They say that everything is relative. That you can’t actually judge or compare anything without a reference point. For so many of us our first experiences with a vehicle are the reference point for everything that follows. For me, the progression began with two wheels and eventually went on to four. However, there are usually some transitions that stand out beyond others. Some that remain vivid even many years later. The transition from walking or a push scooter to a bicycle for example. All of a sudden you could go faster and further than ever before. Or perhaps the transition from pedal power to motorized transport. In my case, it was from a Raleigh 10 speed to a Honda 50. Suddenly I could again go further and faster than ever before. However, the Honda 50 was perceived as a kind of scooter and motorcycle hybrid. There were already “proper” 90cc and 125cc motorcycles around, and we even tried to modify the bodywork to make the 50 look less scooterish.

This weekend I saw an example of the first big bike I ever rode. It was even the metallic green color. It stopped me in my tracks and some black and white newsreel footage of my youth started playing in my head. The memories came flooding back. The first proper “big bike” that I had access to was a green Honda CB175 Enduro identical to the one I was standing in front of. After the Honda 50, the 175 was a huge bike. It looked like a bike, and sounded like a bike, and had a tank that you could lay prone on to break the sound barrier. It was a rip roaring monster. You could wear a leather jacket with one of these (if we had a leather jacket, which we did not). And oh those pipes. The 175 Enduro had high-mount pipes that twisted around to get out the left side and then made their way back protected by chrome heat shields. They were a thing of beauty and surely were for the more serious racer. I remember arguing ignorantly that the high-mounts were for racers who leaned over all the time and would grind off low-mount pipes. Sounded good at the time. The Honda 50 had 4 hp, while the CB had about 20 hp. Can you imagine jumping onto something that had 5 times the horsepower !! Horsepower numbers were largely irrelevant to us, and we were totally bamboozled by the model numbers. 175 was more than 3 times 50, and therefore more than 3 times as fast.

It turns out that the top end was not 3 times as fast, but it was an absolute rocket, and could exceed 100 (KPH at least). We raced around the countryside whenever possible, and did a ton of miles two-up as basic transportation. We tried to impress girls, but this was the era when bikes were considered truly dangerous. Few girls ever got on the back of that thing, and it was probably for the best. The combination of testosterone, Guinness, and the need to impress would probably have caused a situation at some point. One night in early June after school was out for the summer, I did my first solo run on the bike about 65 miles to a concert by an up and coming group called Bob Marley and the Wailers. The night air enhanced the sense of speed and I diced with a Triumph Stag for a while on the winding roads. After the concert I rode around town a bit with a girl I met at the show. We had to stop a few blocks from her house so that her parents would not see her on a bike. The night became dawn on the way back, and I owned the roads on my big bike, blowing off Honda 50s and 90s at will. It was a glorious trip. It was most certainly the furthest and fastest that I had ever gone….

10 Replies to “When Small Was Big”

  1. Ahhhhh, YES! How well I remember those brisk late summer evenings when the air would slip past my face pulling enough warmth from my body that my speed was tempered by the need to stay warm! We had a Honda 350 and it was indeed KING of the ROAD, blowing Corvettes of that era off at every traffic light in Kingston, PA where I cruised regularly, usually with my 56 Olds or our '48 Jeep. Speaking of wind…with the windshield laid flat on he hood blocks, you risked loss of an eye if a katydid hit you at speed.

    Those were the days. Thanks for bringing them back with you inimitable writing style….


  2. Dear Carl,

    I was indeed a few sizes smaller, and the bikes seem to have shrunk just like my high school soccer jersey !!

  3. Dear Bill,

    As they say, youth is wasted on the young. I need that bravery and that energy now !! I was up around Kingston last week, and your wanted poster is still up in the post office 😉

  4. I still have a burn scar from the high pipes on a 1971 Suzuki 250 Hustler !! Girls would really have to hike up their skirt to get on that thing hehe 😉 Good times, good times….

  5. Dear Wayne:

    Nice blog today.

    I never started on anything smaller than a 750, and nothing I rode ever had a drum brake on the front. ASnd while I can't say that my K75 was terribly different size-wise or horsepower wise from my H2, it sure as hell is a technical wonder and more than three generations apart.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  6. Dear RhesusMan,

    There is a certain not-so-young-anymore lady that received a burn on that bike and has never forgiven me. I'm not sure if the burn or the ride made her more angry…..Cheers

  7. Dear Jack,

    A 750 was the stuff of dreams at that time, and we could not imagine what you would do with that much power 😉 Although today drum brakes don't seem to stop well. I never remember wishing for more brakes back then, it was always more power, more power….ahhh youth. Cheers.

  8. Wonderfully written as usual.

    At 15 years of age I bought my first motorbike, a 124cc Gilera. I was the envy of the neighborhood. I didn't think I would ever need anything larger. A few years later I bought a RD350 Yamaha, which I still own today. I thought this was something special and I would never need anything bigger than that bike. Looking back, those were some really good times. I really enjoyed exploring the country roads. Even back then, I enjoyed spending the whole day riding, trying to find the best roads with some other riding friends.

    I now have a pretty nice collection, but I am sometimes tempted to track down a 124 Gilera, I still have some good memories with that bike. If I ever find one in decent shape, I just may buy it.

  9. Dear Todd,

    I would have made an offer to buy that CB175 on the spot if the owner had been around. Nostalgia is a powerful thing. BTW, I met a guy in Vermont who had a collection of Gileras that he raced in an annual small bore Giro up there. You would probably have loved his garage !! Cheers, and thanks for commenting.

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