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Sunday, 28 June 2015 00:00

How We Got To Where We're Going – Part I – Catching the Motorcycle Bug

columnist Eoin KennyI don’t know when I first caught the motorcycle bug. Probably in the early ‘60s when I was just a kid.


EK hwgwwg1.1It might have been when Mr. Cournyea, a teacher at St. Michael`s School in my hometown of Cobourg, Ont., rode to work on one of those early Honda Super Cubs. The red and white ones. Remember their advertising slogans – “You meet the nicest people on a Honda!” and “Different strokes for different folks!” Along with a wicked softball pitch, I thought Mr. Cournyea was one cool dude!­
About the same time, there was a hell-raisin’ motorcycle club that operated in and around Cobourg – Satan’s Choice. Every once in a while, a bunch of these deliberately dirty, tattoo’d and tough-looking SOBs would show up, park their oh-so-cool choppers outside a local watering hole and proceed to make life difficult for the local citizenry. Nothing too outrageous – smoking and drinking beer while sitting on the curb outside The Plaza or The British hotel, smashing the bottles on King Street, our main drag, and harassing any poor woman who happened to stroll by. Cobourg cops for the most part kept their distance. 
I never had much time for the one-percenters, but by God, those noisy, greasy, sexy bikes with their stretched forks, sissy bars, straight-t­hrough exhausts and in-your-face paint jobs were a young kid’s dream. As Ray Wylie Hubbard says, “some things under heaven are just cooler ‘n hell!”
It wasn’t until I got to high school in 1969 that the motorcycle itch really took hold. A couple of the older guys (I was 14, they had to be at least 16 to get a license) had bikes. Then, Al, a guy in my homeroom got one; can’t remember the year, make or model. He gave me a lift to a track meet at the other high school in town. I think he even managed to pull a six-inch wheelie with me up behind.
That was it! I was hooked! I knew it was what I wanted, what I needed and had to have. The only thing standing in my way was a total lack of funds ­– that and my dad.
EK hwgwwg1.2Seems he had an old Triumph, possibly a 100cc Tiger, back in Northern Ireland and coming home one night had managed to pinball it and himself off the high stone walls leading to the family homestead. According to him, he broke every rib and my Granda Kenny still gave him “a good hiding” –for messing up the walls, not the bike or himself. It put the old man off motorbikes forever, even unto the next generation!! 
The funding problem persisted even after I left home. I didn’t actually learn to ride until I met another guy named Al, a fellow reporter in 1976 at the now-defunct Brampton Daily Times, aka the BT, my first real (i.e. paying) newspaper job after college. (Another guy I should contact!) Al had a heavily modified three-cylinder, two-stroke 500cc Kawasaki – handlebars welded to the top of the forks, shifter set off the rear where the passenger footpegs should have been, straight-thru exhaust and a homemade paint job. Looking nothing at all like this one!)
EK hwgwwg1.3He and I rode up to Barrie where he was going to collect a debt. I waited for him in a local bar, but he was the one who came back drunk. 
“You gotta drive ush home,” my pal slurred. 
“I can’t, I’ve never driven one,”said I, to no avail. So, off we went on the Kwacker down Hwy. 400, only one of Canada’s busiest four-lane highways! 
My first time piloting a two-wheel bomb with a drunk for a passenger and, of course, we got stopped by the OPP for weaving about in our lane. I figured I was done for, but my buddy wasn’t so far gone. He slipped his wallet into my back pocket. (Luckily, this was in the days before photos on licences!)
“Take it easy,” said the kindly copper, letting me off with a warning and a conspiratorial wink. “I know what it’s like to have someone up behind you who’s never been on a bike before!” 
Al wanted to argue the point, but I kept him quiet and the rest of the journey continued uneventfully.
Some months later, I got my first bike – a Honda CX 500 liquid-cooled, shaft-driven, V-twin. Bought it from my sister’s boyfriend in 1979 and rode it just about to death – its and mine – for the next six years. 
EK hwgwwg1.4I rode it down to Chicago in 1980, chasing a girl after quitting my job at the BT. Rode it all winter long in balmy Sarnia in southwestern Ontario where I started working at The Observer after she wisely sent me home! I even moved once with all my worldly possessions bungee’d to every available surface!
I think I’d still have it today, except I had to flog it to pay a lawyer to get me out of a foolish first marriage.
One thing I never did was tell the old man. Not because I was afraid to or didn't want to, but he died before I could ever show it to him and how comfortable a fit a motorcycle was for me. I still regret that.
Over the next 30 years or so, I’ve had a succession of Hondas. A clapped out ’69 750 I bought from a biker chick in Petrolia (which may still be in the Welland Canal in Port Colborne where it needed to go after pissing me off once too often!) 
Then there was a nearly new ’75 CB550-4. Bought it from a guy I met in Ottawa when we both worked for the now-dreadful Ottawa Sun. Put more than 40,000 kilometres on that beauty. I still have it and hope to restore it one day – it was the ultimate rice rocket of its day.
Prior to buying a 2001 BMW K12LT for this ride, my most recent bike was a 2003 750 Shadow ACE (American Classic Edition) bought new out of the box shortly after leaving The Canadian Press news agency to go to work for the Alberta government. Sure, it’s a Harley Sportster knockoff, but reliable, dependable and one sweet ride. 
And a few days before I head out, my Shadow has been sold! Gotta pay for this bucket list ride somehow!
Please visit my Ride for Sight secure online fundraising page and pony up a few bucks for this important fundraising ride to support research into the causes and prevention of blindness. Thanks!
Last modified on Thursday, 02 July 2015 06:43
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