My Wild Day on a Bridgestone, 1971
Published in the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Club Magazine August 2015
My one and only ride on a Bridgestone was unbelievably exhilarating but nearly disastrous.
In 1971, I was a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I found myself, one sunny Saturday Spring afternoon, sitting in the best known local pub named the “Purity”. I had my motorcycle helmet sitting beside me in the booth and a fellow biker came by and we started to talk. I told him about my “really hot” 1969 Honda CL 175 Scrambler, and my exploits around campus. He began to tell me about the virtues of his new “Bridgestone 350.” “Bridgestone,” I said, “I have seen them but never ridden one. It sounds really cool.”
At that, he tossed me his keys and said, "Take it for a spin and tell me what you think." I was terribly surprised, but he didn't have to ask me twice. I was quickly outside astride his brand new red and chrome Bridgestone GTR 350. I fired it up and immediately found that its gear box definitely had a different shift pattern from my Honda. You had to go through the gears by pushing down, which was in reverse sequence from the Honda. I thought it was a little funny, but it did not take long to get used to it. I embarked on a very pleasant trip through the rural countryside around Oxford. Yes, this baby could REALLY fly. As I came back into the "uptown" area, the sidewalks were extremely crowded with people moving in all directions. What a great time to show off a bit on high street! I ripped quickly through three low gears, I then "held" it in third gear at high revs emitting that ear piercing 2 cycle wail--just to make sure the crowds knew someone really cool was coming!
I don’t remember the particular distraction affecting me, but as I held it in third, I decided it was time to gently click it into fourth and just glide along the street without being too much of a scofflaw. Unfortunately, because the shift pattern was just the opposite of what I was used to, I committed a grievous error and moved the lever not into fourth, but into second! What planned to be a gentle blip of the throttle into a calm ride immediately shot the front wheel skyward an amazing rate!
As the front wheel continued to zip up towards the sky, the engine shrieked towards red line and I struggled not to fall off backwards. Next, lacking contact with the pavement, the handlebars wobbled wildly from side to side. Terror gripped me as I understood that this fact alone would mean disaster if I could not get that wheel straight when, and if, I landed. I could see the pedestrians, mouths opened and staring in disbelief, as this oil injected cloud of a sideshow passed alongside them. My next horror was to notice that I was I quickly approaching the car in front of me which was completely stopped in traffic. All I could see was the utterly surprised faces of the four passengers in the convertible in front of me who had turned around only to see a crazed motorcyclist bearing down on them like a vulture. Reflexively I stomped the rear brake pedal hard. As I descended, my chest and head immediately slammed down on the gas tank. Fortunately my plexiglass helmet shield protected me from the need of a new set of teeth as my face bounced off the handlebars. Stopped, but dazed, and helmet down on the handlebars, I slowly realized that I was alive, and I was able to steady the motorcycle. As I dared to look up, and as fool’s luck would have it, I found that I had stopped just a couple of feet short of his bumper. I looked around and saw people pointing and laughing. It finally sank in just how close I was to both motor vehicle disaster and extreme social disdain.
Slowly and gingerly I took it around the block to compose myself. I found a spot, and parked it back in front of the Purity. As I returned to the dark, smoky interior of the establishment, he saw me and said, “How was it? Did you have any problems?”
“Nah,” I said, “piece of cake, but that IS one fast bike you have there!”