Eight years ago this month, on my birthday, I sat astride a small motorcycle in a parking lot and let out a clutch for the first time. Making it to the other side of the parking lot meant I’d crossed over to the other side of riding, from pillion to motorcyclist.  The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) “become familiar with the motorcycle” course took half a day, but changed my life.   My husband and I had moved to upstate New York a few years before, where we had taken lovely trips on his Suzuki V-Strom 1000: to the vineyards of the Finger Lakes, the rocky coast of Maine, and the sandy beaches of Rhode Island.  Riding on back was becoming boring, but somehow it hadn’t occurred to me in all our years of riding together that I could operate a motorbike on my own. Our first motorcycle was a Honda CB500 purchased with wedding gift money in Rome, that we took through the hills of Tuscany on our honeymoon.

Little Blue – a rare, one-year model Honda CL200 [Wendy Pojmann]
The inspiration for learning to ride came from ballet class: a fellow dancer came to class with a helmet and leather jacket. I was intrigued and asked to see her bike, a Royal Enfield 500. Shortly afterwards another dancer friend bought a big cruiser that she handled with ease. I thought, “Wow. A ballerina biker gang would be awesome.”  Two months later I passed the full MSF course and had a license, so I knew how to ride a motorcycle in a parking lot, but had zero road experience.  When my safety course companions asked what I planned to ride, I had no clear response. Many of them had already purchased motorcycles, mostly newer models and mostly mid-size or larger bikes. My husband had been checking Craigslist for used motorcycles, and showed me a picture of a 1974 Honda CL 200 Scrambler for sale in nearby Saratoga Springs. It was love at first sight! The barn-find CL had fallen into the hands of a hobbyist motorcycle restorer, who had only needed to clean the carburetors and polish up the chrome to make it presentable. We took the bike home, and I rode it down the driveway with huge smile, and named it ‘Little Blue.’  The CL200 was only available in blue and white, and only in production for one year, which made it seem extra special to me: I loved the color scheme, the chrome, the pipe, the smell, the sound, the vibrations, everything.

Experience gained! The Honda CL series was their street scrambler line, and they do just fine in the dirt. [Wendy Pojmann]
I gained more experience and began to learn finesse: an old motorcycle requires care. I needed to perfect my starts, and once stalled, several times, in front of a well-known biker hangout as tough-looking dudes stared, smirking. One of them rose to help but I managed to get moving again: I got a thumbs up. Other times, the shifter got stuck, and I eventually learned to shift with the tip of my foot, and go through all the gears.  I panic stopped for a red light, fishtailed as the back brake locked and thought, “I am not letting Little Blue go down!” We stayed up.  And then there was the time the front tube blew and I had to make a smooth stop with a flat. These incidents occurred at various stages as I passed to bigger and newer motorcycles, but none of them have compared to Little Blue. The sensation I have when I reach 55 mph (downhill with wind in my favor) and the speedo needle is shaking  and the engine is screaming and I’m bouncing along …is like none other.  Small bikes feel like you’re setting a land speed record!

A proud exhibitor at a motorcycle show – a universal experience for vintage motorcycle enthusiasts. [Wendy Pojmann]
And Little Blue is an attention-getter. On nearly every ride someone asks about him. The same occurs when my husband rides him, so the questions aren’t because of me! Once while out riding, a man approached me in a parking lot, explaining he had seen us go by his house, spotted the CL, and had to see it close up so jumped in his truck.  All the interest led me to enter Little Blue in the Rice-O-Rama vintage motorcycle show in western Massachusetts a few years ago. He didn’t win — it was hard to compete against the fully restored bikes in the same category — but I had great fun showing him off and making a few laps with him around the dirt track at the end of the day. A few people asked if I would sell him; I said no. Never. My CL has been in good company at the Distinguished Gentleman’s Rides as well.

Company? Looks like Little Blue isn’t the only vintage Honda in the family: meet Smokey! [Wendy Pojmann]
Little Blue is my first bike and the only one I really need. Vintage style is part of his appeal but so is the fact that I know I could ride him to the ends of the earth. We would move slowly. I would have to stop to fix this or that. But the same smile I had when I rode him down the driveway that first night would always be planted on my face.

 

Dr. Wendy Pojmann is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Siena College in Albany, New York. Her most recent book Espresso: The Art & Soul of Italy will be published by the Bordighera Press in 2021. Pojmann’s current project explores the social and cultural history of motorcycle coffee culture. She splits her time between Rome and upstate New York. Follow her on Instagram @wendysespressolife.
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