Of All the Bikes I’ve Owned...

Confessions of a serial motorcycle buyer.

Retro Man: First bike is a Stingray
It all began for me with this blue Schwinn Stingray (complete with white walls!) in about 1967. Gotta love those PJs. (Hey, it was Christmas morning!)©Motorcyclist

Yesterday, as I made yet another trip to Century Motorcycles in nearby San Pedro, California, to pick up my much-flawed 1983 GPz550 (you’ll be reading about this lovely-yet-cursed machine a lot here in the coming months), I started thinking about all the bikes I’ve owned since my very first motorcycle—a 1971 Honda SL70 Motosport my parents rolled into our garage on the 24th of December that same winter. (Hidden under a blanket, it remained undiscovered until the next morning—a morning that changed my 10-year-old life in dramatic fashion. Those of you who got motorcycles early in life know exactly what I mean.)

Retro Man: Honda SL70
Christmas 1972 brought a red Honda SL70 – and internal combustion – to my party. We had hundreds of acres of trails behind our home, and for me, things would never be the same.©Motorcyclist

So I began making a list. And when it was finally complete a day or so later (hey, I’m 53, and a little memory-challenged), I had to laugh. Not at the bikes themselves, as all are worthy classics in my mind, but at how many there were—more than 40—and how fickle I’d been over the years, buying and selling so many.

Retro Man: Honda XR75
In ’74 came a first-generation (’73-spec) Honda XR75, which I rode the wheels off of. I began racing it in stock condition that fall. In early ’75 it got an 83cc kit and a monoshock, and I raced it all that year.©Motorcyclist

Of course, there are some very good reasons for that… my fickleness, and my lack of “collector” status: limited money, of course, and garage space. Most of you probably know these afflictions all too well. I mean, would I enjoy having all of the bikes on my list in a very large garage, one stocked with lifts, tools, a refrigerator with a tap, and plenty of music-making electronics? You betcha. A few of my friends are fortunate in this respect, and I envy the hell out of them—and live vicariously through them. But alas, it just isn’t in the cards for this writer/rider.

Retro Man: Yamaha YZ100C
Three successive Yamaha motocrossers came next, the first this ’76 YZ100C monoshocker, which I raced the entire bicentennial season. Two-strokes were a different animal for me.©Motorcyclist

Over the years I basically bought what I liked and could afford. And since the money tree I planted years ago still hasn't produced fruit (I keep waiting….), I sold bikes I could live without to finance bikes I couldn't. Which means I could only have a few of my faves at any one time. I guess I just want to sample every bike I found interesting. And every once in a while, when I realized I had a few too many (as I did a couple of years ago), the remedies came in the form of Craigslist and eBay, all helped along by my wife's evil eye.

Retro Man: YZ125D
After racing a YZ125D throughout ’77 (great bike, by the way), my Dad and I campaigned a YZ250E during ’78, and won a lot of races. I actually made a little money that year in local pro events.©Motorcyclist

After that life-changing SL70 came a series of dirtbikes, and a career as an amateur motocrosser. There was the first-gen XR75 that arrived in late ’73, my first-ever race on it in that following summer, a big-bore kit and exhaust over the winter, and, after getting tossed off at Mid Ohio Moto Park, a monoshock suspension in back. That thing was really cool.

Retro Man: Yamaha XS650
In ’80 I moved to SLC, Utah, and got my first streetbike – a Yamaha XS650 twin with a sissy bar (?) that I used to ride back and forth to college. Took me a while to remove the ugly thing!©Motorcyclist

In ’76 came a Yamaha YZ100C monoshocker, which also got heavily modified—a porcupine head, “Afterburner” pipe and Lectron carburetor leading the list. It was fast as hell, and I won races on it (even getting top-five finishes in the 125 class), but it blew up about every third weekend. The following two years brought two more Yamahas: a ’77 YZ125D and a ’78 YZ250E, both of which remained basically stock and therefore extremely reliable. Wonderful years, those.

Retro Man: 1980 GS1000S
In ’82 I bought a beautiful 1980 Suzuki GS1000S from my buddy Nick – only to total it a year or so later in a canyon trying to ride it like a motocross bike. Ugh. The DG exhaust was very cool. I vowed to have another.©Motorcyclist

My first streetbike came in college two years later, a dark-blue and well-used Yamaha XS650 twin I used for transportation to and from campus. I wore my red and yellow Electro motocross helmet and Scott goggles when riding it, which had to be quite a sight—unless you couldn’t pull your eyes from the garish sissy bar bolted to the back of the thing, which for some strange reason took me a long time to remove. Embarrassing.

Retro Man: Kawi KX250
After a five-year off-road hiatus I bought a 1983 Kawasaki KX250 while working at a Kaw dealer and got back into motocross racing. The thing had a front disc! The sport had changed during that time.©Motorcyclist

A couple of years later I got my first sportbike, a two-year-old Suzuki GS1000S I bought from my college buddy Nick Ienatsch. I fell in love with sport motorcycles with that one, and was beginning to figure out asphalt-based vehicle dynamics when an ugly crash in Little Cottonwood Canyon totaled the thing—and almost killed me. It’s amazing how heavy a bike suddenly becomes when you jam on the brakes mid-corner and shoot directly toward a pile of Datsun-sized rocks.

Retro Man: GPz550
Insurance money from the crashed GS1000S allowed me to buy a 1992 GPz550 in mid-’83. It was the best-handling streetbike I’d ever ridden despite the fact I rode it with mostly bald tires. Ugh (again).©Motorcyclist

A 1982 GPz550 monoshocker replaced it in ’83, as did an ’83 KX250 motocrosser. With the KX I took up motocross racing again after a five-year hiatus, and to say the sport had changed between ’78 and ’83 would be an understatement. I loved that GPz, but wasn’t able to appreciate its superb handling due to its nearly bald tires— and the fact that I wasn’t able to afford new ones. Dumb.

Retro Man: Honda 500 Interceptor
In ’84 I traded the GPz for this then-new 500 Interceptor while working at a local Honda dealer, and discovered how good streetbike handling could be. Gotta love that red-painted frame and Spencer-rep Arai (which today sits in my office to this day).©Motorcyclist

After getting a job at a local Honda dealer in '83, and after busting my collarbone and wrist in a motocross accident at the beginning of '84 on a CR480 I'd bought, I purchased a brand-new Honda 500 Interceptor—and the sportbike lust that had sprouted a couple of years earlier really began to blossom. Here was a streetbike that really handled, never mind that the thing was pitifully slow at Salt Lake's 4,500-foot altitude—and higher still in the area's mountains and canyons. Still, it taught me to ride well, and I ended up doing my first roadrace on it at the legendary Speedrome in Las Vegas, now the site of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It had a Dunlop 291 Sport Elite up front and a Pirelli Phantom (remember those?) in back, and I remember how my Utah buddies freaked out after seeing how scorched and melted the tires were right to the very edges of the tread when I got back from Vegas. Good times.

Retro Man: Motorcyclist
Me and my buddies rode like maniacs and idiots in those canyons during '84. How I survived I do not know, but at least I learned how things worked. I left for Los Angeles and Motorcyclist in July of '85, and sold that 500. Wish I had it now. Sniff.©Motorcyclist

I bought a yellow and black RZ350 in mid '85, only to find out a few weeks later I was moving to Southern Cal to join the staff of Motorcyclist. Knowing I wouldn't need a streetbike of my own once there, and needing money quite badly, I sold the Interceptor and RZ, and headed south to begin a job I could only have dreamed of six months before. That SL70, and my wonderful parents, certainly pushed me in a good direction.

Retro Man: 1979 CBX
While at American Honda in '89 (after four years at Motorcyclist, where I was too poor to buy a streetbike) I bought this '79 Honda CBX, complete with a rare sport kit. I sold it a year later to a VP there, but was smart enough to buy another just like it in the early 2000s. Still have that one.©Motorcyclist

After four years at Motorcyclist, American Honda offered me nearly double what I was making as an editor to do product-planning and testing. Wanting a change, and wanting to make more money, I jumped at the chance to be involved in real R&D. While there, I bought and sold a number of CBXs, two '79s and a couple of the '81-'82 bagger models. I ended up selling all of them, thinking I'd make some money, which never panned out, of course. I should have kept both '79s, one of which I sold to a Honda exec and ended up being photographed for the CBX Roots piece we published a couple of months ago.

I also bought a super-clean and bright-yellow 1975-spec CB400F while at Honda, which I loved to look at. Problem was, I didn’t like to ride it all that much, as it was amazingly underpowered and way too small for me.

Retro Man: 1976 CB400F
I also bought this low-mile '76 CB400F while at Honda, but never felt comfortable on it and couldn't believe how slow it was. Lovely to look at, but not much fun to ride at all. For me, at least.©Motorcyclist

When I left Honda to be Cycle World's Managing Editor in 1992, I stumbled onto a pair of first-generation (so-called K0) CB750 Hondas for sale in central Illinois in Walneck's Cycle Trader. They were rough but they ran, and I came up with a story idea that editor David Edwards approved immediately: We'd fly to Illinois, buy the bikes, and ride them back to Los Angeles on Route 66, chronicling the story and shooting pictures the entire way. The trip took us 11 days, and we had plenty of problems along the way, including spending a few days in Tulsa rebuilding the top end of my K0 with pistons sourced from a junkyard. But in the end it was an amazing trip, and it made a great story in the magazine's pages.

Like a dummy I sold my 750 Four, as it was very rough, and I simply didn’t have the money or time to restore it. Edwards did it right, eventually having his restored and enjoying it for many years. Another lesson learned, though I knew I’d have another K0 at some point.

Retro Man: Sandcast CB750
Ahhhh, my first-generation CB750. I'd bought a sand-cast version while at Cycle World in '92, but sold it because it was way too rough. This one, with only 5000 or so miles on the clock, was near perfect. I bought it from sandcast restorer extraordinaire Vic World.©Motorcyclist

The chance came in the late 1990s, a few years after I'd gone back to Motorcyclist as Editor in Chief in 1993. My buddy Vic World, who does the world's best CB750 Sandcast restorations, offered to sell me his 5600-mile, 1970-spec CB750, which was nearly perfect, and completely original. I snapped it up, knowing I'd enjoy riding (a little) and salivating over it (a lot). I did a redux of that CB750/Route 66 story a few years later, and riding it along The Mother Road was an amazing experience after all those years.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Mitch Boehm, 53, began riding at age nine, and racing at age 11. His moto career includes staff stints at Motorcyclist (18 years), Cycle World and American Honda, plus he recently helped Malcolm Smith write his autobiography. All of which qualifies him to jabber away endlessly about old stuff.