by Shawn Downey
A common question posed to me is, “How the hell did you ever get caught up in that old time British crap ?”
In order to answer that question, let’s go back many, many years to a land far, far away…Wisconsin. Here we find a lad (me) of sixteen years boasting a lifetime’s worth of motorcycle experience (three years of dirt track racing) professing to his parents that it was time for him to experience the follies of the tarmac. Thrashing my colleagues’ road going motorcycles an infinite number of times (two), I knew exactly what I was looking for in a motorcycle. Something sleek, racy, black, high performance, and oozing sex appeal. And cheap.
Scanning the classifieds, I spied the machine matching my entire criterion…actually, it was Black. And cheap. The ad read as follows: 1974 Triumph. Black. $495.
“Brilliant !” I exclaimed. “Just what I was looking for. Cheap.” Banking on my ability to negotiate/beg, I cleaned out the last $450 from my bank account and made an appointment for a test ride.
Escorting my girlfriend to a “chaperoned party”, i.e. no beer, no destruction, no fun, I convinced her to accompanying me on a slight detour to the seller’s residence. “Don’t get any ideas that you are buying this thing tonight,” she warned. “We have to be at this party before 8:00.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” I lied driving my father’s Ranchero with the tie downs bouncing around in the back. “I would never think of buying a bike on the same eve as such an important social occasion.”
As we entered the driveway of the farmhouse, the reflection of the setting sun bouncing off the chrome of the resting motorcycle almost blinded me. Well, actually, the reflection of the sun bouncing off the milk cans that were holding the bike upright almost blinded me. Closer inspection of this Black Triumph revealed a Bonneville that had been hacked and whacked into a chopper. Extended forks the length of an RV, dangling useless front brake cable, coffin gas tank painted flat black, and a Maltese taillight lens dripping water, gave me an indication of the owner’s handiwork.
“Pretty damn nasty, ain’t she?” spit Uncle Jed as he lumbered towards me.
“Yeah, nasty,” I said as I was thinking, “What a piece of _ _ _ _.” Upon closer inspection I noticed an odd looking cylinder head, carbs the size of a small child, and brackets that once held wheelie bars.
“Does she run?” I inquired skeptically.
“Maybe…Tain’t mine. ‘otherlaws. Ain’t seen ‘im since he come back from Nam.”
“Have you ever seen the movie Deliverance?”
“Nothing. Let’s fire it up,” I said looking for the key.
“Ain’t one. Gas and go.”
Aiming Easy Rider towards the road, I encountered a deathly stare from my girlfriend as she pressed her snarling face against the glass of the window. The look in her eyes as the mosquitoes encircled the window pane still sends a shiver down my spine.
Uncle Jed obliged me with a push and after a couple of clutch drops the Triumph roared to life. Since the throttle stuck wide open, it really roared to life. Uncle Jed dispensed a couple shots of WD 40 and some parting advice, “If she sticks wide open ‘gin and yer crashed or dead, or she dies, or youse dies, stay put. I’s come get ‘cha.”
“Great. Sounds promising,” I yelled over the straight pipes belting out a symphony. Being young and stupid, I mean young and inexperienced…no, I guess I do mean young and stupid, I grabbed the throttle and whacked her wide open like a dirt bike. It was at this point that I realized the similarities between tarmac and dirt. There are none.
The motor came to life with a fire breathing vengeance and belied a split second warning of disaster as the back wheel hooked up and catapulted the extended forks into the wild blue yonder. “Oops,” I said. Actually, I screamed, “Ho-ly _ _ _ _!” and proceeded to do my best to hang on to the lunging beast. The front end slowly returned to earth as the motor surmounted it’s torque curve and gave me an opportunity to re-evaluate my position. It was much more fun to ride with the front end in the air so I slammed the gear box into second and proceeded to do an encore performance. Hard on the gas for the next two gears did not reveal the same reaction as the first two gears but it was still a wild ride. Traveling at speeds never reached on a dirt track, I glanced down at the broken speedometer and cackled as the needle rotated in 360 degree increments. Sporting a wicked grin and eating bugs by the pound, lyrics from the Grateful Dead permeated my head&emdash;not really, I hate the Grateful Dead. If I was testing riding a Honda Spree, then perhaps the Grateful Dead. This was more like a moment for the Ramones.
Not caring if I ever returned to the farmer’s residence or to my girlfriend, I kept the throttle pegged convinced that I would soon be approaching oblivion. Oblivion must require more fuel than what the coffin gas tank could hold for I soon found myself stranded on the side of the road grinning like a fool. No cigarettes, no beer, no gas, no idea where the hell I was or how I was going to get back to civilization, and still grinning as I watched the sun make it’s final curtain call behind the horizon. About 30 after the summer sunset, Uncle Jed rolled up in his truck with a gas can clanging around in the back. “Damn, where you been boy? Been lookin all ‘ver ‘ell for ya. Didn’t think youse get this far outs. Boy, is that young lady you with pissed!”
“Oh you ain’t seen nothing yet Bubba,” I jibed still smiling. ” Just wait till we load this beauty into the back of my truck.”