My inclination toward this column frequently has me meandering through some storied recollection from my past. However, for this issue, I simply had to relate a story borrowed from my older brother’s treasure trove of two-wheeled memories, told to me this past Thanksgiving. After the traditional turkey dinner our family repaired to the living room with requisite tryptophan-induced laziness. My older brother Barry and I got to reminiscing about the good ole days of our carefree youth–which were monopolized by motorized obsessions that spawned a plethora of memorable experiences. After five decades as siblings I thought I’d heard all of his stories. I was wrong. The first thing you need to realize is that my brother is a master storyteller, not content to merely toss out some vagaries and loose facts to recount an event. He revels in painting pictures, creating exacting detail for his listeners. His recollection of a particular incident from his teens was so poignant I just had to share it.
Like me, Barry was part of the youth movement of the early ‘70s that helped drive the motorcycle craze to its glorious zenith. For us this was a particularly blissful period. We were in our teens. I was in possession of a motorcycle permit. He was older, with the coveted motorcycle endorsement stamp on his driver’s license. The Buchanan family was fully intact, living in a small house in Pacific Palisades, California, on a street named Friends. Barry and I had pretty much commandeered the garage for our own purposes by virtue of having filled it with an array of motorcycles. We were both working minimum-wage jobs to feed our two-wheel desires, so the motorcycles were far from new or beautiful. They tended toward the out of date, broken, heavily oxidized machines that usually acquaint a gearhead’s youth, acquired in pieces via the familiar one-dollar transaction in order to legalize transfer of title. We loved them nonetheless.
The ride on the Trident had washed that impenetrable cold-seemingly immune to all the cold remedies at the pharmacy—completely out of his body.
The Buchanan garage was the de-facto hangout where our motorcycle cronies could usually find us toiling away with wrenches on a bike or under the hood of a temperamental slug of rusted Detroit iron. It was a lively atmosphere, usually bathed in AM radio rock ‘n’ roll, accented by the lingering scent of burnt pre-mix, WD-40, and the occasional joint. As Barry tells it, he was alone in the garage one sunny spring afternoon, doodling away half-heartedly on one of our many mechanical “projects.” The half-heartedness was due to the ill effects of a severe head cold. It was one of those lingering congestions that combines a splitting headache with general full body achiness and a thoroughly stuffed up nose — the kind that make you feel like you’re trying to breathe through a brick — that leaves you feeling, for lack of a better word, crappy.
Despite the beautiful California day, Barry was thinking about heading inside and going to bed when he heard the sound of a motorcycle approaching. A moment later, Bob, a mutual friend and one of the devoted local two-wheel clan, pulled into the driveway on his brand new 1974 Triumph Trident. Although Bob was only slightly older than us he was an industrious sort, exhibiting a strangely mature work ethic that had him bagging groceries at the local Safeway after school and detailing cars on weekends. As a result Bob ended up qualifying for a loan at Ted Evans’ Motorcycles on Pico Boulevard and blew our little gang away when he walked in one day and bought a brand new Trident.
The Trident was a beautiful, shining example of exotic British steel of the day. Glossy black paint with a patch of gold sweeping back in a teardrop pattern on the gas tank. Chrome air cleaner covers drilled prodigiously for proper feeding to the triple. The center cylinder header pipe splitting off in a “Y” to join up with the outer headers, sensually curving down and sweeping back into twin chrome mufflers. Those rear-swept handlebars with signature Triumph handgrips and that big, state-of-the art disc brake. The whole machine was tastefully dappled with chrome. Compared to our sad fleet of used and salvaged bikes held together by duct tape and mix-matched bolts, Bob’s Trident was a glistening piece of Tiffany glass.
Bob and Barry chatted for a bit, with my brother admiring the machine through eyes and mind bloated with congestion. Bob invited him to throw a leg over and have a feel of the Triumph engineer’s penchant for tailoring comfort into functionality. Bob, generous man that he was, then asked if Barry wanted to take it for a spin. Testament to just how bad he was feeling, my brother said he almost passed on the opportunity. Then figured, what the hell? Barry cranked the Trident over and brought that glorious triple to life. The lugubrious thump of the motor, with the exhaust spilling out from those chrome exhaust pipes and pooling the immediate surroundings like an invisible elixir, would suffice as adequate foreplay for many a gearhead. Now mind you, this was pre-helmet law days and as stupid as it sounds — and equally stupid as it is to admit — it wasn’t uncommon to justify a lidless jaunt into town or take a quick helmetless lap around the block. So, Barry revved the Triumph, snapped it into gear, and took off.
Our house was just a mile from Sunset Boulevard, that famous four-lane paved icon of Hollywood that twists along the undulating base of the Santa Monica Mountains, dead-ending at the Coast Highway and the Pacific Ocean. Barry got out onto Sunset and in short order had the mighty Triumph Trident flowing rhythmically through the boulevard’s gracefully sweeping turns. Blasting along, the wind in his hair, the breeze of the Pacific Ocean stinging his face, Barry twisted the throttle, opening the engine up and shifting through the gears, resulting in that beautiful aural bass note of the thumping triple at speed — the experience heightened dramatically by the lack of a helmet.
After a few miles of bliss, Barry turned around and, somewhat reluctantly, piloted the Triumph back to Friends Street. When he got back to the house he handed the Trident back over to its owner, exchanged some enthused complimentary and appreciative words about British steel, along with a thank you for the opportunity. Bob said farewell and took off up the street. Barry watched till he disappeared from view, the aphrodisiacal sound of the Trident’s motor gradually fading off. As he started walking back toward the garage Barry suddenly realized his head was completely clear. He could breathe through his nose and his headache was gone. The ride on the Trident had washed that impenetrable cold — seemingly immune to all the cold remedies at the pharmacy — completely out of his body.
Those of us who ride motorcycles are acutely aware of their mental and emotional rehabilitative qualities. We all have tales of how a motorcycle ride can sweep the stresses of life from your mind and calm the most tumultuous of times. My brother’s recounting of his ride on the Triumph made me wonder if perhaps motorcycles also possess a deeper, truer medicinal magic. SR