My first street bike came to me in the most unconventional of ways. A gal I knew had been gifted the bike from her boyfriend, who just happened to be my father-in-law. He’d lovingly built the bike from the ground up and filled her head with stories of how much fun it would be when the two of them could ride the mountain roads where they lived. She was a tiny thing, not even five feet tall, and he was careful to make the bike light and as minimal as possible, unlike his own Panhead with the king-and-queen seat she loved to ride on. She was quiet and didn’t say too much as he set about creating his labor of love masterpiece. It was a 450 Honda, hot cams, rigid frame and a custom fabricated—although we used the words homemade back then—sissy bar. It had z-bars and a mustang tank, which was painted a rusty red metal flake with a galloping stallion on the side. She named it Wrangle after a horse in a Zane Grey novel that refused to be broken and flung himself off a cliff, rider and all. I loved that sexy little bike. I envied her and told her so. She set about getting used to her new machine and though I never saw her ride, I’d hear stories over the next year or so of her falling down a lot and the struggles she had with learning to ride. At one point, I was a new mom with a teeny baby and answered a knock on the door to find myself face-to-face with a visibly upset Claudia.
“I know you’ve always loved Wrangle,” she started out. “He’s too much for me. I keep dropping him. Just the other day I pulled up to a stoplight, put my foot down in a pothole and fell over. I couldn’t pick him up. I just can’t keep doing this, so he’s yours.” I just stared. She handed me the key and told me to take good care of him. Then she was gone. I looked at my newborn and wondered how I was going to balance the excitement of a motorcycle and the urge to hit the highway against my beautiful baby girl and the life of a housewife. I immediately fed the baby, put her to bed and warned her father that he needed to go check on his daughter while I went for a ride. He didn’t smile. But he didn’t bitch, either, so off I went. Over the next several years Wrangle and I would work our way across Arizona, into the Gold Country in Northern California and the Sierra Nevadas. My babies were his passengers behind me and he would still be with me as a single mom. There were times when Wrangle was my only mode of transportation. I worked to keep him on the road by myself and I’m not lying when I tell you I used bubble gum as part of an arsenal of emergency Band-Aids before he eventually quit running altogether. Wrangle sat in the corner of the garage for years before my eldest daughter loaded him up a few years ago and took him back to Arizona where her father would take on the task of bringing the 1968 motorcycle out of its coma. He’s been sitting on the lift for quite a while now and as Owen worked to revive the old iron, the idea of a family ride has emerged. Besides Wrangle, Owen’s dad built his daughter Kimberlin a chopper when she was in high school as well as building his own Panhead. At the time of his death, however, he’d purchased a new Shovelhead and was planning a first-time trip to Sturgis. All these things took to tumbling around his son’s head as he wrenched. As an ode to his father, Owen’s taken on a deadline now. In addition to the task of resurrecting Wrangle, he’s bought a basket-case Sportster and is building a bike for his sister. He’s bought himself a Shovelhead that he’s rebuilt and is busily test riding. In memory of his father, he’s planning a memorial ride to Sturgis on the bikes he’s building with his sister and eldest daughter. And I have been invited along. The Shovelhead is currently road worthy, the Sportster is coming along and Wrangle has a stack of new swap meet parts waiting for chrome. Paint schemes haven’t been laid out but everyone’s excited about the trip. I’m the only one who has actually been to Sturgis, so I’m in charge of securing lodging and I’m laying out route options and meet-up spots for the different Oregon, California and Arizona residents to discuss. Cousin It is talking about riding out too, but his bike hasn’t been on the road for quite a while so we’re not so sure about that. Owen’s wife, Candy, will be in charge of getting the motorhome across four or five states and everyone’s excited about life on the road as a family. Meanwhile, I wonder if Owen’s set himself up for an impossible task. I wring my hands over the thought of my quadragenerian child riding a hardtail for 2,600 miles, and worry if it really is like riding a bicycle and Kimberlin’s riding skills will kick back in after so many years. It’s going to be an interesting ride, for sure.