During my Christmas visit to my folks last month, Dad was reminiscing over some of his motorcycle memories, so I decided to ask him to write some of them down. Here are some of the highlights from Dennis Eaton’s motorcycle diaries…
In 1969 I bought a Kawasaki H-1, a 500 cc, 2-stroke, 3-cylinder bike. It was the first super bike and I had one of the earliest ones in the US. For many justified reasons, it is always voted one of the worst motorcycles ever built. Well-rounded in its awfulness, it was a world champ at uncontrolled wheelies and ate up every electrical part with disturbing regularity (that will be another story). But it was FAST. Compared to the bikes of the day, it was blue and white lightning. It was suction-cup-your-butt-to-the-saddle fast!
One night, after a few bottled beverages, I was riding and singing favorite songs. People at stoplights would cast a sideways glance and slowly roll up their window. Guess they didn’t like my Willie or CCR songs. Anyway, I decided to ride over to my buddy Joe C.’s house (proper names omitted to protect the grandchildren from Gramp’s foolishness). After a few more beverages, Joe mentioned that a friend of his had a “full house” BSA that had never been beaten in a drag race, and would I like to try?
Well, the first race he beat me by about a wheel length around 90 mph. Determined not to be beaten, I asked to go at it again. This time I would power shift to get it going faster. When I power shifted third gear, though, somewhere around 70 mph this piece of shit bike decided to do the king of wheelies. I could swear the headlight was pointed at the moon!
The entourage watching said, “Can you do that again? We want to get a picture because we saw the top of your tail light when you did that fantastic wheelie.”
To which I replied, “I’m never doing that again!!”
Of course, I won the second race by 5 or 6 bike lengths.
Note: This, by no means, is meant to endorse alcoholic beverages while biking. It has happened, it will happen, but it shouldn’t happen.
I was about 26 or 27 when I decided to take my piece of shit H-1 Kawasaki on a 150-mile trip to visit a friend in Ohio. For the uninitiated, the H-1 was an uncontrolled wheelie monster (yes, it had its own mind as to when to pop the front wheel in the air), a digester of all parts electrical, and the holy bitch of the high speed wobble. In those days, the tool kit that came with a bike were a necessity; those bikes were “mechanic intensive.”
I thought I had the H-1’s particular problems under control; what I actually dreaded was riding over the two metal grate bridges that spanned the Cuyahoga River. I had nightmares of putting the H-1 down on these slippery bridges and having the metal grate slice me into Biker Julienne. Well, not to worry, that part wasn’t bad at all.
After an enjoyable weekend of riding with my buddy John, on the way home I re-crossed the Cuyahoga bridges without an issue…Then it happened.
Early on a Sunday morning, somewhere between the river and the Michigan border, a plug wire shorted out and the H-1 turned into a cocktail shaker instead of a bike. I held on for dear life and tried—unsuccessfully– to find a non-vibrating speed. I looked for an auto parts store in two little towns for an hour to fabricate a new plug wire, but there wasn’t anything to be found. My only option was to take that spark plug out and run on two cylinders. After taking out that plug, there was at least one speed where the shaking wasn’t too violent, so I kept to that.
But that wasn’t any guarantee that the bike would get me safely home… or that it wouldn’t instantly ignite into a Roman candle from the raw fuel coming out the plug hole. I didn’t think that was likely, but you could never tell what that bike would do next. It was an extremely nervous seventy-five miles to home. My mood constantly fluctuated between a high (almost home! almost home!) to fear (this thing might still burn up even in my own driveway). The H-1 was a 2-stroke engine with oil in the gas, so everything was covered in oil.
I made it eventually– exhausted, mentally frayed, and smelling like I had slept in a gasoline can. But alive.
Note: The trip was a bittersweet one. John, in his early 30’s, had just found out he had the same genetic disease that killed all the males in his family before 45. John passed away a decade later at 43; hope he’s enjoying enduros in the sky!
THANK YOU, SORT OF
One hot night in August 1969, my wife and I were riding my H1 Kawasaki POS (piece of shit), trying to cool off. Dear wife was 5 months pregnant with our first child and never seemed to be able to get cool enough that summer.
Well, as luck often had it with that bike, it ingested some electrical part and quit running about 8 miles from home. We started walking, hot as blazes, me pushing the bike and dear wife proceeding to tell me (with great vigor) that the bike was worthless, I was only a little better, etc.
She was only walking, I was walking and pushing the bike! After about three miles we came to a gas station. Told the owner my woes and a guy offered to drive dear wife home. Sounded good to me until dear wife quietly explained that she didn’t get in cars with men hanging out at gas stations. Oh well, I tried.
Called a cab to take her home and I continued my trek.
A few miles later and really hot and sweating now, here comes dear wife in our car. I was almost hallucinating at the thought of the cold water she was bringing. Maybe with a tray of ice cubes, maybe a liter of Coke, maybe even enough water to rinse my face.
She puled up, stopped the car, and said, “Look, I brought you a bowl of hot chicken soup.”
Thank you, sort of.
Dear wife threw a surprise 30th birthday party for me. Those were the days when we “didn’t trust anyone over 30”, so I was either approaching responsible adulthood or turning into an old fogey, depending which side of 30 you were on.
Had a pretty big crowd, many bottled refreshments, and because it was such a momentous occasion, it dragged on.
I was winning handily when Joe lost control and went through the chain link fence, bending the front fender badly. I ran to look at the fender while dear wife and Joe’s wife ministered to Joe’s cut head. Chastised by the women for caring about the bike and not Joe’s head, I slunk away. (It’s a man thing. Heads heal themselves, fenders don’t).
Next day I was scheduled to ride an enduro trial up north, which meant about 3 hours sleep, max. Dehydrated and debilitated, I drove up north with the bike on the trailer. After hours of driving and drinking quarts of water, I got there and unloaded the Bultaco.
This was classic Michigan off-roading: deep sand. As those of you know who have ridden on deep sand, there are only two throttle positions. Lots of throttle and you’re probably okay; little throttle and the wheels sink, you slow down, like NOW, and you are prone to crash or fall. So constant vigilance at the throttle is mandatory.
Enduro trials are events with set times for various parts of the course. Well, I was doing okay and was on my time, but then I got complacent. I didn’t notice the three ribbons hanging from a tree– a signal of danger ahead. This danger was a 6-7 foot drop-off directly ahead. Before I realized it, I was airborne! Luckily, everything was subconscious – stand up, pull front wheel up, keep on the throttle.
Then the longest time of my life, when thoughts like “It’s sand. The impact won’t be too bad…” and/or “It’s sand. If I don’t land right, I’ll crash for sure!” went through my head at a million miles an hour.
But everything did go right. Landed perfectly, kept on going like it was an everyday event. Finished in the middle of the pack, but kept hearing whispers at the end like, “You should have seen the guy on the blue Bultaco, he can really jump.”
What they didn’t know was after that jump I didn’t feel 30, I felt like I was 50!
In the 80’s, we lived in the Nashville, Tennessee area. Tennessee has some of the prettiest scenic roads for biking anywhere in the US. After all, the Tail of the Dragon starts in Tennessee (Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap has 318 in 11 miles and is on of the country’s number one motorcycle roads).
At the time I was riding a Honda Nighthawk S, a 700 cc, 4-cylinder mid-weight that was ideal for this area. Not much time to ride though; lots of time demands from job and family, so I had to plan rides in detail.
Often on these rides, I was able to kill two birds with one stone. Since I’m a history buff as well as a biker, I would ride out to see Civil War battlefields, of which Tennessee has many. In the decade we lived in Tennessee, I made motorcycle tours out to Stones River, Shiloh, Fort Donelson, Franklin, Nashville, Lookout Mountain, and Vicksburg (ok, that one is in Mississippi).
In a way, the combined events complemented each other; the high of the ride and the bittersweet nostalgia knowing this many people died fighting for us, on one side or the other.
Give it a try, most of these are national monuments and well worth seeing, and the rides are great, too.