Pa­tience is its own re­ward

Old Bike Australasia - - FRANS VANDENBROE­K - Story and pho­tos Frans Van­den­Broek

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.”

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