I was sitting around in my garage with a group of friends a week or so ago, working on one of my bikes while we played a few old vinyl records (remember those?) through my favorite old Pioneer vacuum-tube receiver, and we started talking about what we did as kids before we were old enough to ride.
Reminiscing brought back tons of memories that were long forgotten, until my friends with similarly twisted backgrounds opened the floodgates of my mind by telling their own stories.
I began riding motorized two-wheelers in the huge dirt field behind my parent's Ontario, California home when I was five years old. My dad picked up an old Keystone minibike that I loved so much, he had to yell at me to let it go when I got separated from it. I was so worried that our new minibike would get scratched or dinged that I just hung on to the handlebars, trying to keep it upright as it dragged me through the field like a flesh-covered plowing attachment. But, the most interesting times I can recall took place well before I got that first motorized vehicle that changed my life for good.
The madness started a little earlier on, when an older friend of mine by the name of Timmy helped me out by removing the seat, handlebars and fork from my tricycle. Timmy then flipped the frame upside down, remounted the fork and handlebar assembly and then put the seat on what was originally the bottom of the trike. In about ten minutes Tim had converted my trike into a raked-out chopper and it looked really cool. I remember doing the same thing for my little sister a few years later, but she wasn't nearly as excited about it as I was and my parent's made me restore it to its original form.
I lived in one of those strange areas on the outskirts of town, where all the boys and a few of the girls got into minibikes, motorcycles or go-carts within a few months of figuring out how to ride our bicycles with the training wheels removed. When we weren't riding our motorized toys, the kids in the neighborhood were transforming their bicycles into customs. We attached playing cards to the forks with clothespins so they would strike the spokes as we pedaled down the street. The cards would give you a really cool "engine" sound, but would loose their effect and would constantly have to be replaced with fresh cards when the rumble started to fade. We took turns raiding our parent's poker supplies until all the cards were used up.
The next step was to create the dangerous front end extensions for our bicycles that would make them look like the guy's Ariel Square Four-engined rigid chopper at the end of the street. I can't remember which one of us was the first in the neighborhood to figure it out, but one of us found that we could cut the fork lowers off of a spare bicycle for use as fork extenders. We'd take the wheel off our bikes, slip the cut-off lowers onto the ends of our forks to make them longer and bolt the wheel back on. The freshly-cut lowers were basically hammer-pressed in place and the first curb jump or wheelie usually resulted in one or both of the legs dropping off and a nasty crash--but they sure did look cool! Then the Storms boys who lived at the end of the street, figured out they could take their dad's drill to put a hole through the mess so we could put a bolt through and better secure the forks.
After the forks were figured out, we had to find the tallest sissybars we could attach to our banana seats to give our bicycles a mini "Captain America" look. Once we dialed in the profiles to our liking, the custom painting began. I was taking my bike apart about once a month just so I could grab another one of dad's paint cans to spray it a different color. I remember silver, red, a butt-ugly olive drab green and a few other colors. Then I can recall my dad flipping out when he found a dozen or so empty spray cans tossed in the yard on the side of the garage a few weeks later. He was really proud that such a little punk could figure out how to tear his bike down and rebuild it so quick. He wasn't very amused when the cans of high-heat paint he bought to redo the big block Ford in his ski boat that particular weekend, had been used up and thrown in the back yard. Things really started getting wild when my friends William and Steve got hold of a roll of black striping tape and that was followed by those goofy letter decals that twinkled different colors as the sunlight bounced off of it.
Yep, we were a bunch of little Arlen Ness', Donnie Smiths and Dave Perewitz' in our own right--even if we didn't know who they were at the time. We thought we were the coolest kids on the planet at the time, but sitting around my garage that night talking about the old days, with friends from all over the country with similar stories, made me realize it was a widespread illness that we all had at the time.
I really enjoyed reliving those moments with my friends that I had long forgotten. Even more, I like the fact that many of us are still carrying on the tradition as big kids and STREET CHOPPER is the perfect showcase for twisted minds like those I remember growing up in Ontario. Judging by the overwhelmingly positive response we've received about the revival of STREET CHOPPER, there are a lot of people out there just like us!