First Bikes: You Never Forget Your First

Sep 14, 2021 View Comments by

My first motorcycle…

Written by: Jeff Buchanan.

Ask anyone who has owned motorcycles what their third or fourth bike was and they may have to think about it for a second, juggling the proper order as they dust off their memory. Ask them about their first, and they can tell you without hesitation—usually accompanied by a fond, often forlorn smile. This certainly applies to me. The only other aspect of my life that holds that kind of lucid recall is women. You never forget your first.

Although I was keenly aware of girls by the time I was 12, I spent the majority of 1970 pining for a motorcycle. I have no idea where the desire came from. There were no bikes in my immediate vicinity. No influence from friends. No older brother with a Sears minibike. There was no rebellious teen in the neighborhood with a straight-piped machine, bolting down the street, scattering leaves and spooking parents in dangerously alluring defiance of authority (usually the sort of thing that excites youth to action).

The want simply crept up on me, much the way the inexplicable adolescent attraction to girls did. But it wasn’t just a motorcycle I wanted. It was, quite specifically, a Honda Trail 70. The wall above my bed was plastered with pictures torn from magazines and double-page Honda brochures, all featuring the CT70. The collage actually inspired some nocturnal dreams. I knew the Trail 70’s spec sheet by heart.

I wasn’t alone in this. Honda roused the desires of an entire generation of young boys and girls with the introduction of their immensely popular Trail 70 and Mini Trail 50. Like so many of Honda’s creations, these motorcycles touched a visceral nerve that defies explanation, speaking directly to the hearts and minds of countless youths, promising untethered adventure, uncomplicated joy, and unmitigated thrills.

Earning My Wheels

The coveted Trail 70 was earned at a rate of 50 cents an hour working for my dad. I happily traded the summer of 1970 for the opportunity. Roughly 500 hours of fluorescence-lit, indoor labor granted me passage into the rarefied club of prepubescent motorcycle ownership. There were maybe only four other seventh-graders at my school with a bike. I was now one of them. Although I definitely liked girls, they now took a backseat to motorcycles.

Where exactly the law was in 1970, I don’t know, because I logged some serious miles (unlicensed and underage) on the streets of Pacific Palisades, CA, without ever encountering a cop car. The other half of the miles were accrued on fire roads and trails in the Santa Monica Mountains, as well as empty lots where I usually managed to find a jump of some sort. Back then, a gallon of gas was around 34 cents. I could fill up my little Trail 70 for a quarter. I rode every Saturday and Sunday, dawn till dusk.

My obsession with motorcycles received a major boost one weekend, when my dad took me to the Saddleback round of the Inter Am (a precursor to the Trans Am). My baptism to motocross was the sight of 500cc World Champion, Swede Bengt Aberg, cresting Saddleback’s famous start hill at speed, balanced on the rear wheel of his Husqvarna. Motocross—I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I liked it. That night when I got home, I stripped the lights off my Trail 70. I was going to be World Champion.

This led to increased illegality as I ventured further into the no-trespassing realms of the Santa Monica Mountains, seeking out new riding challenges. These were, without question, the beginnings of my halcyon days of motorcycling. With this came the requisite friends who shared a fascination for two-wheels. We were loyally grouped together each day on the school’s quad, dutifully dressed in an array of motorcycle T-shirts. It was in those tribal circles of boasting and bragging where I learned that nothing ruins a good story like an eyewitness.

Bigger and Better

Sadly, after a year and countless miles, my Trail 70 ended up wedged into the passenger door of a Cadillac. It was the result of a 16-year old girl, new to driving, backing her mother’s car out of their family’s driveway on a blind corner much too fast for her precious economy of ability. That huge block of Detroit iron filled my path in a flash and I had nothing to do but grab as much brake as I could and brace for impact.

My beautiful, trusty little friend suffered severely bent forks. I was crestfallen. The Caddy had a caved-in door. The girl’s family decided to sue. My father acted as my counsel and presented an erudite case to the judge concerning the law favoring the right of way, brilliantly passing over the fact that I was underage and unlicensed. We won. I didn’t have to fork over the $205 estimate for the Caddy’s damage. I got my Trail 70’s forks straightened and picked up where I’d left off—riding the streets and fire trails of Pacific Palisades.

Eventually, I outgrew my cherished Trail 70, due to physical size as much as the budding lust for performance that was ebbing over me. I cleaned her up to near immaculate form and sold her to a friend for $185. I can still remember watching the car headed off with my much-loved CT70 stuffed into the open trunk.

After my Trail 70, there was a used, highly modified and very temperamental 100cc race bike. After many weekends bump-starting that unreliable machine, fouling plugs and fixing various issues, I transitioned to a brand-new Elsinore 250 in 1973. I was told it was from the first batch of 200 in the country. It was small and light, making an already scarily fast rocket ship of a bike even more so. Baptised by fire, I quickly learned how to control that light-switch powerband. I loved it.

Then came the first street bike. That same year, as soon as I qualified for a learner’s permit, we procured a second-hand 1970 Honda CB350. I logged mile after mile on the myriad canyon roads that twist through the mountains above Malibu. I felt truly independent, now free to go for long rides, completely legally. That summer coincided with meeting a girl. If ever there was a specific period in my life that would qualify as “coming of age,” that was it.

Pining for Old Flames

My passion for motorcycles did not wane over the ensuing years. I bought and sold a number of motorcycles in a steady evolution of styles and performance. For every bike I had a pink slip for, there were dozens of bikes borrowed from trusting friends that, each in their own way, contributed to my rich treasure trove of two-wheeled memories. Did those motorcycles dole out equally precious experiences for others the way they had for me? I often wonder where all those wonderful machines ended up—where my Trail 70 ended up. Did they survive? Or did they succumb to benign neglect and other cruel fates? Perhaps they merely fell victim to obsolescence, ending up in scrap yards to be recycled into washing machines and razor blades.

I never used to fathom why people would choose to spend serious money restoring a particular motorcycle. Now, as I get older and increasingly sentimental, I understand. In fact, as soon as I have some disposable income, I plan on getting hold of a gold 1970 Honda Trail 70 and spending whatever is necessary to restore it to its former glory. Perhaps, in doing so, I can restore some semblance of the sublime innocence and carefree simplicity I once entertained.

By the way, that first girl? Her name was Cathy.

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