Patience is its own reward
Dutch-American engineering graduate Frans was on a motorcycling tour of Europe when he landed an unexpected (unpaid) job working with Pat Hennen, his brother Chip and Kiwi Mike Sinclair on the GP circuit. But before that, there was another story… In a sea of Hardy-Table-Sons,
the little Honda CB160 stood out like a sore thumb. A bright red thumb. With silver fenders and shiny splashes of chrome. But at the motorcycle swap meet in Long Beach, California, the Hardy boys paid the tiny twin no mind. They had little use for its 160cc engine, built in 1965, which probably couldn’t even muster the torque required to kick start their mighty V-Twins. I, on the other hand, saw pure gold. The CB160 was the motorcycle I always wanted. In 1964, the California Department of Motor Vehicles granted learner’s permits to drive a car at age fifteen and a half. The permits also allowed riding a motorcycle. By the time I reached the magic age, I had saved $200 from delivering newspapers to buy my first bike. And the one I coveted was a red CB160 with silver fenders and shiny splashes of chrome. Unfortunately, the most that $200 could buy was a second-hand Honda 125, found in a used car lot. The motorcycle I always wanted would have to wait. For two years, I honed my skills on the 125 and after turning eighteen, decided to race it. But before I could, a letter came. From the Selective Service Administration. The letter began with: “Greeting.” And then: “You are hereby ordered to report for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States.” Fifteen months later, my ride was a US Army Helicopter in Vietnam. My seat was a canvas stool in the open cabin where I sat with an M60 machine gun in my hands. I was nineteen. I flew my first combat mission in April 1968 and
by mid-May, had lost three helicopters and two pilots to enemy action and a crash. To cope with the stress of combat, at night I would hunker down in my quarters with a stack of motorcycle magazines. I pored over every word on every page, gazed at the glossy adds, and dreamed of a red CB160, surely waiting for me back in “the World.” “The World.” That’s what we said when we meant “home.” Almost daily, someone would shout: “Thirty days to the World!” Or more reverently: “Got a girl in the World.” Or hopefully: “When I get back to the World, I’m gonna buy a motorcycle.” We lived for the World and worshipped the date of our scheduled return. For me, that date came unexpectedly. On March 23, 1969, my helicopter dived towards an enemy position with guns blazing, then ploughed into a rice paddy and disintegrated. And after having survived a year in the air, I was medically evacuated out of Vietnam, a twenty-year old casualty of the war. Recovery took a year but by then, I’d saved enough to buy a CB160. Only to find the red ones sold out. I settled for silver. I rode the bike on the street for a while, then entered it in a race and scored a first place trophy. No one claimed second or third; the other entry in my class broke. In the years that followed, I outgrew the CB160 and a succession of larger motorcycles came and went. About thirty over forty-five years. Today, at age sixty-nine, I ride a Yamaha FJ09, the best motorcycle in my stable of eight. But that stable is incomplete; it’s missing the one I always wanted. A red CB160 with silver fenders and shiny splashes of chrome. The Long Beach motorcycle swap meet is best patrolled in pairs. To protect us from ourselves. My wingman Darrell, a young pup of forty-one, is impulsive. A rusty tank, a bent fender, a head light shell, will catch Darrell’s eye and empty his wallet. Darrell’s passion is to transform junk into motorcycles, either in his garage or in his head. My job is to rein him in. When Darrell fingers yet another patinaed part, I give counsel: “Walk away D, just walk away. If you’re still ‘feelin the burn’ when we leave, we’ll get it on the way out.” But when Darrell noticed me staring at the red CB160, he took his turn: “Walk away Frans, just walk away…..” And so I did. Over the next two hours, Darrel and I continued our rounds but the CB160 would not leave my mind. Then it was time to go and we headed for the exit— Darrell now carrying an 18” Akron wheel in one hand, a $10 Yamaha carburettor in the other. Darrell doesn’t always listen to me. But at least he agreed that we should have one last look at the little red CB160. So we wandered over to its spot and found it….gone. Darrell offered consolation: “If the seller brought it here, it’s probably on Craig’s list.” That night, my PC beeped with a message from my bud: “Found it!” Just click on the link. I waited two days to give “the burn” a chance to subside. On the third day, I contacted the seller and asked what he knew of the bike. It was not a happy story. The seller said he was the third owner; the second owner found the bike at an estate sale. The original owner, a young man about eighteen, bought the bike in 1965 and rode it with care. There were no marks on the levers, grips or pegs; the CB160 had never been down. The odometer showed just 949 miles and the young man would surely have clocked more. But then one day, a letter came. From the Selective Service Administration. “Greeting….” Eventually, the young man was sent to Vietnam and surely spent many hours dreaming of the day he would ride his motorcycle again. To him, the red CB160 literally meant the World. And although I never knew him, we would have much in common. Except for this: I came home. In a somber corner of a park in Washington DC, a black marble wall lists the names of 58,000 men lost in Vietnam. One of those names belongs to a young man who wanted nothing more than to ride his red CB160 again. When it became clear that he never would, his family tucked the bike away for forty-six years. Not because it was memorable; because it was a memorial. Eventually, the estate was auctioned off and the CB160 changed hands twice until it found me. The motorcycle I always wanted, this motorcycle, is now in my garage. To an unknown soldier on The Wall: My name is Frans; I was a helicopter crew chief in Vietnam. I am the new steward of a bright red motorcycle that has silver fenders and shiny splashes of chrome. It belongs to you. But don’t you worry my brother; your Honda CB160 is now in the best possible hands. Ride in peace.
“When I get back to the World, I’m gonna buy a motorcycle.”
19 year old Frans, ready for action with his M60.
Temptation came at a car park sale... “For Sale – 1965 Honda CB160 – $2500 – All original, new tyres and battery, speedo is wonky but ODO and everything else works.”