Andy Romanoff

A Life on Wheels, With a Camera

I have always loved motorcycles

The first riders I remember were Chicago Outlaws. They charged headlong through the downtown Chicago streets, all black and chrome and straight pipes blasting. They weaved through traffic, greasy denim kings on shiny metal horses. They owned the road, and they transfixed my fourteen-year-old soul. About a year after I saw them I got my first bike, a Whizzer, and I taught myself how to ride and how to fix it. I graduated from that to a James 125 and then I had a long string of bikes, an Indian 80, some Harley‘s, a Triumph, a BSA 500 single and an Ariel Square Four. As I neared forty, I still had bikes, an Ossa trials bike for the dirt, a Honda Gold Wing for the interstates, and a Yamaha SR 500 for carving the canyons. For a little while, I worked as a bike mechanic, and along the way, I built a few fast-motored drag bikes and raced them in the streets. Mostly the bikes I rode were street rats.

Andy Romanoff in 1960, about eighteen years old. Check out the no fenders, bald tires approach to go-fast. The dangling cigarette helps too. [Andy Romanoff]
About the same time I fell in love with bikes I fell in love with cameras. I shot stills for a while then got into the movie business where I made good use of my love of all things mechanical, lavishing it on cranes and cameras and lenses. I spent years in production, becoming more and more involved in technology until finally, I was the EVP, Technical Marketing and Strategy for a company called Panavision. A lot of my job was making the new and then incomprehensible digital cameras understandable to a generation of filmmakers raised on film, a thing my meanderings had prepared me for. For a long time then, that was my life, and I loved it.

"My Ossa trialer — sweet, dependable and capable. I came closer to disaster on this one at twenty mph than anything I ever rode a hundred miles an hour." [Andy Romanoff]
Somewhere along the way, though I lost my desire to ride. The last three bikes, the Goldwing, the Ossa, and the SR500 sat in my garage and slowly it became clear I wasn’t riding anymore, so one by one I sold them. The Wing was easy. It was a pig, wallowing and scraping in the canyon corners when I tried to muscle it around and boring as could be on the highway where it rolled along mile after mile without my paying attention. I had never much liked it. The Ossa I loved, but it was a long trailer ride from Hollywood out to the dirt, to where I could catch a few hours of fun in the hills.

Andy's favorite canyon carver - a c.1978 Yamaha SR500. [Andy Romanoff]
The SR was the toughest, and the last one I let go. Nimble, quick, and sticky in the corners, a surprise to lots of guys that thought their big canyon carvers could get through the tight stuff faster. I loved that bike, the first Japanese iron I ever felt good on, but then it was sitting there too so … bye. After they were gone I made noises about getting another bike, but instead, I had a business, and a wife and children and that was more than enough.

Andy with Bobby Vee in 1962 and the little hotrod BSA ZB Gold Star tuned for street racing. Note the Flanders handlebars, white Bates seat, no front brake, and swept back Clubman's exhaust. [Andy Romanoff]
The years passed, and finally, I was finished working for others. I turned back to photography, the work I had fallen in love with about the same time I fell in love with bikes, and I began to write. A lot of what I wrote about was the adventures of my life, so sometimes motorcycles figured in the stories, and as I looked for pictures of bikes I had loved to illustrate my stories, it came back to me how much I had loved them. I felt my connection to the metal, to the smells and the sounds. My muscle memory knew exactly what it felt like to straight leg kick a Harley and when to crank the spark advance as the motor caught. I knew the feeling in my wrist as I twisted the throttle and I remembered the sensation of a good motor, one that beats like a giant heart as it propels you faster.

Andy shooting at Chopperfest in 2018: still at it! [Andy Romanoff]
The thing is, a motorcycle is many things at once. It is the weight beneath you, the music of the pipes, the thumping pulses that fill your body as the motor winds its way up. It’s the wind that comes to meet you as you shift through the gears, the sound of tires and chains and road, the smell of hot oil and metal. All these things and more fill your being in the same moment leaving a lifelong impression, a symphony of the senses like no other. That symphony plays in my head as I write these words and each part is alive in my body. I know what those Chicago bikers felt like that day as they roared through the downtown streets. They felt alive and fiercely free. I loved motorcycles from the very first moment I saw them, and to this day I still do. I don’t ride nowadays, but I shoot pictures of motorcycles with all the love I have for them.

 

Vintagent Contributor Andy Romanoff started out as a biker/photographer, then had a long career in Hollywood, including years working with Panavision. He's a member of The Academy, and is now back to his biker/photographer roots. Follow these links for his Bike Pictures for sale and his Bike Gallery.