The year was 1966 as I recall. It was a hot dusty summer day and we had all retreated to the relative cool of the wooded areas that surrounded our neighborhood. There were about a dozen of us ages about 6 to 10 and we were engrossed in playing Army. We were using sticks as guns and dirt clods as grenades and just generally being unsupervised kids in the woods playing Army.
Soon we’d all have to make ourselves available for a minor washing and dinner then we’d be back outside playing tag or tackle football or whatever until just past dark when the porch lights would start to come on and we knew it was time to get cleaned up and go to bed. But for now, we were jumping out of trees on each other in ambush, sticks in hand, running between trees making machine gun noises and grenade explosions and so on.
Until we heard a lawnmower making it’s way down the edge of the field on the bike path we had worn in with our daily afternoon trips to the woods. Soon we could see through the trees it was not a lawn mower, but a mini bike! Well, we had all seen them in the Sears and Montgomery Wards and other catalogs and sometimes even in the stores in person. We had all sat on them as our parents talked to the clerks, hoping against reality that somehow this salesman would talk them into a purchase, and sometimes they did. It was usually a rake or trash can or garden hose though.
Anyway, we ran out to meet the lucky guy and although we did not know him he was polite and answered all our questions and let us each sit on it and generally act like a pack of semi well mannered baboons gawking at the last banana. Eventually I could hold it inside no longer. “TAKE ME FOR A RIDE!” Came out all at once and it sounded more like a demand than a question. There was silence. My friends were looking at me like I had just done the unthinkable, which was to blow your cool. That was something never to be done, under any circumstance. And truthfully I had just done just that. Inside, even I was looking at myself the same way.
But the new guy just smiled and said “Sure, hop on” real casual like and my ego reassembled itself as I slid onto the long seat behind him. It was one of those chopper styled rigs with a long seat with shocks on it and high handlebars and pretty small cart style diamond tread tires with a scrub brake and a 3.5 Horsepower Techumseh engine.
He pulled the cord and off we went, bumping roughly along a little faster than I could go on my bicycle, because it was a pretty rough path. But I was immediately hooked and knew deep down that everything I had read about life on two wheels was true. I decided there and then I would get a mini bike very soon indeed.
My parents had other ideas. I tried every trick in the book, I made up some of my own and even asked other kids who had mini bikes how they got them. All my efforts proved fruitless. My parents showed no interest whatsoever in providing this much needed staple of boy hood.
All the magazines I read, which were of the hot rod type and motorcycle type plus Popular Mechanics, Popular Science and several others had minibike advertisements which served to fan the flames of my desires. There was even this one ad I particularly coveted, touting “BUILD YOUR OWN MINI BIKE!” Since I was doing all my own routine active bicycle and lawn mower maintenance this ad was particularly appealing to me. Yet I could not muster the tubing or the cost of those items, or of hiring the labor or even buying the prefab kit components one at a time. It was a daunting and near impossible task for a kid going on 9 years old.
Fast forward a few years. My cronies and I are riding bicycles in the sand pits behind the Pizza shop on the outskirts of town. None of us had mini bikes yet. We were now ages about 11 to 13. We have chopper style bicycles and are forcing them into dirt bike use. We are riding down sheer 50 foot plus cliffs to get the speed needed to jump over dirt mounds, just like Evil Knievel. We are crashing repeatedly too, just like Evil Knievel. Then we hear a sound like a small motorcycle, we look around and that is exactly what it is!
This guy we all knew, Don, rides up on a Blue Honda Mini Trail Z50. We collectively retain our cool, having been through this with other guys many times now. Eventually, casually, I ask Don for a ride, he scoots forward and says sure, also real casual. We take the long way around and get up on the top trail that skirts the pits. He turns and goes down the sheer cliff we had been using earlier, but veers around the small hills we had been jumping, and throttle pegged wide open we zoomed across the floor of the pit, and right up the other wall on that trail! He had to down shift twice, and was in first gear when we crested the top but it had made it and I was elated! It was way better than anything I had ever experienced on my bicycle or any other minibike!
At the top of that hill, on the top of the pits, the trail went either left of right and he went right and stopped. The trail was defined by a barbed wire fence on the left and the sheer cliffs on the right and there was just enough room to make a trail up there, which we had done on our bicycles. I hopped off and we started talking. I was really praising the little bike, how smooth it was compared to the lawn mower type motors and so on. He showed me the semi automatic shifter, and brakes and front forks and street legal lighting! Once again I couldn’t contain myself and blurted out “TEACH ME TO RIDE!” and he said ok. So, he scooted back, I got on ahead of him and before he could say anything I had shifted into first and grabbed a big handful of throttle.
He was rocked back on the seat and his feet lodged under the hand grips. The little engine was screaming by now so I instinctively stomped it into second gear. Don was rocked back on his seat once again, and his feet were once again jammed beneath the bars. As I struggled to maintain the path and not shred us on the barbed wire or shoot off into space 50 plus feet above the sand pit floor the little engine began to protest once more so I jammed third gear. The throttle remained pegged due to Don’s foot preventing any other sort of adjustment.
Shortly after, Don recovered and reached past me and forced the throttle down and grabbed both brake levers so hard I though my fingers would be broken. Seeing the mound of broken cinder blocks that marked the trail’s end coming up quickly, we instinctively added a four footed Flintstone brake and skidded to a stop just as the front tire touched the mound of cinder blocks.
Forget that first ride a few years ago.
This is the one I am counting as my first.