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Old June 8th, 2005, 03:50 PM   #1
The Forum Wrench
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The 70's

The Way We Wuz
By Samm Coombs

Disclaimer: What follows are some of the more memorable events that occurred during my MSMC daze (which ended midway through the ‘70s when I moved to Hawaii). Readers who were riding tricycles during Nixon’s reign may wonder if my memory can be trusted considering the number of years between then and now to say nothing of the shocks my brain has sustained in those 30 odd years. Ah, but it is from a manuscript, titled Old Enough To Know Better written at the behest of the Chilton Book Company in 1973/4, the subject of which was none other than your favorite motorcycle club. (The fact that said M.S. was never published by Chilton had nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the chronicle -but rather a decision by Chilton to strip their list of all but their meat ‘n’ potatoes repair manuals.)

This disclaimer should also acknowledge that most all the events herein related involve spills - motorcycles being very unstable machines. Indeed, 83% of the Club’s membership had (by 1974) suffered the effects of gravity at least once in the riding careers (that averaged 10 years at the time.) I hasten to add not one resulted in death or maiming and only 18 required the services of a licensed medical facility - a pretty darn good record considering 72% of motorists cause all motorcycle accidents.


The hero of this piece swears he wasn’t showing off for the photographer, but the weight of evidence suggests otherwise: 1) The car he was passing carried a photojournalist who was following the Club on a weekend ride to the Gold Country. 2) The member in question did not have to pass the camera car on a narrow two-lane road that was about to disappear around a hill. 3) The only possible inducement to pass the camera car on a blind corner would be to provide the action the photog was after. The upshot produced so much action to render the cameraman incapable of recording it.

The member’s 350 Honda was at that point of total commitment when it faced a Volvo with no place to go but to where the cycle was. With the camera car to his right and the Swede dead ahead, the rider had to imagine a corridor between the two cars and to get through it -no simple task when laid over to handle a 35-mile bend a 50 MPH. He would have made it too, but for the crash bars he’d installed for safety’s sake. The Volvo’s back bumper snagged the outboard loop having a disastrous effect on the bike’s stability: it went one way, its rider the other way, landing in a roadside ditch after encountering too many yards of pavement in route. Contact with the latter might have been less painful had it not been for the heat of the day, which persuaded the subject of this story to shed his shirt a few miles back.

After the pieces had been picked up and the Club’s Florence Nightingales had given the raspberry-red rider a gauze shirt, the banged-up scooter was re-boarded and made to limp the last 25 miles to Murphy’s Bar (that’s a town, I hasten to add). Instead of seeking the softness of clean, white sheets, our hero repaired to the hotel’s dispensary and remained on duty until 3 a.m. - a sequel only worth mentioning in that the patient awoke the next day with neither ache or pain. This was established the Club habit of calling drinking parlors “hospitals”.


One of the Club’s members, a Big Banker, had just come by a Norton Commando… or was it an Interstate? Anyway, a Norton. If you live on the west side of San Francisco Bay in those halcyon days, the place you take a new bike is out front Sausalito’s No-Name Bar, the town’s unofficial City Hall. So it was inevitable the banker’s new cycle was parked there with 000017 on its odometer. After a perfunctory sassperilla, this man of millions clomps out of the No-Name pulling on his gauntlets and climbs his purple-tanked mount.

After the usual queries from the assembled streetpeople (“Farfuckingout,” “How fast’ll it go?” “What’d that rig set you back, bub?”), our Hero lights up the Norton and to a chorus of “Git it on, baby”, “Goose the fucker”. He does - but briefly. You see, the forks remained locked. The Norton landed next door, inside a bookstore, sans rider.


There was a time the Club was weaving through the wine-soaked Napa Valley en route to a Dude Ranch reportedly favored by nudists. Coming to one of those backwoods bends that don’t curve but abruptly snap to the left or right to avoid someone’s pasture, a member’s 650 Trident caught its kickstand on the Pavement’s 4-inch lip. The 650’s owner speaks of becoming “suddenly and completely overcome with a great exaltation knowing I was about to earn the Spill-of-the-Month Award.”

“I knew I had it, too” adds a front-row observer, “when he catapulted past me, arms outstretched in the best Superman tradition.” His passenger, a robust but gainly young lady, followed on a lower trajectory, and one would swear she was totally unaware she still was not astride the Triumph. The observer remembers thinking. “O’ shit - now we’re in trouble. He’s married and she’s not, which will make any published reports a bit sticky.” But all’s well that lands well. The member came down in approved dirt track fashion - bouncing twice and rolling to lose momentum before hitting the fence. His passenger was a symphony in motion; an absolutely beautiful sight to behold; she rolled right up into his arms in this nice green culvert – a scene right out of Alvira Madigan. They lost no dignity and very little hide. He was missing the left side of one boot and a bit of the foot therein while she limped away with one remarkable strawberry on a very lush thigh that was to become the center of much attention around the pool of the non-nude Dude Ranch. (It turned out to be under new management, worse luck.)


This shameful episode occurred to the Club’s numero uno hero rider, a race-tested veteran who asked the owner of a brand-spanking new Honda 750 (then the last word) if he might take a spin on his recent acquisition. The transfer took place late at night, on a grassy rise behind a hotel where the membership was resorting. Our hero’s boot somehow became entangled in the unfamiliar hardware, causing the brand new 750 to seek its proper level, bike on top, rider under. Such an ignoble tumble might have been limited to a momentary embarrassment except for, 1) the incline; 2) its slippery nature; 3) darkness and 4) the ravine at by the foot of the slippery incline. Without a sound the race-tested rider on the brand-new borrowed bike slid out of sight and continued sliding until reaching the ravine into which he and the Honda fell. The injured cycle required $569.70 (in ’74 dollars!) to make new again, but the dents in the Old Pro’s authority are still to be seen.


The writer of these reminiscences was invited to accompany the Club as a prospective that is, probationary member, making his qualifying ride. My status was more than in the usual doubt by virtue of my mount - it being a 350cc Kawasaki, the only two-stroke in a long line of four-stroke 450s, 750s and a passel of BMWs. (Say what you will about two-strokes - at least you knew where to find them thanks to the smokey trail.) Our destination was the

Laguna Seca Motorcycle Grand Prix. The trip there was uneventful if you don’t count our being arrested en masse by a State Trooper who put away his book when our leader flashed his Highway Petrol Courtesy Card.

When the Club made ready to be the first out of Fort Ord’s gates (to avoid eating dust of 10,000+ cars and bikes), all engines lit up except the one belonging to said provisional member on the little 350cc two-stroke. It seems I had become parted with my ignition key somewhere around the two-mile track. The problem wasn’t to be solved by crossing wires, which refused to give way when snapped in the proper sneak-thief fashion.

A delegation was sent to the Kawasaki pit area perchance to locate a key in the same series, while the rest of the Club fell to their knees and began patting several hundred acres of grasslands seeking the missing two-inch key. Just as the pit delegation returned empty- handed a cry of “Eureka” arose from the proximity of the beer stand; the proverbial needle had been found, by no less than the one who had lost it! The denouement to the happy ending was later provided by the membership committee who accepted me into the clan with the proviso that before embarking on any Club ride I display two extra keys attached to a case-hardened chain encircling my neck.

Just in case you’re thinking “They weren’t fussy about who they let in, back in those primordial times”, the following tale provides proof of the contrary.

We pick up the story in Copperopolis; it was about 102-degrees outside where the bikes were parked. So, of course, the riders were inside doing what riders do when overheated - adding fluid. All except one, a gentlemen along on his qualifying ride. Well into his sixties, he was astride a very black and very new ‘Motorguzzi’. If the rig set him back $5K (c. 1974), the cameras and other equipment tucked away in various hang-on compartments added another $3K, But this not what distinguished him; it was his refusal to dismount. He preferred to stay aboard, turning lazy circles around the filling station mumbling his displeasure at the frequency of refreshment stops. Even more noteworthy was his outfit: Black helmet, black leathers tucked into knee-high boots. Make no mistake - this was no old-time cyclist; the Guzzi was his first bike, albeit close inspection revealed all manner of scrapes and contusions. Inside Copperopolis’ only edifice there was speculation his distaste for dismounting was to be explained by his inability to perform the required functions. (Note: the Guzzi’s whale-size tank permitted his non-stop feat.) Someone suggested he was no longer inside his black leathers that he had melted back in Farmington. Be that as it may, the white-thatched gentleman didn’t appear at the post-ride meeting saving the membership committee an awkward moment (It was later found that he needed help to dismount because he couldn’t touch the ground with his feet and was eventually elected as a member).


Seems there was this member who had an automatic garage door opener-upper and as he was passing under the door aboard his scooter (heading for a Club rendezvous), stalled directly under said door… which did its duty and closed, crushing the bike quite horribly. He would subsequently attribute the accident to slick pavement encountered en route to the meeting. Only his wife knew otherwise, which she shard with another wife who told…


Please remember all monetary references to follow are 1970 dollars - i.e., multiply by five or more to equal the cost in today’s bucks.

Not all MSMC legend concerns mishaps and miscues involving cycles. One of the more horrendous incidents of the early 70s involved a member’s new $20,000 motorhome. Being proud of his new party pad, the owner volunteered it to serve as the Club HQ at an overnight destination 150 miles from the City. Everyone piled their bags aboard the motorhome expecting it would not be far behind upon arrival. But after all the bikes arrived hot and dusty in need of civilizing contents of their bags - the motorhome was unreported.

Then came a phone call from the wayward home’s owner. It had caught fire.

You will notice that no names are named to protect the guilty (as well as the putative publisher). The only exception is when the culprit/hero is myself.

Not withstanding this authoritative record, there will be the inevitable quibble from those who survived the occasions memorabilized herein. I don’t wish to prejudice such input but readers who are riding tricycles in the early 70s should be wary of odd old-timers. History, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

On the subject of memory and memories - readers who were riding tricycles during the Club’s maiden years should turn a deaf ear, ignore old-timers quibbles about facts versus fancies from the inevitable protestations of those who did not survived the Club’s maiden years. They may consider some of the facts fanciestake and take exception to some of the stories, but remember this: I am working from a printed record while you are relying on memories addled by too many undiluted vodkas and God knows what other brain-damaging substances suffered over the past 30 some years. Be that as it may, this is the way it wuz when Nixon was still holding court and “American Pie” was on everyone’s lips…

I could go on… about the lost motorhome; Charlie’s $100 flat; the metamorphosis of “Clean Gene Chaput” to “Shortcut Chaput”; and the time the Los Angeles Chapter was stood-up by the San Francisco contingent after they motored through a driving rainstorm to Morro Bay meet-up, but I understand some space must be left for the post-Watergate years.

1973-74 STATS

Our average age was 43.1 years; our average salary (sans perks) wuz $32K; our average cc’s wuz 613.5. 100% of the membership rode foreign bikes - i.e., no Harleys. 37% owned more than one bike. In 1973 MSMC male-only membership numbered 88 (in three chapters) plus 0 associate members - i.e., and as might be expected of any club with Montgomery Street in its d.b.a., the membership role read like a Chamber of Commerce Honors List, with the advertising/media executives dominating. 91% of the members were married and 94% of those had only done it once!

[Editor’s note: Samm, you’re so full of it!]

RAISON d’ętre

On the chance you have never heard the Club’s co-founders’ version of MSMC’s birth, I quote from an interview with Mssrs Turner and Schultz recorded sometime in 1971. "It’s an un-club," declared Turner. "Unnecessary, unattached, unequalled." Lest the scribe relate such un-ness to "unprincipled", Schultz came clean with the real story. "It all goes back to a dewy night in San Francisco when a few of us were endeavoring to climb California Street by following the Cable Car groves. Getting nowhere, we repaired to a convenient tavern to chip our teeth on the subject of weekend rides and how goddamn difficult it was to persuade the misses that such excursions were linked to the family’s welfare. Some genius suggested a club format would provide the missing lever." It must be remembered, guys whose jobs kept them away from home 50 to 80 hours a week find it a wee bit touchy to kiss the wife goodbye at 6 a.m. Saturday morning for a 12 or 24 hour joyride to Carmel-by-the-Sea. "So we erected this club façade," went on Schultz.

"It worked like a charm," added Turner. Impedimenta like stationary and decals made a real illusion. But the coup de grace was the Club’s pivotal by-law requiring that each member go to one Club-sponsored ride every month.
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