June 20, 2024


Automotive to Us

Getting older means wanting the motorcycle more than the ride | Feature Story

Just when I thought I was completely past any desire for ever owning another motorcycle, I dreamed I was rumbling down a highway on one. Since riding that motorcycle in my sleep, I’ve been dreaming of owning it for real.

The motorcycle from — and of — my dreams is a 1971 Honda CL350 Scrambler. Gold and black, to be exact. It’s the first motorcycle my father ever owned. When he sold it 45 years ago and stepped up to a bigger bike, it did not occur to me that the one he was letting go would mean so much to me later in life.

It’s pure nostalgia. I have considered the option of commissioning an artist to paint a portrait from a snapshot. That would be fun to look at and easier to store. But I wouldn’t be able to sit on it.

My dad bought the 350 when it was fresh off the assembly line. He was 39 and had dreamed of owning a bike since sharing a scooter with a friend growing up in Nashville. I was 10 the summer he brought home that brand new Honda. He took me for a ride around town the first night.

Dad parked it under the carport when we got home and put it on the center stand so that he could go inside and leave me to sit on it for a while, holding the handlebar grips and pretending I was in control.

My make-believe was energized by the smell from the engine burning away the new, the tinkling of cooling exhaust pipes, and the hairs on my arms still prickling back into place from the ride. It was all very magical.

The bike was called a Scrambler because it was designed for either street or trail. Dad outfitted it for highway travel and took it on trips near and far. He would have been much more comfortable on a larger bike built for touring, but he didn’t care. The 350 was what he could afford at the time, and he was thrilled with it.

Three years after that first ride, Dad took me with him on the adventure of a lifetime. We doubled on the 350 from Johnson City, Tennessee, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and back again. Most experienced riders would never embark on such a long ride with two people onboard such a small bike. Fortunately, Dad was not most experienced riders.

The snapshots from that epic ride reveal how we did not look at all like long-haul bikers. In the picture that my mother took right before we roared out of the neighborhood, the small bike is obviously overloaded. No saddlebags or sissy-bar backpack for us. We used bungee cords to secure suitcases and overnight bags.

Dad’s boots are the only protective wear in the picture. I wore T-shirts, bell-bottom jeans and tennis shoes the entire trip. Dad wore polyester slacks. We did bring rain gear, which is good because it poured for nearly all of the two days it took to reach Fort Lauderdale.

I’ve been looking, and there are 51-year-old Scramblers out there. During my online search, I stumbled upon a site for a shop that restores vintage motorcycles. The business sells T-shirts that read, “Four wheels move the body — but two wheels move the soul.”

When I went searching for the origin of that quote, a picture came up of someone riding — you guessed it — a 1971 Honda CL350 Scrambler.

If that’s not a message from the motorcycle spirits, I don’t know what is.