1968 Harley-Davidson Sportster | The Bike That Changed My Life

By Dave Sonsky, Photography by John Zamora

Name: Joe Gresh
Now: Writer moonlighting as a marine electrician
Then: Marine electrician moonlighting as a biker

"They've never gone out of fashion, so they've never been cheap. A 12-year-old Sportster broke my bank account. I was cool, though: To catch sight of my reflection cruising past a distorted storefront window was to know just how cool I could be.

"A chopper it was not. I grafted a fenderless Yamaha TX500 disc-brake front end onto it. The seat was a homemade flat-track job. Staggered straight pipes graced the right side. The primary cover was a wrinkle-painted sheet-metal derby just like the XR750s ran. A street-legal flat-tracker it was.

"My Sportster made beautiful music at 100 mph. Once, on the east slope of Interstate 8, I roared past two doddering angels riding Gold Wings. I was in full tuck, left hand crossed over the gas tank pinning the throttle, right hand on the oil tank keeping the filler cap from blowing out, and nothing but tan, scrubby desert below me. 'There be a Moto-God,' the angels whispered.

"I saw Easy Rider like everybody else, so I took off cross-country. That Sportster shook so hard, the voltage regulator broke off. The cool tail fairing I made from aluminum cracked and fell into the wheel. The rivets holding the sprocket to the hub pounded loose and started slinging out one by one. The battery disintegrated twice. I contracted conjunctivitis in my left eye from an unabating stream of vermin raining off the front tire. The spark plugs whiskered every 1500 miles, requiring a shave by the side of the road.

"How cool I looked crouched down working on my Harley. How cool I looked squirting steroids into my suppurating eye. How cool I looked sleeping in abandoned gas stations because 'No Vacancy' signs suddenly lit as I approached the motel office. How cool I felt riding out of San Diego Honda on a 1983 XL600."

By Dave Sonsky
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