I have been kind of preachin’ in my last few columns about you all sharing your motorcycle experiences with your family. Now, please understand when referring to family it goes beyond wives, husbands, children, brothers and sisters. I am talking about our family on the road. While I don’t know every one of you I am sure I have met enough of you in my travels to consider you family. It is my turn to share a few of my adventures. Part of being in this family is our appreciation for the freedom that lets us be who we want to be. Let’s start with my smack-you-in-the-head inspiration for building my life around motorcycles then follow with a little wisdom from the author of “Crazy,” Mr. Willie Nelson.
So, here is how it all started for me. I was about 10 years old playing in the backyard with my brother when we heard this roar coming down our driveway. We both ran over in time to see two of toughest-looking dudes pull up on two Panhead baggers, slide that jiffy stand down and step off. The easiest way to describe these guys is James Dean complete with Lucky Strikes rolled up in their white T-shirts and engineer boots. Needless to say we were in awe. The whole time they were talking with my Dad about some guns, I never left the side of those two bikes and just stared. It wasn’t long after that I learned that my father was a biker as a young man and to make it even crazier so was his father. As we grew up there were no motorcycles in the stable; we had go-karts, boats and cars way before we could get our license. But my parents figured if I didn’t get a motorcycle there was a better chance of me going to college. What they didn’t figure was growing up I would have friends with Bonnevilles and Sportsters. When I did go to college my roommate, Johnny Bettencourt, turned out to be a national motocross star and it was not long after that I owned a motorcycle of my own. I started working for the Bettencourt family in 1971 and have been in the industry ever since. I have always felt motorcycles have helped me be who I am as a confident, free-thinking individual.
I’ve had industry heroes working my way into the motorcycle industry. Cliffy Verkade, the first general manager I worked for. My buddy John of course but also his father Dick for the motorcycle passion he shared every day of his life. Men like Mel Magnet, Ron Trock, Ron Paugh, Gil May, Larry Coppola and John Wyckoff were always there for me. Outside of my personal heroes I have always admired the way Willie Nelson paved and continues to pave his own unique way through life. “Willie has taught us so much—how to be an honest outlaw, how to wear a bandana properly, how to listen and how to be cool,” wrote Rich Cohen in AARP The Magazine. I am well familiar with Willie’s career ups and downs as a writer, disc jockey, singer and actor not to mention his run-in with the IRS. I have never met Willie personally. It would be unbelievable to make his acquaintance, but I am continually impressed when learning about the influence he had on other music superstars. The man is a legend in the truest sense of the word. Rich Cohen ended his article by asking Willie, 85 years old, the secret of life. “It’s simple,” Willie said. “Do what you want to do. If I don’t want to do it, forget it. But if I do want to do it, get out of my goddamn way.” I listen intently to my heroes and I always try to practice the wisdom they have been kind enough to share with me. The most vivid lessons came from the times I needed help and there was always a biker standing by.
I have another story from the road I think you will enjoy. This time Kyle and I were on our way to Born Free in California. I always like to hit the road early so by 6:00 a.m., and when my coil shit the bed on my ’73 FL, we were already about 100 miles down the road and still way too early to buy parts anywhere. I called my brother Steve and without hesitation he trailered out my ‘95 Standard. We got back on the road and as we were pulling out of gas station about another 100 miles into west Texas everything went dead; it was a bad regulator. Up till now I have had a pretty good run over many miles so I just figured it was my turn. Kyle ran back to town and picked up whatever size motorcycle battery he could find at the local auto store. We then proceeded to strap the drained battery to his handlebars and run cables to his battery. We put the new battery in my ’95 and headed down the road 50 miles before it was drained. We repeated this process a few more times before we pulled into the Harley dealer in Amarillo who had a new regulator waiting for us and they even lent us a couple tools to make the exchange. It took us 13 ½ hours to cover 300 miles so we went to bed just plain worn out. The next day we pulled into Havasu, Arizona, about 10:00 at night and the temp was still 110 degrees but we were back on schedule. My brother helped, Kyle helped, the Harley tech helped and although it was a long day it was still one of my favorite stories. There must have been three or four others who stopped to check on us in between to make sure we were OK. The most important thing in life is to be who you are and secondly when you earn that confidence don’t forget to share and take care of your sisters and brothers on the road.