Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day

It's that time of the year when on one day, the third Sunday in June that we are supposed to pay homage to our fathers. On this day, I want to honor fathers in a different way. Instead of just paying homage to just my biological father, I'd like to also give thanks to those men who inspired me to ride.

I will start out with my Dad. Dad was born in 1925 to Italian immigrants and grew up in Westbury Long Island. Dad served in WWII in the Army Air Corps as a tail gunner on a B-17 and after coming home, like a lot of guys looking for excitement after the war, he got into riding motorcycles. Dad's first foray into two wheeled transportation was a Vespa, after which he graduated to a Zundapp 250. After that it was a Triumph Tiger, a 500 cc parallel twin. Dad rode with his cousins Tommy and Lou, who rode a triumph and BSA respectively, if I recall correctly. Dad would regale us about their trips to Laconia and other places, when during one such trip cousin Lou fell asleep while riding his bike. They saw him nodding off and got on either side, revving their engines, trying to get his attention and wake him up. Luckily for Lou, it worked. Because of dad's stories, from an early age, I wanted a motorcycle. This of course was tempered by mom's dislike for two wheeled transportation, but you can probably guess who won.

My first foray into two-wheeled motorbike nirvana was a Rupp Mini Bike. I was in the 8th or 9th grade at the time and I remember Mom bought it at a garage sale for a song. My brother Tony and I painted the frame Chevrolet Hugger Orange (I still love that color), and the gas tank Argent Silver. It had a tired three and a half horsepower Tecumseh flat head engine and under dad's supervision, we honed the cylinder, re-ringed the piston, rebuilt the carburetor and did a valve job. It ran very well after that. Before, it could barely go faster than 15 mph. Afterward, we were clocked at 35mph. It could go faster if the governor rod was held in. Eventually the engine threw a rod through the crankcase, probably from exceeding the governor once too often.

My Dad's cousin Lou was an influence. Lou continued to ride well into middle age. He used to stop by our house on the way home from work sometimes and I would always get excited to see what he was riding at any given time. I remember he had a Norton 850 Commando, black of course, and that was a neat bike to be sure. I also remember he bought a new Honda CX-500. I remember he had windscreen on it and it was a very quiet bike. The one bike I really liked to see was a Harley Davidson XR-1000 cafe racer. It belonged to his son Mark, but he would ride it from time to time. As a kid, I loved Harleys and Triumphs. Between Easy Rider and the custom bike shop down the corner, Custom Cycle, I developed a liking for choppers. I remember this one chopper. It was a triumph with a 500 cc Engine, single carb, what seemed like at least 12 inch extended forks. It was painted a metal flake plum crazy purple. With the drag pipes and the 360 degree firing order, I could recognize that bike's sound anywhere. I remember a MC type rode it, a real gruff chap that frequented a local biker bar. Those were the days.

Another guy that figures into all was a guy named Bill Biesecker. Bill lived down the street and rode a Honda 350/4. Bill rode rain, shine, all the time except in snow. My friends and I would go down the block just to shoot the breeze with Mr. Biesecker or have him diagnose problems with our Minibikes. I remember when my friend Manny bent the rim on his dad's orange Honda CT90. He wasn't supposed to be out riding it and took it up to the high school with his little brother on the back. He went over a metal edge on the track, which bent the rear rim. We took it over to Mr. Biesecker who took the kink out of it. Still, Manny's dad found out and took it out of his hide. Mr Bieseker was great guy and we lost him to cancer before he was 40 years old.

Sometimes an influence is not so much a direct hands on influence as much as an example of what's possible.  One such influence was Dad. Not my dad, but a guy we called Dad. His name is Frank Donelan, who was at the time, 55 years old and a corporate lawyer. Frank raced with a bunch of guys who called themselves DC Racing, which stood for Discount Cycle Racing, supported by a local independent motorcycle shop owned by Lenny Mastro. Dad raced a KZ1000 drag bike in the Pro Street class. It would get well into the 9's at something around 140 mph. Not bad for a middle aged dad. If that wasn't enough, Dad went out and bought a Kawasaki ZX-11D. I remember he took it on the Sagtakos Parkway and did 175 mph with it. For an old guy (55 was old to us guys that weren't even 30 yet), Frank could still kick ass. He was a very talented rider and very smart man whose advice went beyond motorcycles. I often wonder if Frank still rides in retirement. I bet he does.

So, on this third Sunday in June of the year 2011, I want to give thanks to not only my real Dad, who was a guiding influence on me in my life, motorcycle and otherwise, but also to those men who guided me, influenced me and helped me along the way, particularly with motorcycles. Without them, I wouldn't be riding today one way or another and I wish all of them a happy Father's Day and give a hearty thank you to all of them. Have you thanked the motorcycle dads in your life?

Thank you for reading this blog.

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