Through the past brightly electricity images cartoon


I’ve never owned a mighty Vincent, more’s the pity, but thanks to my blood brother and long-time riding partner, Terry, I began my motorcycle career on another nearly as iconic British brand, the 1969 Triumph Daytona T100R. The Daytona was actually a great entry-level machine. Tipping the scales at a bantam-weight 337 pounds, the handling was as forgiving as the day is long. Hauling the Daytona into a tight corner at a 45 degree lean, felt like you were holding the front axle in your two hands.

It was English to the bone. Every Whitworth nut, bolt and washer (not Standard or Metric, mind you, but Whitworth) was manufactured in Merrie Olde England, including the twin Amal carburetors. Intended to add the enhanced performance of a carb for each cylinder, the Amals were a touch dodgy when it came to staying in tune. The owner’s manual contained quaint Dickensian instructions like: “Next, adjust the tickover.” The what?

Surprisingly, the one thing I didn’t have any issues with was the electrics. I say “surprisingly” because its Lucas Electrical setup was infamously unreliable. Joe Lucas, or more accurately, the company bearing his name, engineered electrical bits for pretty much everything emanating from the UK in those days and the notorious unreliability of Lucas components likely contributed to the tanking of both the British motorcycle and automobile industries.

But, like I said, I experienced none of those calamities during the two years I owned the bike. My favorite part of the Triumph electro-magnetic universe, was a voltage regulator known as the Zener diode. The Zener diode, invented by Clarence Melvin Zener, is a particular type of diode that, unlike a normal one, allows current to flow not only from its anode to its cathode, but also in the reverse direction when the Zener voltage is reached. OK, got that? Me neither but I never suffered from a dead battery so, no worries, mate.

For the past couple weeks, I’ve kept a handful of people mesmerized with the details surrounding my first motorcycle, a 1969 Triumph Daytona 500. When we left off, I had procured said machine, girded my loins (more accurately, my arms, back and shoulders) with a Detroit-made Brooks black leather jacket and enjoyed the adoration of another rider who mistakenly assumed my marginally-larger machine dwarfed his Honda 450.

We spent some time discussing the idiosyncrasies of Lucas electrics (“Lucas, patent holder for the short circuit”) the sketchy performance of twin Amal concentric carburetors, the unique reality of Whitworth tooling and finally the mysterious and mighty Zener Diode.

There, now we’re up to speed. I rode around the Lansing area, basking in British noblesse, for three weeks, when a friend of mine, who upsized from his own Honda 450 to a brawny 1973 BMW R100, suggested that I accompany him and his associate, “Crash,” on that highest endeavor to which a motorcyclist can aspire . . . The Bike Trip.

The Bike Trip — putting the mundane world of career and family on hold for at least a week, gliding over the tarmac, hundreds or even thousands of miles, listening to the throaty roar of your “freedom machine.” Purple prose? Yes. Rampant hyperbole? Of course. Undeniably High Truth? Selah.

My two comrades were veterans of several bike trips. On two of them, Crash earned his colorful sobriquet by falling off his motorcycle. Fortunately, neither the man nor the machine were irreparably damaged either time, nor, remarkably, were their sojourns interrupted.

Shep’s was a Triumph and I think, BMW dealership, on Lansing’s gritty south side that probably carried some Japanese brand too so Shep could pay the bails. It was your classic, old-school motorcycle shop, that is to say, it wouldn’t be mistaken for some tony mall clothing boutique like today’s bike shops. It was dark, cramped, smelled like gasoline, was strewn with oily rags, lit with a couple buzzing florescent tubes, boasted a few flickering neon Triumph and Dunlop signs and a dog-eared Playboy calendar. In short, it was simply beautiful.

Early the next morning, Mike on the glowering black BMW that he had named “El Brujo,” and me on my newly-shod Triumph, met up with Crash on his 450 Honda Scrambler. Our course had been set a week before, over a couple six-packs of Stroh’s — straight north and over the Mighty Mac, through the eastern U.P. to the Soo locks and over into Canada. From there, we’d skirt the northern coast of Lake Superior, west to Thunder Bay. After that, well, we’d just have to see.

The Daytona started on the first kick and we were off. I’d been riding a motorcycle for three weeks and I was starting out on a trip of a thousand miles or more on a machine most people seemed to regard as an antique. I’d never been happier.

Five hours later, we convened at a gas station café just south of the Canadian border. Times being what they were, we had brought along a quarter ounce of, er, contraband to enjoy around the fire at night. Much to my surprise, my two companions informed me that they’d lost their nerve and had decided to ditch our campfire entertainment rather than sneak it through customs.