Ask anyone who has owned motorcycles what their third or fourth bike was and they may have to think about it for a second — juggling the proper order as they dust off their memory. Ask them about their first, and they can tell you without hesitation — usually accompanied by a fond, often forlorn smile. This certainly applies to me. The only other aspect of my life that holds that kind of lucid recall is women. You never forget your first.
Although I was keenly aware of girls by the time I was 12, the majority of 1970 was spent pining for a motorcycle. I have no idea where the desire came from. There were no bikes in my immediate vicinity. No influence from friends. No older brother with a Sears mini-bike. There was no rebellious teen in the neighborhood with a straight-piped Bonneville, bolting down the street scattering leaves and spooking parents in dangerously alluring defiance of authority (the sort of thing that typically excites youth to action). The want simply crept up on me much the way the inexplicable adolescent carnal attraction for girls does. But it wasn’t just a motorcycle I wanted, it was, quite specifically, a Honda Trail 70. The wall above my bed was plastered with full-page spreads gleaned from Honda brochures (the collage actually inspiring some nocturnal dreams). I knew the CT-70’s spec sheet by heart.
The wall above my bed was plastered with full-page spreads gleaned from Honda brochures... "
I wasn’t alone in this. Honda roused the desires of an entire generation of young boys and girls with the introduction of the immensely popular Trail 70 and Mini Trail 50. Like so many of Honda’s creations, these motorcycles touched a visceral nerve that defies explanation, speaking directly to the hearts and minds of countless youths, promising un-tethered adventure, uncomplicated joy, unmitigated thrills.
The coveted Trail 70 was earned at 50 cents an hour working for my dad. I happily traded the summer of 1970 for the opportunity. Roughly 400 hours of fluorescent-lit, indoor labor granted me passage into the rarefied club of pre-pubescent motorcycle ownership. There were maybe only four other seventh-graders at my school with a bike. I was now one of them. Although I definitely liked girls, they now took a backseat to motorcycles.
Where exactly the law was in 1970 I don’t know, because I logged some serious miles on the streets of Pacific Palisades, California without ever encountering a black & white. The other half of the miles were accrued on fire roads and empty lots where I usually managed to find a jump of some sort. Back then a gallon of gas was around 34 cents. I could fill up my little Trail 70 for a quarter. I rode every Saturday and Sunday, dawn till dusk.
My obsession with motorcycles received a major boost one weekend when my dad took me to the Saddleback round of the Inter Am (a precursor to the Trans Am). My baptism to motocross was the sight of 500cc World Champion, Swede Bengt Aberg, cresting Saddleback’s famous start hill at speed balanced on the rear wheel of his Husqvarna. Motocross — I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I liked it. That night when I got home I stripped the lights off my Trail 70. I was going to be World Champion.
This led to increased illegality as I ventured further into the No Trespassing realms of the Santa Monica Mountains to find new riding challenges. These were, unquestionably, the beginning of my halcyon days of motorcycling. With this came the requisite friends who shared a fascination for two wheels. We were loyally grouped each day on the school’s quad dutifully dressed in an array of motorcycle T-shirts. It was in those tribal circles of boasting and bragging that I learned nothing ruins a good story like an eyewitness.
Sadly, after a year and countless miles, my Trail 70 ended up wedged into the passenger door of a Cadillac. It was the result of a 16-year-old girl, new to driving, backing her mother’s car out of their family’s driveway on a blind corner much too fast for her precious economy of ability. That huge block of Detroit iron filled my path in a flash and I had nothing to do but grab as much brake as I could and brace for the impact.
My beautiful, trusty little friend suffered severely bent forks. I was crestfallen. The Caddy had a caved-in door. The girl’s family decided to sue. My father acted as my counsel and presented an erudite case to the judge concerning the law favoring the right of way, brilliantly passing over the fact that I was underage and unlicensed. We won. I didn’t have to fork over the $205 estimate for the Caddy’s damage. I got my Trail 70’s forks straightened and picked up where I’d left off riding the streets and fire trails of Southern California.
Eventually I outgrew my cherished Trail 70 — due to physical size as much as the budding lust for performance that was ebbing in over me. I cleaned her up to near immaculate form and sold her to a friend for $185. I can still remember watching that car headed off with my much-loved Honda stuffed into the open trunk.
After the Trail 70 the list of bikes that passed through my hands becomes somewhat blurred (the same way women do). There was a Yamaha 100, then an Elsinore, and a Penton. Then came the street bikes. In 1973, as soon as I qualified for a learner’s permit, a second-hand Honda CB350 was procured. That year I logged mile after mile on the myriad canyon roads that twist through Southern California. That summer coincided with meeting a girl. If ever there was a specific period in my life that would qualify as “coming of age,” this was it.
A few years later I traded up to a Yamaha RD350. When I wasn’t nursing the temperamental two-stroke home due to fouled plugs — the engine loaded up by a morass of unburnt fuel — that thing was a screamer. The chorus of those twin expansion chambers when the motor came onto the pipe was intoxicating. It’s hard to imagine what we did back then in terms of speed and lean angle on narrow, questionable rubber.
For every bike that I had a pink slip for there were dozens of bikes borrowed from trusting friends that, each in their own way, contributed to my rich treasure trove of two-wheel memories. Did those motorcycles dole out equally precious experiences for others the way they had for me? I often wonder where all those wonderful machines ended up — or where my 70 ended up. Did they survive? Or did they meet demises of benign neglect and other cruel fates? Perhaps they merely succumbed to obsolescence, ending up in scrap yards to be recycled into washing machines and razor blades.
I never used to fathom why some people, once they could afford it, would choose to spend serious money on restoring a particular motorcycle. Now, as I get older and increasingly sentimental, I understand. In fact, as soon as I have an extra couple of grand I plan to get hold of a gold 1970 Honda Trail CT-70 and spend whatever is necessary to restore it to its former glory. Perhaps in so doing I can restore some semblance of the sublime innocence and carefree simplicity I once entertained. By the way, that first girl? Her name was Cathy. SR