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#324 Big (and little) inspirations

A mail order Sears minibike with a pull start motor from long ago sends him flying for life.

The first motorcycle I rode was from the Sears catalogue. It’s a hazy memory but as far as I can recollect it was a red framed, Briggs and Stratton powered minibike with small, wide tires and a pull start. I was only five or six when my father must have been flicking through the catalogue on some snow bound evening in that northern British Columbia mill town.
A little motorcycle we could ride the logging roads and fit in the back of the car right there among the power tools, stoves and shoes? What could have been better? It was a rudimentary machine but it did have two wheels connected to an internal combustion engine and a throttle. The little bike must have arrived but it didn’t get much chance to explore the forest as we packed up and moved to the South Pacific for three years (that’s what 40 feet of snow will do). The bike came with us but remained when we returned to Canada.
My father and I went back when I was in middle school and I knew that the little Sears minibike was still in storage and its unearthing was going to be one of the highlights of going back. Unfortunately I had just taken a school shop class were we had taken apart and reassembled a Briggs and Stratton engine to learn where TDC fell into the four-stroke process. In my view, it would be a good idea to take the little motor apart as it hadn’t been running for six years.
I don’t know exactly what I planned to fix in the mechanicals but all that became irrelevant when I snapped a crucial bolt in the process and without it the bike wasn’t going to ever start again. We apparently had not learned of torque and torque wrenches.
This was not the outcome I had foreseen but fortunately a friend’s brother was an apprentice mechanic. I pushed the bike a long, long way to their house and after a week or two it was back and running. We had a lot of other things to do on that trip but I vividly remember riding that little machine down a country road. Tucked down, flat out. It really seemed like I was flying along but realistically I don’t think that it could have been very fast considering the size of the tiny pull start motor.
The objective of that run was to drain the gas from the system before laying the bike back in the trunk of the car, which was following me. I looked back to see if I had got too far ahead but, of course, I hadn’t. But it did seem like I could have. I started looking at motorcycle stores right then and there even though we only had a few more weeks in our stay. Honda had a bike called the MB5. It was awesome I thought. Exotic, sporty, a real motorcycle I could ride on the street. It would be extremely cool. But I don’t think I could have convinced anyone that I needed a motorcycle and one that I didn’t even have a licence to ride. But boy did I want one.
The MB5 was a 49cc two-stroke, but it looked five times as fast and far more potent. We left without the MB5 or the minibike, which we gave to my friend. I came home and decided that my neighbour’s Trail 90 was fun, but what I wanted was an RD350.
Probably “flying” along on that Sears minibike permanently set my personal course for a lifetime of motorcycling and the idea that there are bikes like the MB5 that are so accessible (although not in Canada).
As you will read in this issue the little bike as a class is making a comeback and they are looking as sporty and exciting as that MB5 appeared to me all those years ago, proving that excitement isn’t necessarily proportional to displacement.

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