15 September 2011
On Two Wheels, Part 1
I drove to work tonight because it was raining, HARD. It's the first time I've had to drive a steel cage to work in over a month. My round-trip to/from work is +-70 miles, depending on the route I take, and I figure I save at least $4 per round trip by riding, depending on which bike I happen to ride on a given night. My seven-night work shift also means I can exercise each of the four bikes at least once in a shift, weather permitting. All four have full-fairings and provide pretty good protection from the wind. My head sticks up higher than the windscreen on the Moto Guzzi and BMW, so I have to put my faceshield down if I'm caught in a rainshower on those machines.
I started riding "bikes" with motors when I was twelve. At that time our community was pretty rural and the county was geographically fairly large, so I suspect our Sheriff's department was stretched thin... we didn't often see a brown and beige Sheriff's cruiser, and we saw even fewer State Troopers. Those I did see seemed to ignore me... I think stopping us might have required calling out someone to deal with Juvenile offenders, and already overworked Deputies probably said, "I don't need the hassle". For four years I rode a Cushman Scooter similar to, (but not as nice 'cause it was OLD and WELL-USED), the one pictured above. It would go 35 miles per hour at full-throttle with a good tailwind, so although I have no idea how far I drove that thing, with daytime-only riding, nine or so months per year, I MAY have put 1000 miles on it in four years.
It was dependable. In addition to flitting around the neighborhood I used it to deliver "The Indianapolis News" to my customers for a couple years. Powered by a five horsepower Cushman Husky engine, it would start on the first kick when it was warmed up. Cold starting took two or three kicks with the help of full-choke. It had a centrifugal clutch... it was like an automatic transmission... there was no manual clutch to deal with. It would sit motionless until you increased the throttle. If you added throttle, (and you added throttle in the opposite direction of today's motorcycles), two spring loaded "shoes" attached to the end of the engine's crankshaft would be pushed by centrifugal force against the inside of a drum similar to a brake drum and the scooter would accelerate slightly faster than a turtle.
At the time many of our roads were barely "improved", meaning they were gravel-covered and graded whenever the county could get to 'em. These roads were traveled infrequently, and automobile wheels would cause gravel to be pushed aside so that there were two "paths" with very little gravel and a lane of gravel in the center in addition to the the sides of the "paths". Tiny wheels on scooters didn't negotiate these gravel roads very well... crossing from one path to another or meeting a car and being forced to the side of the road was like balancing on marbles.
Take a close look at the picture and you can see a little pedal on the right side of the floorboard. That's the rear (drum, of course) brake pedal. No speedometer/odometer. No tachometer.
Look again at the handlebars... no levers. Not only was there NOT a manual clutch, there was also NOT a front brake. It's a very good thing these little scoots would only go 35 or so, 'cause with only one (rear) brake they took a long time to stop, even from that sedate speed. Trying to stop quickly on rain-soaked pavement was an invitation to possible disaster.
I paid $50 for it with money I had earned on my paper route. I sold it to a friend for 50 dollars just before I turned sixteen when I started contemplating buying my first REAL motorcycle.
Looking back now through the eyes of a Dad, I'm surprised parents allowed teen-age kids in our community, (and in my case a PRE-teen), to ride a motor vehicle on public roads.
I wouldn't have allowed my kid to do it, but my son was 12 in 1995, and 1995 sure as heck wasn't 1959! But I have fond memories of riding that old "putt-putt", and I'm sure glad my parents didn't stop me.
I'll write about that first (and other) real motorcycle(s) later.