How I Became a Biker

Aug 09, 2021 View Comments by

I was born in 1943 and grew up in Hope, Indiana, a small town of about 1,200 a few miles northeast of Columbus. I was a surprise, as my parents never expected kids. Dad was older, a month shy of 47; mom, 14 years his junior. Mom’s parents had died by time she finished high school, and she was the oldest of six; one brother and four sisters. Dad’s mother had died long before I came along. His father, Arthur Crawford Reeves, I did know when I was younger. He lived with us part time and was in his 90’s. I didn’t get to have my father long, as he passed suddenly the day before my 14th birthday. They said he had a heart attack. Not much was known then about cardiovascular care. So, it was then just mom and me.

By A.C. Reeves

No one in our family that I knew of ever owned or rode a motorcycle. I do know as I was growing up, Charlie Bell rode what I think was a Harley. He was what was considered not among the elite of the community. As I recall, he had tattoos on his arms, which at that time was reserved for those who were veterans or a bit on the wild side. The story was that he shot off his right pointer finger to get out of the Army. When I was a college student, I had a summer job working for Red Mead who was a painter. We painted barn roofs and houses. Charlie was one of his employees, so I got to know him. He really was not such a bad guy. Looking back, I guess most bikes then were either Harley-Davidson or Indian.

My freshman year at Purdue I lived in the dorm with a unique name: H2! There were three relatively new dorms built in the shape of a large H if viewed from above, H1 H2 and H3. I think they each housed 700 men. There were two dining halls that had a staff of hired help as well as several students who were utilized as servers, dish room duty, etc. I got a job there to make spending money. Mom’s income was modest as a secretary at Arvin Industries and still today, I wonder how she sent me to college. I did, however, work each summer, mostly in factories and made most of the money needed for the next class year. I made friends with an older student, and one evening he asked if I would like to take a ride on his motorcycle. I hardly knew what one was, but I agreed. I think it may have been a BMW. As I recall I only rode that one time. I still remember him telling me that if I ever started to ride, when I thought I knew what I was doing, be careful! That is the time you are likely to get hurt. He related a story when he intended to show off for some girls as he rode by them and turned a corner and succeeded in dumping his bike in the middle of the street! Some of my “closer calls” have been from inattention.

My freshman year at Purdue I pledged Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity. There were seven of us in my pledge class. My sophomore year, we moved into the house on Waldron Street, across from the Chi Omega house. That was a big deal, as that was the sorority where Purdue’s Golden Girl and Silver Twins resided. They were the baton twirlers at football games. We were almost famous, living nearby; I don’t recall any of them ever speaking to us!

I think it was my fourth year at Purdue when one of my pledge brothers, Robert Houston, I think, bought a new Honda. Those were the small either 50cc (or possibly 90cc) engines with a centrifugal clutch. I could borrow it when I wanted to ride and got the “bug”, I guess. Mr. Honda not only was a successful manufacturer following the war, developing reliable and affordable transportation via motorized two wheels, but he developed an advertising campaign for Americans: YOU MEET THE NICEST PEOPLE ON A HONDA! Many Americans had been opinionized by groups such as Hell’s Angels and others that portrayed motorcyclists as not your model citizen. Honda sales did well.

I enjoyed Bob’s little scooter and started dreaming about getting a bike. Bultaco was a popular brand at the time, and I visited the dealer in Lafayette and ordered one. In a day or two reality set in and I realized I had no money to pay for one. I begged and received a cancellation of that order! The desire was still there. The summer of 1965 I was working in one of the Arvin factories. Three Guys Marine and Honda was next door to the Columbus Legion Post. I do not recall the details today, but I must have spent some time hanging out there admiring the Honda motorcycles. I ended up possessing a used 1964 red 160cc Honda Dream (touring style). I do not recall what I paid but must have saved some money from my factory job. I did not have the nerve to take it home to show the folks, now mom and her husband, Oscar. He and mom had married while I was at Purdue. Maybe I was using the saying “it’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask first”! Fortunately, my childhood married friend and classmate Gary lived only about three blocks away. So, my “new” bike resided in his garage. When I wanted to ride, it was just a short distance to his place, off for some fun, and then return to his garage.

My stepfather, Oscar, was a great guy and he and mom were both happy together. He was a fisherman, and every summer, he would take his two-week vacation from the Arvin plant where he had worked for years and go to northern Indiana for a fishing vacation. That gave me the opportunity to keep my bike at the house to avoid that trip to Gary’s. That worked well. I knew they would return on Sunday in two weeks, so I could have the bike secretly back at Gary’s garage. For some reason, I went to run an errand in my car, and came back to a surprise! For me! They were home! And for them; there was a motorcycle there! The only thing I heard was: “It looks like something new here!” It was probably a tense peace for several days.

Oscar had his morning routine. He would retrieve the Indianapolis Star from the front porch, eat his breakfast, and then walk three blocks to the factory. Most of the older guys like that got to work early so they could sit and drink coffee and tell stories until time to visit the time clock. He came up with an ingenious plan. He would scan the Star, and if he could find a story of a motorcycle accident, he would read it aloud! No comment, he just read it. That was a bit stressful. So, I came up with my plan. I quit eating breakfast with him and waited until he left. I could then eat and run to a different area of the plant than where he worked, and clock in without being late. As time passed, the Honda became acceptable. Years later, both my parents had rides on whatever current motorcycle I then had.

I took that bike with me to Purdue in the Fall of 1965 and had an apartment in Lafayette. Howard Woodward, known as Clyde (that’s another story) was a friend and fellow AKL member. He contracted mono early in the semester and spent several days in the Health Center. He was considering withdrawing from school to return the following semester. He was told that if he did that, he would lose his student deferment (in those days, same as today, all men at age 18 were required to register for the military draft; students were issued an exemption from being drafted). A war was raging in Vietnam and it was almost a certainty, losing one’s student exemption would result in a quick trip to an induction station. Clyde asked if he could share my apartment, and thus it became a stronger friendship. He also had a motorcycle, I think the same year and model as mine. We spent much of our free time exploring the countryside around Lafayette. We used those bikes to spin donuts in the sandy soil along the Wabash River, not considering them “road bikes.”  I remember one snowy day we decided to venture out on the bikes. We found we could get going rather well on the snow-covered streets. It did soon dawn us we really could not stop very well! Somehow, we survived. Clyde spent his free time after classes at the library studying and achieved the Dean’s List at the end of that semester. Amazing what studying can do for you! Too bad I didn’t learn that lesson sooner!

How did Howard become Clyde? In the 60’s, Ray Stevens recorded a popular song, “Ahab the Arab,” and his camel’s name was Clyde. Howard had an old Volvo automobile, and those familiar with it would note the characteristic “humped” design, Thus, he acquired the nickname of Clyde. For years I still remembered him by that tag. We remained in contact later in years, and he moved back to Indiana, to Warsaw, his hometown. A few years ago, his brother disclosed that Clyde was no longer mentally competent and was relegated to a care facility. I recently located an obituary for Clyde.

I graduated from Purdue, January 1966; married Nancy February 5, and began my work career shortly thereafter at Kroger in Indianapolis as a Manager Trainee. After a short time, my life took a sharp career change when I received my notice to report for a military physical. Even with some medical issues for which I had been treated, I was “accepted.” It was Vietnam days, and almost any warm body passed physical inspections. In fact, the doctor never even looked in my direction as he completed my forms, or to inspect a physical discrepancy I had from birth. On 04 May 66, I reported to Fort Knox Army Reception Station! My beloved first Honda remained with my father-in-law, Bill Knifley, who enjoyed it in my absence.

After separation from active duty 02 May 1968, I returned to civilian life and was hired by Arvin Industries. On June 21, 1969, I traded my first motorcycle for a new Honda CB350, a road model. Cost was $750.00 less $200 trade value of my original bike. On that bike I began venturing farther from home. I do not recall any longer trips than ones around Indiana but there may have been some. Gene Robertson and I made some trips together into KY and Boone National Forest; not sure which bike I had then.

Stewart’s Speed & Sport in Bloomington was happy to see me again, April 09, 1971.

I traded that 350 for a 1971 Honda CB750, the second year of that model, a 4-cylinder engine. It was designed more as a touring bike. Cost was $1695.00, less trade in $795.00. This bike provided more adventurous explorations. Curt & Donna Tetrick also had the same model, and the four of us more than once trailered our bikes to Bryson City NC area for long weekends at a rustic cabin in a resort on the mountainside, and explored the area of the Smoky Mountains. I recall also staying at Fontana Dam resort, that had been built by the CCC years earlier.

July 1972 was the beginning of our first “big” trip. Nancy and I departed with Ron Daggett & Donna (not the same Donna). Ron also had a CB750. Our sites were set on Los Angeles, CA, to visit Army friends of mine, Rich and Diane Jones, whom I had met while we were stationed in West Berlin. We carried our minimally required clothing as well as a 3-man pup tent, ground cover, rain shelter and sleeping bags. I am sure we exceeded Honda’s engineering specs for suggested load limits. Riding across Kansas was a new adventure. It seemed the wind was always strong from one side, and I swore we wore the tread more on one edge of tire than the other. I think I commented if I ever rode a motorcycle across Kansas again, it would be too soon. I guess I forgot about that. I have since traveled through that area more than once on two wheels.

We spent a couple of days in Las Vegas, and to our surprise, Ron & Donna had gone out alone one afternoon, and returned sharing their news they had visited a wedding chapel and were now Mr. & Mrs. Daggett! Riding across the freeways of LA on a Saturday morning was also an experience! Miles before reaching the city, we felt we were riding into clouds, as if we were riding into a rainstorm. We discovered it was the smog us Midwesterners had heard about. As the day progressed and the sun rose higher, it did burn off. It lowered visibility and somewhat irritated eyes and nostrils. After a day or two visiting Rick & Diane, we headed north.

We traveled the famous Pacific Coast Highway, and it is truly a wonderful route on a motorcycle. Our trip got us as far as San Francisco, got a view of Hurst Castle and we rode across the Golden Gate bridge and north a few miles, to see some of the Redwoods, and be able to say we rode across that famous bridge. We crossed the bridge in the opposite direction and pointed our motors eastward. We crossed the famous Salt Flats and saw where Bonneville Speed Trials were held.  Ron & Donna rode ahead of us and got out of sight. We made it to Salt Lake City for the night, and never saw them again until after we had been home a few days. I wish I could find records of number of days and miles on that trip. I think we were gone two weeks. They and we probably were not the best traveling companions. Ron and Donna were smokers and wanted to stop when we did not and took longer at gas stops for smokes than we preferred. Ron was a tall hippy looking guy, and I guess we felt safer with him along. But he also had a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and a couple of times we wondered if he was going to get us into a fight. Overall, it was an exciting time and still provides some memories.

Motorcycles in that day were mostly chain driven, from the engine to the rear wheel. Chains were maybe their weakness. I learned the best way to maintain your ride, keep the chain clean and lubed properly. Periodically, I mixed Vaseline with oil, heated in a pan, and soaked the chain in it (obviously, after removing the chain from the bike), hang to dry and wipe off the excess. That gave lubrication into all the parts of the chain. On a trip, upon stopping for the night, it was wise to lube the chain with chain lube while the chain was still warm from riding. Then the next morning, before departure, wipe off any excess oil to protect from it being slung on the rear of bike and/or luggage. I made that trip to California and back home on the same chain. Ron did not care for his bike the same way, and part way home, had to search for a shop to replace his.

That 750 was a great bike. Its weakest feature I guess was the drive chain. In 1975, Mr. Honda did it again. The company built a brand-new touring style motorcycle, calling it the GL1000 Gold Wing. It was built around a 1000cc horizontal four-cylinder water cooled engine, and power was transferred to the rear wheel via a driveshaft! No more chain lube!! Craig Vetter designed a front fairing to attach to the bike to protect riders somewhat from wind and bugs. One could find accessory manufacturers that provided hard saddle bags and luggage racks, as well as backrests for the passenger. This new bike was popular and in demand. There we two colors, red or teal blue. Dealers were anxious to get that bike and Honda was working hard to meet the demand. I was interested and visited Stewart’s in Bloomington, hoping they would have one I could look at and sit on.

July 3rd, I got a call informing me one had been delivered. I was asked if I wanted to come see it the next day. Sure, but that is a holiday. Hank said he’d have Ross get it set up and ready, and it would get him out of the house to come let me see it and ride it around their parking area. I really wanted red; this one was teal! I was a bit disappointed, but it turned out the only year they produced the teal, and almost every year they built red ones. So, mine was truly an original. I say, “mine”, because after riding it, no way was I going to leave without buying it. Selling price was $2900.00 plus state sales tax of $116.00. Engine number was 100, thus this was one of the earlier ones built and one of the first in this area. I have no record of a trade-in, so I must have sold the 750 myself.

I was now married to Christie, and we had a cycle trip planned to see her sister Karen in Chula Vista, CA. We departed August 02 for a week trip. Being a new mode, I recall it was a challenge to obtain and install a Vetter fairing, Bates saddle bags, a luggage rack and passenger back rest. We left Columbus on a new bike, with no other travelers with us. A big change from earlier bike trips.

My dad always took his vehicles to a friend for all maintenance, including oil changes. Thus, I had learned as I began driving to do some of my own maintenance. Much of what I learned came from my best friend Gene Bush, who could do engine rebuilds as well as body work. My CB750 was a familiar vehicle, and I could manage most things short of an engine rebuild. The GL1000 was brand new, and very unfamiliar to me. In hindsight, it was probably not a good idea to leave for a cross country trip on a brand-new cycle. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.

Somewhere going across the Painted Desert, I noted a loss of power. I knew I was not low on fuel, but that was what the symptoms were. Stopping once, I checked the four spark plugs that appeared to look normal and fuel was sufficient.  We limped along for several miles as I mulled in my mind the different parts of the system trying to identify the source of my concern. I decided to stop under a shade tree (a rare sight out there), and check the points, as they control the firing of the cylinders. The GL had dual points under a cover on the left side of the engine. Pulling off the cover and starting the engine, I observed one set gapping much wider than the other. Not sure which was correct, I guessed that the wider ones needed re-set. I adjusted by “sight”, replaced the cover and started the engine. That seemed to resolve the issue. I knew I needed a professional opinion. We arrived in Flagstaff mid-morning and located a Honda dealer. Since we were traveling, they promised to work us into their busy shop schedule, but said we’d better go ahead and obtain a motel room. We booked a room and by later in the day, they had tuned up several small things and said the bike was ready to go! I try to always look for blessings; how fortunate to manage a roadside “fix” and arrive at a town with a dealer and a rather simple repair. The remainder of our trip was fantastic.

Life changed. Christie and my marriage ended and she moved to California where she thought all problems in life would be solved. I enjoyed many more motorcycle trips, some alone and some with riding friends. After time I became friends with Dana, who also worked at Arvin Automotive. Eventually, we started dating, and after nearly three years, married. We enjoyed many miles on the Gold Wing. In a separate journal I try to recall various motorcycle trips. We lost mom and wife, Dana, January 04, 1990 after her five-year battle with cancer.

A side note here, Dana brought two children into our marriage. A couple of years afterwards she blessed me with an additional child, my daughter, Ashley, born on Fathers’ Day. Ashley and I bonded on delivery day and have always had a special relationship. When she was just a baby, I would sit her on the seat of the Gold Wing. Eventually, I had it running while she sat there. One day, when her mom was not home, I placed my daughter between my legs and rode slowly around the block by our house. Of course, when mom found out, she was not especially pleased with that adventure. Unfortunately, we lost her mom when Ashley was seven. As my daughter got older, we shared some local motorcycle rides on the Gold Wing. Then on her 13th birthday, we departed for Asheville, NC, for the Honda Hoot. It was a week-long celebration of the 20th birthday of the Gold Wing and we were attending on one of the original models. We shared a week at the event and have pictures of Ashley and the bike in front of Great Smoky Mountains signage. As a new “teen,” there were boring times for her, but overall, I think we have a great memory we share.

In 1999, I was considering a new ride. Donna and I married in 1998 and she learned to enjoy motorcycling, after telling her daughters earlier in life she never wanted to hear of them on a cycle; working in hospital surgeries, she was more familiar with casualties from bikes. We went to a motorcycle show in Indianapolis in February 1999. The Gold Wing had been changed to look more like a Honda Civic on two wheels, not the chrome and exposed engine cyclists were used to seeing and just did not appeal to me. Harley Davidson was and still is a popular brand. But reliability was an issue for years and I never desired that brand. We went to a Yamaha display and they had a new model, the RSV, Royal Star Venture. It looked a lot like a Harley, with exposed water-cooled engine, a V4, lots of chrome, a drive shaft, factory fairing, saddle bags and trunk, AM/FM/CB/Intercom (to communicate between driver and passenger) and even cruise control. Oh, yes, and a cassette deck built in! Double bucket seats were actually comfortable. (Most motorcycle seats for years were not designed for comfort; many riders replaced them with custom made seats.) This new Yamaha even included a three-year warranty.

March 04, 1999, I signed the papers for a brand new Yamaha! The purchase was actually made at Excel Motorsports right near home in Columbus. After tax and added accessories, total cost came to $16,273.95. A far cry from earlier purchases! (As I write this, today touring cycles are being sold in the ranges of $30,000 and more.)

Donna and I traveled many miles in various directions on this bike. One trip was to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, about an hour north of Iron Mountain. There lives her daughter, Judy and family. This was one of the daughters who had been told to never be caught riding a motorcycle. Now mom was arriving on one! Judy tagged her “Motorcycle Momma!” And very shortly asked when she would get a ride; a couple of the grandkids chimed in “Grandpa Reeves, are you going to take us a for a ride on your motorcycle?”

After 26,604 miles I had started looking at the 2003 models. Dreyer Cycles in Indianapolis had a burgundy and champagne on the floor that really caught my eye. After extended bartering with the owner, we finally arrived at a deal. The $16,399 cycle plus dealer setup and sales tax, less $12,697 trade in value of the 1999, resulted in the current bike I still ride. The 1999 visited a lot of states and some Provinces of Canada. The 2003, as of this writing, has logged 102,038 miles and travelled to and through DC, 49 States, all Canadian Provinces as well as one Territory. More on trips later.

Riding a motorcycle is difficult to explain to any non-riding person. Cyclists often use the term, “if I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.” There is just something about the freedom of not being enclosed in a cage. One can see and feel the elements, often, not being such a blessing! Riding in an automobile is somewhat like watching TV or a movie. You are within a climate-controlled environment looking out at a passing landscape. If on a cycle, you experience your surroundings. If I’m riding through a pine woods, I smell the pine trees. If I pass by a hog or cattle feed lot, I “smell” the aroma they produce. If the thermometer is in the upper degrees, or conversely, in the lower readings, it is very noticeable. Riding into a hailstorm, you definitely are aware.

When I first started riding, cycle “gear” mostly consisted of a wind breaker and sunglasses. I have always considered a helmet to be essential gear. If it rained, I got wet. If it got cold or hot, I was cold or hot. Things have improved much today. I have a jacket made of ballistic material to give protection in case of an accident. The mesh outer layer allows air circulation while the zip-in liner adds waterproofing and warmth. Rain gear is of such good quality that I have ridden in storms that semi-trucks were slowing and/or pulling over while I was remaining dry. Undergarments are available to provide additional body protection in event of a crash. Heated jackets and pants are quite useful, and one can add heated gloves, or in my case, addition of heaters that insert inside the handlebars. Newer models even have heated and cooled seats for rider and passenger as well as heated controls. They even have built-in direction and information and entertainment systems, similar to automobiles.

For me, riding allows me to see and feel Creation up close and personal. New bikes are very dependable and allow comfortable long-haul cruising. I can cover about 200 miles or more on my six gallons of regular fuel. I travel interstates as well as US and state routes. Back country roads also are very enjoyable. It all depends upon the time allotted and destination. I find traveling on US highways there is much less and more relaxed traffic, since many people are  on the interstates. Many of the older US highways run parallel to the “I’s”. If one encounters a blockage on the “I”, everyone sits there until things are cleared. On the US routes, usually there is a simple way to detour around the obstacle. Also, the US routes provide a glimpse into local life, from country-sides to small towns and cities. Large cities are less fun on a bike, since there is too much stop and starting and heat buildup in city traffic. I’ve noticed one corporation that has capitalized on the smaller locals; Dollar General and Family Dollar. Almost any of these settlements now are home to these general stores; sometimes one on either end of town.

My 50+ years of cycling has introduced me to many good friends. I belong to an internet club called The Venturers that has no local chapters. Members will plan a local ride in their area with routes for 3-4 days, concluding the last day with a nice evening meal and door prizes. The event is posted on our web site. Members travel from all over the US and Canada, and one member has come from the UK. I have met up with many of the same folks at various places around the country over the years. Many of us stay in touch. Those of us in closer proximity often visit one another for a weekend visit or dinner.

Stopping for fuel or food often brings conversations from other travelers or locals. Out of state plates on one’s bike make for even more interesting conversations. Traveling across Canada, in Alaska or Newfoundland, almost always generates interest from locals or other travelers. On the way to Alaska, at a rest stop at a beautiful overlook, we saw a large RV with Indiana plates. In chatting with the couple, we discovered they were from Connersville! Small world.

I think there are “riders” and “motorcyclists”. Some have smaller machines and ride around locally. Some have larger touring bikes and only ride around locally. I chuckle at advertisements for motorcycles listed for sale that are several year-old models with very few miles on the odometer. Some will go off for a day ride just to enjoy being on the bike or seeing nature. Others seem to only go for a ride when a group assembles. Some of us chuckle at those who seem to “ride from bar to bar”! Some like to “be seen”; others do not care but just enjoy the ride. For some it’s the brand or model cycle they have and the brand-loyal clothing. My attitude is a person should ride what makes them happy.

In 1974 Robert M. Pirsig wrote a novel, Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance; An Inquiry Into Values. Years ago, I started reading that book, but not being a dedicated reader as is my wife, I struggled with it for years never finishing it. More recently when we were flying to Alaska for a niece’s wedding and I was facing many hours in transit, I decided to attempt that book again. This time I was successful. I can see myself in the character in many ways. A quote in the introduction “The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called ‘yourself’.”

The story is of a man and his young son on a summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest, traveling with another couple. A story of love and fear, of growth, discovery and acceptance, that becomes a profound personal and philosophical odyssey into life’s fundamental questions. A story of man and machine, one accepting his machine as an extension of himself and an understanding of the complicated mechanics involved. Contrasted to the other couple who just accept it as a machine and are more inclined to rely on mechanics and engineers rather than to understand their machine.

I tend to be inquisitive and thoughtful and curious as to how things are created, how different parts are brought together into a resulting product or action. I am fascinated at machinery that has been designed to accomplish intricate and minute tasks, often in milliseconds. I have been blessed to have spent days in automotive assembly plants watching millions of parts come together into a vehicle to be driven off at the end of the assembly line. And have been exposed to injection molding of plastics. I marvel at throwing my leg over a bike, sitting on top of a V-4 engine with the output similar to many automobiles and cruising off into the distance.

 

Am I a Biker, or am I a Motorcyclist?

A.C.

March 30, 2021

 

A dear friend replied to this question: “I think a motorcyclist is a person who has a motorcycle as a hobby, they may be interested and even have fun owning and riding one but for a biker it’s a lifestyle. It’s the whole package, not only taking trips but the planning of them, it’s the ride whether in a group or going solo, it’s being one with nature and the elements, about being safe not only with your bike and the upkeep of that but the protection of yourself with proper gear because you understand the risks. You, A.C., are a biker.”

I can see fitting into both classifications. It’s a hobby and a passion. It’s the enjoyment of encountering various environments and surroundings, facing weather of various extremes, and joining with like-minded friends, or going alone. It’s not focusing on a particular brand of cycle, but the enjoyment of one. Maybe it changes over time, as we change our focuses in life. I’m looking forward to being blessed with more years to explore and enjoy riding.

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