The days of disco and motorbikes

The roar of Harley Davidson Motorbike engines is audible even though I can just see the first outline of the pack on the near horizon. Heavy metal, leather and chrome. As they come into town – the distinct “potato potato” sound of the exhausts sends parents looking for their children, dogs barking and windows vibrating in their frames. The ACDC song TNT pops into mind ‘Lock up your daughter, lock up your wife, lock up your back door and run for your life…………………”

These are people you don’t want to mess with. A gang of leather clad outlaws that remind me of movies I watch of the old West. Just near me they park their metal steeds and one after the other switch off their engines (the silence is almost disconcerting) and prepare to dismount, scuffed and road worn leather boots kick out side stands like flick knives and as the desperado’s shake off the dust from the long trip. I am in awe and speechless as I wait on my Chopper bycicle, not sure if i should sat or pedal like hell to get away.

This is the first memory that I have of motorbikes and the reason that I ride bikes today, but let me take you back…………………If you where the average standard eight schoolboy perhaps the one thing that played on your mind the most in those years was “will I be getting a motorbike” and what would it be. Why was this so important some of you may ask, well a “fifty” was more than just a mode of transport it was my passport to “coolness” it was a teenagers equivalent of a Ferrari 308GTB for some fifty something “poser”. It represented many a teenagers first uncertain steps to manhood and freedom; visions of fast bike and loose girls clouded the mind.

My first bike was not a brand new “out of the box” Suzuki RG 50 or a green Kawasaki AR 50 (the green one was cool) but a second hand “in the box” Honda SS 50, seriously it cost a princely R50 00 and comprised a frame, three checkers packets as well as a box full of parts, the money having been earned working in a local steakhouse, (but that is a story for another time).

To say I was disappointed when my dad took me to collect the bike is an understatement, his words “it’s a project that will not only bring us closer together but will let you understand the engineering of the bike” had no meaning as my immediate dream of donning a open face helmet and a pair of goggles seemed to disappear faster than you could say “Freddy Spencer” (who was the eighties version of Valentino Rossi) the two nights I spent polishing wheel spokes was almost enough to put me of motorbikes forever, but I am proud to say that my dad persevered and while I watched TV he not only got the bike running but it looked almost new, it was not quite as fast or cool looking as the other bikes mentioned, but it was the most beautiful piece of machinery that I had ever set my eyes on. Not that I knew how to ride it and if you had a dad like mine, “everything had to be done properly or not at all”, so it was of to the local field and after a few hours of shouting, swearing and crying, (yes I am not ashamed to admit that my dad cried) I was able to keep the bike in a straight line and change in to second without falling off, or crunching the gearbox in to oblivion.

Roadworthy was a breeze, but then it was the big test of getting a learners licence, now in those days the traffic cops looks were menacing and I am not sure if it was because of the uniform (big black boots, black jolper pants tucked in to the boots, khaki shirt and an a official/amptelike cap) or the fact that none of them could speak the queens English very well, or in some cases at all. I remember one particular officer telling my mom after she had parked the wrong way in a one way street (in her defence we had only been in SA for about a month) “ R lady you’s R not in England now hey”, my mom re-payed his kindness of not giving her a fine, by riding over his feet about a month later, while he was performing traffic duties on a road near our house, it was the first time I had seen a traffic cop break dance, but with my mom driving a large Ford Taunus, it would not be the last.

As luck would have it my moms favourite cop was the gent giving and marking the learners test and I have to say even in the early 80’s Rooineks where still not the flavour of the month in Vanderbijlpark, in fact I think we where still being blamed for the camps that Kitchener had set up in the early 1900s that saw so many innocent women and children (black and white) die unnecessarily. It was therefore with great trepidation that I paid my five rand, had my eyes tested and was ushered in to a room with about thirty other pimple faced short haired 16 year old hormones on legs. If I remember correctly the exams where a tad easier than the current K53 and one question that sticks in mind was. “You are allowed to stop at the side of a national highway if”

a) You want to take your dog for a walk
b) You have an emergency breakdown
c) You want to have a picnic

As you can see the questions where tricky and that was probably the reason that twenty-four of the thirty failed the test, “really hard those multiple-choice exams”. I arrived the traffic department on a bicycle, but with a motorbike at home that could do 80kms an hour “with a tailwind down a mine shaft” and now some brain dead government official had given me a licence to ride it on public roads. I was now officially one of “the Manne”. 80kms an hour is fast especially if you have been riding a bicycle most of your life, but once you get used to that heady speed you start looking at ways to get more speed out of the machine, the easiest and cheapest method was to find the longest downhill stretch that you could, open the throttle and lie as flat on the bike as possible, with this method it was possible to get it an extra five to seven kms per hour on the clock, “I know I also used to wonder, why did they put 100 kms per hour on the speedometer if it could not get anywhere near that”.

Most of my friends looked at ways of permanently “souping” up there steeds, ideas included adding additives to the petrol, like cooking oil and methanol to converting the engine with cylinder heads being ground, sprocket ratios being changed, and fairings being added. None of this really helped, but we did it anyway.

One thing for sure is that during those years the different manufacturers where able to create a bond and a loyalty between themselves and there customers many an argument was had about which bike was the best, I was a Honda man and took a keen interest in Super bikes (the CBR1100R was doing well) and the Grand Prix series, with Freddy Spencer being the man. I must say that the Disco era was a lot kinder to bikes than cars as to me the Bikes from the late 70s and early 80’s are almost iconic.

The Honda lasted (if you can call it that) until matric and Tania can still remember me visiting her at home on the bike, that at times would not start and I would have to run up and down the road to try and jump start it and pray on the way home that it would not stall, not exactly “Leader of the pack stuff”

In those days after school the cheapest mode of transport if you had started work was a motorbike with many people going from a 50cc to a 650, 750, 1100 or even the huge 1300 with many a friend hurting themselves and writing the bikes off due to them being ridden like a 50cc (something that you could not do). I went from riding a Honda SS 50 to a Suzuki GT 185 and after I had been knocked off by a truck near Kyalami Ranch that necessitated a number of stitches and a new bike I bought my pride and joy, the Shaft drive Honda CX 500C , I loved that Bike and looked after it like a new born baby. Tania and I went everywhere on that bike and although I had a couple of accidents on it, (side swiped by a car, me hitting back of a car and a taxi hitting the back of me) it was a awesome bike…………..Then bought a car and I sold the bike, not to own another for a number of years and then I bought a 1981 Honda CB750F That I managed to wreck on Robbers pass during a Redline Motorcycle Rally, I had it fixed, chopped and changed but again did not ride it as much as I should have and sold it.

It was not until a good number of years later while living in Clarens that I bought a Chinese scrambler to use around the village (called it the LEGO bike as everything snapped off it, “not on it”, but it did the job) I was then lucky enough to acquire a BMW 650 Dakar and loved that bike as it allowed me to explore the area on as well as off road. I then swapped it for my 1996 1200 Triumph Trophy (the Exocet missile on wheels).

I often wonder how many of my friends and teenagers of the early 80’s still ride today, hopefully all that left the biking scene when they got married and had children are riding again today. Today I alternate riding a 150cc big boy retro scooter for the traffic in Port Elizabeth or the 1200 Triumph Trophy that when I need to clear the head I take out of the garage and head down a coastal road and as I ride I often think back to the day I first set eyes on those men and women, the impression they made and the gift they gave me. My mother always used to tell me “never judge a book by its cover” so when you see a leather clad biker don’t turn and look for the nearest exit, walk up say hi and you will be surprised at who that person really is and how friendly they actually are.

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