Column: Looking for adventure, but born to be mild


In 1976, my parents bought a minibike for me. I spent my bicentennial afternoons going full-throttle — 25-to-30 m.p.h. maybe — around the one-acre perimeter of our property. I aspired to jump a drainage ditch with the same fervor that broken-bodied Evel Knievel displayed during his attempted (and failed) Snake River Canyon jump two years before. I failed at my jump as well. My little minibike lacked lift-off — it, too, needed a rocket engine.

On the minibike, I often envisioned myself as that cool badass Jackie Earle Haley kid character on “The Bad News Bears,” which I saw at the Swiss Theater that summer. The movie was impressive stuff. It was the first movie that I heard kids actually say cusswords on the silver screen. Haley’s character rode a fancy Harley Davidson dirt bike to the ballfield and smoked cigarettes. He also played air hockey with Tatum O’Neal. What minibike boy that summer didn’t dream of playing air hockey with Tatum O’Neal?

There was nothing fancy about my minibike. I believe it came from the junk man. It seemed to be manufactured via the mad vision of some unsupervised welder — a melting pot of parts pulled from previous existing mechanical contraptions. It didn’t have a brand name. Still, it ran, albeit via a fit of sputters, coughs and black smoke. I simply pulled the rope lawn-mower style and away I went, minibike me, filling the otherwise peaceful rural route neighborhood with my brand of heavy metal thunder. Ah, the freedom of the open yard! In hindsight, the neighbors probably weren’t too pleased with my parents purchasing decision that summer.

During the summer of ’76, I was born to be wild.

But during the 42 years since my magnificent minibike summer, I have yet to operate a real motorcycle — too chicken (I am clutch impaired). I guess I was born to be mild, not wild.

Still, I do enjoy a good motorcycle song and the freedom of the open road that they conjure.

Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” is among my favorites: “Somewhere on a desert highway/ She rides a Harley-Davidson / Her long blonde hair flyin’ in the wind / She’s been runnin’ half her life / The chrome and steel she rides / Collidin’ with the very air she breathes.”

Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” is my all-time favorite: “Said James, ‘In my opinion, there’s nothing in this world / Beats a ’52 Vincent and a redheaded girl / Now Nortons and Indians and Greeves won’t do / Oh, they don’t have a soul like a Vincent ’52.’ ”

Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell” gets the blood pumping: “I’m gonna hit the highway like a battering ram / On a silver-black phantom bike.”

I recently asked people on Facebook to name their favorite “motorcycle” songs.

Bob Seger’s “Roll Me Away” was popular. So was Arlo Guthrie’s “The Motorcycle Song”: “I don’t want a pickle / Just want to ride my motor-sickle.”

Sue Habig mentioned the very tragic “Leader of the Pack.”

Tim Piazza, who knows more about music than most, mentioned Seamus Moore’s obscure “My Little Honda 50.”  Writes Tim, “It was a hit (of sorts) in Ireland. By the way, I have this motorcycle.”

Even country songs were cited: Merle Haggard’s “Motorcycle Cowboy.” David Allan Coe’s “Panheads Forever.”

Surprisingly, no one mentioned Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive:” “I’m a cowboy / On a steel horse I ride.”

Of course, the granddaddy of all motorcycle songs, Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild,” was mentioned the most.

WNIN VP of Radio/New Media Steve Burger shared this about that: “After being present at the Buffalo Chip campground at the 50th anniversary Sturgis, S.D. motorcycle rally for Steppenwolf’s encore of Born to be Wild, I think I’m lost to any other consideration in this category. Several hundred Harley’s fired up to join the chorus. I had a bodyguard from the Hell’s Angels named Wolf to keep me from harm as I reported for national radio networks.”

Like a true nature’s child, we were born to be wild—even if, for most of us, we only live vicariously through music that is about motorcycles.

Say, does anyone know a good minibike song?

Scott Saalman’s latest column collection, “Mr. Serious,” is available at Finishing Touches and Mad Batter in Jasper. Or you can contact him through Facebook. The cost is $10.

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