SIDECAR, ANYONE ?

Darcie spotted the sidecar the moment I brought it home in the back
of the pickup truck, and proudly informed us that it was her car!

A reader asked about the sidecar I attached to my Shovelhead back in the mid-’80s, which sent me off on a daylong squirrel hunt. As I didn’t have access to the interwebs way back then, I had a hard time learning anything about the sidecar. I knew it was a ‘Zephyr’ brand unit, but after that my search for info hit a brick wall.

I nicknamed it ‘Moon Unit’ because it looked kind of like a space capsule, but it was actually pretty well-built, with the rollbar-style cage around the body, a weatherproof roof and windshield, comfortable bucket seat with seatbelt and legroom enough for most adults, storage space behind the seat, and room for a dashboard-mounted stereo if one was desired. I personally consider a sound system on a motorcycle an abomination – I mean, who needs a stereo when they have the sweetest music in the world echoing out their exhaust pipes? – but I might have made an exception for the sidecar, if it would make Darcie happy..

However, in the course of researching the sidecar’s provenance and history I did come upon the United Sidecar Association, and founding member Hal Kendall. I joined USCA and purchased a couple of sidecar manuals Dr. Kendall had published. Looking back, I know I could not have gotten the sidecar safely and properly mounted on my Shovelhead’s OEM Harley-Davidson wishbone frame had it not been for the good doctor’s manuals, which are still available, as downloads, at the USCA’s Sidecar Tech page.

Another essential to my task was the assistance of a motorcycle-savvy welder named Bill Mading, who owned BG&T Welding in Austin, just down the street from the cop shop. Bill was a dirtbike racer, which meant he understood the stresses and strains motorcycle frames must endure, and how to compensate for them. However, he was also a skilled enough artisan that he could weld aluminum and aluminum-alloy engine and transmission cases – not an easy trick, as those metals tend to warp from the heat of the welding process. Warped cases means uneven gasket surfaces, less-than-perfect seals between case halves, et cetera. Bud (Bud’s Motorcycle Shop) used Bill for all his delicate welding needs, and we never had a problem with a part Bill repaired.

Bastard applications call for bastard engineering. Between us, Bill Mading and I designed the lower mounts for the sidecar. At the rear we installed a vertical plate near the frame’s dovetail, which included a pin-style electrical connector for the sidecar’s lighting. Up front we replaced the OEM mechanical brake foot-pedal mount with a larger plate that could accommodate the mounting tabs we’d devised.
NOT PICTURED: The top front mount was the OEM Harley-Davidson clamp assembly. I also replaced the standard front-fork triple trees, shown here, with Harley’s OEM adjustable rake trees. For added stability and handling I added an OEM steering damper, as well.

Between the manuals I’d received from Hal Kendall, and Bill Mading’s dedicated assistance, we were able to devise a bastard set of mounts for the sidecar. They weren’t pretty, but they by god worked! See the photo below for more information.

Everything one needs to mount an off-brand sidecar to an OEM wishbone frame.

I didn’t have the interwebs back in the Dark Ages of the 1980s, so finding out what I needed to know involved scouring magazines for any mention of sidecars, writing letters that were often ignored, calling long-distance (remember those days?) and running up my telephone bill, et cetera. Today? Ten minutes with a mouse and I had already gleaned scads of information! In fact, the first site I visited told me where the Zephyr was manufactured, and by whom, and even had a photo of a pretty snazzy brilliant yellow Zephyr sidecar!

ONE FINAL NOTE: If you are at all interested in sidecars, please consider a membership in the United Sidecar Association. It’s money well spent, IMO, and support for a great organization.

Buddy Merle Reveile (1950-2015)

Four years ago today we lost one of the best men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

ABOVE:  Bud Reveile on 7 January 2015, a couple of months before he passed away.

Bud Reveile was a Vietnam veteran; a U.S.M.C. tanker whose story was included in Oscar E. Gilbert’s Marine Corps Tank Battles in Vietnam.  He was a devout Christian and family man, and a lifelong and benevolent member of the East Austin community.

Bud was also a dyed-in-the-wool Harley man, a walking encyclopedia of all things Harley-Davidson, and a natural-born good guy.  He could talk to anyone – Bud maintained friendships with outlaw bikers and cops, Christians and atheists, bankers and b-girls and bums – and he did his level best to treat everyone with respect.  He had very few enemies, and the only ones I ever met were only enemies because Bud wouldn’t give them something for nothing.  He was a businessman – a true old-school horse-trader who worked hard to make a buck – but Bud was honest, and in all my years of knowing him I never saw him take advantage of anyone.

Bud built his business the old-fashioned way, beginning (just like Harley and the Davidsons themselves) in a backyard shed behind his North Austin home with some tools, a small collection of used motorcycle parts, and his experience working at Harley dealerships in California and Austin.

In April of 1979 Bud moved his operations to the grounds of a defunct lumberyard in East Austin.  There a Spartan tin shack – unheated in winter, un-air-conditioned in summer, noisy and dusty all year ‘round – served as mechanic’s bay, showroom and office, while erstwhile lumber bins held his burgeoning parts inventory.

Over the following 36 years, Bud created a sprawling compound that eventually covered more than a quarter of a city block.  In a ramshackle series of structures – some built, others acquired or repurposed and all interconnected – Bud kept aisles and aisles (and piles and piles) of old and odd motorcycle parts jumbled up in glorious disarray.  There were tons of new old stock; OEM and aftermarket pieces painstakingly gathered from shops that were going out of business or dealerships purging their parts departments, stacked right alongside all the bent, broken, rusted, oil-soaked parts salvaged from a thousand different spent and clapped-out motorcycles.  There was everything a rider might need to repair an old machine, customize a new one or, for that matter, build herself one from the ground up.  Visiting Bud’s shop was like stepping back in time to those halcyon days when Harley shops were unique, one from another, instead of the prefabricated corporate clones they have become.  For those of us who care about such things, Bud’s was Disneyland!  🙂

I first met Bud in the summer of 1979, when another biker gave me one of Bud’s cards.  I had just gotten my first Harley, and wanted to learn everything I could about them.  When I saw that Bud was the real deal I quickly asked if I could become a shop hang-around.  I would come in after work and on weekends, exchanging free labor for the occasional discount motorcycle part and a far more valuable education in Harley-Davidsons.  By the fall of that year I was working there full time, and in one way or another I kept working there for the next 36 years.

ABOVE:  My shovelhead outside Bud’s perimeter fence, fall of 1980. Over the fence are the lumber stalls, now enclosed to create mechanics’ bays downstairs and parts storage upstairs.

Jack-of-all-trades what I was, I helped build various add-ons to the shop, including closing in the old lumber stalls to create additional mechanics’ bays, and reinforcing the second story so parts could be stored there.  I ran electrical systems throughout as the business sprawled across first one, then two, and finally three separate lots known to all and sundry as 2612 East First Street.  I worked as a shop grunt, with my elbows deep in the muck of the parts washer, became a parts man and mechanic, and even lived on-site for a while during one of my periods of homelessness, doubling as night watchman while hiding my as-yet-unpaid-for shovel from the repo man. I served as publicist, writing articles about Bud and the shop for national magazines, and provided backup on the rare occasion when a situation so demanded.

ABOVE:  Bud’s logo, created and reproduced here by the artist, MAG.  The same design also graced Bud’s t-shirts, business cards, bumper stickers…

I also traveled with Bud to swap meets all over hell and gone, driving his rattletrap old school bus gutted of seats and packed full of the infamously “new, used and abused” parts that were Bud’s specialty:  everything from trendy chrome gewgaws and one-off chopper parts to hard-to-find transmissions, carburetors, flywheels and cylinder heads.  Sometimes it seemed as if we were carrying half of Bud’s inventory with us when we set out and, because Bud shopped even as he sold, frequently carried even more inventory back to Austin!

Bud's 1980 (12-80) facing ENE w. original tin shop, school bus used for swap meets at left (courtesy Bill James)

ABOVE:  My shovelhead right after I switched to a rigid frame, late 1980 or early ’81, in front of the tin shed that held Bud’s original “showroom” and mechanic’s bay.  The notorious school bus is visible at top left.

All those parts, BTW, were haphazardly stacked in rectangular metal trays, and part of my job as grunt was to hump the damn things in and out of the bus at every stop.  Bud was a “recycler” before recycling was trendy – those metal trays were actually old medicine chests salvaged from a downtown hotel slated for demolition – and when filled with panhead four-speed gears, ironhead cylinders, shovelhead connecting rods and the like they were heavy and sharp-edged enough to take off fingers!  I hated them with a passion, but even those trays couldn’t diminish the joy of traveling in Bud’s circle, meeting bikers and shop owners from around the world, learning the ins and outs of doing business the East Austin Way.

ABOVE:  A profile I wrote about Bud, back in the summer of 1991.

Of course, Bud also became one of my best, most reliable friends. He always seemed glad to see me, to step out and share a meal or just hole up in his cramped little office and visit for a while. There wasn’t much we couldn’t discuss, either, from faith and fear to family and friends, flatheads to Twin Cams, the war, the rallies at Sturgis and Daytona, the swap meet circuit, the biker books we both enjoyed and exchanged, and, naturally, the latest gossip from the motorcycling scene. Toward the end, we talked about what was happening to him, and steps he needed to take to be at peace as he crossed that final bridge. Like everyone who loved him, I did what I could to help, but it wasn’t enough.  If it could have done any good I’d have cheerfully given up blood, sweat and body parts to help him recover, or at least not suffer quite so much.

The day Bud died I exchanged texts with another longtime friend who had known Bud in the days when he worked at the old Harley-Davidson dealership in town. I wrote that our world just became a much smaller place. He agreed, writing “Smaller, sadder, and much more lonely.”

I miss my friend every day, but I remain grateful that he was my friend.  Through Bud I got to be part of a grand tradition in American motorcycling – the small independent shop that is the backbone of the bikers’ world.  Bud’s was a near-mystical place packed full of history disguised as scrap metal – a funky, messy mélange of mechanic and machinist’s shop, motorcycle museum and meeting hall – and it was a BLAST!  Man, I’m glad I got to be there!

ABOVE:  Bud’s Motorcycle Shop circa early 2000s, photographer unknown.

Bob Dylan and motorcycles

I’ve been doing a little research on songwriter Bob Dylan.  Like most riders, I already knew about his mysterious wreck near Woodstock, New York, in 1966, where he dumped his Triumph, injured himself to an unknown degree, and went into seclusion for a while.

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However, in reading through books about Dylan, interviews with people who knew him prior to his arrival in Greenwich Village, and his own Chronicles: Volume One (2004) I turned up a few references to Harleys, time spent running with the biker boys in his hometown, even being a bit of a “rough, tough” character.  I don’t know how true any of that is, but he apparently did spend some time around riders, as seen in the photos below.

1956:

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1966, on the Triumph he later wrecked:

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I always cringe at this one, because for some reason he’s dangling his feet – not a smart thing to do and goofy-lookin’ to boot!

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The passenger below is identified as “Sebastian,” but I don’t who Sebastian is:

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I’m not sure of the year – probably mid-’60s – but he appears to be riding a Japanese bike; maybe a Honda:

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and in 2004, back on a Harley-Davidson!

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One more, of the man on an entirely different kind of bike…

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…but wearing a motorcycle club jacket.  Go figure!

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