Jennings' Legacy & Boehm's '84 VF500 Interceptor - Perspectives - Up To Speed

Gordon Jennings And The Bike That Changed My Life

Before I launch into a story I'm fairly sure I've never told in these pages, I need to report a theft-and admit I'm the perp.

I can explain: First, I'm guessing many of you baby boomers remember the late Gordon Jennings, former editor of Cycle and, later, Car and Driver. For those of you who didn't grow up with the bike magazines of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, Jennings had more to do with bringing objective road testing, credibility and superb writing to motorcycle journalism than any other soul out there.

When I took over the reins at Motorcyclist in 1993, one of my priorities was to offer Jennings-then in his early 60s-a column, which he eagerly agreed to do. I still remember the day I flew to Paso Robles, California, in ex-Editor Art Friedman's Cessna to see Jennings and settle the details. The guy's hilltop home was so crammed with books, magazines and manuals-most of them open, bookmarked and highlighted-I couldn't find a place to sit. More than any other words that crossed my desk each month, Jennings's were the ones I most looked forward to reading, and they rarely needed editing. Tightly organized, beautifully written and, at times, bitingly critical, his words morphed from letters-on-paper to crisp mental images more quickly and faithfully than just about any I'd ever read.

Having Jennings on our masthead for those precious few years was a great honor for staffers and readers alike, all of which made his death in 2000 from cancer that much harder to take.

And so it is with maximum humility and honor to the man and his legacy that I steal his column name-"Perspectives"-for my own. I have no illusions about writing stuff as relevant, insightful or beautiful as Jennings; the guy was a master. But I'm hoping my 35 years of motor-cycling will help me convey a level of insight and, yes, perspective in these redesigned pages that'll have some trace of the impact Jennings had on motorcycling during his life. Hope you don't mind, Gordo.

On to my other story, then, which fits neatly both with this issue's 25th Anniversary Honda Interceptor feature and our new "Bike That Changed My Life" column. Before I bought my '84 VF500 Interceptor, I'd owned three streetbikes: a homely '76 Yamaha XS650 twin with a 2-foot-long sissybar (strictly for transportation, I swear!), an '80 Suzuki GS1000S and, after I'd crashed the S, an '82 Kawasaki GPz550. None of the three handled particularly well (the Kawi because of an almost totally bald front tire), so it was a complete shock to find the little Interceptor could run rings around the wallowing memories of that trio-and most of my riding buddies on their bigger, heavier streetbikes as well.

Even saddled with a damper-rod fork and an equally cheesy air-shock, that red, white and blue screamer led me to a special place where I could a) feel exactly what was going on at the tires' contact patches, b) get me out of trouble if I got into a corner too hot and c) go faster with more confidence than ever before.

Before selling that red-framed wonder less than a year later to help finance my move to L.A. to start at Motorcyclist, I jumped several levels on the riding-skill scale. I did this via almost-daily sorties through the local Utah mountains and by participating in my first roadrace at the old Las Vegas Speedrome circuit, site of today's Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I finished second-to-last that day against a horde of well-ridden GPzs, Seca 550s and FJ600s, but those experiences vaulted me to a whole different mental and physical level that had more than a little to do with persuading Friedman to hire me at Motorcyclist that July.

The bike that changed my life? You bet.