It was a moment that didn't matter to anyone but me. We're driving up 19th Avenue in Golden Gate Heights. A San Francisco Police Department Harley rumbles alongside our 1964 Cadillac Fleetwood, close enough to feel. I look up through a rain-spattered rear window at a motor cop looking down at me. I smile. He nods. The light goes green. I can see his right wrist roll back and the deal is sealed. I wanted something like that. Wanted it like my dog Cadbury wants the pound and a half of tri-tip on the kitchen counter. With pure, perfect focus and a faraway look in 10-year-old eyes.
It didn't happen right away. When it did, the something that actually materialized was about as far from a '69 Harley-Davidson Police Special as you could get, but the hook was set. Deep. My father was an excavating contractor and incurable gearhead. This much I knew. Putting a motorcycle in our garage would be easy as long as I played to his weakness for solid, smart machinery. No recoil-start mini-bikes, thanks. Briggs & Stratton engines were for mowing the lawn. Preliminary research told me he'd go for something that looked like a real motorcycle scaled to fit pre-adolescent dimensions. Something my 6-year-old brother could at least aspire to. Yamaha obliged with the '70 Mini Enduro: a 60cc rotary-valve two-stroke single that looked like a 1/4-scale DT-1. That begat a red-and-chrome L5T-A Trailmaster-Yamaha's 100cc answer to the Honda Trail 90-after my little brother Mark cried every time I got on the Mini Enduro. After the Trailmaster went to a watery grave I still don't like to talk about, we swapped its remains for a bright-yellow HT1 M, a.k.a. 90 MX, a.k.a. Scourge of the Neighborhood and bane of every Honda SL100 at the after-school outlaw Uvas Creek Grand Prix. The AT2-M that took its place was rendered obsolete by Honda's CR125 Elsinore and my new driver's license. The parental units never regained their original enthusiasm for the whole motorcycle thing after my 80-mph endo on the '74 RT360A. May it rest in peace. So the '77 RD400D was my show from the minute it rolled out of San Jose Yamaha until we fished its sad steel bones out of Bidwell Creek, which is another sad story for another day.
Every motorcycle that lived in our garage during my formative years was a Yamaha, all because of a guy called Joe Bellina, owner of Bellina Cycles in Hollister, California. He was pure old-school: honest, opinionated, hardworking and chain-smoked Camel straights. Dad became a fiercely loyal customer roughly 15 minutes after walking into the gritty little showroom. Seeing Joe's son Dave's 750cc Yamaha flat-tracker did it for me. He was an AMA Expert, blindingly fast, and always treated me like another guy who rode motorcycles instead of some customer's kid. In other words, he was a god. And when it came to setup, maintenance or modifications, my dad took Joe's advice as gospel. Inviolate. After all, Joe was the one-man sales and service department. He tuned Dave's 750 for the same sacrosanct dirt ovals that Kenny Roberts rode. Roberts, whose name was pronounced around our house with the same reverence as the President of the United States, rode a Yamaha. Case closed. Coming home on a Honda would've been roughly equivalent to shaving my head and showing up for Thanksgiving dinner in flowing orange Hare Krishna robes. My father would have had me deprogrammed or deported or worse.