IN THE BEGINNING

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"She called him Speedo
But his Christian name
Was Mr. Earl"

Paul Simon from: Was A Sunny Day

Late summer of '70 I divided a map of the U.S. into six more or less equal parts; spending two months traveling in each one day-jobbing when I needed cash. In Alhambra, California I sold my Chevy van to buy my first ( and only new ) motorcycle a Ruby red Honda Motosport 350. I rode a lot but another year went by in the usual way. I sold it and flew back East to resume graduate studies. As a cage driver I moved to Vermont and got bit again empty, up-down roads; nice mix of increasing and decreasing radius curves. This time buying a slightly used 1985 Yamaha 700 Maxim X nicknamed Mrs.Earl after a twist on the Paul Simon lyric, or because I bought it from a couple who needed room in their wallet for child number one. Routine maintenance was satisfying but not enough so I cast about for a project bike. Teaching a full load; space, time, and money dictated a partial restoration that could be finished over one long winter. Through a trade magazine I found a '66 Sportster XLCH the year Harley went with a new set of P cams and changed to Tillotson's diaphragm carb with its 1" insulator block and hamcan air cleaner, lunch box oil tank, and hexagonal tank transfer.

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New guy on the block must have been real obvious to the shop owner. "There's no way you won't like this bike. The engine's a fresh rebuild and my painter has recreated a special order stock color." I still have the bike so the first sentence was true. I bought a paint job Chrysler's Black Cherry right off the shelf. Unleaded seats went into the redo of the engine breathing through a 38 mm Bendix and staggered, shorty duals. The controls and front end are correct but not much else. That's okay the bike's handsome. An uncluttered runner and reminder of how much I didn't know.

Don't misunderstand. A quality restoration or rebuild can be a fine, occasional
ride; more so if you're willing to tinker. Regardless of make, vintage motorcycles have issues. Many are undersquare - their long heartbeats better on backroads than in traffic. Cold starting a kicker can be a bear. Especially if the magneto's tired. Rebuild the mag. Give it a chance to be the state of the art it once was. Components of 6-volt battery-coil ignitions with half the electric potential of modern systems need to be spot-on. A former colleague, a French teacher, raced motocross in his off-hours as a Peace Corps volunteer in Algeria. He told me how lined up for a race, the fellow next to him calmly had both feet on the pegs. Some skills don't need reasons and neither do some old motorcycles.

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