President's Message

Jeff Thurman
Last Updated: February 2017

Jeff Thurman Beehive Beemers President

I have no issue with a foot or more of snow because with the 4-wheel drive on the Wrangler, it is no longer an issue. But apart from the trips to and from the motorcycle dealership, and the occasional trip to the store and post office, I am snow-locked. Sort of like Nebraska is land-locked. Since the day before Christmas, the motorcycles have stayed in the garage. The positive side to all this is that I have found time to do some information exploring, read a dozen or so books, and get limited exercise with the push type snow blower and snow shovel.

Because I like motorcycles, I am attracted to trivia about them, history of the development, and so on. And I am amazed we even have motorcycles available to ride today. Oh sure, they are fun to ride now, and easy to get going. Just push a button. But I think you had to be a bit of a nut case to even try and ride early motorbikes. A converted bicycle? Put a finicky, hard to start and underpowered engine on a bicycle? With almost no brakes. Petrol was not found in every neighborhood or even every town. The carburetors were problematic at best. And when someone decided to add a headlight, what was its source of power? Acetylene gas. Not exactly stable, and certainly not a long lasting illumination.

I recall the early 1960’s motorbikes I had with the starter lever that swung out from the side of the engine. Knowing how hard the engine was to start on those more-modern kick-start models, I suspect that after a half-hour of leg pumping back in the early 1900’s, I would have simply walked away and said enough is enough. Like pulling on the recoil cord of my lawnmower when it simply refuses to start.

Sure, you probably would eventually get the motor running and could push off. On the early units you even could assist the engine by pedaling the motorbike, or when the engine died you could simply pedal on. And fixing a punctured tire-tube was no easier then than it is today on the tube-type tires. I suppose that if you lived in a city on the east coast or in flat land Ohio, riding was not too bad, but if there were even small hills involved, well, the going was not that easy with the underpowered motors.

But persevere they did. Both the riders and the manufacturers. And by the time the Yanks found themselves in England during the WWII years, many fell in love with the remarkable simplicity of the British motorbike. The American Harley-Davidson and Indian were great motorcycles to be sure, but they were heavy and expensive compared to the more nimble Brit iron. And with petro rationing, the boys stationed in England and those moving across the European front, found the smaller motorbikes to their liking.
So after WWII the British motorbike really made headway in the States. Yes, the H-D, the Indian, and some European motorbikes may have been better depending on what you were judging. But from right after The War to the late 1960’s, the UK two-wheelers ruled.

I got my first motorcycle in 1963. A slightly used 1961 Triumph Trophy 6. Single carb compared to the Bonneville with the twin carbs. Great motorcycle. Then I got another Trophy 6 a couple of years later and by then it was the late 1960’s. Those few of us who rode motorbikes would laugh at the Honda Super Cubs (50cc & 70cc), and I remember the Trail.90, Yet the Norton’s, BSA’s, Triumph’s, and so on still ruled. Moto-Guzzi and Ducati were as obscure as Ossa and DKW. Oh, everyone lusted after a BMW, but the price was way beyond most of us back then.

And no one saw it coming. The change. Well, I am sure someone saw it coming. But from my perspective, and I believe most riders were like me, it was a shocker.

When the Honda CB750 appeared in 1969, it caught me and most riders totally by surprise. That single motorcycle revolutionized the whole motorbike world. All of a sudden, the British iron was behind the times.

Reading about the past world of early motorbikes and riding, I am still amazed they survived from year to year. The riders then were men among men, a bit fool hardy, a bit crazy, very adventurous, and were of the same ilk as early aero craft flyers. Now, I can see how the aircraft was a hit and how it was obviously a great invention for travel. But the early motorbike? Push start and then kick start, temperamental mechanicals, acetylene gas lamps, underpowered, unreliable, and well, you get the point. But, for all their problems, for riders like you and I, they were probably a lot of fun when it all worked.

I see the new motorcycles all the time at the dealership. They are indeed nice. But the older motorbikes have a charm that is lost on the new rides. Oh, I would love to have a new one, don’t get me wrong on that point. But for me right now, I am watching the snow fall outside, and thinking about my first spring ride this year on my 1975 CB400 Supersport or the ’84 R65LS. I wish I had my CB750 again, but it was sold in 1978 in Alexandria VA at the Honda dealer just across the Potomac from Washington DC. I thought it was too big for riding to and from work in DC, so I got the smaller size. Hope it found a good home and is still running.