It’s been great reading other people’s stories about how they got involved with Sprints, and I too have a story . . .
In the late ’60s I was a young teenager, and motorcycles were constantly on my brain. I had a minibike, Triumph Tiger Cub, Suzuki 80, Hodaka, and more. But my friend’s brother had a 66H 250 Sprint. Even though it sounded great, we thought it was pretty weird! Imagine: no downtubes! And what about rubber mounted handlebars, levers you couldn’t adjust up or down, a sidestand on the wrong side, a rear sprocket that was so incredibly small compared to the huge rear hub, a chainguard mounted so high as to be totally useless, clutch and brake levers that cost $8 apiece when Japanese levers were only $2 each. That’s what a 15 year old remembers.
I also remember when my friend borrowed his brother’s bike. He had to bump start it everywhere because the kickstarter was broken, and lean it against walls or trees because the sidestand crapped out, but I was amazed when I tried to follow him through a couple of S-bend curves — he was gone! For a bike with no downtubes, it sure seemed to handle well. This was the only Sprint I ever saw as a teenager.
In the ’70s I had graduated into my twenties, and found myself in Europe for a couple of months. I still had motorcycles on the brain, and dreamed of roadracing, even though I couldn’t afford it. I was fascinated to find quite a few Aermacchis in Italy, but saw even more in Greece for some reason. They were being ridden as transportation, and some were quite dirty and in disrepair. My camera recorded the images, and I started to like them in spite of all the weirdness. I even thought of owning one.
Fastforward to the nineties. I STILL had motorcycles on the brain. And for some reason I kept on thinking about Aermacchis. In 1995 I really got the bug and HAD to have one. I saw them in Walnecks Cycle Trader every once in a while, so I knew there were some around. Finally, there was one in the local paper. A 1973 electric start model. The ad mentioned it was a restoration project, which was the understatement of the year! I think it had been under water, and not for a short time. The motor was seized, and so were both wheels. It was so bad, in fact, I didn’t buy it. Which was unusual for me, because I’ve taken home a lot of junk in the past. However, I couldn’t stop thinking about it (something to do with the brain), and two weeks later I phoned again. No one else had bought it either, and HECK! somebody had to buy it! Do you know how hard it was to load that porky pig into a Toyota van with half flat tires that didn’t even roll?
I never did restore that bike, but the top end and transmission are in my roadracer and the carb ended up on the Ala Verde. And I have more Aermacchis than I can count on one hand. Life is good, eh?
I was twelve years old and in Grade 7 when the mini-bike craze hit. There were two models to choose from: Bonanza or Keystone. Both were red. The Bonanza had a 2.5hp Briggs and Stratton engine, and sold for $150, while the Keystone had a little 2-stroke engine, and was slightly more sophisticated; it went for $175. Both did 30mph.
I didn’t have $150, not even close, so I decided to make my own mini-bike. I heard about a frame for sale, and got a bit excited. When I saw it, the construction was crude, and it was quite unsuitable, so I decided to make my own. I drew a full size sketch on cardboard, and started assembling components. The engine was a 2.5hp Clinton, and the front wheel was off a wheelbarrow. The tubing was pipe, but it was free. My father borrowed a pipe bender from work, and we bent the tubes in the back yard on the lawn. I had no workshop then.
I could buy stuff from a guy who sold mini-bike parts out of his basement in the evenings. There was often a lineup to his counter. A centrifical clutch was $30, so I decided on direct drive with a jackshaft. Single speed, of course. For stopping, a foot operated “spoon brake” pressed against the rear tire; they weren’t great. The front number plate was created from thin plywood, and “6x” painted on. I saw it in a motorcycle magazine, and it was cool.
The frame had front suspension. A single spring underneath the head tube (on an extended steerer that didn’t run in any kind of bushings or bearings) was designed to ease the shocks. However, because I didn’t know what I was doing, the suspension wasn’t really suspension at all. In the photo the spring is replaced with a spacer. My learning curve was steep. I hadn’t figured out how to stick the tubes together yet, so my welding inspector Father was good enough to coerce a friendly welder to zap the frame for me in exchange for lunch. It took several hours even though it’s a simple design.
I think it took about 4 months and cost about $110. I painted it metallic blue, and the seat was red. The photo below is my 13th birthday riding the bike at Jericho Beach, for those of you who know Vancouver. I remember once I rode it a few blocks to the local gas station. I had to sneak down alleys—no licence, no insurance. I told the guy to “fill it up!” and he did. It took 4 cents, so I gave him a nickel and told him to keep the change. Things were different then, right?
Next year I decided to sell it. I put an ad in the local paper for $85. It was summer and I was picking strawberries for $5 a day. When I got home, the bike was gone. My mother told me a young boy had looked at it, liked it, and asked if he could make an offer. She was quite unsure as to what his offer would be. When she asked, he said “eighty-four dollars?” Sold!
My only plan when I finished high school was to take a couple of weeks off, and then get a job. On my first day off, I went downtown to see a friend at a book wholesaler where I had worked part-time. On the way back to the bus stop, I saw a machine shop, so I went in. Two days later I started work at 7:45 am. It was a rude introduction to the working world, and at the end of the day I was totally exhausted. A few days later I learned my pay was $2 an hour, precisely fifty cents less than I had expected. No holiday either.
There were eight of us, plus “Ed” the boss, his wife, and the secretary. In high school, a jerk was an “Ed”; that’s what you called your friends if they gave you a hard time. And now, everyone is calling the boss “Ed”, and he’s turning to see what they want. It took me a while to get used to that. Ed was a good guy, and an excellent welder.
I bought a ’72 Yamaha 350 slightly used, on credit. I remember the woman at Avco Financial was absolutely gorgeous. She made me want to borrow more money. The bike was great to ride, and I started getting speeding tickets. One of the machinists owned a Vincent, and used to road race a Norton. We became friends and the bike bug bit deeper. Now I wanted a Vincent. At nineteen, I became the youngest Vincent owner in BC by buying a basket case for $600. When I sold the bike 25 years later, I was still the youngest Vincent owner in BC.
Cylinder Grinders was two shops in one. I worked under John, the foreman, in the automotive side. The other side was a jobbing machine shop; fixing and machining all manner of things. You had to be versatile to work there. I was soon doing valve jobs, rebores, engine rebuilds. John and I butted heads often. I knew he wanted to fire me sometimes, so I made a point of machining everything as perfectly as I could, and he would check it and find nothing. John was close to retirement age, and his hands would often shake. He was also a bullshit artist. Once he had a customer in the lunchroom, and in front of everybody started to tell the guy how he regularly worked to two tenths of a thou . . . so Chris stood up on the lunchroom table and pulled his pants up above his ankles—a sure sign the bullshit was getting way too deep. Everyone laughed and John was pissed.
I remember one day, I was working around the corner, and John came in with someone else, and the ‘someone else’ said, “why is the heater on?” And John said, “it’s that Stupid Fucking Kid!” I came from around the corner and said, “Stupid Fucking Kid, eh?” I never let him forget it, and I became known as the “SFK”. I did not put the heater on.
After the Yamaha, I bought a 72 Norton Commando. Cylinder Grinders was downtown, just over the Granville Street Bridge, for those of you who know Vancouver. One sunny morning at 7:30 am, there was a little less traffic than usual, and my speed on the entry on-ramp was good, so I cracked on the throttle and got down on the tank, and saw an honest 100 mph before I backed it off. A good little shot of adrenaline before work.
I became an apprentice. I wanted to work on the machine shop side, and that happened in the third year. I worked on an internal grinding machine that was made before the First World War. It had a leather belt going from the floor to the ceiling, and wooden pulleys. It was a trick to get it going, especially on a cold morning. I had to blip the on/off switch while holding a broom stick handle against the belt on the side wanting to fall off. After a while the belt would warm up, and the squeaking would stop. I think my pay was almost up to $4 an hour.
It was time for our annual raise, and everyone else got fifty cents an hour. I got fifteen cents an hour after being there for two and a half years. The justification was that I had just switched sides of the shop. I was pissed, and decided by the end of the day that I would quit next June and go to Europe for six months. I gave Ed six months notice. Everyone said I was stupid, that I should finish my apprenticeship, become a machinist so I would always have “something to fall back on”. I never ever wanted to fall back. My mind was made up . . .
I got into cab driving because my saxophone teacher was a driver, and he told me all the good things about it. You could drive cab as much or as little as you liked, with a choice of days or nights. I chose nights, and the shift started at about 4 pm. I worked three nights a week, and took home about $800 a month. It was the early 80s. It wasn’t a lot of money, but I had four days to do what I wanted. I figured I would drive cab for six months and then move on to something else. It didn’t work like that. Once you got into that cab, you were virtually your own boss, and that made it very difficult to go back to a regular 9-to-5 routine.
I wasn’t a very good saxophone player, but I tried for three years. I had fantasies of playing in a rock band, being wildly successful, and all the women I wanted. That’s all it ever was — a fantasy. In the meantime, I had to get out of cab driving. My love of motorcycles, coupled with my artistic nature, led me to do a series of pen and ink drawings. This really seemed to be going somewhere, so after driving cab for two years, I put a lot of hours into getting a set of four prints ready for sale. There was a moto-crosser, a speedway rider, drag-racer, and a road-racer (my favorite). The plan was to get 500 prints of each, drive them to Daytona for Bike Week, sell them on the street for $15,000, sell my car, and fly home . . . RICH! Well, I got the prints made ($600), but then had problems getting them across the border. Too many questions, and I didn’t know then what I know now about dealing with customs. I missed my time frame for Bike Week, so it was back to cab driving.
Now I’ve been driving for three years. It really is time to get out. That’s when I came up with the idea of “Wilbur”, the star of a cab driving cartoon series. It too, showed a lot of promise, and I knew I could make a whack of cash if it ever got syndicated. I even went so far as to get legal advice and a copyright. That’s how sure I was! But, like the motorcycle prints, it too, never went anywhere. I still think he’s a cute fella.
Now I’ve been driving for four years, and it REALLY IS TIME TO GET OUT!
A short time earlier, I had decided to get back into bicycling. I went to the local bike shop (just to have a look) and an hour later rode home on a brand new Norco Magnum SE 12-speed road bike. The part I couldn’t believe was that I had just put $386 on my Visa card — the most I had ever spent on a bicycle! It wasn’t even a great bike.
Soon, I needed parts, and returned to the bike shop. I waited at the counter, and no one was there. I finally left, and met the owner walking down the street, coming back from coffee. He asked me if I got what I needed, so I told him no one was there, and that he should really hire some good staff!
We talked, and I ended up working there, starting with the very lowly position of assembling cheap steel 10-speed bicycles. My last cab-driving shift was February 4, 1983. I had finally left the cab scene!