Story by Tom Blake
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of stories Blake has had published in the MSTA Florida Chapter newsletter, The Florida Gator Tale. The story originally appeared in the May 2020 newsletter and has been edited to match the MSTA website’s style.
My dad’s oldest brother had an old Harley — or maybe it was an Indian — parked in his central Pennsylvania barn in the early 1950’s. I never saw or heard it run, but my uncle also had a moped that my cousin rode. I was intrigued but was too young to ride at the time. Still, this was likely the spark that ultimately led me to motorcycling years later.
My own journey started during my early 1960s high school years in Melbourne, Florida. I talked my dad into helping me buy a used ’58 Harley-Davidson 125cc Hummer (against my mother’s better judgement). What a piece of crap it turned out to be. But it got me to school and to my part-time evening job at the local Dairy Queen. It even got me to the Saturday night car races at the speedway west of town — and other pleasures, too. Except for the all too frequent engine-rebuild parts, it was cheap to operate. But 40 mph was about all it could muster without hitching a draft behind a school bus. I think it only put out around five horsepower.
I spray painted my fenders and tank purple! There was no rear wheel suspension — just big springs under the back of the solo seat. The front forks had very little travel. You didn’t want to ride it through deep potholes. I don’t recall what happened to it. In any case, in Dec. 1966, the U.S. Air Force and I agreed to a four-year deal.
In the early 1970s, I was a civilian again and back in the Melbourne area. I bought a used ’71 Yamaha 125cc Enduro. I had an awful lot of fun with that bike. The local Yamaha dealer also sold BMWs. Back in those days, BMW was the only brand reliable enough to go long distances. And it got me to thinking about doing just that. And so, that’s when I decided — SOME DAY I’m going to ride a motorcycle to Montana! I don’t know why it had to be Montana. But that was my dream.
It wouldn’t be on the Enduro, that’s for sure. And not on knobbies, either. Besides, someone on a 400cc Suzuki dirt bike ran into me head-on one day in a blind sweeper out in the sticks. Our engine cases collided! I didn’t see or hear or feel a thing. No recollection. It broke my left humerus (upper arm bone) completely in two. A year and three operations later the bone finally healed. Thanks to the Miami Dolphins’ orthopedic surgeon for grafting bones from my leg into the arm. The bike was junked. That put a rather dramatic halt to my riding for about 12 years.
Then one day after work in the mid-1980’s, I watched an older fellow whom I worked with hop on his Honda street bike, ease out to the road and – zoom — he was out of sight. The bug bit me again.
I found a low mileage 1981 500cc Honda Silverwing in good shape and bought it. I put a small aftermarket faring on mine. My intention, of course, was to eventually ride it to Montana.
In 1987, I decided to ride to Daytona Bike Week as a test. By the time I got to Cocoa (just 20 miles), it became very clear, this was NOT a motorcycle I would be able to ride to Montana. Even Daytona was too far. It was too buzzy and way too uncomfortable.
I traded it for a used 1984 GL1200 Gold Wing. In 1988, Rose and I rode that ‘Wing to Arizona and Colorado and came home via South Dakota and Ohio. But we never got to Montana. We did get up to the Smokies and lower Appalachians several times. I rode it to Knoxville once for a Wingding and to Pennsylvania at least once to visit relatives. Then it developed a stator problem in early 1989 and got traded during Bike Week for a new GL1500 Gold Wing complete with pinstripes and air brushed murals of the Daytona area on practically every surface. I polished it so many times with Nu Finish that it wore through the clear coat and started looking pretty weathered. After 83,000 otherwise trouble-free and enjoyable miles, it was traded for a 1996 ‘Wing, which I didn’t like nearly as well.
Then came a 1998 Valkarie Tourer which, though powerful enough to do power drifts, didn’t have enough ground clearance for aggressive cornering in the mountains. My 2003 Yamaha FJR buzzed at or above 70 mph. And a 2003 GL1800 Wing had persistent saddlebag latching issues.
Finally, in 2004, on the way home from Americade in New York, I traded the ’03 ‘Wing for a 2004 Honda ST1300 with 5,000 miles on it. It was a keeper. A throttle lock, Sargent saddle and Givi trunk gave it everything I needed for comfortable long-distance travel. I put 90,000 more trouble-free miles on it and kept it until 2013.
But let’s jump back to 2009 for a minute. I retired at the end of July that year. On September 8, the day after Labor Day, I began my long-dreamed-of journey to the northwest. Over the course of the next 32 days, I rode in 26 states — including Montana — and put more than 10,000 miles on the odometer. Mission Montana accomplished! The ST was rock solid throughout.
Even when I sold it at 95k miles, I would have had no hesitation to hop on it again for a repeat cross-country ride. I just thought its resale value would plummet above 95k. Besides, I had my eye on a new Triumph Trophy SE. The SE had a number of desirable electronic amenities the ST didn’t have.
I’ve owned other bikes during this timeframe: ’84 Honda Nighthawk 700, ’94 Honda Magna 750, ’95 Kawasaki Vulcan Classic 1500, ’03 Honda VTX 1800, ’07 KTM 990 Super Duke, ’09 Ducati 1100 Monster, ’07 Triumph Tiger 1000. But the others were my main rides up until 2013. The 1989 ‘Wing was a darned good bike.
But the ST was, hands down, my favorite.