Motorcycle Classics Blogs > Black Side Down

Your Mother Was Right

If your mother was or is anything like mine, she probably wasn’t too thrilled when you took up motorcycling. I waited until I left home for college to get my first bike, a fact my mother could ignore thanks to the then 1,200 miles separating us. I kept mum on the subject, and even though she knew I had a bike, she never brought it up on my trips home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Apparently, we had agreed to not discuss a disagreeable subject.

Mom stayed quiet as I rode more and more, moving up from my little Kawasaki enduro to a Yamaha XS500, followed by a Yamaha XS1100. At 6 a.m. one Saturday morning the phone rang. Half asleep, I picked it up, and before I could mutter a befuddled “Hello?” my mother demanded, “Do you wear a helmet?” Driving home the night before, Mom rounded a corner on a wooded two-lane road and met a motorcyclist coming head on in her lane: He hit her square on. The impact launched him over her car and onto the road behind it, on his head. He was wearing a helmet, and he lived.

Assured that I wore a helmet, Mom started getting used to the idea of me riding, and some years later, on Mother’s Day, I rode my Norton to the local brew pub to fetch a couple growlers of beer. Mom appreciates the finer things in life, so good beer was a natural for a Mother’s Day dinner at my house. With the beer safely secured in my tank bag, I side-straddled the Norton and jumped on the kickstarter with my left leg. This was my favored method for starting the Commando, giving me more leverage and upping the chances of a first-kick start. Half-way down, the engine backfired. The kickstart lever went back up, but my foot kept going down. I didn’t really know what I’d done, but I knew it hurt. Really hurt. I got on the bike, kickstarted it with my right leg, and somehow rode home.

Mom took me to the hospital, and at first they thought I’d just badly pulled and bruised my Achilles tendon or/and some muscles, so they sent me home and suggested physical therapy. A few days later at therapy, a physical therapist noticed a huge divot appearing in my leg above my ankle. It turned out I’d torn my Achilles, and it was hanging by a thread. After surgery and six months of recuperation, I was back on my Norton.

Mom didn’t give me too much grief over that incident. In fact, she seemed to think the trip to the ER was kind of amusing. Sitting in the examination room, she turned to me and said, “Oh honey, I thought we were way past this,” a reference to the many visits she and I made to the ER when I was a kid.

Fast-forward to last October. I was selling the cool little ex-Shriner 1966 Honda CA95 I’d bought for Maddie, my daughter. She decided she likes the 1976 Suzuki GT185 better and son Charlie didn't want the Honda, so it was time for it to go.

I posted a Craigslist ad, and two days later I was showing it to a prospective buyer. He wanted it, it just had to run. Which it did, and reasonably well, just not at that exact moment. Twenty-four hours earlier it ran perfectly — OK, reasonably — and suddenly, trying to start it, it wouldn't so much as burp.

Eventually, with the would-be owner patiently watching, I discovered the ground to the battery had slipped loose. I laid into the kickstarter again (I never used the electric starter on that bike — go figure), and with an extra-effort swing it caught — and my right Achilles tore.

This time, I knew what I’d done, and a trip to the hospital confirmed it. A couple weeks after surgery I was visiting Mom, and she said simply, and with wry satisfaction, “I always said motorcycles were dangerous.” Apparently they are, just not the way people always told me.

Oh, and I sold the Honda.

Richard Backus