I Had It Good: Falling In Love With Riding

Looking back, I was as lucky a kid as there may have ever been, because I enjoyed a fulfilling life jam-packed with camping, exploration, travel, and all-around excitement.  But as a kid, I lacked the maturity to recognize my fortunate lot and often felt disappointed by my family’s modest income and my list of possessions, which consisted primarily of hand-me-downs and yard sale finds.  While all my friends were getting new bicycles, my first bike had belonged to a cousin, and then my next one came from a flea market.  My clothes were never hip or cool.  I didn’t get the fancy backpack or the expensive shoes.  I got the cool toys the following year once they had hit the clearance shelves.  And my first dirt bike had been my uncle’s, passed down to me by my grandpa.

That gold 1970 Honda Trail 70 was an absolute blast; you all know the one—guaranteed you all had one, or knew someone who did.  I bet I put a thousand miles on that thing in the summer of ‘94.  I might as well have been Fonda, or the Fonz.  But something strange happened later when I began riding it with the other kids from my town.

One of my friends had a much newer RM80, and his little brother had a similar RM60.  Their dad rode a brand new RM250—no kickstand!  I thought for sure he must be a racer.  Another boy in town had a CR125, and a high school kid who had just moved to town had a beautiful YZ125 that absolutely screamed.  We all rode together, and I felt embarrassed by my little 70.  I started picking it apart, noting that the grips were nothing like the pillow tops on all the other bikes.  The right slightly rusty chrome handlebar was bent in a bit, and the steel fenders had some rust on them, and some dings.

I’m a big guy—nowadays, 6’5”, somewhere north of 320 lbs—and I was still riding that little 70 when I was 14.  I felt like a polar bear on a tricycle, and I felt ashamed of all the “old” features on the bike.  “It doesn’t even have a clutch,” I remember saying to my parents in a plea to convince them that I needed a different bike.  I attempted to mask my desire for a newer bike with the reasonable claim that I really just needed a bigger bike.

My parents, though they never had much money, always provided for me.  I always got straight A’s, which my mother absolutely loved, and I was a well-behaved kid.  My mom especially made sure that I always had everything I needed, and tried to give me as much of what I wanted as she could.  They couldn’t afford to buy me a new bike, of course, so they started looking around for something used.  I remember going to look at an old Kawasaki 100 street bike of some kind.  It needed a lot of work, and it wasn’t much to look at.  But I remember begging my dad for it.  All I knew was that it was bigger than my 70.  He thought better of it, and held off.

My friend Shawn with the RM80 had an uncle who would ride with us sometimes, and he had an IT400.  What a bike!  I used to get so giddy when we’d stop for a rest and I had a chance to look at that thing.  What a beautiful machine.  As fate would have it, Shawn’s dad was looking for a bigger bike for Shawn around the same time I was.  He stumbled upon a good deal on a couple bikes, and offered to let Shawn pick which one he wanted.  He chose a fairly new DR200, excited about the convenience of not mixing fuel.  Shawn’s dad knew we were looking for a bike, so he called and invited us to look at the other one.

My jaw dropped and I almost passed out when we walked into Pete’s garage and I saw the 1978 IT250.  The glorious plastic fenders, side plates, and gas tank absolutely screamed “MODERN!” and that mono shock setup was outstanding.  The bike was huge, and I knew at that moment that I couldn’t leave that garage unless that bike came with me.  Pete was asking $500, but he offered it to us for $400 and my dad could see how lit up I was.  He asked if I wanted to ride it the quarter mile or so back to our house, and I couldn’t get on fast enough.  I had never operated a clutch before, and the 1-down-5-up shift pattern was drastically different than the 3-down Trail 70, but nothing short of a lightning bolt was going to stop me from riding that beautiful creature.  I tried shifting down into 2nd gear about 15 times on my way out of the driveway before I realized I needed to shift up.  It was perfect from then on.

I had graduated from the kid on the tiny, old mini bike struggling to keep up with the pack to the kid with the best bike in town (in my opinion).  Aside from a frayed throttle cable and a flat tire, that bike never let me down in the years I had it.  Kevin’s YZ125 had blown up while he was doing some hill-climbing, the CR125 down the street was constantly in disrepair, and Shawn’s DR200 was never very impressive.  My IT was the fastest off-road bike I’ve ever ridden to this day, and it was damn reliable.

I grew up in the Ohio Valley—coal country.  In any direction, I could hit a gravel road and trek anywhere I wanted.  Some of the places I found on that 78 Yamaha were breathtaking, and many of them don’t even exist any more, because much of the land I explored was later strip mined.  Once I had that bike, I felt like I was on top of the world, and that notion was strengthened when I parked atop some of the foothills of the Appalachians.

Much like the end of Stand By Me, though, things changed.  My friends discovered girls, got jobs, and all but abandoned off-road riding.  When I was 16, I started driving, got my first pickup truck, and rarely rode the IT.  I sold it for $400 to buy my first bass guitar (to impress some girl; she was unimpressed), and the kid who ended up with it spray-painted it the ugliest black I’ve ever seen and promptly blew it up.  I don’t know if he ever tried to rebuild it, but it was a shame the way things unfolded.  I still have the Trail 70, and I hope my kids will eventually be interested in it.  Maybe one of them will find an old IT of their own, or maybe they’ll pry my DT out of my hands.  Whatever they fall in love with, I hope I can give them half the childhood my parents gave me.



~ by hamiltonjacobs on February 26, 2014.

2 Responses to “I Had It Good: Falling In Love With Riding”

  1. Great read! I can totally relate! We had an old IT400 as well, but it didn’t have the monooshock. Wait… I am a bit older than you…

  2. We all have these memories… They are all similar but different… Great post… Thanks.

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