Tuesday, November 15, 2011

This Month's Header-First Ride

WTF? This Month's Header explanation is a bit late, but is about and dedicated to First Rides. (Since no photos exist of this machine, I decided to illustrate this story)

When I say First Rides, I'm talking about that first time you rode a two wheeler powered by something other than your own two feet.

Here's how my story goes....

I'm the youngest of 3 boys, all two years apart. My oldest brother Lewy says the year was either 1964 or '65. This would mean he was about 13 or 14 years old, my next brother was 11 or 12, and I was 9 or 10.

He says that a friend from school with the last name Cruise had a homemade mini-bike and was in the process of upgrading to a better one. He told my brother if he bought 2 wheels with solid rubber tires for $5 dollars he'd give him the frame.

The Beast. A bicycle framed, lawnmower engine powered, push started, clutch-less/direct belt drive, solid rubber wheeled, no brakes suicide machine, on sesame seed bun.

While I don't remember every detail of what went down when my brother first brought it home , I seem to recall that dad was a bit pissed off and it taking him a few days to be OK with it.

A deal was made. If my brothers and I agreed to use the old push mower, then he could borrow the Briggs and Stratton engine from the Craftsman power mower. It was a second hand mower also on the older side, made in the early fifties.

Dad lays down the ground rules before the trial run.

I'll never forget the last part of how that first trial run went. I believe dad tried it out first, deemed it sound, and assembled the troops in the driveway. He then says to my oldest brother, "Take it out around the block... (turning to my brother John), and when he gets back... you can ride it." He pauses a moment, turns to me and says, "You can't ride it... you're to little!"

Since it had no clutch, we pushed Lewy to get it started and off he went. When he returned he shut it down to stop, John climbed aboard, and again we pushed to start it for his turn.

The running hand off. Before long, we came up with a better system. Since it had no clutch, you'd go as slow as possible, jump off and hand it over to the next rider who'd run up beside you. To stop you would kill the throttle lever and let it chug to a halt.

I don't know if it was the disappointment on my face or what, but when my brother John came back, dad said, "Oh... alright, you can try it.... just don't move the throttle lever past here."

What that says about my dad, I'm not sure, but for the next few days we were chasing each other riding what had to be one of the most dangerous vehicles a kid could have fun on... yelling for our turn and smiling ear to ear.

Flatheads Forever. Several years ago, I found the exact same type of engine off another Craftsman mower at a local swap meet for $10. I'd love to recreate that first bike but, with a clutch, pneumatic tires, and brakes. I failed to mention, while riding that deathtrap you had to keep your leg away from the spinning, sock eating, rope starter.

It doesn't seem like we rode it for long and I can't recall why we stopped, or what became of the frame. I do know my oldest brother soon got a better unfinished frame, but that project never got done.

Later, we had proper mini bikes. I got a new Taco 44 and then my brother John got a Flexo Big Bear Scrambler from a friend. That got crazy!

For a lot of us, it's in our blood. Once you get a taste of 2 wheel power, there's no turning back.

I'm sure many of you got your own start in a very similar way.


Irish Rich said...

When I was growing up, my neighborhood was full of projects like this, both rolling and being built. The most notorious being my neighbor Billy Kinzmann's go kart with the two McCollough chainsaw engines. Everybody called Billy's dad "Screamer" Kinzmann, because every time some notable black like Martin Luther King would come on the TV, he'd start yelling and screaming and banging on his TV set.

We all took turns driving that kart all over the neighborhood at stupid fast speeds. All you needed to take a turn on it was to walk down to the corner gas station, and get 25 cents worth of gas for it.

We all had go karts, mini bikes, and gas engine-powered bicycles built out of castoff junk. Like you said, truly rolling death traps. But, somehow we all seemed to survive. We never wore helmets, long pants, knee or elbow pads, never wore anything that was remotely considered safety equipment, but we're all still here, like you are, to tell about it.

I feel sorry for kids nowadays. Can you imagine a 9 year old kid today at a gas pump, filling up a can of gas with his buddies? And, the guy who ran the gas station not thinking twice about it, and the only thing he had to say about it was "Now, don't you guys run back with that can". Are you kidding me?

And, you know what else? I remember 6 to 8 of us when we were like 10 years old, riding out to do some shootin' with our .22's strapped to our bike's handlebars, or over our backs - without ANY adult supervision - save for one of the local cops stopping us and saying "Be sure you guys have an adequate backstop behind your targets when you're shootin'". And, this was 10 miles outside of Buffalo, NY. Can you imagine that happening today?

I feel sorry for today's youth, because they'll never experience anything like we did growing up. But, like CJ Allan says "New time, new day, new deal....".

steveb said...

LOL - in the early 70's, we were like 15 or so, in NYC and me & my bud, Tony Shine made a motorcycle by taking a 10 speed (stolen of course), borrowing an engine from an early snowblower type artifact (also borrowed), using these big ass hose clamps to mount the engine in the frame and we used a wide rim in the back of the bike, with a narrow tire, allowing the use of a V-belt that ran from the engines pulley around the rear rim, riding next to and along the tire…

this thing nearly killed us both in one day and we decided to retire it and steal cars instead...back in the days of on-off ignition switches