Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 15, 2020

Motorcycle Madness

Filed under: bard college — louisproyect @ 10:19 pm

While under COVID-19 house arrest, I have to figure out ways to pass the time. Mostly, I am reading Marxist literature both in print and online but find myself more and more surfing the net to find interesting things to share on FB or in the instance below mostly for my own amusement. Absent a byline, I still recognized this article I wrote for the Bard Observer in 1965. It was the only thing I wrote for the student newspaper in my four years there. When I was in the SWP, I may have written a single article but can’t be sure. It was only after I got involved with putting out the Nicaragua Network Newsletter in the 1980s that I began to write on a regular basis. This was at a time when using Ventura desktop publishing was a big deal. After getting on the Internet at Columbia in 1991 did I begin to become “the prolific idiot” as Marc Cooper once put it.

My motorcycle referenced in the article:

Motorcycles Return After Near Extinction

What is it that turns people on about motorcycles? For about two semesters now the vast majority of students at Bard have been going berserk about bikes. Listen to conversations; one is constantly hearing references to “the machine I’m bringing up in couple of weeks” or “the one I’m definite getting as soon as I can get some scratch together”. Mention, in a loud enough voice, “blown Vincent”, Yamaha YDS-3 or Triumph TT Special, and everyone’s ears prick up. Chicks included. One girl insists that she’s getting one, a Triumph Tiger Cub is the one for her.

It’s not difficult to understand the fascination attached to motorcycles. I think it works on several levels. First, there is the aesthetic sensual appeal. Bikes are just so good looking. There is nothing so fine as a new machine with just enough chrome and a tasteful paint job. Hondas have won a number well-understood awards in the design field. Cycle pipes and mufflers flowing back gracefully along the length of the frame are a key element in aesthetic design. Some scramblers incorporate pipe-layout that would make Calder green with envy—the Honda dirt machine for example. The sounds that come from bikes are also something else. A throbbing roar coming from a straight pipe, can be a tuned megaphone, is as appealing to some people as music. (I have a friend who is composer studying at Julliard, and who is considering writing some musique concrete with cycle sounds.) Part of the sensual appeal of bikes is the plain thrill of acceleration in the open air. Going 0 to 60 in 5.1 second (figures for a Norton 750) with nothing about you is just unreal. Steering a cycle is also a great experience; one steers by leaning. Let’s say there’s a 20 mph- curve. You come into it at fifty, downshift into third and take it at thirty-five without the slightest difficulty Just lean.

On another level, bikes are fascinating because they’re so inexpensive to purchase and operate. Most bikes get at least seventy five miles to the gallon, with some light weights getting 120 to the gallon. Name one car that can come near that. Last semester I spent about 5 bucks on gas for a huge amount of getting around. Some people say you can’t use them in the winter, so they’re not good transportation. Baloney. Just as long as the roads are dry, you can use them and can even be reasonably comfortable.

For the benefit of newcomers to Bard, I’ll try to give a brief survey of the bikes at Bard in the nearly four years I’ve been here—and the students who drove them. When I was a freshman there were two guys, Arnie Melk and Fred Feldman, who looked like less prominent members of the cast of The Wild One. Fred went through about four bikes at Bard. They were all used and often falling apart, and unmuffled. His best machine was a 650 AJS which had been painted pop art pink. Arnie had a Harley which he claimed was a 74 inch; I’m skeptical. There was Bill Tinker who owned a hilarious old Indian with ape-hangers. Steve Dane, a good old friend, had a Ducati 50 cc that was unmuffled. At a distance it sounded like a furious mosquito. Mark Kennedy had a Beesah 250 [BSA] one year and then traded it in for a new Ducati Diana. Mark was probably the most skilled rider ever at Bard. These people left Bard a long while ago. After their exit, the only rider was Dave Jacobowitz; his sturdy Matchless 350 single was a good “thumper” and not very fast. Dave is now hot to get a Matchless 750 scrambler. Good luck, Dave. Last semester, it seems that everyone decided to finally make the big leap. Chester Denton came up with a fantastically hot 650 Beesah scrambler. Joe Ribar had two bikes at once—a groovy old single-cart 650 Beesah and a Zundapp 250 which is not so groovy. Don Moore now owns the Beesah but has blown the head gaskets, tch-tch. Peter Schabacker bought a stunning BMW which was really the center of attention. Mr. Herdman has a smaller BMW which he keeps in immaculate condition, much to the Director of Admission’s credit. Joel Morrow bought a very pretty Ducati Monza. And I bought a 175 Jawa which is as slow as molasses, but is cheap to own and run. My next bike will probably be a hot 250, maybe a Bultaco which is a screaming Spanish bike. The latest bike on campus is Steve Lipson’s YDS-3 Yamaha which goes 0-60 in less than eight seconds and has five forward gears. It is a very fine bike.

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