My First Motorcycle (& All The Others)

by Jay Johnson

I bought my first car when I was 15 years old, for $50.00.  It was a 1940 Plymouth and I bought it in 1955.  My Dad and I rebuilt the engine and it ran well for a year, when I  traded up to a 1949 Ford.  that’s the car I had when I graduated from high school in Seattle.  Just before I started college in the fall of 1958, someone drove into it while it was parked, so I had no car for college.  That would have been okay, but I had a part-time job in the city and I needed transportation.


For years, I had a secret passion to own a Vespa motor scooter.  This now seemed to be the time to explore that dream.  I knew I couldn’t afford a real motorcycle.  Perhaps a used Vespa would be the answer to my transportation needs.  I was working between classes in the afternoon and evenings at the parking lots in downtown Seattle.  I was the lunch and dinner relief for the lot attendants and needed quick and maneuverable transportation to get me from lot to lot.


One Saturday afternoon, I visited the local Vespa scooter dealer, to see if they had anything I could afford.  In addition to a showroom full of new and used scooters, there were six strange little motorcycles over in one corner of the room.  They were bigger than a bicycle and smaller than a motorcycle.


The dealer told me they had just arrived and were built in Japan.  JAPAN?  The only things I’d ever seen imported from Japan were junk jewelry and cheap knock-off watches.  I don’t remember the price of the little Honda 50, but the figure $125 comes to mind.  In any case, it was within my budget, even with the optional windshield, plus it was brand new.  I’d rather have a new motorcycle, than a used motor scooter.  That’s why I bought one of the first Hondas shipped to the USA.  How I wish I’d bought stock in the company at the same time.


The little 50cc engine transported me around Seattle for a couple of years, until Honda came out with the “Dream.”  This was a step up to the much bigger 250cc engine and had more of a motorcycle look.  With the Dream, I could ride at highway speeds.  I traded up.  Later, I owned a BSA and when it stopped running, I stopped riding motorcycles for a while.  All these motorcycles that I owned in my late teens and early 20’s, were strictly for transportation.  It never occurred to me to use the bikes for touring, or recreational purposes.  This changed dramatically when I turned 30.

IN the 1970’s, I was manager of Radio Station KTW and KTW-FM in Seattle.  One of our air personalities, John Dayl, sold some commercial advertising time on his radio program to a local Suzuki Motorcycle dealer.  John made a deal with the client to purchase a 750cc Suzuki “Water Buffalo” touring motorcycle.   Then he started organizing rides with listeners to his program, who owned motorcycles. 

 I was invited to go on a couple of rides with a loaner motorcycle.  Very soon, I was at the Suzuki dealer making an advertising trade for a new “Water Buffalo” of my own.  This was my first true touring bike and it served me well for several years.  I started organizing camping tours on motorcycles to the Canadian Rockies National Parks.  On alternate years, I’d lead a tour to Yellowstone Park.

In 1982, I traded up to a new Gold wing.  With the larger 1100cc engine, I could pull a trailer and pack my tent and sleeping bag, out of the weather.  Through the 1980’s, I continued my tours into Canada and explored roads and highways throughout the west, from the Alaska border to Mexico.

In 1989, it was time for a new motorcycle.  I still had an abiding fondness for the Suzuki motorcycle.  Honda had just introduced the new-look Gold Wing.  I thought it looked too much like a Ford Taurus.  It was a new design, which is never a smart buy, when you are obtaining a new vehicle.  I thought the Suzuki Cavalcade was a much superior motorcycle, even though Suzuki had quietly stopped producing the 1400cc giant.  There were still several unsold 1986 models.  I found a very nice two-tone blue LXE with all the goodies.  I added the factory CB / Stereo / Intercom sound system, a trailer hitch, extra chrome and replaced the factory seat, with a custom made Mier “Day-Long” saddle.  A few weeks later, I had my blue beauty pin-stripped.  It has been my pride and joy ever since.


One summer afternoon in Vancouver, Canada, I stupidly took my eyes off  where I was going.  When I looked up, I didn’t have enough room to stop.  I hit the brakes hard, but still rode my Cavalcade into the back-end of a pick-up truck.  It has taken me several months to arrange the rebuilding of my beloved Cavalcade.  I finally found a matching two-toned blue 1986 LXE that I bought for parts.  The northwest’s best Cavalcade mechanic, Rick Gervasi, is rebuilding my machine, using parts from the acquired bike and new parts purchased from Suzuki.  The re-born Cavalcade will be back on the roads of the Northwest Exploring the countryside in a few short weeks.