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Gearhead's Trike Story

Accompanied by Sam's Magnificent Trike Photo Collection

By Tim Graves with photos from Sam Burns

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That old trike was a real Frankenstein’s monster. She was the back end of a Corvair of a 1960 vintage and a front end of a Honda CB 500. She had a full-size keg gas tank on the chariot bed over the engine. The driver seat was a plastic Baja bucket. The passenger seat was none.

Just a little history of what started me on the biker's road.

My wife totally disliked this monstrosity. We made our first motorcycle rally on this old girl. It was the first run of the Summer. The year was 1976 I believe. The run was the Kern River run over Memorial weekend.

We left Torrance with a little money in our pockets, clothes on our backs, some food essentials, some tools and a couple of bottles of Portuguese homemade wine.

We all left together (the South Bay bros and their ol’ ladies) on that Friday after we were all off work. But then there was the dread congestion of LA traffic. Unfortunately, no lane-splitting for me. I had to get there as if I was in a car. I didn't think about that. We all separated, and they got there about an hour before us.

This is and has been the major disadvantage of trikes.

We all looked for each other the next day because it was almost nightfall when my wife and I arrived in the meandering Kern River valley. Most of us entered on the 99, from where the 99 and the interstate 5 split. We rolled through fields to the outskirts of Bakersfield through Miracle Hot Springs, Bodfish and past Lake Isabella.

The Kern is like a large stream twisting and turning between massive granite boulders. It creates dozens of hideouts in a winding valley sheltered by the summer sun.

We found a place to camp down below the dam of Isabella. We found some bikers that offered us a spot and the weekend party began for us.

The next morning into town we went for some breakfast and to find our pals. We found each other at a local dinner in town.

In the process, the trike started cutting out all the way to town. I figured out the points were about gone. I thought I would never stiff a waitress for a tip, but I did that day. I need as much cash as I could muster for a new set of points. My wife got the girls name and mailed the tip to the restaurant under her name.

I got the points and condenser and had no feeler gauge to set the points. I must have looked perplexed because an older biker asked me what was the problem? I explained the situation and he had a solution, natch.

The guy pulled out a packet of matches and told, “This is what we use in a pinch.”

I ask him, “What you gonna do, set it on fire?”

“No,” He scold at me, and he tore of the back of the book of matches. “I am going to set the points with the paper cover. It just so happens that the paper thickness is about the same thickness as the proper feeler gauge for the points on a Harley and a Corvair.

He got the deal done and I thanked him, and we all went on our way.

We hauled ass, barking up the narrow valley to the slide and to the tubs to party the rest of the day with our friends. We partied and putt around all day and after we had dinner, we all headed back to where we camped that night.

Next, hang on for another chain of events kind of like the ones before.

The next leg of the trip: We started to roll back to where we camped that night. I turned the lights on for the trip back to town and after a while the trike goes dead. All the electrical was toast and so was the battery.

We could only camp on the side of a hill, off the road and hopefully get back to town the next morning. We all got some sleep and the next morning the trike started and off we headed to the gas station for a battery charge.

Fortunately, the trike held a car battery, and it could handle a big car-battery charger. It didn’t take too long to charge and then we were off for home. The weekend came mysteriously to an end.

I lost my sheath knife and got ticked off. I blamed my wife for it. We both left it on the bed of the trike. I started riding that thing like a madman over a stupid knife.

My wife said to slow that thing down or she would get off and get a ride home. I did as she asked after I processed how stupid I was acting. Fortunately, as she is still my wife after 35 years

When we got home, I started to diagnose the electrical and found that the voltage regulator was never grounded. I fixed it and rode it until I sold it for down payment on our first Harley-Davidson Lowrider.

There ya go, a trike story.


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Reader Comments

The advantage of mechanical to all electronic is still you can fix it on the road . When electronics are gone, they are gone . You replace the entire module and hope the rest of the system is still good . That is just my opinion . My Shovelhead still has points , a primary drive chain and a rear drive chain . All that may be another story though . Thanks for the compliment though , glad you all liked it .

Torrance, CA
Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Editor Response Good story.
Good read! Brings back memories, including bad ones about ignition points. I guess no true story about road trips in the 1960s-70s can be complete without a points failure episode.

The damn things always failed at the most inopportune moment. I always carried a screwdriver and points file with me because my points failure always happened late at night when I was out alone, with nobody to shine their headlight at my engine.

The good old days would have been a more enjoyable with reliable electronics ignitions.

Vern Moore
Kingsley, PA
Friday, May 21, 2021
Editor Response A what the hell. Adventures need to come with pitfalls, or we wouldn't have any stories to tell. Thanks for reaching out. You made the Gearhead's day.

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