I was sitting with Dave Richardson (of Guzziology fame) today and he was ribbing me about how I was filling up midliferider with other people’s words. “What a great gig you have. You get other people to do your writing for you.” Errrr, Ummmm, okay.
Leaving aside the fact that I generate plenty of my own words, too many some might say, where’s the beef? There isn’t one of these conversations I haven’t enjoyed. There isn’t one I haven’t read several times. They’re all just great stories and the most recent, no matter who it’s with and this is no exception, without fail, becomes my new all time favorite.
Kevin gets his seat at the big table for at least two reasons. His story about his first bike, a Honda 90, is the whole point of this blog all wrapped up and ready to take home. It’s transporting. You can’t read about Walter and Henry and Darwin and welding that busted up kick-starter without wanting to cast the movie and start shooting on Monday. It’s paragraph after paragraph of great story telling about a time, a place, a guy, and a bike, none of which will ever happen again in this country. In fact, reading it caused echos of a trip I recently made to Vietnam to reverberate . . . all those tiny-engined Hondas, Suzukis, and various Chinese brands being welded on and worked on, on every street corner and sidewalk around . . . same dynamics, different time and place. That’s good story telling.
The other remarkable bit about Kev is his record of 300,000 road miles without going down. That’s a lot of fine riding. I made it 2,500 miles before I dropped my first “mid-life” bike.
I said there were two reasons. There’s actually a third. Kev and his wife are both find photographers, a hobby/habit that seems to twin-up nicely with riding.
Enjoy reading and looking.
Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do, do you have family, that sort of thing.
I am 53 years old (54 in May) and work at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Tx. This is our nation’s final assembly point for nuclear weapons. I serve as the facility manager and procurement officer for the on-site medical clinic that performs a high volume of physicals per week, monitors hazardous materials exposures and takes care of all the minor OJIs that happen. We also have full-time shrinks on staff to administer our human reliability program that has the largest HRP population of any NNSA site. You can’t have whackos working on nukes ya know.
Do you remember your first bicycle? Is there a good story about it?
I don’t recall the first bicycle but I do remember my first multi-speed bike. It was a Raleigh three-speed with the cable actuated rear drive on the right hand grip. I was king of the road with that baby. Bought it in the summer of 1965 for $10 from one of the football coaches who was pissed at his son for letting it sit out in the rain a few months after getting it for his birthday.
I took that bike and cleaned it up really good. I rode it until I got my first motorcycle in 1968. Then in 1970, my best buddy and I decided to build a fishing wagon and cut the bike up to use it as power for a paddle wheel.
When did you first ride a motorcycle?
First ride was on a 1960 something Lambretta scooter that my uncle gave to my brothers. I wasn’t old enough then to drive but got to go for lots of rides; around and around a half-block dirt track across the street from our house. That went on from 1963 until about 1967 or so, but I sort of got the bug for bikes then and never lost it.
What was the first bike you owned?
Well, this is what I have from my journal:
1964 Honda 90—
Engine—89cc single, horizontal single
I had convinced my parents that I was responsible and mature enough to use this bike for getting to and from work and that it would be much easier to operate and maintain than a car. Besides I could not afford a car and neither could they, and I had to work if I wanted any spending money of my own. So the permission was given, I found this bike in the Amarillo newspaper, and I made the deal. Dad took me to get it in his lime green ’59 Ford pick-up.
The first thing I did was add a set of Bates mirrors on the recommendation of Darwin Floyd (more about Darwin later). They were flat mirrors cost about $4.00 each. Back in 68 that was a very expensive mirror for a bike.
Another early modification that had to be done was repair of the kick-starter. It had been poorly welded before I purchased the bike and the owner had assured me that it was professionally done (What a crock). Anyway, one of my good friends and riding buddy, Henry Lingenfelter lived on a farm and said his father was a very good welder, so I drove out to their place about seven miles East of Panhandle on Hwy. 60.
Walter first used a torch to clean up the mess left by the last guy, and when he had remove all of the excess slag and the like we discovered that the shaft was only about half there. That made the new welding job more of a challenge. Walter gave it his best shot, not once but three times. Each time the kick starter held-up for about two or three weeks. After that I just got used to push starting the little beast. It was not that hard to run along side with it in gear and the clutch pulled in, and then when I had enough speed up, hop on and pop the clutch. I got so good at this technique that I could usually get started before the guys who had working kick-starters, but was no match for those with electric starters. What the hey, I was young, 14, and strong, and just considered it another part of staying in shape to play football.
On a side note, several years later Walter Lingenfelter was killed in a car/train accident out where he lived on the farm East of Panhandle. I believe it was 1978 while I was living in Lubbock with Mark Reynolds at the University Arms apartment complex. Walter had always treated all of Henry’s friends as if they were his own kids, probably better than most of their own dads treated them (that was the case with me anyway). He will never be forgotten.
That first summer I used the 90 to commute back and forth from Panhandle to the Stucky’s candy shop/gas station in Conway where I worked as a station attendant. That little bike would run 60mph on a good day and easily got me to and from work on a daily basis.
Not too long into that summer I quit Stucky’s and went to work for L.R. Copeland, a retired Air Force Colonel who farmed a half section of land about four miles East of Panhandle. Again the 90 came through as a great little machine. I even used it when Danny May and I both had to get to Copeland’s to buck bales each time his 50 or so acres of alfalfa was cut and baled. Of course it would only run about 50-55 with two of us on it. We both probably weighed about 110 pounds back then though.
Neither of us could afford a real helmet at the time so we used construction hard hats that we held on with shoestrings: Got kind of painful after a while. By mid summer I had enough money to buy a cheap helmet $15.00; thought I was pretty cool too.
Until we both had helmets, we would take the long way around town making a twenty-mile trip out of what should have been only seven. We thought we were fooling the cops that way. Little did we realize that they knew the scam all along but left us alone because they knew we needed the jobs and that was the only way we could get to and from work. I found that out later when we matured enough to not be afraid of them and got to know them as normal guys.
Another memorable time on the 90 was when I got a real ass-chewing from the school superintendent for having it parked on the old dirt running track at the high school. A bunch of us guys were up there playing flag football and he came along with a chip on his shoulder about something. Anyway they all had vehicles parked on the track but I was the only one he really singled out. I think he just hated bikes and anyone who rode them. Sweet revenge though, a few weeks later, I took one of his daughters for a ride into the country where we made out for a couple of hours. Seems like the only other girl I ever took on the 90 was my first love, Lana McCaskey, the most beautiful blonde in world; or so I thought at the time.
So, how did I learn to ride? I don’t really recall, it just sort of came naturally after some brief instructions from my oldest brother, I think. I just seemed to take to it like a duck in water.
I did get some very good instructions, or some might consider them orders from our local “Arthur Fonzarelli,” Darwin Floyd. As I mentioned earlier, he was dating my good buddy’s sister, Julie Lingenfelter. Julie was Henry’s sister.
I believe Henry got a bike (blue Yamaha 250) shortly after I did and it was not long before we started riding together and Darwin kind of took us under his wing to make sure we learned to ride safely from the very beginning. He would take us out on the back roads around the Lingenfelter farm and teach us all about counter-steering, obstacle avoidance, quick stops, pretty much most everything you might learn in an MSF class today.
I had always been pretty mature minded for my age and took a real liking to Darwin for having cared enough to spend time with us younger guys like that. I suppose the safety stuff he taught me back in 1968 has probably saved my life more than once. Of course I did a lot of reading and practicing on my own back in those days too.
I kept that little Honda 90 for about two years and logged up approximately 12,000 miles on it. But it was getting old having the smallest bike in the group of guys that I had come to hang out with.
How many bikes have you owned?
Ten, purchased (or acquired) in this order:
1964 Honda 90 (1968 to 1970)
1968 Honda CB 350 (1970 to 1972)
1972 Honda CB 450 (1972 to 1979)
1976 BMW R75/6 (1977 to 1980)
1999 BMW R1200C (2000 to 2004–totaled by bro-in-law in Aug 2004)
1985 Honda Rebel 250 (2000 to present)
1998 BMW R1100RT (2001 to present)
1986 Honda Rebel 450 (2004 to present–wife’s bike)
2000 BMW R1200C (2004 to present)
1979 BMW R80S (2007 to present–gift from a friend)
How many bikes have you ridden?
Counting the Lambretta and the Sears Allstate my brothers had; only 15 that I rode more than a few minutes. That is discounting the literally hundreds I test road on my first job after high school, working for Sharp’s Honda in Amarillo, where I was assigned to assemble new bikes from the crate, tune them up and test ride them.
What do you own now?
1985 Honda Rebel 250
1998 BMW R1100RT
1986 Honda Rebel 450
2000 BMW R1200C
1979 BMW R80S
How many miles do you expect to ride this year?
At the current rate ~30K
Riding gear of choice?
- Motoport pants for winter
- Tourmaster mesh pants for summer
- Joe Rocket Jackets (solid fabric in winter and mesh in the summer)
- Tourmaster Winter Elite gloves
- Held mesh summer gloves Planning to purchase Gerbing electric gloves for next winter season; circulation is making the mornings seem colder every year.
- Currently using Nolan N100 helmet but considering a new HJC SyMax II this year
- Rocky insulated military style boots
How would you describe your involvement with motorcycling now?
I ride every chance I get, although the cost of gasoline is beginning to put a bit of a damper on that. I commute to work every day that the temperature is above 25 degrees and there is no moisture in the forecast. Once spring is here, there has to be a very high probability of heavy rain or severe weather to keep me from commuting on the bike(s).
I will usually get on the bike every morning it is not raining with the attitude that if I can get to work dry, it doesn’t matter if I get wet going home; I probably needed the shower anyway. My daily commute is ~66 miles and the last two years I commuted on the bikes 191 days in 2006 and 189 days in 2007.
In the past few years, I regularly took the long way home that sometimes took me as much as 400 miles to get home when it is normally only 33. I call that miracle mileage.
I also wrote a newsletter for the local BMW club for six years beginning in 2001 through 2007, but the interest waned and peoples’ lives just seemed to get too busy (including mine) to keep that going. It was a rather eclectic group though.
The founder was Eddie Scott an Amarillo attorney who wanted the group to be open to all riders, not just BMW guys, so he adopted the policy of, “If you can spell BMW, come ride with us.” I did my best to keep that attitude in myself and in the group until we unofficially dissolved last year due to the afore-mentioned lack of interest and time.
The group was called the Palo Duro Riders of Amarillo though we had members from all over the Panhandle of Texas. They ranged in diversity from a retired dentist to young guys on R1100Ss. At the peak of interest in about 2003 we were having 25 to 30 people show up for our only regularly planned event called a ride-eat-ride or RER. We would simply meet at a restaurant determined at the previous RER on a Saturday afternoon for lunch and some would ride more miles some would just go straight to and from. We even had couple of older guys riding: the dentist who is now 80 something and another guy that just turned 82. I still get to ride with him on occasion, (he rides a 2000 R1100RT as good as any youngster I’ve seen).
Have you ever been able to get paid for any of your writing and riding?
While not my profession, I did get the opportunity to make a few bucks riding in the fall of 2006 when I landed a contract with Mad Maps to ride and report on interesting loops around the Texas Panhandle. They allowed me to submit five loops that should be published some time this summer. ( I’m the 10th guy down). I have also made a few extra dollars with some accessories I invented for the BMW R1200C and R1100RT (luggage racks & seats mostly).
You mentioned photography. How do you fit that with riding and owning motorcycles? For me, it’s a natural but difficult fit. Natural in when I’m riding, I’m usually passing through some pretty nice places. Difficult in that I never want to stop once I get going. So I only take pictures when I have to pee or get fuel.
For a while after I first got back into biking after my nearly 20 year hiatus, I simply rode the wheels off the ’99 cruiser. After I met my wife who shared my passion for photography, I began to stop and smell the roses a bit more in the form of taking time to compose and shoot hundreds of pictures on virtually every ride we take together. (Gotta have something to remember it all when the mind starts to go and I’m too old to hold a bike up). I even take lots of time for pictures when I ride solo now.
What attracted you to motorcycling?
I guess it must have been the thrill of those first rides on the Lambretta in the mid 60s. Then came some good shows like Easy Rider, Electraglide in Blue and Then Came Bronson that sort of glorified the free spirit of it all.
Why do you ride?
It’s a way of life for me now. You already know the part about how I got started. Here’s the story about how I got back involved after nearly 20 years away from it.
It’s 1995. I had a new job that was paying very nicely. I had been driving my 1984 Jeep Scrambler since purchased new in the fall of 1983. I also had recently purchased a ’95 laser red Ford Mustang. Several of the mid-life guys at work were all into their Harleys and a variety of other bikes – mostly it was the image hound HD guys though. There were lots of conversations & debates going around about the “quality” of different bikes as there always is in a setting like I was in. With me being an old beemer guy from the 70s, I naturally had to throw in my two cents worth on occasion. Those little debates got me to sort of hankerin’ for another bike.
I spotted a 1977 R100/7 for sale in the local paper one day and went for a short test ride. Ended up not buying that one and then just sort of forgot about it mainly due to heavy involvement in golf, racquetball and overall fitness. A few more years pass by to the fall of 1999 and I had a new assignment at work that put me into an area where there were even more of the mid-life guys buying HDs and HD clones and acting like they knew a lot about bikes. I knew from listening to and visiting with several of them that they were pretty green to the sport. I couldn’t believe how many pretending to be seasoned riders had no clue what counter-steering was, something I had learned from an older rider in 1968 on my Honda 90.
As luck would have it one evening on an overtime shift, a buddy of mine who knew I was into BMWs, tossed me a BMW brochure someone had discarded. I got to looking at it and was amazed at the changes made from the time I rode in the late 70s to 1999. Wow! That R1100RT was absolutely gorgeous. I kept that brochure at my desk for a while and would pull it out and dream a little of times gone by and times that could be again.
In November that year (1999), I traveled to Tulsa for a hazardous waste seminar and got my national certification as a hazardous materials manager (CHMM). While in the class in Tulsa, I had plenty of free time in the evenings and made a point to locate the BMW dealership. I wanted to see those new RTs first hand. Ah, but alas, the @#%$ Germans had made them waaaaaaaaaaay too tall for a vertically challenged guy like myself.
I guess when I was younger leaning the R75 way over at stops didn’t bother me. I knew that this newer RT could present some mighty precarious problems though. I looked around the shop some more and spotted a canyon red R1200C. Hmmmmm, looked pretty low; I sat on it and discovered that even in running shoes, I had the balls of both feet pretty solidly planted on the ground.
Of course the week long class with a rental car on company business didn’t give me much of a chance to do any dealing. I returned home and got really busy with work and other hobbies like golfing, bicycling, sailing and fishing, but something inside me was still being drawn back to motorcycling. Practical type that I am though, I just couldn’t justify a bike (like you need to justify a bike –right?).
Anyway, I found myself out on the lake one January afternoon fishing from my water-wagon when a sailing buddy of mine heaved-to and drifted up to chat for a few minutes. We exchanged a few tales, then he hoisted sails and went in for the day. I found out a week later that he had gone home that night after I saw him and died. An aneurysm in his brain had ruptured and he went quietly in the night.
Now this fella was as fit a 57-year old as you were gonna find. He ran 3 to 5 miles every morning, rode bicycles, lifted weights, etc. In fact, he and I had made several long morning bike rides from the boats when the rest of scurvy dawgs were still sleeping off the previous night’s booze. John’s passing got me to thinking; “That can happen to anyone any time without warning just like it did him.” With that in mind, I promised myself I was not going to go through the rest of my life saying I wish I had done this or I wish I had done that.
On my short list was to get another motorcycle and start enjoying the open road again just as I had nearly 20 years before. By April of 2000 I had made a pretty righteous deal on a still new ’99 R1200C and have not regretted it nor the other bikes I’ve acquired since then. I have now logged up another 197,000 miles since then to add to my previous miles 20 years ago for a lifetime total over 300K and loving every minute of it.
What does your wife think?
I was already well into my second round of riding when Deb and I met and she found it sort of exciting after 24 years in a boring stressful and unsuccessful marriage. Now she still rides, but some of the initial excitement has worn off. Thankfully, she is very understanding and accepting of my still burning passion for it.
Does she ride with you now?
She was much more into it when we first met (fall of 2001) and seems to be getting interested again. The past few years have been very busy for her and she simply hasn’t had the time nor the energy to do it.
The 1986 450 Rebel mentioned earlier was her B-day present in summer of ’04 and I am hoping to rekindle the riding enthusiasm for her this summer. But, whether she gets the passion or not is entirely up to her. I am not going to push it and have told her that she can ride pillion for as long as she wants. It makes me feel pretty good to have an understanding (and skilled) passenger after riding for most of my life solo.
What do you think about when you ride?
It varies. Sometimes when I am wanting to work on skills, the ride is all I think about. I’m a believer that “perfect practice makes perfect.” And that practicing of skills on a motorcycle is what has kept me accident free for over 300,000 miles on the street.
Then there are times when I come up with some of my best ideas for solving problems while on leisurely rides and just thinking about nothing until an idea hits me, then I dwell on it while maintaining a close watch on all the crazy cagers who are always out to get us.
This is perhaps an indelicate question, but how do you think about the “dangerous” part about riding?
I sort of touched on that already, so to expand that a bit . . . Riding motorcycles is a risky choice of transportation/entertainment/etc. But I am living proof that you can go for long periods of time and miles without crashing.
I believe that it is all about being the very best defensive driver you can be at all times while in traffic. I also avoid cities where the most danger exists, contrary to what some believe about “short, safe rides around town.” I would estimate that 90% of my miles have been logged on the open highway.
I’ve done a lot of reading as well. Some of that reading recently has been to scour David Hough’s first two books again and again since April of 2000. I not only re-read them, but I go out and practice things I feel that I may need a little work on.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone coming to motorcycles for the first time? I’m thinking about the “mid-life” rider now?
Take the MSF course and then read Hough’s first book and practice like your life depended on it; because it does.
What bike would you recommend (and why)?
I am very partial to BMWs and would probably recommend an old airhead for a first bike because they are light weight, easy to work on, handle well, and are nearly bullet proof.
Next to that, a mid-sized cruiser (Honda, Kawi, or Yamaha) would be a good choice for a first bike. That would keep a novice from getting into too much trouble with too much power and weight before they are ready for heavier more powerful bikes. I definitely would caution any and all beginners against getting super-powered sport bikes — that’s just a death wish waiting to come true.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve done on/with a motorcycle?
Riding 300,000 miles without an accident.
If you could pick one place you’d recommend as a riding destination / experience, what/where would that be?
Anywhere; keeping in mind, it’s the journey, not the destination that makes it what it is.
If someone handed you a blank check and said “go buy a motorcycle you’d enjoy riding” (not just collecting), what would you pick?