Typically, our end-of-book feature is a road-trip story that we hope inspires readers in their own travels. Here, Rich Burgess documents a different kind of journey that focuses not so much on miles and places, but rather on the motorcycles that brought him to where he is now.
Over the course of time Canadian Biker has run various “most significant” bike stories. When we do there is usually recognition that they may not be on everybody’s list. I normally understand the picks but think about the bikes that meant the most to me. Never having had the privilege of riding a Vincent or Brough Superior, it’s kind of a mental exercise, bikes that were no doubt milestones, but are only objects of books and museums for me.
“When” you started riding is a big factor in the list you might personally create, and mine starts about the same time the Beatles were hitting the charts. I’m not really sure which bike would be number one so I’ll present my Top 10 selection not in terms of importance, but in the chronological order to which they appear in my life.
Honda Trail 55
My first bike was almost a “lister.” It wasn’t the famous Super Cub but really the same, sans leggings and with big sprockets. Not having a licence it got used on the property behind our rented house in Salmo, British Columbia. Back there was a trailer court with a road leading to a dike on the Salmo River. The dirt road was never patrolled, and leads to many trails and a dike—this bike represents three years of fun for my friends and me. A crash or two, and riding with friends on their “big” S90s was somewhat educational as well.
Honda CL72 Street Scambler
At 16 came the beginnings of highway travel. I bought this 250cc bike slightly used and custom painted for $400 from a car lot. It never even occurred to me to try bargaining. (Today that bike would be hard to find at 10 times that price) Then after scraping up $36 dollars for licensing and insurance the road beckoned. The Street Scrambler represents my first interactions with the police. It was not a fast bike but still capable of law breaking. My first fine was for excess noise. The straight scrambler pipes were not muffled till the CL77 (305cc). After a nasty crash wrecked the bike and broke my ankle I was discharged from the militia, having just joined (life changer, no army for me). Next came a beater 305 Superhawk that ran till I could afford my next step up.
Norton Commando Hi-Rider
Next up were the Norton years. The highly modified P11 got me hooked but it was extremely impractical. However, it did lead me to buy a brand new Commando Hi-Rider in 1973. A British superbike that cruised smooth on its isolastic mounts. I loved when it was working properly, and took it on my first big trip—BC to Manitoba. The original idea was to cross Canada but fun got in the way of time.
When summer ran out I headed home. The issue with loosening header pipes eventually led me to impatience and stripped threads in the head. Searching for a replacement I purchased a used Dunstall ported head. Wow! Now my Commando was the fastest bike in town, much quicker than the Honda 750s my buddies owned. A lack of reliability still was an issue.
Honda CB750F Super Sport
That Norton reliability issue led me back to Honda in 1977. The CB750F took me to California and back in comfort. Although it did not handle as well as my Norton—it kind of felt like the frame was bending when pushed in a corner (probably the crappy swingarm bushings). I still managed to break it and replaced it with another, faster hot-rodded version built by my local dealer (Barrett’s Honda in Fruitvale, BC). It was a 900cc metal flake beauty with a Tracy fibreglass body.
The first time I saw the 1979 six-cylinder Honda, it looked intimidating. The trip home from Barrett’s was the first time I rode it. I had read the road tests but could not believe the power, sound and comfort it presented, so smooth, I was hooked big-time.
Not in love with the styling at first it grew on me, as did the physical size, it felt and looked ”right.” I courted my wife on it although a giant wheelie almost changed her mind about riding with me for a while. The CBXs with the exception of the mid ‘80s were THE bike for me for a long time (I still have a couple).
Honda V65 Magna
This 1984 model is perhaps more of a honourable mention. The bike looked cool, and had a ton of power but that was pretty much it. I never liked the way it handled or the seating position; it was probably the least comfortable to ride. The combination of big power and shaft drive was controlled by very stiff shocks; it was almost like a hardtail.
I picked up a used 1982 version of this very neat bike, and still have it. Much has been said about the original adventure bike. The comfort is great, the weight is light and all these years later it looks much less homely than when it was first introduced. Heard a lot back then was the question: “Who would pay that for such an ugly bike?” Now it’s beautiful—at least to me.
In 1996 I road-tested a used 1995 Harley Dyna. It was another life changer, and I still have it. Not only is it a great bike, it opened many new friendships. In 1996 things were different on a Harley. Bike rallies, rodeos, shows, and poker runs brought much enjoyment. That said, with some modifications (hard to find a stock old H-D) it has great torque and makes miles enjoyable. So much has been said I won’t take it further than to say don’t miss out on the H-D “thing.” Even if you don’t get the hype everybody should ride one and see if it feels as right as it does for me.
I bought and restored a used 2000 Hayabusa. Aside from the legendary blistering speed there is the option for comfort. This is the only hyper bike I can ride and not cramp up. (One-inch up on the bars and one-inch down on the pegs did it for me). Funny thing about this purchase was the choice itself. The other option was a bagger of some kind, but I figured if I didn’t buy the ‘busa old age would mean I never would. I still have it but, yes, I am too old to ride it hard. It’s still an awesome bike to take out a couple times during summers and get the heart going (I think of it as a kind of defibrillator).
Suzuki V-Strom 1000
Once again more doors to adventure opened with the purchase of a 2006 V-Strom. This is probably the best all-around bike I have owned. It’s great as a touring bike: my “gravel wing” can do back roads as well. The looks will not impress anybody and charisma it don’t got, but the utility would be hard to beat at the prices used Stroms are going for.
But There Were More
There have been many other motorcycles including my latest—a trusty Suzuki DR 650—but I guess a good Top 10 list only has ten. It’s not just the bikes, but also the experiences they bring. My next bike is a mystery to me; hope it can bust into the top ten. What does your list look like?
By Rich Burgess Canadian Biker Issue#329