By Matt Cuddy
There are some of us who walk a different path than the status quo. What we consider “fun” or “normal” is classified by most as bordering on the darker side of reason, i.e. nuts.
Most of this behavior can be traced from early youth, when we got our first bicycle. This can also be the result of growing up in an environment where the family car put out over 500 horsepower. Fathers, Grandfathers, Uncles, Aunts and even Mothers who worshiped at the alter of horsepower sent our pre-adolescent priorities over the edge, and into that big tank of crankcase drippings out behind the garage.
I am one such pour soul who has suffered the abuse of grown relatives who made me stand behind them, while they sweated and cursed under the hood of some boat, ready at the tool box, to hand them things like “The Parrot-Nosed Pliers” or “The Stimson Wrench.” Having no idea what these mysterious tools looked like would invariably cause an exasperated sigh from the person under the hood, followed by blasphemous Navy curses, and banishment from the work site. You had to learn quickly if you wanted to play mechanics helper in my family. And may God help you if you kicked over the tool box by accident.
But in secret we were working on our own set of motorized wheels, once we could use a blunt screwdriver and a pair of vice grips with some skill. Usually at this period it involved a motor pirated off some lawn device, and any frame with wheels on it. In my case it was an upside down tricycle with a 2 horsepower cast-iron Briggs & Stratton bolted to big sheet of plywood, and lag-bolted to the frame. This contraption caused more scabs (road-rash) then fifty of those old red skateboards with the steel wheels. Finally the motor died, before I was run over by my nearsighted neighbor Emma Rosenfeld in her ’53 Buick Super (a daily event). Luck plays a big role in this lifestyle also.
After this period comes the learner’s permit time of life, where we actually get to drive or ride our own motor vehicle. No being content with stock machines, we mimicked our role models and tried to extract every ounce of horsepower out of less-than capable equipment like Honda 90’s, Jawas, Lambrettas, etc.
These feeble efforts usually resulted in a slower less reliable machine than what we started with. But what the heck, we were learning the ropes! Many hard earned dollars went into useless hop-up kits that turned docile once-reliable motorcycles into hand grenades whose most important accessory was a tow rope.
Of course all this action attracted people cut from the same cloth, and pretty soon you had a clique of friends who only purpose in life it seemed was to burn valves and change head gaskets. Your once immaculate garage became a grease-pit, that no ten pound box of TSP could make right again, and when you discovered beer, anything was possible.
Now you’d think that this passion for speed would make the teenage driver/rider circumspect in his or her actions out in public, but no. Every ride to the auto parts place became an impromptu race, every ride to school and back became a test of who could do the longest wheelie, and who could get farthest into the main building on their motorcycle without being caught. You were most likely on a first name basis with the local law enforcement, and juvenile traffic court was a second home.
The things we did to impress our peers. Like riding on the third floor of your high school’s main building, racing down the halls at class time on a ported RT1 MX Yamaha, with an open stinger. No wonder the teachers hated me.
One time, after a run through the main building, the boys vice principal caught up with me while I was parking my bike, like nothing had happened. His purple complexion and inability to speak in complete sentences signaled my exit from the public school system for a few semesters, but that was OK, since I needed a break anyway. And the Navy recruiter just loved us troublemakers.
Then there was the wedging of obscenely large motors into less than acceptable packages. Once, we stuck a 440 cubic inch Chrysler motor into a 1955 Mercury Station wagon, and then cut the roof off. The motor was stuck in the frame kind of cock-eyed, and sometimes you had to come to a complete stop to shift gears. A few coats of white house paint applied with a brush, and viola! The White Port Wagon made its début in the sleepy little berg of Silverlake.
We named it the White Port Wagon because the White Port sold in gallon bottles at Pioneer Market that went for a buck fifty, and became our drink of choice. Silverlake has a reservoir that is blocked off by a five foot high concrete wall that encircles it, and we liked to see how many sparks we could create by grinding off the passenger side against the wall.
Finally the whole right side of the wagon was welded shut, which made jumping in like a grand prix car the way to go. You had to wear “the scarf” when piloting the White Port Wagon, it was one rule everyone had to abide by. Finally the motor actually FELL OUT of the white port wagon, and we left it where it quit, on Silverlake Blvd. at 3am on a Tuesday if I remember right.
Also was the immense fun in jumping cars over one of the steepest hills in Los Angeles, Baxter Street in Echo Park. We would all pile into a BIG POWERFUL American car and hit the crest at about fifty miles an hour, and FLY for about 30 feet down the other side, most of the time scraping on the front bumper for about 100 feet down Baxter. That was nuts, especially when we did it in a buddy’s Mercury station wagon stuffed with teenagers. Hmm, wonder why the frame finally broke on my Grandfather’s GTO about twenty years later…jumping maybe?
Then there is your late twenties, and soon you have a family and a mortgage, but still somewhere in your make-up is that insane seventeen year old that does stupid things, like build 100 horsepower evil handling streetbikes. Put a 45 tooth rear sprocket on your CR500. Race vintage MX on a stock Yamaha enduro. Put 80cc motors in bicycles and forget about the coaster brake. Take an 18 foot Marlin to Catalina and try to follow the Catalina Express, at night. In 15 foot seas.
But perhaps the worst (best) is when you’ve been run over by some idiot in an SUV and left for dead, your back broken like a snapped pencil, and now you’re confined to a wheelchair. Riding a motorcycle is out of the question, and electric wheel chairs are for squids, so what do you do? You build a wheelchair with a motorcycle motor in it. That goes thirty miles an hour. Again, braking is optional.
So as you can see, being certifiably insane is fun, but sometimes you have to pay a price to join the club. And that price is paid in blood. Where’s my eye-patch?