valentine’s banquet to go to so it had to wait until morning. I ran down the police station to file the report but they told me it was already sold by the time they got there. “You have to go through the DA to sue the new owners to get it back” the officer told me. I just let it go at that point, wasn’t worth the fight to get a messed up bike back. My wife promised me that we would get another bike. “You had a bike when I married you and I know you’ll have one again”.

Fast forward to 2007.

I want a bike again, bad! I find a great deal on a used ‘06 SV650 in the off season (January). My wife agrees that I’ve been patient (10 years and change) and we get it. A few weeks later the dealship jacks the price up to the spring pricing on the identical other bike they had and I see how good the deal was. The next 4 years is slowly building it into the bike I want it to be. Upgrade shock and springs, top case, tank bag, wind screen, etc. I ride it to Arkansas, Missouri and haul it out to California on family vacation to ride Mullholland, Malibu, etc with my brother in law. February 2011,  somebody takes off with it in the middle of the day, out in the open, next to a busy street while I’m doing some computer work. The insurance is getting ready to pay it out a couple weeks later when I get the call that the police have my bike. The meth producer they caught had a warrant out for his arrest (should have been wearing a helmet and they wouldn’t have know it was him) and they had a 100mph+ chase before ending with a low side in gravel next to a theater.

After running the numbers I realize that I’m starting over from scratch with the money the insurance is offering. I go with the better option to buy the bike back with a clean title and take what’s left to put it back together. I had a trip planned with my brother in law but he didn’t want to ride halfway across the country with his back acting up (I don’t blame him). I took the trip money, insurance money and computer job money and used them to fix the bike up the way I want. I replaced the horrible stock seat with a Sargent, replaced the missing luggage, knock off adjustable shorty levers, usb power for GPS, etc. I also added some SW Motech side racks and bolted some Seahorse SE720 (similar size to Pelican 1520) cases to them.

Fixed up looks like this

I’m riding it again and loving it more than ever. There’s no worries about dings or drops. It’s already been through it all and still going strong. Sure there’s a few scratches and a couple dings but it still gets compliments. I go to bike nights and everyone wants to sit on it, ask about everything I’ve done to it and listen to the war stories.

More than enough back story. On with the idea and the ride.

My friend Mark posted a picture of his son holding a completed MSF motorcycle safety course certificate and how he’s a licensed motorcyclist. I thought it was really cool to see a new rider that was excited and was happy for him. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, why don’t I help him out like I was helped out over 25 years ago? I thought it was kind of a crazy idea but couldn’t shake it. I knew it needed a bit of maintenance (oil change, new chain/sprockets, etc.) to be ready to go and I was going to do that anyway in a couple weeks when a check comes in. I spent the next two weeks looking at logistics of this to see if I could pull it off and the idea wouldn’t die. I looked at routes and decided to go past a bunch of places I grew up.

I still had a big issue to figure out to make this work. How am I going to do a one-way trip 500 miles away from home? Then I realized that my mother and mother-in-law are coming down to visit for a conference at the end of September. Everything was figured out, now to actually tell my wife and start this. I talk to her and she wants to make sure this isn’t a deal to get a new bike. After she’s reasonably convinced that it’s not, I call Mark up. He’s a talker so there aren’t many times I’ve seen him speechless but the phone went dead for a bit after I told him I was serious about giving this motorcycle to his son. I get a text from Mark a few minutes later after he told his son, “he’s freakin”.

We go back and forth via Facebook to get details worked out. “I want to change the exhaust, front springs, rear shock, seat, etc.”  I informed him that I’ve already done everything except the exhaust (which I opened up a bit for a little more sound).  I put together a list of all the mods I’ve done to the bike and realized it was much longer than I thought it was going to be. I sent him the list and the advice to just put some miles on it before deciding to do anything. After a while it will become clear what he needs to change to make it suit him better.

I get the bike ready to go. Change the oil, change the brake fluid and change the chain/sprockets. The brake fluid is still factory and looked like dark maple syrup coming out. My wife was talking to me in the garage while I did it. She commented on it without being told what it’s supposed to look like (you know it was bad).  I had the bike loaded up and ready to go for a couple days before. I had some soft bags I was going to give to Mark so they could take a trip together. I threw those in an army duffle and strapped it to the rear seat. I’m ready to go except for plugging the GPS into the USB power plug. What do mean the center piece broke out of the USB plug?  Great, no power for GPS or charging my iPhone. I packed the iPhone and threw the SIM card into my old phone which goes days on a charge. I don’t really need more than phone and text for the next day or so and I’ll have charger access after that.

I take off at 6:50AM, fuel up and head to the expressway. I do this regularly on the bike but it’s earlier than normal and loaded down. A bit of caution getting through downtown Tulsa and now we’re really on the trip. The GPS is off because the battery doesn’t last long without the USB power. I had the first couple turns in the GPS and then planned on using it to check that I wasn’t on any dead end roads or going the wrong way. About here is where I realized that I didn’t double check the turnoff so let’s just turn here and see where we end up.  I ended up on the dead end at Zink Ranch with gravel going west.

I turned the GPS on and saw it went up to hwy 20 so that’s good enough. Turn off the GPS, head down gravel pushing 40mph, cross a cattle guard, see some “evidence” of cattle on the road and finally get to a blacktop road.  This road seems nice until I cross another cattle guard and the pavement runs out. A few more miles of gravel then turn onto the highway heading west.

It’s a beautiful morning with the sun coming up behind me. It’s a cool/cloudy day and there’s very little traffic. These roads are 65mph speed limits and I’m doing at least that. I come around the corner and there’s several quail just walking across the highway. I wait for them to move and they wait until the last second to fly. I instinctively duck but the closest one is 20 feet away. I laugh at being stupid and relax back into the groove. I stop and take pictures of a couple murals the next couple towns just to test out the camera in the tank bag and taking shots with my gloves on. I just flip up my visor and take some shots with the gloves on. This will work and I took a lot of shots sitting on the bike and back on the road in a flash.

It was pretty uneventful other than waiting to fuel up on the other side of town and then finding the station closed. I kept going and found the next town was unincorporated. They have a motorcycle shop but no gas station. I may find out exactly how far I can get out of this tank. I see a water tower off to the west and wonder how far over it really was and is there actually a town over there?  I decide to stay on this road and hope there’s another town (and that it has an open gas station).  At 188 miles on the trip meter, I found the gas station.

I get to Wichita, KS and am annoyed that I didn’t head west sooner or stayed farther east to avoid it. I’m in stop and go traffic a little before lunch time and it was annoying after all the smooth running earlier. I finally work my way over to the road to Hutchison and am making time again.

Just south of Hutchison, KS, I’m coming up on a slow moving horse trailer. I get closer and realize that it’s being pulled by a tractor. The driver is wearing a long sleeve shirt, overalls, wide brimmed hat and has a large beard without a mustache. I think I knew that Hutchison has a Mennonite population but forgot. I get into town and see a pizza buffet and decide it would be a quick place to get a bite. The tractor pulling the trailer catches up to me as I take my gear off and he gives me a big wave. I grab a couple slices of pizza and make sure not to over eat while on the road (I should be on the road a LOT more).

I pull back on to the road and meet another Mennonite and he’s pulling 2 trailers behind his tractor. He didn’t wave but just stared as I went by. I wander through town on every west or north major-ish looking road and finally find a street that looks like a highway (yeah, now I know I could have turned on 4th ave to get right back to the highway). I turn on 56th street even though it’s not marked as a highway but I see an over the road semi coming from out of town. I figure it must connect to some sort of highway before too long because those guys don’t venture too far from the major roads without a good reason.

It connects back to the highway and am rolling again. I come up to Nickerson, KS and see herds of zebras, ostriches and camels. Turns out that it’s

Hedrick’s Bed & Breakfast Inn and Exotic Animal Farm. Who knew?

I see a lot of dark clouds in the north and decide that I need to make a bit of time in case I run into some serious rain. I head straight north for I70. I spend an hour heading west to Hays, KS. There wasn’t a lot of traffic so I didn’t get a huge amount of buffeting but this bike is really setup to be a lot more fun on secondary roads. I turned onto hwy183. I spent most of my early life living within a few miles of this road so it felt like I was getting close.

I notice some reflections on the edge of my visor that I thought was sun reflecting on bug splatters. There’s sun to the west but it’s dark overhead and to the north. It’s only a couple drops. I come around a curve and see one lane road for road construction. I turn off the bike, put the kickstand down, get off, stretch and take some pictures. Finally the pilot car comes over the hill and we can get through the couple miles of construction. We get to the other side and I see dry spots under the cars and wet pavement all around. It starts sprinkling and I think about pulling over to put on rain gear about the time it lets up. A minute later it’s even heavier and I’m starting to get wet. It lets up just as I’m looking for a spot to pull over. One more time but light this time and then the clouds lighten up as I see Philipsburg, KS in the distance.

I pull into a gas station on the corner as I get into town. I pull out the credit card and notice that there’s no reader. Fine, I can take a couple more minutes here. I fuel up and go inside to pay. The middle aged Asian lady asked me if I got rained on. I told her that it was lightly raining a few miles to the south and she told me how she rides with her husband on his motorcycle. Then she asked where I was heading. I told her that I was heading for Alma, NE for the evening. She asked, “You stay at Super 8?”.  ”No, I’m staying out at the lake. I have my tent with me”.  Her, “Oh, too cold for camping with motorcycle”. I thanked her and she told me to have a good ride.

I had option of turning north here or head into the dark clouds ahead. I really wanted to see the next leg so I pressed on and ran into some more brief light rain. I decided to stop to take a picture of this house I’ve been by a bunch of times growing up. I pulled into the drive of the field and took some shots. I almost drop the bike trying to get it out of the field. Hop back on the highway and find some fun sweepers through the hills coming into Almena, KS.

We finally get back to the road that started it all. I gave the throttle a good twist and threw some gravel on it for old time’s sake before the sprinkles got too much heavier.

Long Island, KS. I went to JR High here. Our track coach made us run over 3 miles every day and lift weights twice a week before we did anything else. I talked to some kids in other HighSchools and they didn’t do that much. No wonder Northern Valley went to State year after year.

I stop for the evening at Harlan County Lake just outside of Alma, NE (where I was born). I found a spot under some trees since I wasn’t 100% sure if it was going to get nasty or not later.  I’m setting up my tent and see another motorcycle pulling in and looking for a spot. He waves and drives on through before coming back around to pick a spot across from me near the water. I finish setting up and walk over to say hi. He tells me that his name is Clee and he’s riding his BMW K1200GT to see as much of the country as he can. I didn’t get exact figures but he’s been on the road for weeks and isn’t done yet. He started in Fort Collins this morning and will be eating BBQ in Kansas City tomorrow. We talk for a while then I decided it was time to head into town to find some food. I went to a cafe that my grandmother always loved to go to. It has a different name and the food was fine. It was sprinkling again but quit by the time I finished eating my pizza burger and hash browns.

I didn’t fall asleep very early so I didn’t get up at 7:00 when I woke up. It was cloudy and quiet so I fell back asleep until I got up at 8:30. I’ll have to cut a couple things off my loop since I’m starting later than I planned originally. Clee is packed up and pulling around the campground when I get out of the tent. He gives a big wave and I wave back. He should be able to make KC for a late lunch and then on whatever is next after that. I start the stove for some coffee and start tearing down camp. I went over to do the self pay for the campsite while the french press is steeping. Mmmmm french press coffee was good. I finished packing, cleaning, taking pictures and then lube the chain.

Orleans, NE. We took swimming lessons here growing up. I used to live at the pool during the summer. Ride 10 miles on my bicycle, swim, play basketball during breaks, stop at my cousin’s house on the way home, play more basketball and finish riding home. No wonder I used to be in great shape. Need to get a little of that back.

This old stone house was on my great grandparent’s land. I spent nearly every day riding here with my cousin in the pasture behind it. We’d see something that looked like it was too much to tackle. The sun would set and we’d almost always be right back there trying it in the dark/semi-dark by headlight.

What kind of animal leaves these tracks in the soft sand? I had to pull up a ways to find a place that the kickstand didn’t immediately sink in.

The booming town of Stamford, NE (pop 200-ish). No matter where we moved around growing up, we always called this home and tried to find a way to get back closer.

I don’t remember seeing this before even though it’s right on the end of the main street. I’m sure I have but don’t recall noticing until now. Crazy

My grandfather bought this garage and Ernie (the mechanic that ran it) lived in the apartment upstairs rent free as long as he did all of my grandfather’s maintenance.   I think Ernie got the short end of this because grandpa didn’t touch anything. “Take it down to Ernie’s, he’ll take care of it”. I’m glad someone bought it and fixed it up. I always thought it had potential to be one of those cool garages you see at garagejournal.com or someplace like that.

I went on down the road to Beaver City to visit my aunt. It’s been several years since I’ve been up that direction so I stay and talk with her for a couple hours. Then I head outside of town to stop by my father’s grave. He passed away a couple months before I turned 20. I realized that our relationship had changed after I got a job and moved out. I miss him more these days now that I have my own kids. I finally understand a lot of what he said and did now that I’ve been there. I wish my kids could have known him more than a handful of stories told about him (I need to tell them more of the stories). I wondered what he would have thought and said about this trip I’m on. It was good to come out and get some perspective.

I ate my first bacon cheeseburger at this place when I was 18 (yeah, I know). It was green and called the Derby Cafe then. I’m across the street at the last fuel stop for this trip. I make a call to my mother to let her know when I’d be in town so she can meet me and send some texts to let them know what the schedule is since I’m heading direct on the last leg of the trip.

More two lane roads with combines and trucks out in the fields. The crazy weather has people cutting corn for silage, picking corn, picking soybeans, drilling winter wheat and it looks like the milo still isn’t ready yet (I know I lost the non-farmers but just know it’s crazy). I did a stretch on I80 (where 80 isn’t just the name, it’s the minimum speed) where I had enough wind blast and truck turbulence to tide me over for a while. I pulled off the interstate and checked my phone for texts before turning onto the highway. A minivan with an SLR camera, telephoto lens and lens hood suction cupped to the hood passed by me. Makes me wonder what other people are out on trips today too.

I pull into my friend’s work. He comes out and tells me that his son was at work but is on his way. We go inside and fill out the paperwork to get the title and bill of sale out of the way. His son shows up and we start going over all the details on the bike (upgrades, issues, stories, etc.). I start pulling out all the camping gear and motorcycle gear and setting it on the sidewalk. They couldn’t believe how much stuff was actually on the bike. I just wanted my camping gear and motorcycle off the bike and the rest is going to him (luggage, GPS, camera ‘not the SLR’, air pump, etc.).

I called my mother to see how far out she was since we were mostly wrapped up. “Uh, just left town” (it’s 1.5 hours away). This is pretty typical for my mother (my brother and sister can vouch for this) and I wasn’t too surprised. We used to tell her something was a half hour earlier than it really was and we’d be 5 minutes early or sometimes right on time.

He’s standing around listening to his father and I talk. I look over at him and say “Why don’t you take your bike out for a spin?”. I found out that he works at a motorcycle shop in town and he was the only employee without a bike. They told him that he could take a bike home for lunch if he’d get his license. That’s what started the MSF course and license in the first place. It was 5 minutes to closing and he wanted to go show it off. He was off like a shot. The bike was leaned over and he had good form taking off around the corner. He’ll be fine.

I took my mother out to a local steak house and we drove back to her house. The next morning was a stop at McDonald’s for breakfast and interstates/turnpikes for a few hours. Not much to say or see about this part of the trip.

Here’s the empty spot. Much better empty spot than when it was stolen 19 months ago. My son’s bicycle is currently parked here.

Here’s the route (minus a bit of running around). Click to open in Google Maps.

His father posted this on Instagram today. Glad to see the smile is still stuck on there. He took out for a couple spins before I left town and the smile kept getting bigger.