Sights And Sounds - Code Break

Up To Speed

In 1958, at age 12, I heard an LP recording (long-playing vinyl record, if you're too young to remember) of the sounds of the 1957 Isle of Man TT. There were V8 Guzzis, Gilera fours, MV Agustas, Manx Nortons by the truckloads, AJSs, Matchlesses and a host of pre-expansion-chamber two-strokes emitting awful, disharmonic noises. I'd pay good money to hear that record again. It sent me on wild flights of fancy that brought racing into my life as an exotic adventure, like traveling to China or living on a horse ranch. I just had to go racing, and so I did four years later.

My first motorcycle wasn't inspired by racing, but I remember the first time I was smitten by the image of riding. I was 7 years old, it was a bright summer day and a noise caught my ear as I was walking to the local store in my native Ingram, Pennsylvania. When that red Harley went by, leather saddlebags with silver conches and fringe flying, the rider looking straight ahead in rapt concentration, that was it. I was sold, hooked, addicted, fixated and obsessively ensnared. The image was too alluring for words.

Looking back on my first ride seems like a dream. I was small for a 12-year-old, but I heard that a guy who lived a couple miles away was selling a 125cc Harley Hummer for $125, which was a fair chunk of change for a pre-teen back then. I have to admit-as I did to my parents after the fact-that not all the money I collected for the bike was from yard work performed for neighbors. I methodically snatched change from my parents on every occasion I could manage it. In fact, I swiped most of the money from them! When I brought the bike home, I was summarily banished and lived in an abandoned house for a few days. With two working parents, it was easy to raid the kitchen cabinets for daily sustenance. I never found out how they felt about me running away because I came back a week later and they never said anything about it.

The Hummer was an experience. I rode it at night mostly, with no lights because the charging system wasn't working, so I had to haul the battery to the local gas station for a charge every couple of days. It went about 50 mph and I have no idea how I figured out how to ride it; somehow I just knew. When I went to buy the bike from Joe Wo, as he was called, he asked me if I knew how to ride. I said, "Of course I do. Just refresh my memory on where the controls are." Understand that this was the first time I had ever thrown a leg over a bike! He pointed to the gas, brakes, shift lever and clutch. I started the engine and rode down the street, stalled it on the return and said I'd take it.

Later, I swapped that Harley for $25 and a bunch of flathead Ford hop-up parts, imagining that I could build a 1930 roadster into a working car. That never did happen, but I got a Triumph 150cc Terrier that was kind of souped-up and rode that a bit before trading it in for my first new bike: a 1960 Ducati Supersport 200. I bought that bike from the local shop that sold only imported bikes. The owner, Don Martin, knew full well I wasn't old enough to have a license, but gave me $250 for my Triumph and trusted me for the balance of the $775 purchase price with no contract or loan-just a smile. Things were simple in those days. He saw the burning passion, handed over the Ducati with a gallon of gas in it and I was on my way. Don is 92 now and doesn't come into the shop that often, I'm told.

No one in my family had any interest in motorcycles. To a pre-teen, motorcycling wasn't cool, it wasn't hip, it wasn't to fit in, it wasn't a statement I wanted to make-for me it was the pure expression of freedom it represented. The sight of that Harley is still in my mind's eye, the sounds of the Isle of Man TT still in my ear.

Keith astride his Ducati 200 SS at Vineland, New Jersey in 1962.
Turning at 33 1/3-rpm, the 12-inch LP inside this cover delivered Murray Walker and the 1957 Isle of Man TT into Keith Code's impressionable psyche.