My name is Robert Cooper, and I’m a motorcycle addict.
There. I said it.
I remember well the first “hit” of motorcycle and the profound impact it had on my central nervous system: the flushed skin, heightened level of awareness, the sense that all was well and good with the world.
I needed more. I developed “motorcycle seeking behavior.” Yes, adults said it would kill me but I didn’t care. Motorcycle made me feel alive. I became hooked.
Motorcyclists always remember their “first.” I certainly do. I was 12, and my neighbor Andy, a 14 y.o. I looked up to, came tooling up our long 150′ driveway on his brand new step-through Honda 50 on Christmas Day. You know the one of “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda” fame. So he was there to woo my older sister. I didn’t care, because there was a brand-new red DreamCycle right there.
I touched it. It was like electricity. My fate was sealed…and I knew it even back then.
Andy gave me a ride on that beautiful machine, up and down and up and down the driveway on the Beast. I didn’t know what 50cc was and didn’t care. It was a MOTORCYCLE and I was RIDING on it, the wind mussing my hair. Life changer.
Honda began running TV ads. If TIVO had existed back them, I’d have played those ads over and over again.
That summer of ’64 the local AM Rock-and-Roll radio station played “Little Honda” by the Beach Boys a bazillion times a day. I know the words by heart to this day, the refrain tattooed to the inside of my eyelids:
“First gear (Honda Honda) it’s alright (faster faster)
Second gear (little Honda Honda) I lean right (faster faster)
Third gear (Honda Honda) hang on tight (faster faster)
Faster it’s alright”
Andy gave me many rides on the back of that Honda 50, all around the neighborhood. And Christmas Day ’64, just like the year before, he rode up the driveway…on a brand new Honda 90 step through, a horsepower beast of monster proportions. But Andy was more focused on girls than he was feeding a 13 y.o. budding two-wheeled addiction, so the rides dwindled, and I had to feed the addiction vicariously.
Years passed, I was about to graduate high school and one day my dad took me for a ride to a local BSA/Triumph dealer where he had bought a used ’67 Yamaha YDS3 Catalina Cruiser for me, by first owned vehicle. The YDS3 was a 250cc 2-stroke cruiser that didn’t have much power until around 6000rpm, and then it was like being shot out of a cannon. It smoked like a mosquito fogger, fouled its plugs and didn’t have what one would consider strong brakes. But it was MINE. It had two wheels and took me wherever I wanted to go. I felt like Peter Fonda in Easy Rider in my bell bottom jeans, paisley shirt & zip-up boots, humming Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” while I terrorized the roads around Atlanta GA.
More than once it would just bog and blurb down to a *stop*, cool off after much tinkering, then run again, the invisible Gremlins haunting its innards never asking for permission or offering reason. In retrospect, knowing what I know now, a diode probably overheated and shut down the electrical system, but I knew nothing back then.
I have to say I should have been killed on that thing because I knew next to nothing about riding a motorcycle. I dropped it twice in the middle of town—in traffic— great embarrassments. But the girls dug it, my hair flapped outside the helmet in the wind and it was a real Honest-to-God bike. MY bike. An addict’s obsession.
I went off to play college football and did a bad thing. The coaches wanted me to not ride it, to sell it, and I didn’t. I lied to them. I never sold it, and would sneak rides when no one was watching, weekends in the off season. Addicts are known to lie. What did they expect?
One day I was buying new piston rings at a Yamaha dealer (I had badly butchered them while tinkering), and sitting on their showroom floor was a used ’69 Honda CB350 with under 5000mi. Blue. Oh my God! Gorgeous! It took some finagling but by the end of the week that 350 was mine, and I rode it all through college. Never let me down. I never crashed. I even lent it to frat brothers and teammates, and none of them crashed it either. Lucky, I guess. That, or Motorcyclists’ Karma. We all loved that thing like a sister.
I kept that CB350 for years.
And over the years I moved into much larger and more complex machines, multiple Triumphs, BSAs, Royal Enfields, Honda 4-cylinder bikes, a Kawasaki H1 Mach III Death Machine (seriously, I should be dead), up to a Honda VTX 1800C, a massive 1800cc cruiser with monster power and heft. I now have 9 Suzuki V-Strom DL650s for my motorcycle touring company in the Dominican Republic. The DL650 is fantastic bike and the right tool for the job here, even though really large by local standards.
But when I look back on all the bikes I’ve owned and fun I had on them for the last 45 years, my fondest memories are not of the Big Bikes. Not at all. They are on the small bikes that I could just get on and scoot with no real muscle or preparation or planning, quick and nimble, cheap on gas and big on fun.
Maybe life is coming full circle. Maybe I’m gravitating back to my youth when smaller bikes ruled the day and big fun on two wheels was not dependant on displacement.