You’ve seen Bob Kelly’s work on Bike-urious a few times over the years, and I’m excited to share this tale from his past. Don’t worry – it’s not as morbid as the title might suggest!
Death of a Motorcyclist
Words by Bob Kelly
Art by Kim Jung
In 1976, I was a high school sophomore, and my best friend Doug was a fellow motorcyclist. While we both were riding tiddlers (I rode a 1972 Yamaha LS2 Twin 100 and Doug a Honda Trail 90) we dreamed of upgrading to larger bikes. Once a girl at school rode up on a Yamaha 175 Enduro and then we had to get bigger bikes. Our families were close and so they met on our wish to upgrade. They acquiesced but limited our new bikes to under 500cc. We could hardly contain our excitement and we both wanted a new Honda CB400F. If our parents knew how fast the 400’s were, I think they would have limited us to 250s.
Doug and I wanted the red model. I threatened Doug that if he also bought a red one, I would have to put a dent in his tank so I could tell his bike from mine. After a fair coin flip at the Honda shop, I rode home that day on a 400/4 cloaked in Varnish Blue. Being a sore loser, I told Doug the blue bikes were faster.
Doug’s father Vince really enjoyed riding the 400 and soon let us know that he was in the market for a new motorcycle. We tried our best to steer him in the direction of “cool”. I wanted Vince to buy a 1973 Kawasaki Z1 (the fastest production motorcycle that year) and Doug wanted his dad to buy a Honda CB550 or a CB750. Vince pretended to consider our input, but we both knew he would end up with something lame.
About a month later, Vince bought a new motorcycle and he would not tell us which one he bought. Instead, he wanted us to be home to see him ride up on it. I heard the motor before I saw it and had a feeling it was a large displacement bike. Vince rode up on a brand-new 1976 Sulfur Yellow Honda Gold Wing. I could not have been more disappointed and we teased him relentlessly.
“Congratulations – you bought an old man bike!”
“Why yellow? Was that the only one left?”
“I bet the Goldwing outweighs your neighbor’s Civic.”
“I didn’t realize they sold yellow motorcycles to grown men.”
One day while Doug and I were giving our bikes a bath, Vince joined us to wash his two-wheeled Honda Civic. We were bored and doing our best to talk him into popping a wheelie on the Gold Wing. We called him names, none I care to repeat here, but it’s safe to say we badgered him relentlessly and questioned his manhood. As he was leaving for a ride we heard the engine rev up near redline, he dumped the clutch and to our amazement the Wing was nearly standing on end. The expression on Vince’s face was one of pure terror. We were both barely 16 so we were laughing like hell. Vince managed to chop the throttle, the Gold Wing slammed down hard on the front wheel. The bike landed upright but the downward force of over 600 lbs plus a couple hundred more for Vince shattered the Wing’s front end. The forks were twisted, the triple tree was bent badly, and the rake of the front end became more like a chopper and less like a touring rig. We would later learn that the insurance company totaled the bike due to a bent frame.
Doug’s mother was a very nice lady but a stern regulator at heart. She made it clear that Vince would never ride a motorcycle again. Period! She never liked the idea of her husband riding a motorcycle plus she was angry that he let “two 16-year-old idiots” talk him into doing something so stupid.
Doug and I had a hand in killing a motorcyclist that day. Vince would never own a motorcycle again. But after spending time in the dog house, he did go out and buy a Datsun 240Z. We approved, it was a very cool car!
Epilogue: A couple of decades later I reconnected with Doug and his dad at a wedding reception. We said our hellos, and got caught up. As we parted, I said, “Hey Vince, I thought of you the other day.” He said, “Oh yeah?”.
“Yeah, I saw a guy riding a yellow Gold Wing.”
Vince smiled and said, “Fuck you, Bob”. Doug and I laughed, like two 16-year-old idiots.