I first met Mike Boyd at an Athens Cycle World bike night, via our mutual friend Phil, my “partner in crime” here at Road Dirt. Mike was buzzing a drone across the festivities, its four propellers humming a few feet above all the action and motorcycle noise. After a few minutes, Mike landed the drone, and Phil introduced us. They had first met through the Athens H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) chapter, and Phil insisted we meet. “Mike’s got an amazing collection of bikes,” Phil assured me, “and he’s got an amazing personal story as well.” A small, thinly-built older chap with an infectious grin, Mike has a quick wit and zest for life we all should have. After talking with him for a few minutes, Mike invited us to come visit his place on the east side of Athens when we could, so we set up a time to pay him a visit.
A week or so later, on a beautiful spring day, Phil and I hopped on our bikes, met up at a nearby gas station, and rode out to Mike’s place, an hour’s ride. Mike and his wife live far out in “the sticks”, away from city lights, noise and traffic. A slice of country peace & quiet, down a winding country road. As we pulled into their driveway, Mike met us outside, and ushered Phil and I into his garage, where he showcased his small but impressive collection of two-wheeled steeds.
I was immediately struck by the specific period motorcycles Mike owned. Along with his daily rides (Harley-Davidson SuperGlide, BMW R1200RT), Mike owns four Harleys from the AMF era, which I found intriguing. As we walked and talked among his bikes, Mike declared, “People always malign the AMF years- ‘A bowling ball company nearly destroyed Harley-Davidson’ they say. But the truth is, AMF saved Harley. The company was facing bankruptcy, and AMF brought them back from the brink. AMF also poured R&D dollars into the brand, which resulted in some unusual creations, for sure. But It also gave birth to the Evo engine, the XLCR-1000 Café Racer, and the Aermacchi purchase that produced these fantastic single-thumper Sprints, among other innovations. It was because of AMF that the Davidsons could return to the position to eventually buy back the company. The AMF years get an unfair rap.”
Mike’s four Aermacchi H-D Sprints fascinate me. A single, forward leaning cylinder head, two of them suspended in spine frames, the other two cradled in traditional frames, of the 100cc, 250cc and 350cc variety. Mike offered me a chance to ride one, the red with bullet fairing café racer, which he says is a favorite of his. He rode on one ahead of me, and I followed, enjoying the noisy, clunky little single. We didn’t ride far or long, but long enough to experience the shifting, the shaking, and the braking of this vintage machine. Italian powerplant in an all-American motorcycle. Quite cool, really.
Mike also has rebuilt a Harley trike as an old 1940s-looking military workhorse, with period paint and lockable trunk. I’ve seen that one at bike shows and benefit events before. Mike himself is a decorated Vietnam combat veteran, having flown Huey assault helicopters in-country, 1971-72. Mike recalled, “We did combat assault, insertion/extraction of Ranger guys, medivac, anything needed in a combat situation.” Mike received the Air Medal for combat flight hours, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Purple Heart. I asked him about the Purple Heart, and he reflected, “We were conducting a supply mission, and got ambushed at the LZ. A Viet Cong sniper planted in a ‘spider hole’ popped up and opened fire on us. He blew our windscreen out, and hit my copilot first, as I pulled pitch to get us out of there. I took one in my left leg, and another round hit my cast aluminum pedal, which exploded, blowing shrapnel up into my face. Fortunately I had my visor down, so nothing hit my eyes, but got a nice scar under my beard. Anyway, I pitched up and sideways, way over-torqued, and we took rounds through the roof, before I pulled the pitch down and got the aircraft nosed in up at tree top level, finally getting enough air speed to regain control of the aircraft and get us out of there.” Mike definitely earned all three of those medals, no doubt.
I inquired about Mike’s roots in riding, and he quipped, “I’ve been riding since I was old enough to shoehorn a lawnmower engine into a Schwinn bicycle! I was 13 I think. We had this old broken down mower, so I removed the motor, took it and my bike to shop class at school, and fashioned a way to mount it in the frame. Problem was, I used the stock bike chain and sprocket setup, no brakes, so with all that power, and no way to stop it, the one time I rode it, I got up way too fast, couldn’t stop, and basically rode it into a lake! Needless to say, that was enough of that. By the next Christmas, I had a 150cc Vespa, a 1963. Wish I still had it. Great little scooter.”
As we concluded our afternoon with Mike, he chimed in with one more reflection- “People talk about motorcycles and brands, and I tell people I ride anything with two wheels and a motor. I love all motorcycles and scooters. I always have.”
Between Mike’s remarkable Aermacchi Harleys, replica military trike, assortment of Harley, BMW, Yamaha and Metropolitan scooter rides, and his incredible military service, I was most grateful to have spent some time with this unsung hero. He certainly wouldn’t refer to himself that way- that’s why many heroes are “unsung”. But Phil and I are thankful for Mike’s service- to the motorcycling community, and to our great nation.