My dad was a big man. Not tall, just fat. 5ft. 8in., about 250 lbs. He had an older brother that looked just like him, but was even bigger, about 280-300. This is just a guess, I've never lifted either one of them. Uncle Bob (hereafter referred to as "UB") was never in our Honda riding/camping group, so I didn't see him a whole lot.
When I was 15 and in the midst of my "motorcycle jones", I was suprised to learn that UB was in possession of a motorcycle. Being totally addicted, this aroused great interest in me, especially considering UB's girth. I wondered what kind of bike a fat man would ride. I hoped he had a hog, but given our economic circumstances was afraid he had a "girls bike" (Trail 90) like we did.
I immediately demanded to be told what make, model and year, but dad said he couldn't remember. From his reply I was convinced that he just dropped in from Mars, because at that time I could chant model years and tank colors for all three major brands of Japanese motorcycles (Honda, Yamaha and Suguzi) better than the Dali Lama could quote Budda. I speculated that dad worked too hard and it ruined his brain for the important things in life, like what year Yamaha switched from a plastic medallion logo on the gas tank to stick-on white plastic block letters on the DT models. (anybody remember?)
Dad must have told UB about how good I had become at changing the sparkplugs on the Trail 90, because he mentioned that UB was having some problems with his motorcycle and asked if I would mind having a look at fixing it.
Of course I said yes, no problem, I'll work on it. (I'd do anything to ride another bike)
Ten seconds after I said that I wondered what on earth I had ever done to give Dad the idea that I could fix motorcycles. Up to that point the only thing I had excelled at was replacing spark plugs on the Trail 90. If you wanted to ride the 90, and I did, you had to get good at changing and cleaning plugs. I had even contemplate a design modification that would allow for something like a "speed loader" where I didn't have to unthread and thread the plug in the head. But the idea had technical problems I couldn't overcome. I had gotten proficient with the plug wrench and the screwdriver
In one fell swoop I had been elevated from ignorant teenager to master motorcycle mechanic. In UB's mind, I was the guy that he would entrust to fix his steed. I felt pretty important . My chest swelled up, my voice dropped an octave and I had to go change into trousers with a little more room in the crotch. Just like Navin in the movie "The Jerk", I was "finally somebody".
I was so excited that I immediately made a diagnosis based on second hand information gleaned from a phone conversation Dad and UB had a week prior. After a short investigation, I prescribed the cure that would be administered and gave the go-ahead to deliver the patient.
The Doctor Was In.
Life was goooood.
I must have sounded convincing, because a few days later, on a fine summer evening, UB pulled up to the house astride a real motorcycle. I heard the noise three houses away and ran outside before he could shut her down and climb off. This was not as fast as it sounds because of UB's heft. Wow, I had never seen one of these! It was a Bridgestone twin, unknown vintage(68?) but it had low pipes and a big 175 on the side cover. Two cylinders! (I was in heaven) Two stroke! ( big power) and a real gas tank (manly). The low pipes made it a street bike (I was a trail guy myself), but what the heck. I wanted to ride it, I wanted to "feel the power"
I was still uncomfortably carrying the heavy burden of "master motorcycle technician" and tried my darndest to act the part. Since he was riding it, I figgured it couldn't be broke too bad, so without even so much as a "Hi, UB, how've you been?" I said, "What's wrong?" UB said he had a couple of problems and proceeded to show them to me.
The first problem was so easy to fix, I almost laughed out loud. The clutch lever had broken off about half way down after UB dropped it in his garage. I knew I could fix it. I did laugh out loud (more like a suppressed guffaw) when UB offered to give me money to buy a replacement lever. I laughed because someone was giving me money to go to my favorite store (the Honda shop) and buy motorcycle parts. This was too good to be true, and it caused an uncontrollable guffaw to blast out of mouth, but after that I managed to keep my yap shut and look serious as UB was digging into his wallet for a 10'r. By this time dad had wandered out the door and was standing behind me. I didn't think anything of it at the time cause my eyes were bugging at the sight of the 10 spot.
The second problem was not so easy to fix. UB said the carbs may need to be adjusted, because the bike wasn't running very well. Since I was on a roll from the clutch lever, I figgured no problemo, UB, I twiddle with the idle mixture on the Trail 90 all the time. Hey, motorcycles are motorcycles, right? Two wheels, frame, engine, seat. What could be different? They all operate on the same general principle. I immediately stuck my hand down towards the carbs to twist the idle screw like on the Honda. Whoa, Nelly, where'd they go? Nothing but a coupla cables dissappearing into the nether region of the "engine case". I came up empty handed and realized that there wern't no carbs on this motorcycle and my job was in jepaordy. My third minute on the job and I was already stumped. I had gloated so much about the clutch lever fix that I failed to properly examine the rest of the bike for missing components. Was this a cruel joke that UB had perpetrated on me? Maybe this was a test. My dad and my uncle were known to be practical jokers, and I didn't put it past them to remove some major component just to see my reaction. You know, 2 fat guys hanging out together, deciding to have a laugh at the kid's expense. Hey, let's remove the engine and tell the kid we can't get it started, or something like like that. Yuk, yuk.
Then I remembered something about a Yamaha 125 that I had seen with the same problem. For some odd reason the carb was on the side of engine inside the case. Whew! Saved by my vast experience base.
After regaining my composure, I thought I'd try to pull UB's leg, just in case he WAS trying to pull my leg, thereby letting him know that I was in on the joke, and even if he wasn't trying to spoof me, getting a much needed laugh, so I said, "Uncle Bob, I know why it doesn't run too good. You've lost your carburetors. Probably on that steep hill by your house." Both he and dad chuckled and then he told me that the carbs were in the side case, and that's why he wanted me to adjust them.
Ok, so it wasn't a trick, and since we were all having so much fun, I thought quick and told UB that maybe if he let me take 'er for a spin I might be able to better diagnose this problem.
Things were going my way that evening, because he agreed to let me take her for a "diagnostic spin". You know what those are like, 2% diagnosis, and 98% spin. I was 15 and didn't have a license. For the last 4 years I'd always had to push the Honda down the street to get to the trails behind the house, I was forbidden to ride on the road. But this was different. I was a mechanic, and mechanics had to test drive. Being too young to qualify for an operators license didn't get in the way of real men trying to diagnose a problem. This was different, this was work. Dad didn't object too much, so I hopped on and headed out into the neighborhood. I drove it around for a few minutes and the Bridgestone didn't seem to have anything wrong with it, at least from what I could tell. It rode smoother than the 90, and had a little more power. That was all I needed to have fun as I tooled around the neighborhood, learning to shift and enjoying the freedom of the open road and the developing evening.
After I returned, I confessed that I couldn't find anything wrong with the bike. It seemed ok to me. We then agreed that if I kept it for a while I maybe I could discover the problem and fix it. So then and there I became the adopted caretaker of the Bridgestone.
I undertook my new job with the usual pace of a teenager. The next day after school I ran (literally) down to the Honda shop with the broken lever and UB's 10 dollar bill, and directly hit a snag. They had two types of levers that would fit; one was a direct replacement that costs 3 bucks, and one was a new style of black plastic, high tech nylon type of lever with a dogleg bend in it for 6 bucks. It offered better leverage and a fraction more pull on the clutch cable, so it was the technical leader. It didn't quite fit the design or style or color of the other lever, or for anything else on the handlebars for that matter, seeing as how it was black plastic and the rest of the bike was chrome plated. That troubled me for a few seconds, but then technology took over and besides, UB had fronted me 10 bucks and I wanted him to get the benefit of all my motorcycling experience, no matter what the cost. So I bought the black plastic one, even though it was twice as much. When I reported to UB with the change, he told me to use the difference for gas money.
Installation was uneventful. I used the origonal bolt. Of course this work qualified me to take the Bridgestone on a "test spin". I had to make absolutely certain that this bit of craftmanship was 100% perfect, and lobbied Dad that the only way to eliminate any doubt was to thouroughly wring it out on the public highways. Dad granted me a mechanics waiver for the neighborhood only, and off I rode. This time I went a little farther that before, and soon found myself falling in love with the Bridgestone. She had a lot better gearing than the Honda, and even the low pipes had their advantages. No more "hot knee".
I duly reported my progress to UB, who then asked if I had time to look at the carbs. I didn't so we agreed that I would keep it a little longer. I did not want to open that case. There were too many cables and stuff going in and out. Way too complicated for me, even if I was a "master mechanic". But I still wanted to ride it, so I agreed to keep on "working on it". I cleaned, lubed and adjusted the chain, took out all the slack in the throttle and brake cables, and topped off the battery. I snugged up the spokes and added air to the tires. (very important for a fat guy) I even went so far as to mount up the phillips bit in my impact driver and set it next to me in the garage, but never could bring myself to crack open the case.
By now, I had become quite comfortable with the Bridgestone. I liked the five speeds, the manual clutch, the tank between my legs instead of under my butt, and had completed quite a few circuits of the backyard track. One Sunday afternoon, with dad's permission, I was back out on the street. After running through the neighborhood I felt the need to experience the upper gear ratios, so I found myself at the entrance to the local highway, where I could actually drive the bike over 30 MPH. I pulled onto the main road and was briskly running it through the gears and marvelling at the smooth shifting and crisp throttle response of the big 175 cc mill, when quite unexpectedly, while accelerating wide open in second, I heard a loud noise and the bike nearly leaped out from underneath me. We went tearing down the road like a scalded cat, me rowing the shift lever every three seconds(and giving the new clutch lever a workout) until I had to back off the throttle to keep from running into the car in front of me.
I pulled the bike over into a parking lot and just sat there for a few seconds, stunned. The Bridgestone was idling faster now, with a lot more harmonic vibration. It was making a lot more noise too. I gassed it up and looked back at the exhaust, where big plumes of smoke were shooting out both exhaust pipes. A rush of adrenaline shot down my spine as I realized what was wrong with UB's Bridgestone. The entire time I had it, she was firing on only one cylinder. I had been riding on 87 cc of motorcycle! Tears of joy rolled down my face as I selected first gear on my new 175cc motorcycle and reentered the highway, and a whole new world.
Back home after I calmed down, I put the pieces together. Uncle Bob, being of sound mind and heavy body, never felt the need for speed. He only used the bike to putt around the neighborhood. The thing would load up and one cylinder would quit. He didn't ride it enough to realize what was happening, so he let me have it. I was too stupid to realize that lots of smoke from one pipe and no smoke from the other meant plug fouling, and didn't know what kind of power to expect from a 175. I was still worrying about adjusting the carbs and hadn't even thought about spark plugs. Hell, if it ran, the plug was good, at least that's the law with the Trail 90. Whoops. I violated the first three rules of motorcycle mechanics( Ignition, Ignition, Ignition.)
So here is how I spent the rest of that summer. UB would bring the Bridgestone over for a "tune up". I would run the wee-wee out of it until the pesky cylinder would clear up and start firing. Then I'd continue to run the wee-wee out of it until UB would call and ask for it back. He'd ride it for a while until the plug fouled, and then we'd start the process over again. Life was grand.
Later in the year, after I had secured my operators license, he officially loaned it to me for basic transportation. I drove it for nearly a year, summer and winter, piling up miles and experiences. But that's another story.
I never adjusted the carbs.
I never even changed the plugs.
It still probably has that ugly black clutch lever.
And I never told Uncle Bob or Dad how I fixed the Bridgestone.