Now, that’s a stupid question!

What’s the point of all this?

On a Q&A forum I found the following question: What is the point of riding on a motorcycle other than looking “cool.” Are there any physical advantages as compared to a car? I know the old adage says ‘the only stupid question is the one you didn’t ask,’ but the question that poster posed is dangerously close to a stupid question. I borrowed one reader’s answer as a starting point for my own rant.

The ‘point’ of riding a motorcycle is to ride the motorcycle. It is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it.  People bandy about words like ‘freedom’ and ‘exhilaration’ but they are weak sauce compared to the reality.  The reality is so, so much more.

Me and my ’74 shovel (aka ‘The Bitch’) in West Texas enroute to Alpine. Man, I just love West Texas!

Again: the ‘point’ of riding a motorcycle is to ride the motorcycle.

It is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it.  People bandy about words like ‘freedom’ and ‘exhilaration’ but they are weak sauce compared to the reality.  The reality is so, so much more.

Me and The Bitch riding through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, in the Colorado Rockies.

Seriously, how do you describe the challenge of leaning into a hard curve on a twisty mountain road in the Colorado Rockies, just a hair’s breadth from the high side that’s gonna hurt like hell if you don’t maintain your line?  What words can match balling through the New Mexican desert alone on a star-studded night, with ghost shadows marching across the sands as the chill night air seeps through the seams in your leather jacket?  Can language even begin to capture the feeling of blasting through the heart of Dallas on a Saturday evening, twenty or thirty of you in a pack, so there in that moment – so large and loud and alive – that the straights in their cars instinctively move aside to let you pass?  How do you tell someone who’s never been there about rocking through a mountain pass on a chilly autumn morning, sun at your back and your best road dog at your side as you crest the Continental Divide and rumble down into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison?  Can you make any sense at all of the delight you feel waking up in a rain-soaked tent in Rapid City, South Dakota, on your way to the annual rally at Sturgis, and laughing about it because Who fuckin’ cares? We’re at Sturgis, baby!  

Into every life a little rain must fall…

And if that’s hard, try explaining how even the ‘bad stuff’ gets good, later. Things like riding through the wake of a hurricane in downtown Houston, water so high on the road that it’s burbling and bubbling at the ends of your exhaust pipes and dousing your ignition system. Things like spending a sleepless night camped on the banks of the Rio Grande, kept awake by the bitter cold and the new traveling companion who neglected to mention that he snores like a fuckin’ buzzsaw.

This is me riding through the Black Hills of South Dakota, doing a little sightseeing during the annual Black Hills Classic Motorcycle Rally, a gathering of the tribe that’s been going on since 1938.

Things like kneeling in the mud in a pouring rainstorm to help a stranger get his motorcycle started, because the biker’s code says you never leave another rider behind. Things like facing off with a shotgun-wielding deputy sheriff who is screaming at you and your buddies to get those goddam bikes out of there before he arrests the lot of you, because one of your buddies can’t get his bike started and the biker’s code says you never leave another rider behind. Things like your buddy suddenly remembering, after twenty minutes of trying to kickstart his shovelhead, that he installed a hidden kill switch as a security device just last week, and Oh, yeah! That’s why my bike won’t start….

One of my favorite works by Dave Mann: a loving couple two-up on a nice Spring day. Dave Mann’s monthly centerfold paintings for Easyriders captured every aspect, from the quiet pleasure of a run up the Pacific Coast Highway….
….to the drag of getting beefed by some biker-hating cop. and everything in between.

….because every biker knows the best stories are the ones that really sucked in the moment.

Are there physical advantages? Well, let’s see…

Me and The Bitch and the Marlboro Man’s Softail on Skyline Drive, above Cañon City, CO.

There’s the fact that you’re out in nature, breathing fresh air, instead of being cooped up in a cage with the air conditioner on, guzzling fossil fuel and contributing to global warming. And let’s remember that motorcycling is not a sedentary activity the way driving a car is, either. The constant shifting of weight and the tensing and relaxing of different muscle groups actually burn calories, really, and help you maintain a healthier body. Add a kick-starter to your machine and you can just about sell your Nautilus!

Look at the grin on my face. I am on a motorcycle I just rebuilt from the ground up: new paint, polished aluminum, a few chrome touches like new exhaust pipes and handlebars…. There are few finer feelings in this world than what I was feeling in that moment. I wasn’t posing or profiling or showing off. I was just grooving on the feeling: my Harley, the wind, a bunch of good friends all riding together, heading for a party. I didn’t know someone was taking pictures, and didn’t even know the photographer, but sometime later he came into the motorcycle shop where I worked and gave me several excellent photos made that day. Wish I could remember his name (and if you see this, Mr. Photographer, shoot me a kite, eh?) but wherever he is, I bless him!

And for most riders there is also an emotional benefit to being in the wind. You see it in the slogans on biker t-shirts: Four wheels move the body, two wheels move the soul; Sometimes it takes a whole tank of gas before I can think straight; and You never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist’s office. I know that, for myself, nothing can clear the cobwebs and help me forget about a crappy day like some time in the saddle. It’s two-cylinder meditation. My mind is focused on the ride – the shifting of gears, the changes in pavement texture and potential hazards, traffic patterns, the weather, et cetera – and tending to all that frees your mind from the weight you carry.

To quote Jackson Browne: ‘It’s a peaceful, easy feeling…’

There are also the benefits of being a smaller vehicle in traffic, in those enlightened states that permit motorcycle ‘filtering’. This is the low-speed lane splitting which allows motorcyclists to work their way through stopped traffic. It gets them where they’re going faster and reduces carbon emissions. It also eases overall traffic congestion, which helps get everyone moving faster, further reducing emissions, et cetera. A real win-win. I just wish the Texas legislature would get on that bandwagon, rather than all the horrid, hateful ones they have seen fit to climb on lately.

I was in a pack of thirty or so motorcycles when we stopped for lunch at a roadhouse. Before we could get back on the road, we were surrounded by heavily-armed law enforcement officers, who drew down on us with AR-15s. They proceeded to run every one of us through the mill – driver’s license, tag number, VIN – just because they could; just to inconvenience us, just because that many bikers in one place absolutely must mean something criminal was going on. They did get one guy, who had an outstanding warrant, but had to let the rest of us go.

Finally, in cities where land is at a premium, and motorists are desperate for parking spaces, motorcyclists require much less space than cars and trucks. If office buildings, colleges and malls would provide secure parking for motorcyclists, they could reduce the demand for parking by the drivers of full-sized vehicles, and again, contribute to lessening carbon emissions, fuel consumption, global warming, and so on.

So, it’s all that and more, and you notice that none of that has sweet fuck-all to do with being ‘cool.’  We ride because we’re riders.  We don’t know any other way to be.

Your mother did warn you about me, right?

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.

F O R T Y – T W O _ Y E A R S

After years of lusting after a motorcycle (but drinking and drugging away any motorcycle money I might have saved) I finally got sober, got my finances together, and toddled down to the Harley shop to pick out my bike. The sales manager must have decided I wasn’t a serious prospect, because when I announced I was there to buy a bike he flapped a hand at the door to the parking lot, said ‘The used bikes are outside,’ turned on his heel and walked away.

April 11th, 1979 to now: 42 years of true love !

I left, naturally – damn if I was going to spend my money with an asshole like that! – but as I was driving away I noticed a Harley parked at a used car lot two doors up the street from the dealership. I called a friend of mine named Wayne Agee – an experienced chopper builder, attorney and motorcyclists’ rights activist – and he very kindly went with me to scope it out.

What we found was a 1974 Harley-Davidson FX (kickstart-only) Superglide shovelhead with 8,000 miles on the clock, box stock except for 6″ overstock fork tubes. The salesman swore it was his personal bike – a story I dismissed as sales-speak at the time, but later learned was the absolutely truth. No matter. It was a Harley-Davidson Big Twin, and the prettiest thing I’d ever seen.

1974 FX 1200 Superglide as described in full-line sales brochure.

I didn’t have my motorcycle license yet, so Wayne test-rode the bike for me. The price was right and he gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and I was sold! I went straight to my credit union to arrange financing, and the next day, April 11th, 1979, I went to take possession of my very first motorcycle. A five-minute tutorial on the machine – clutch up there, brakes here and here, shifter over there, one up and three down – and I was on my way.

1974 FX 1200 Superglide as it appeared on April 11th, 1979, at Northwest Hills Texaco, Austin, Texas.
My 1963 Buick LeSabre is in the background.

I passed a motorcycle safety course when I was in the service – a requirement if I was going to ride a motorcycle on base – and took rides on other people’s machines whenever they were dumb enough to hand me the keys, but I was basically ignorant of riding technique. Of needs, I taught myself to ride by spending every possible moment on that bike, cruising the Farm-to-Market roads that snake across the Texas Hill Country west and south of Austin. I quickly realized I was born to this life; to be in the saddle, in the wind. Nothing before or since has brought me such pleasure and peace of mind, or felt so right.

1974 FX 1200 magazine advert. Note stylish matching helmet and brown leathers.
I never had either of those things.

I began calling my shovel ‘The Bitch’ long before The Grateful Dead released their In The Dark album in 1987, but a couplet from the song ‘Tons of Steel’ describes her to a T:

“It’s one hell of an understatement to say she can get mean
She’s temperamental; more of a bitch than a machine!”

However, the name was given tongue-in-cheek because, even though any machine will act up one way or another, if you own it long enough, The Bitch has been a stout, faithful steed with plenty of heart and class.

September, 1979, Labor Day Weekend Harley Drags at Little River-Academy Raceway east of Temple. I stripped the tank emblems (which I could kick myself for, now) and replaced the stock saddle with a low-ride LaPera king-and-queen. I traded the stock headlight assembly for an original Bates unit I found on my very first trip to Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, replaced the stock buckhorn handlebars with broomstick drag bars, and installed foward controls and highway pegs to accommodate my long legs.

The Bitch has been through a lot of changes over the years. I began by turning her into stripped-down cruiser, above. Then I converted her into a fat bob, below.

December 1979, on Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas, just south of Town Lake. I still had the drag bars, but I replaced the stock one-piece fuel tank with the more traditional-looking two-piece ‘fat bob’ tanks. These were the 3.5 gallon size commonly seen on early Police motorcycles. I loved the look, but unfortunately, the older fat bobs were prone to cracking and leaking. A lapful of gasoline at 60 MPH is never a good thing, and as a result, I never kept a set of the original fat bobs for very long.

Next, I built her into a version of the FL Sport – a dresser sans saddlebags and windshield – using the wide-glide forks Wayne sold me, and pieces sourced through his ‘chopper shop’ (which, as it happened, bore a striking resemblance to his law office). The photo below shows the project about halfway to completion.

1980, at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, 2612 East First Street, Austin, Texas, just before I completed the makeover to a stripped-down dresser. I had removed as much of the chrome trim as I could, replaced the 3.5 gallon fat bob fuel tanks with a 5 gallon set, swapped the narrow FX front forks for the wide glide I bought from my friend Wayne, and traded the Superglide rear fender for the longer, wider Electra-Glide tin. All that was left at this point was the dresser covers for the rear shocks and the aluminum nacelle and full-sized headlight for the front. Then that damn rigid framed panhead showed up!

Just about the time I finished that project, with a full aluminum headlight nacelle off an old Electra-Glide, a friend let me throw a leg over his rigid panhead, and I was in love. The rigid was so much lighter (and cleaner looking) than the stock swingarm frame, and I just had to have one.

1980, in early winter, at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, in front of the
tin building that housed Bud’s original East Austin shop/showroom/office.

By then I was working at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, and Bud helped me find a 1954 wishbone frame. I swapped the engine and transmission into the wishbone and slapped on some get-by fenders and fuel tank, above. Meanwhile, I sourced fresh tins for the bodyman, so I could keep riding while I got everything painted and ready to go. After some dithering around I settled on a bright blue the same color the Austin Police Department used on their cars – a close match to an original 1954 factory color Harley-Davidson named ‘Glacier Blue’.

1980 at the Terrace Apartments off South Congress Avenue in South Austin, Texas. The Bitch when I first put it in the rigid frame, prior to the complete makeover I had planned for it. I rode it like this until I was ready to tear it down and rebuild it. Note how dingy the aluminum on the engine and front forks looks.

I took the shovel apart, rebuilt the engine, polished every bit of smooth aluminum I could get a buffing wheel or elbow grease to, and put it all back together.

1980, The Bitch in Glacier Blue, the day I completed the makeover.
Note the shiny aluminum. That was a
lot of work !
The Bitch in Glacier Blue, in the yard at Bud’s Motorcycle Shop, 2612 East First Street, Austin, Texas, where I was a proud Known Associate for over 35 years. That rear fender was from a swingarm dresser with the hinge welded shut – a concept by Dave Hobday, a fellow employee at Bud’s – skillfully executed by a body-man named Paul, who was left quadriplegic after a motorcycle wreck. Paul did the paint and body work for a number of custom builds at Bud’s shop, and in return we built him a three-wheeled shovelhead adapted to his disabilities. He later took the trike back to his home state of Massachusetts where he rebuilt it, doing most of the work himself, and did such a fine job that it ended up featured in Easyriders back when that was still a rag worth reading.
Paul with a trike he has every reason to be proud of, featured in Easyriders January 1985 issue.

I caught a lot of flak for that paint color the whole while the tins were hanging on the wall in my shop area, but once I put it all together I received nothing but compliments. As an added plus, I never had a car pull out in front of me the entire time I ran that color. They might not have been aware of motorcycles in traffic, but they by God noticed that cop-car blue !

1980, enroute to a party at Lake Buchanan, shortly after I completed the
Glacier Blue makeover. That is the smile of one very proud bike builder!
1980 at Lake Buchanan, Texas.
1981 at Lake Brownwood, Texas, with Lea, Bill Jones and Debbie.
1982, a ride to the annual Black Hills Classic Motorcycle Rally at Sturgis, South Dakota, above.

Me and my buddy, T.R., left Austin on Friday after work, and took 48 hours to ride our rigid framed shovelheads about 1300 miles, from Austin, Texas, to Sturgis, South Dakota. That averages out to a measly 27 miles an hour ! However, during that 48 hours we stopped regularly for sit-down meals, and tent-camped at the roadside both Friday and Saturday night. We also stopped at Hugo’s Harley-Davidson in Wichita that Saturday afternoon, where they kindly loaned my buddy a welder so he could repair his broken headlight bracket. Since we were in town anyway, we paid a visit to Truett & Osborn’s Speed Shop, too. Then we lost some time when I ran out of gas at sunrise on Sunday morning, and again when I had a leisurely visit with my brother’s in-laws in Kearney, Nebraska, later that morning, so I’m thinking our speed was a little better than 27 MPH !

Below, a visit with my sister-in-law in Lusk, Wyoming, on my way back to Texas.
1983, a ride out to see the Bluebonnets blossom. Going to see the wildflowers is an annual event in Central Texas, and the roadsides are lined with people posing their kids, dogs or, in my case, a motorcycle, amongst the the beautiful blossoms.
1983, Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush at the roadside southeast of Austin.
1984, Memorial Day races at Little River-Academy Raceway. I was winning my bracket until the timekeeper gave me the wrong ET card at the end of a run. I’d actually won that heat, but didn’t realize it until after the trophies were awarded. Just as well. If I’d won I probably would have been hooked on racing, and that is an expensive habit !
1984, at a scenic overlook near Kingsland, Texas. I was still a smoker, then, and deliberately trying to imitate the image of my father astride an Army Air Corp scooter at the end of World War Two. Later, without even meaning to, I did a much better job.
1945, Lincoln, Nebraska, Tom James, Army Air Corps navigator, astride an AAC scooter, and 1994, me at Shiprock, New Mexico, astride The Bitch. It wasn’t until years after the photo at right was taken that I realized how alike we sat our machines.

I made other changes as the years passed. I went back to black, changed fenders and tanks, ran a pogo-stick saddle and windshield for a while, added a sidecar so my stepdaughter could ride in safety and comfort, and put on mile after mile after mile…

1985, at the Flea Market on Highway 290 east of Austin.
1986, at J.B. and Dana’s house on Romeria Drive, Austin, Texas.
1986, at J.B. and Dana’s house on Romeria Drive, Austin, Texas, with my stepdaughter’s mother.
1987, at home on Wilmes Drive in Austin, with the sidecar for my stepdaughter. That’s her tricycle in the grass, and our roommate’s chopped Honda in the shed.

Another view of the sidecar setup.

1988, at Redwood Lodge, Lake Whitney, Texas.
1989 Southeast Texas enroute to an ABATE Texas function.
1990-11-18 at Benny and Carol’s house in McGregor, Texas.
From left: Carol, Benny, Michelle, Bill and The Bitch, Laura, John and Clifford.
1991, on a solo ride from Austin to Estes Park, Colorado. The photo above was taken at a gas stop in the Texas Panhandle shortly after dawn.

Below: I stopped at the visitor’s center in Estes Park, to get directions to my brother’s mountain-climbing school, and as I was dismounting noticed a familiar motorcycle pulling into the parking lot of a fast food restaurant across the street. I finished my visit to to the center, crossed the road and stumbled into the Mickey D.’s and sure enough…!
In town no more than five minutes, and who should I run into, but the man I rode to Sturgis with – a man I hadn’t seen in almost a decade – in Colorado for a vacation with his wife! How’s that for a small world!?!
1991, T.R. and Kimberley, with their motorcycles parked behind them.
1991, heading up into Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park.
1991, atop Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park, at 12,000′.
The following summer, July, 1992, riding through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado, with Peno and Greasepit.
Great riding country!
We were attending a motorcycle rally in Montrose, Colorado, on the Western Slope. That’s Greasepit at left, and his burgundy-colored panhead behind him. Peno, at right, was my road dog for most of my best adventures during those years.
Peno on his shovelhead, with the flame-job paint he did himself.
Greasepit on his panhead: one happy biker !
1993, July 4th, a solo ride to meet up with a friend in Lake Eufala, Oklahoma.
1993, Labor Day Weekend, a group ride to Lake Eufala, Oklahoma.
From left: Paul, Jeff, Peno, Bill and Melissa B.
1994, July, ride through Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Peno took this shot one-handed at about 65 MPH.
1994, on IH35 in Belton, enroute to the annual Tri-County Toy Run.
1995, on the bridge over Royal Gorge, Colorado. It was me and The Marlboro Man that time.
2000, with Jackie on the back, at Monument Cafe, Georgetown, Texas, for breakfast with our friend Tina.
2001, in Crawford, Texas, with Randy and Tina.
2004, January, a winter ride on a back road near La Grange, Texas. High temp that day was 47 degrees.

In July, 2004, at the age of 48, I fell 35′ from a billboard structure, when a piece of the board came loose. I rode the ladder I was standing on all the way to the hard rocky Hill Country earth, and ended up with an open compound fracture of my right leg, numerous fractures in my left mid-foot, and a burst fracture of my L-4 vertebra, which caused catastrophic nerve damage to the cauda equina that controls everything south of the waist, and I mean everything!

After fourteen days in hospital, numerous surgeries and a near-fatal hospital-borne infection, I went home to a wheelchair and a rented hospital bed, with lots more to come. Still, at the end of October I limped out to the driveway, kickstarted The Bitch and took it for a ride around the neighborhood.

2004, Halloween, and my first time on the bike since my on-the-job accident that July.

I’ve probably made smarter choices in life, but it seemed important at the time, and sure felt good!

2004, Halloween, and my first ride after my accident.

A lot has happened since then, including another makeover of The Bitch and a return to A) another blue paint job, B) another set of fatbob tanks, C) another pogo-stick and D) another windshield, all to accommodate my back and leg injuries.

2008, and yet another makeover: late-model fat bobs (less likely to crack and leak) with a traditional pogo-stick saddle, adapted to fit the new fat bobs, and a windshield, to save my back muscles having to fight
against the wind at highway speeds, but…
…my body no longer wants to cooperate.

The pogo-stick and windshield arrangement was good for a while, but remember the nerve damage I mentioned? Yeah, that nasty nerve damage has come back to haunt me.

One of the nastier tricks it plays on me (and the nasty tricks are legion, believe me!) is that my right knee gives out with no warning. It’s been doing it since I first got out of the hospital, but that particular trick has become more frequent as the years since my accident go by, to the point where I can no longer feel safe riding a two-wheeler, so…

meet my new wish-list! I can either pony up the $25,000 to $30,000 people are asking for late-model Harley three-wheelers, or stick my dearly beloved Bitch in a three-wheeled frame like the one Paughco offers, One way or the other, I have got to get back in the wind!

Watch this space for updates!

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.