A first motorcycle is awesome. Freedom on two wheels; swing your leg over life and throttle it down the road.
I was in my teens in the late 1960’s, and yup, I thoroughly indulged in the change that was happening. We challenged the old standards of the time. Didn’t much matter which standards; if they were old, we challenged them.
I lived in Windsor Ontario, and Windsor was only a mile or so across the river from Detroit Michigan, and Detroit became part of our playground. I couldn’t afford a motorcycle as quickly as my friends, so I rode on the back of my buddy’s bike until I could. They all rode 2 strokes; all Yamaha, modified to be the sport bikes of their day, and my first motorcycle was right in line with that.
A Tough Town
Back then, at least where I come from, most bikes on the road were 650 cc 4 stroke BSA, Norton, and Triumph, and most riders were gang members; at least that’s the way it seemed in our world. It was a tough town if you were tuned into it. The Satan’s Choice were the main bad-boys, and they were in direct conflict with the crowd I seemed to be part of. Odd thing though; I was also friends with a few of these gang members, so in some respects I bridged borders. Maybe it was due to the area I grew up in — a melting pot of sorts.
My 1964 Yamaha 305
We were a bit of an oddity I guess, riding our Japanese 2 strokes, smoking out the streets and pushing revs that would melt the British 4 stroke’s. We were there to stay though and as it happens, so were Japanese Motorcycles.
The photo above shows my much loved Yamaha 305 — my very first bike — in its stock condition (aside from the upside down Yamaha plate on the tank which we couldn’t explain, but thought that it was cool).
There were no drop bars available, so we cut up the stock bars and welded them into a drop configuration. Throw in some fender mods and a bit of creative engine tuning, and our 2 strokes would easily outrun the bigger 4 stroke bikes.
Fatal Crash: a motorcycle life lesson
My bike was pretty fast with the mods I had done. One day I rode it over to a friend’s house. He lived only a couple blocks from me, so the fact I didn’t have it plated at the time wasn’t a concern. We yacked about bikes and did some washing and wrenching. When he went to grab some lunch, he pointed to the wall and said, “there’s a plate up there if you want to ride without drawing the cops.” I took him up on his offer and went for a ride; a fast ride.
I wasn’t far into my fun when I realized a squad car was following me with lights and siren. The logical thing to do was to pull over. What I did though, changed the course of everything to follow. I chose to roll on the throttle and outrun the cop that was now in full pursuit. Several blocks and turns later I thought I had lost him. I ducked into a parking lot full of other bikes, figuring he would never know which one I was if I could get off my bike quick enough and slip into the school building.
I wasn’t fast enough. He got me, and he charged me with 5 offenses. The most serious was a criminal offence that a person can be arrested for. It was called ‘misuse of plates.’ I didn’t want to implicate my friend by saying he lent me the plate. Instead I said I stole the plate while he wasn’t there. My reason was, the plate was in his father’s name — and his father was a mean man. I knew he would beat the crap out of my friend if I divulged his involvement, so I hid that fact, even from my own family.
My relationship with my Dad was strained at the best of times, but he pulled in some markers and got most of the charges dropped. Plus, he spoke up for me in court saying I would sell the bike and be more responsible in future. I figured I owed him one for that, so I went from “yes I am responsible enough to ride a motorcycle” in my family’s eyes, to “yes I agree to sell my bike.”
And I did. I sold my Yamaha to a guy I didn’t know. But I soon heard of him, and saw my old bike around town. He was even more reckless than I; always pushing the limits.
Point Pelee Park was a 7 mile point out into Lake Erie, complete with secluded beaches and forested areas. It is the southern-most tip of Canada, and is south of Detroit. We used to go to “The Point” often in the summer. It was a great hangout. A place to cut loose.
The guy who bought my bike was just out to have some fun with his friend. His friend was a school mate of mine who was tight with one of the local bike gangs. The Point road was curvy and fast if you were on a motorcycle, especially at night when the road was quiet.
I am certain that they were having a great time on that moonless night on the Point road. I can feel the warm summer air pushing fresh against their faces (no helmets in those days). And I am positive that their last thoughts were, “isn’t this awesome?” just before they overshot that one curve, and just prior to their realization — that moment of dread — when they knew they were going to die, a micro second before slamming high speed into the tree.
I went to the wake. I saw my schoolmate’s body all decked out; gang members in their colors were there as well, paying respects, while the family wondered through their pain who these strange people were, and who their Son really was.
So my old Yamaha 305 is now a tombstone of sorts; a testament to fun and folly, good and bad times, and to a much better way going forward. Lessons learned!