By Mick Jimmerson
Every time I get my new The Antique Motorcycle magazine or a Montana Vintage Motorcycle Club flyer in the mail I want to devour it in one reading, but instead I take small snippets and savor the articles. I especially enjoy the article written by everyday club members and the "remember when" true life stories that they write.
My motorcycle days started in about 1963, when I was about 12 years old, if memory serves me. It was right about the time that (in my mind) any good use for a horse was over. I had seen a neighbor kid with a Honda 50 street model, the ones with the leg guards, and I wanted one so bad I could taste it.
I grew up on a ranch about 30 miles north of Lewistown, in an area called Salt Creek. I had ridden to town with my dad in the truck one day when I asked if we could go into the Honda dealer to "just look" at the bikes. He didn't see any harm in just looking.
When I saw the brand new Honda 55 Trail model that sold for about $285 my mind just seemed to go into overdrive. I told my dad that if he would have to pay a hired man for summers wages, it would cost more than 285 dollars, and that I had been doing the job of a hired man for several years now. I would be glad to get the bike for summer's wages. My argument held water. I had actually run a Caterpillar tractor since I was eight years old, and at 12 had spent quite a few days on one plowing summer fallow. I got the bike.
That night I finally got a sleeping bag and went out into the shop and slept with my shiny new motorcycle. I'm sure there were a few times when dad had regrets about giving me this much freedom, but over all it has made an indelible impression on my life. There were literally hundreds of miles of gravel roads to travel and explore. Even without a driver's license, that far away from town, one could make short runs on the highway without fear of getting arrested. Pretty heady stuff!
A couple of years later we traded the Trail 55 for a new black Honda S90. This was a real motorcycle by comparison. It had a four speed transmission with a hand clutch, and was very fast. On a big hill if you lay down on the seat, pointed your toes and made yourself real small, the bike would do 65 mph, according to the speedometer anyway. I never used to say much about that because people thought you were crazy for doing it on a gravel road…with those itty-bitty tires.
A neighbor kid had an S90 like mine and we rode together sometimes. I was up to their place one day when some guy rode out from Lewistown, on a late '50s XLCH Harley. He wanted to go look at the fishing pond and asked me if he could take my bike off road as he thought his was too heavy. I figured he could handle it so I said sure. Then (and I didn't think he would let me, being only 14 years old) I asked him if I could take the Harley out on the gravel road. Sure, he says, and started it up for me. He said, be careful, they shift on the wrong side. No problem… I hoped.
I clicked the monster into gear and let the clutch out. I gave it a bit of throttle and hit second gear. I opened it up a bit and what happened next has changed me for all time. That day I went from 90ccs to 900 and really never got over it. I witnessed my first rooster tail from the rear tire as I went through 40 mph and clicked it into third. I eased back on the gas, put it into fourth and rode gently a few miles down the road. I turned around and rode back into the yard. The whole time I waited for them to return I wished that I had taken the bike for a longer ride. I was afraid my 90 pounds would not be enough to get the bike started again, and there were those who told stories of people getting kicked back and going over the handle bars.
I have ridden an assortment of bikes over the years. I had a small but neat collection during the mid '70s while living in Billings. In 1979 I "went bad." I began to fly hang gliders and sold off most of my bikes to support my new habit. I traveled around the country living in a 1954 Chevrolet station wagon and flying at various locations. Since I was not working I sold my 1932 30:50 Indian, a very perfect 1969 Triumph Bonneville, a very nice 1965 BMW R50/2, a very trouble ridden 1975 Harley Sportster (that deserved to be parted out) and various Triumph basket goodies and a couple of dirt bikes (Honda Elsinore 250 and Suzuki RM 250). I kept my 1975 BMW R90/6 because it was the best transportation and I still cherish it today.
In the 20 years or so that I flew hang gliders I have had many experiences that would be hard to trade. I've seen the world from 14,000 feet and have witnessed things that most people only dream of. My flying days lasted well into my parenting years when priorities dictated a change. I never felt that I would die from it (well, maybe a couple of times), mostly it was the time needed. We had spent a lot of time chasing the wind and now I needed to spend time with my girls. I have no regrets.
I dated my wife in 1988 on a 1976 TT500 Yamaha, and my ol' Beemer. I took her through Yellowstone Park. I told her that no matter how many times a person had been through in a car…they really have never seen the park. I think that all people who ride motorcycles know that to be true.
I have a few bikes in my collection again. Most of them are old. They all have some sort of special appreciation. Most of them take you back to an earlier time. Among others I have a restored 1969 Honda CL90 and an unmolested 1964 Harley XLH 900. There is such an incredible nostalgia about vintage motorcycles.
I thought some years ago that I could make a reasonably good biker. That was never to really happen. Today when I meet people who are actual motorcycle enthusiasts I know that I have returned to my first love and that I am still just an old farm kid with a motorcycle.