Sunday, March 4, 2018

Reminiscing: Dirt Bike Rider

There are many, many things I like about living in the city. The question, of course, came up when Wendy and I were starting to look for houses -- city or country. Each has their own pros and cons. I grew up in the city, while Wendy grew up in the country. Ultimately, it came down to opportunities for any children we would have. We loved the idea of having neighborhood friends for kids to hang out with. For Wendy, there were not a lot of kids living on her street, and the road was just a bit too busy for kids to walking up and down the shoulders. Another consideration was was ability for our kids to walk to a neighborhood school rather than ride a bus all day. (We no longer have this luxury, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

I loved growing up in the city, but there were a few things that I was unable to do living in the relatively tight confines of a quasi-urban neighborhood. Probably foremost on that list was being able to ride dirt bikes. I grew up around motorcycles all my life. My dad rode with his dad, probably as soon as he was old enough to get a license. When I was a kid, my dad had a series of motorcycles, and went on bike trips with other friends. A lot of his friends had motorcycles, too, and often stopped by the house.

I was five years old when we moved from Lyndonville to Lockport. Our yard in Lyndonville was not huge, but it backed up to my grandparent’s yard, and there were fields nearby that you could ride dirt bikes in. My dad, in addition to his road machine, had a dirt bike. We simply called it “The Ninety.” When we moved to Lockport, the bike moved with us. For the most part, it sat in the back of the garage collecting dust. There simply wasn’t enough space to ride around in our yard. To be honest, though, my dad did give us a couple rides around the yard. One day, however, I came home and the bike was gone. My dad had sold it. I was heartbroken because I loved that bike.

I did get my fix in. My cousin, Matt, lived just outside Medina and he had a dirtbike that we could ride whenever we visited. He lived next door to his grandparents, so he had plenty of space to ride. There was an area along the roadway, just past the two houses that was mowed. It was there that Matt had a small track laid out for riding. I can tell you that we had a lot of dust flying over the years that we rode there.

Matt started out with a small, simple bike to ride. There was no shifting really required. That was great for a kid like me who only got to ride on occasional weekends in the summer. Later, Matt evolved to a bigger bike, which required being able to shift. I was initially lost. I could not figure it out, probably because I was more into the wind and speed. So, I sat on the back behind Matt, listening and watching until I got it figured out. Finally, I was able to do it on my own. Remember, we were pretty young when we were learning all this.

Focusing on Matt shifting carried over to riding with my dad. I studied the way he rode. I began to anticipate when he was going to shift gears. Even today, years and years later, I can tell when my dad is coming around the corner from Davison by the way he shifts. In the summer, sitting in the backyard, my kid will ask if that’s Papa coming when they hear a motorcycle. By listening to the shift pattern, I can almost always tell them yes or no, and be right.

My fascination with leisure machinery did not end with Matt’s dirt bikes. He also had a three-wheeler, or rather a pair of them. We didn’t ride them on the same track that we did for the dirt bike. Instead, there was a trail that went through the woods next to his house to a field behind the houses. We’d ride up there with those beasts.

One thing to know about where Matt lived was that it was very swampy in those woods. There were a couple of natural springs that kept everything pretty wet even during the driest part of summer. Sometimes there were big puddles. One time while heading up to the field, Matt yelled back at me. I couldn’t understand him because of our respective helmets, so I stopped. I stopped in the middle of a huge puddle. Angrily, he took off his helmet and yelled at me. “I said not to stop in the middle of the puddle.” Luckily, I didn’t get stuck, so we were able to race around the edges of the field for quite awhile. Of course, we were muddy messes.

My grandmother had a neighbor, Wilbur, who would stop down almost daily just for a visit. Even though he only lived seven or eight houses away, he’d ride his moped to grandma’s house. While they sat around chatting and drinking iced tea, Wilbur would allow me to ride his moped. I rode around and around my grandmother’s yard. I wore out the grass on the entire perimeter of the yard. I was twelve or thirteen years old. I was having a blast.

After I graduated from high school, my dad bought a Sportster so that my mom and I could ride with him. That never really panned out. My dad got a little possessive over that bike and it was easier to not even ask about it. I’m not sure how long we had it, but I don’t think it was long. A short time later, I bought my father in law’s old bike and had it sent to Matt’s house so I could get comfortable with it before I let my dad know. Life got in the way, and I never really did too much with it. I ended up having Matt sell it for me.

Those early days of riding in the dirt and mud were a lot of fun. And I didn’t even tell you the story about the dog. I’ll let Matt tell that one. Sometimes, I still think I’ll find a clump of mud in or behind my ear. Those were the days to remember. The smell of raw exhaust still comes to mind when I think of those days. It’s a good smell.

Craig Bacon thinks he and Matt should spend a day reliving those halcyon days of pre-teen adventures.