Friday, May 1, 2009

Cliff's KV Notes, Part 19: Wheels, Part 3

Years before I got my driver’s license, I always wanted a motorcycle. I read every Floyd Clymer book on bikes that I could get my hands on, including one that explained how to ride one. The Clymer books covered mostly English bikes, such as the Ariel Square Four, Excelsior and others not available in the U.S. But the basic controls were more or less universal.
I had my heart set on a BSA, which I thought stood for Boy Scouts of America instead of Birmingham Small Arms. I would eventually get one, as my second motorcycle, from Ghost Motorcycles in Long Island. But that would be way in the future.
Before getting my license, I was commuting to Brooklyn College by bicycle, or train in bad weather. Close by the college was a Jawa motorcycle dealer. Jawa was a Czech bike—basic transportation, nothing fancy. But the quality looked good, and it wasn’t too expensive. One of the salesmen took me for a ride on a scrambler—a high performance model in the line. I was hooked!
I convinced my father to drive out to Brooklyn with me and take a look at the bikes. He was all set to buy one for me, (course, I would have to pay him back) until he found out that the cost of insurance was the same as a car—over $300/year. And that was that. Until I met Howie Frankel.
Howie lived either in KV or in the neighborhood. He had a 2-stroke, single cylinder175cc Allstate motorcycle that he wanted to sell. The Allstate was made by Puch in Austria for Sears. The price wasn’t bad, and I told Howie I’d buy the bike, except for the insurance. No problem, he said. If you buy an Allstate bike, you can get Allstate insurance for $68/year. I checked it out, and he was right.
I rented an indoor parking spot in the garage on the corner of Pike and either Cherry or Water. The street level area of the garage was a repair shop that fixed private cartage garbage trucks. Two guys either owned or were employed there as mechanics. Andy was a short guy, who had a tall girlfriend who was a knockout. The guy was pretty dapper when he wasn’t dressed in his mechanic’s overalls. And it was pretty eye-opening to see what a short guy, with the right amount of self-confidence, could score. I believe his partner’s name was Sal. It must have been pretty tough to change a clutch on a garbage truck in the summer, what with the stench and all.
My friend Eugene Reiser had bought a Lambretta motor scooter before I bought the Allstate, and I got my feet wet on a motorized 2-wheeler on his ride. My bike’s parking spot was on the second floor of the garage, and there was a long ramp leading up from the street level. I had just completed the deal for the Allstate with Howie, and, on my first ride, motored over to the bottom of the ramp and it sized it up. Hmmmn, fairly long and steep. Better give it a lot of gas so it doesn’t stall. I grabbed a good handful of throttle and let out the clutch. My feet were still on the ground, and the bike just about shot up the ramp without me, nearly pulling my arms out of their sockets. But I managed to recover enough to make it to the second floor without having someone to call an ambulance.
I practically lived on that motorcycle, riding it everywhere. There were no helmet laws in ’58, so I never wore one. No special motorcycle test or license was required either. A regular “car” license was all you needed. I did take my mother and father for a ride, and I remember at one point, I had the motorcycle in our apartment in the “A” building. It was on newspaper in the living room. I think I had removed the gas tank prior to bringing it up in the elevator. I can’t believe my parents let this happen, but the specifics of the episode eludes me.
Soon after I got the bike, I wanted to expand my horizon from just normal riding. The sidewalk on Pike St.alongside garage had a lot of curb cuts for driveways. I thought it would be fun to speed down the edge of the sidewalk and see how high the Allstate would bounce into the air going over the cuts. I was going pretty good, when a police cruiser happened by. The two cops in the car saw me in the air and freaked out. This was obviously a first for them. But they weren’t amused, and issued my first traffic ticket—for driving on the sidewalk.
My sister Susan liked riding on the back seat of the Allstate, and I guess her most memorable experience was one particular blast on the South St. viaduct and up the FDR Drive. It was warm, and she was wearing just a blouse. We were doing maybe 70 MPH, and the wind tore open her blouse, leaving her rather, ahem, exposed. ‘Course I was looking ahead and had no idea what was happening. The wind was so loud that I couldn’t hear her even if she screamed. So up the drive we went, her open blouse flapping in the breeze, and giving the drivers we passed a really good eyeful. Guess it would have made a great ad—“I dreamed I rode a motorcycle in my Maidenform Bra.”
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