Daytona Bike Week 2010
by Kurt Zuelsdorf
Older bikers in the community are always eager to share stories about how they did it “way back when” and how the technology has changed the sport so dramatically. But all the grey haired “old school” bikers will agree on one thing…the bugs still taste the same!
One particular “old cat” that I saw gazing at an antique scooter on the wall of the Rossiters Harley Davidson in Daytona caught my attention. He stood sternly, arms crossed and head half-cocked. I had to ask him what he thought of the old ’54. At first he said nothing, he just pointed near the rear end and scratched his wired gray hair. “That looks like my welding job, right there on the rear swing arm. It’s not a pretty weld, but it did the job.”
Rollie, a biker visiting from Wisconsin, considers himself a “real biker” that’s been riding his whole life…year round... for over 75 years! “Being a full-timer meant that you only own a bike…no car. So no matter what you got to get up and hit the road all four seasons of the year!” he said. “No sleet, nor rain, nor snow ever stopped me from popping my ’51 Police Special Harley into gear and heading 50 miles to the Harley plant in Milwaukee, no sir. A good thing about them old leakers – in the cold winter air - the oil became so thick that they didn't leak as much! I'd throw my lunch in the sidecar. Back then fifty cents in my pocket would cover gas, lunch and a beer on the way home1!” Incidentally, he bought the bike from Bill Harley himself for $700 and got a sidecar thrown into the deal! He laughed at the thought of buying the bike instead of an old Hudson that needed new tires and what the value of Bill Harley's personal bike would be worth today.
Hungry for more info we continued chatting away and his story began to stick to my skin like the love bugs on a windshield in the sweltering season to come.
He continued on with constant throat clearing croaks, his eyes drooped shut as he recalled the days of riding to work and having to pass through the low-lying areas of the marshy back roads. Most of the summer the early morning fog soaked through his work boots and kept his (then black) hair smoothed back tight to his scalp. The murky muck of the marsh was a perfect breeding bowl for the mosquitoes that rose thick and swarmed over the roadway. The constant smacking of bugs on his face over the years is what caused the wrinkles he has today, he says. The dragonflies and bats dodged and darted about taking advantage of the feast, sometimes catching his forehead straight on – snapping is head back momentarily before he smeared it back into his hair and off the back of his head.
June was a particularly bad month with the June-bugs pelting the uncovered skin of the knuckles and arms. But to catch one in the mouth is the laughing joke that all bikers brag about as if it were this event that qualified them as “hard-core”. Rollie chuckled at what bikers consider hard-core these days and continued.
Summer also brought the threat of deer and wildlife into play. Very seldom a day passed without a near miss with a raccoon or a rabbit. Low flying herons and hawks also tested the nerves. But it was one particular stretch of marsh, in the heat of the summer that the frogs came onto the roadway. 300 yards of pure “ick” Rollie said. Thousands upon thousands of croakers carpeted the roadway making the crossing a slippery mess of squashed goo. Often enough they’d try to jump free only to catch a boot, a shin, or a knee-cap. The worse case senerio was when a passing car would splash the frog parts into the face and upper body. “now that’s hard-core” Rollie added with a stern finger point.
“yea, the bikers today have so much chrome to keep clean and their meticulous about keeping them shiny, and rightfully so, I can’t imagine spending $50,000 + on a bike! You think raindrops are hard to keep off chrome…you should try frog legs and guts!”
So for you biker's out there looking to make “real biker” or “hard core” status...spring is on the way and Rollie (who happens to be my Daddy) would be glad to escort you down the marshy muck roads of Wisconsin for his 76th season of chew-n-swallow!
Kurt Zuelsdorf. Writer, Urban Tracker, Outdoor Enthusiast at Kayak Nature Adventures kayak and sup rentals