Posted April 3, 2016
I subscribe to four motorcycle magazines — Cycle World, Motorcyclist, Roadracing World, and Rider -– and also check out a number of on-line publications like Motorcycle.com, RideApart.com, CycleNews.com and Superbikeplanet.com, to name four. There are some really good writers of columns – Jack Lewis, Kevin Cameron, Joe Gresh, Peter Egan (who is semi-retired, he says) and others. I find road tests, first rides, comparison tests, new model news, issues of motorcycle design, technical analyses, reviews of moto-gear, touring in interesting places, personal experiences, racing news, and many other motorcycle-related articles. What I don’t find is motorcycle fiction.
Back in the day the magazines would occasionally publish short works of fiction. Not every month but now and then there would be a moto-related short story. Let’s take a look back.
The two main full coverage magazines in the 1970s were Cycle and Cycle World. I don’t have many old Cycle World magazines, but in the handful that I do have I found two good short stories. I’ll describe one of them.
The April 1975 issue has a story ‘The Loner,” written by Don Gately. A self-employed man decides to take a day off mid-week to ride in the desert. Chasing a jackrabbit he rounds a blind turn and runs into a large rock. Crash! His bike’s broken; he has a badly sprained, perhaps broken, ankle and can barely walk, and is about 50 miles from his van with only the water that’s left in a small hip canteen. Nobody knows where he is. He has no matches so can’t start a signal fire. Will he be found in time or will he die in the desert? A morality tale. Here’s how Gately wrote it:
“He started to think about all the things he had done wrong. He had broken an awful lot of basic rules. The things you read in all the motorcycle safety handbooks. Rule One: Never ride alone. Rule Two: Always let someone know where you are going and when you are expected to return. Rule Three: Always carry matches. Rule Four: Don’t blast into a blind turn when you don’t know what’s there. Rule Five: Never chase jackrabbits. Rule Six: Always wear protective leathers when riding in the rough. Everybody broke some of the rules some of the time. But he had really done it up brown.”
The story is well written and well told, but the writing is plain. Like my own writing, I guess. The words get the ideas across but they don’t “sing.”
Now let’s take a look at Cycle magazine. I have lots of old Cycle magazines…
I found a story in the February 1974 issue, “Hazard” by K. P. Boyte. This guy can write. The only character in the story is Dave, an ex-pro flat track racer enjoying getting back into street riding after 11 years away from motorcycles. It’s February in Los Angeles and it’s been raining hard for two weeks, only to clear up on a Friday afternoon. Dave makes plans to ride the lower reaches of the Angeles Crest Highway the next day. I’m not familiar with that road but Boyte called it “…the two lane road that clung tenuously to the side of the canyon overlooking the San Gabriel River.”
Here’s some of Boyte’s prose:
“The clouds he had watched retreat on Friday had returned this cold Saturday morning and clustered in dark, thick masses above the canyon. They had emerged with the dawn, adding a heaviness, a dreariness to the day, and Dave wondered how long they would wait. He noticed the river too, usually a harmless stream, the kind you waded in or picnicked alongside in summer. Now it was true to its name, a river. Wide and churning, still swollen from the heavy rains, it carried small branches along in its grasp, swallowing up banks where people used to play. It covered the entire canyon floor and seemed to be reaching up, inches at a time, to claim even more. It could grow no wider – it could only climb up, toward the road.
Well, it does start to rain again, not with a few warning sprinkles but a sudden deluge. Dave takes shelter under a large tree, puts on his rain gear and waits for it to stop.
“It seemed nearly opaque, blinding all but the inches immediately ahead, screening the once sharp angles of the canyon into vague shadows and distant blurs. And it came down hard. There was a violence to it, a vengeful, aggressive persistence as it hammered the ground.”
Skipping ahead a couple of paragraphs…
“Rain was suddenly more than an inconvenience that kept a man a few minutes late for an appointment, or caused a traffic snarl. Now it was a place. It was all that mattered. You could erase the road, the canyon, the trees and even the people, if there happened to be any others so unfortunate as to be sharing this experience with Dave Jones. They too would not matter. Nothing existed but a falling sky.”
OK, Mr. Boyte, we get it. It’s RAINING!
Dave finally realizes the downpour isn’t going to stop anytime soon and starts riding back down. His rain gear fails and he’s soaked, he’s going as fast as he can under the circumstances of wet pavement and limited visibility when he sees the road in front of him disappear, taken by the rain and the river. Washed out. There is road, then no road, then road again. Now what? What would a former pro flat-track racer do?
He jumps it.
In the December 1973 issue Jimmie Long has a story titled “The Cure.” There’s four characters, Barry the narrator, an experienced older rider named Eli, and a pair of overly excitable and unreasonably curious twins Fred and Beepo (yes, Beepo; it’s not a typo). Eli just wants to ride some trails in the woods around the Pike Lake area with his new Alpina, but he can’t shake Fred and Beepo, who are full of questions about everything – the new bike, Eli’s riding style, can he show them some skills? Can they ride his new bike? They generally make pests of themselves, but the twins are nice kids, and though annoyed Eli puts up with them for a while. The breaking point came when Eli returns from a ride and finds the twins using his tools to work on their bikes.
“Something must be done about these cubs,” was all Eli said.
Eli set a trap. A friend had captured a young bobcat and delivered it to Eli in a suitcase. He tells Barry he’s going to leave the suitcase where the twins are sure to find it and, counting on the twin’s insatiable curiosity, he expects them to open it. Barry worries that the twins could get seriously injured, but Eli points out that Fred and Beepo always wear their gear – helmets, goggles, chest guards, and so on. Here’s how it went, as Mr. Long wrote it.
“Fred flipped the lid open. The bobcat jumped nine feet into the air, about eye level with Fred who was also moving upward. Screaming like bobcats do, it looked Fred in the eye for an instant before slapping the poor rube’s head eight or ten times with all four paws in half a second.
“Reacting quickly, Beepo was leaving at full throttle with nothing touching the bike but his death grip on the bars. Since he had been nudging the suitcase with his front wheel and had backed off only a little before his brother had brought himself to grief, Beepo was still pointed at the suitcase, which he dutifully ran over. The Yamaha bounced into the air, putting Beepo’s shoulders just high enough for the descending bobcat to settle down and dig into with white-hot fury.”
Now that’s funny. I find myself laughing as I proof-read the text. By the way, the twins were not seriously hurt and pretty much left Eli alone after that.
These stories and others were fun to read. Do any of the current print or on-line publications print fiction? Maybe they do and I just haven’t noticed.