By Sam Longo
Most of us can recall the initial spark that prompted our passion for motorcycles. I recently realized that 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of my first encounter with the excitement generated by a motor and two wheels. It was the summer of 1960 and I was 6 years old. I am quite sure that I hounded my Uncle John mercilessly until he finally relented to my request for that first fateful ride. The machine was a 1957 Lambretta LD 125, its two-stroke engine, capable of a staggering 5.2 hp, according to the optimistic brochure. The ride took place in the garage-lined laneway behind my Grandmother Nina’s house on Clinton Street in downtown Toronto.
This photograph brings back that memory in vivid detail. Perched on the back seat in a t-shirt, shorts and Red Ball Jet running shoes, with no jacket or helmet, my twenty-year old uncle rocketed up and down the laneway with me hanging on for dear life. It was a blissful blend of fear and excitement. I’m quite sure now, that Uncle John was probably hitting speeds of no more than 25 mph, but at the time the acceleration and speed seemed phenomenal. Your sense of relative speed is rather acute when your frame of reference is derived from a rusty red tricycle! That was the only ride that I ever got on that scooter, but the die was cast for future escapades.
The years rolled by and occasionally certain events would trigger that spark to re-ignite. Steve McQueen’s motorcycle scenes in The Great Escape, as well as the TV series “Then Came Bronson” immediately spring to mind. But it was the film Easy Rider that finally pushed me over the edge. As the credits trailed at the end of that movie, I secretly vowed to get myself a motorcycle.
It was 1972 when I finally got the chance to take the controls of a Honda CB100 at Toronto Cycle School. It was a long way down the food chain from Peter Fonda’s Star Spangled Harley, but at 18 years of age, that initial spark was finally intensified. That flame has continued to burn and from that day forward, I have always owned a motorcycle.
I recently queried John about the fate of the little Lambretta that started it all, way back in 1960 and he related the full story, complete with its ultimate fall from grace. John was also an Aircraft Mechanic, long before I followed into that profession and was working as an apprentice at the Toronto Island Airport. He had purchased the scooter from one of the pilots in rather poor condition. Despite the scooter being only three years old, the pilot had done little to maintain it, so John purchased it as a bit of a “fixer-upper.” Apparently he only owned it for that one season after whipping it into tip-top working condition. His foolish affair with the scooter was terminated when he made the mistake of taking his girlfriend (now my Aunt Joanne) for a spin. She apparently did not share our enthusiasm for two-wheeled adventure and while his true love prevailed, sadly, the scooter did not.
Being the ever frugal opportunist (the acorn never falls far from the tree!) John happily sold the Lambretta back to the same pilot for a small profit and purchased a 1952 Chevrolet from my Aunt Madeline. My uncle John never owned another scooter or motorcycle, but fortunately I have. That first ride all those years ago was a gift that kindled a love affair for me, that endures to this day. John and Joanne’s ride went pretty well too. After accomplished careers and raising three children, they are still together, both retired and still going strong. So I guess you could say, we all lived happily ever after. In retrospect, who would have believed, that a simple ride on a Lambretta scooter could become such a cornerstone of our future lives? For many of us hooked on this sport, motorcycles (and sometimes, even scooters) just have a way of doing that.