The Road to Becoming a Gypsy (Part 1 - My First Bike) by Wild Bill

In 1983, I bought my first real motorcycle, a brand spanking new Yamaha 400. I had a friend who had recently bought a new Yamaha with a loan from our company credit union, and after talking to him about how easy it was to get a loan, I decided that I would finally be able to fulfill a childhood dream of owning my own motorcycle. I sent off my $25 membership fee, along with the paperwork to have $25 each month direct deposited into a savings account in my name.

After receiving verification of my membership status, I quickly made a trip to our local Yamaha-Harley Davidson joint dealership known as the Texas Cycle Barn. This being my first time ever in a real motorcycle shop, I spent quite some time just admiring the shiny new bikes all lined up in rows on the sales floor. The Harleys were all chrome and steel, and expensive, so with a longing in my heart I drifted over to the Yamaha side of the show room. I really knew nothing about bikes back then, only that I "needed" one badly for some reason that to this day escapes me.

A sales man, most likely afraid that I was lost, came over and introduced himself. We talked for a while and, realizing I was a newbie, steered me to a little black and chrome Yamaha sitting at the end of the line of bikes. While I am sure he described all the finer points to me, I honestly can't remember anything he said. All I could do was stare in wonder at this beautiful machine sitting in front of me. I think the only question I managed to ask him was if I could sit on it. After receiving a "Sure, go ahead," from the sales man, I carefully swung my leg over the seat and sat down on my first "real" motorcycle.

Suddenly, visions of myself cruising down the highway, with people looking at me as I rode by jumped into my mind.

"How much?" I asked.

"Well, this is last years model," he said "I think we can knock of a little on this one. Let me check the list."

I remained on the bike, twiddling the control buttons and leaning over to see the engine while he went to the sales counter and checked. He walked back and said, "I can let you have this one for $1200, tax, tittle and license, out the door."

"Can I use your phone to call my bank?" I said.

"Sure, it's right over here." he replied, walking over to the counter.

I fished the card out of my wallet and dialed the number. The lady who answered asked me my account info, then the price of the bike. When I told her $1200, she said " We have a $1500 limit on loans.

I said I would call her back, and turned to the salesman and said, "They have to make the loan for $1500 at least.

"Well," he said, "maybe we can get the price up a little. You will need a helmet, and you might want a windshield or luggage rack."

By the time we finished talking, we had added two helmets, a windshield, a luggage rack, and an adjustable backrest to the bill, bringing the total to $1497. I called the lady back with the new figure, and she agreed to the new number. I gave the phone to the salesman and paced around in front of the desk while he talked to the lady, occasionally writing down notes on a pad. He hung up and said, "I think we got you all fixed up, come back to my office and we will get the paper work finished. On the way back to his office, he yelled at a mechanic in the back to pull my motorcycle off the floor.

In his office, we finished up the paper work and he told me that I could come back the next afternoon to pick up the bike.

I honestly don't think I slept that night, I was so excited. My wife, tired of listening to me, went to bed early, and I sat up until after midnight before retiring to the bed, still thinking of my "new" motorcycle.

The next day at work, the day seemed to stretch out forever. Finally 5:00pm arrived, and a buddy dropped me off at the dealership. It was at this time I realized I had forgotten one very important thing. I had no idea how to ride my new prize!

Sure, I had owned a mini bike back when I was 12, and a friend had allowed my to ride his Honda 90 trail bike when I was 14, but this was a "real" motorcycle. Gears had to be shifted and clutches engaged and disengaged.

As I walked in the door, the salesman said, "We got you ready to go, come on back to the shop!"

We walked into the shop, and I didn't see my bike anywhere. The salesman walked over, slapped the seat on a bike and said, "Here ya' go, we filled the tank too. She's ready to go." I didn't recognize my bike with all the accessories bolted on. It looked much larger than the day before with the windshield and luggage rack and backrest.

"I know this sounds stupid,"I said," but can you kinda go over the controls with me?"

"You never rode a motorcycle before?" he asked.

"Well, not one like this. I have ridden a Honda trail 90, but they’re automatic. I have never shifted gears before on a bike. I know how to drive a manual transmission car, though."

He laughed and said,"well, sit down on it and I will go over it with you."

He showed me the clutch lever, explaining how it needed to be pulled in, and how the gears shifted, with a one down and three up pattern, and where the starter button and kill switch were.

After about ten minutes, I said, "Ok, I think I got it now."

I turned the key on, checked that the bike was in neutral by looking at the little green indicator light and hit the start button. The little vertical twin engine turned over several times but didn't crank.

"Pull the choke out and try it again," he said. "The engines just cold."

I pulled the choke out and thumbed the starter again, and the motor came to life beneath me. My excitement returned, and I pulled in the clutch lever, toed the bike down into first, let out on the clutch, and the bike lurched and died.

"Let the clutch out a little slower, and give it a little gas this time." he said.

I reached up and hit the starter again, and the bike lurched forward, taking me with it about a foot.

"You have to pull the clutch in or put it in neutral." my new found mentor said.

To shorten a long story, I made it out of the shop on the fourth (or was it the fifth?) try.
By this time a couple of mechanics and the salesman had followed me out to the parking lot to watch. I am sure they were taking bets on whether I would make it out of the parking lot.

Well, I fooled them! It only took me three tries to achieve the street in front of the shop, and I was on my way home!

Cruising down the street toward the highway that would carry me home, I easily made the turn onto the on ramp and managed to shift up through the gears till I was flying down the highway at over 40 miles an hour! I was so proud, looking to make sure all the people in their cars were looking at me as they went by, some honking their horns and waving, at least thats how I remember it now.

As I approached the turn off to my street, I realized I didn't know where my brakes were. I found the clutch, and as the motor revved up because I had not remembered to let off the throttle, my turn off loomed.

Now, this is a four lane divided highway I was traveling on known as Loop 286 that runs all the way around my town of Paris, Tx. I was headed south and needed to turn east, which required that I turn into a crossover lane, check for oncoming traffic, then cross over the two westbound lanes of traffic.

I quickly realized that there was no way I was going to make my turn at my present speed, and without the aid of brakes I could not slow down. Thinking fast, as it were, I decided to make my own crossover. I turned before the crossover, went down into and across the grass median, up into the opposing lanes of traffic, narrowly missing an oncoming car, or rather it narrowly missed me as I careened across the highway at about 25 miles an hour.

Suddenly I was on my road, headed in the right direction! I swerved to the right to miss another car that was blowing it's horn at me, probably because I was in his lane instead of mine, and leveled out, with heart racing and soiled underwear, towards home. At the leisurely pace of 20 miles an hour, I looked for and found the front brake lever, and practiced using it several times in the last mile before my next turn. I made that turn fine, and managed to make that last mile without any more incidents. I spent the next two weeks riding up and down the street in front of my house, learning how to start and stop so that I could take the test for my motorcycle license.

I rode that little bike for the next three years, finally trading it to a friend for $300 and two pistols.
It would be 13 years before I owned another motorcycle, even though I kept my motorcycle license that whole time, always with plans to buy another "someday".