A night ride, a thunderstorm, and a laundromat
Editor note: We recently published a “motorcycling memories” story by Mark Zweig, co-owner and partner at Janus Motorcycles, and numerous readers said they enjoyed his musings from riding in the 1970s. So here’s another reflection on his riding adventures from that decade.
Back in the summer of 1979, I was between undergrad and grad school, and had a few months off. I went back to my folks’ house in Kirkwood, Missouri and left my buddy Frank to deal with our “Southern Cycles” venture in Carbondale by himself. After a few weeks of selling used cars at Maplewood Auto Center- one of the worst examples of a stereotypical used car operation you can ever imagine- I decided to go back to work for a bicycle shop I had worked at previously, “The Touring Cyclist” in nearby Bridgeton. They were located on St. Charles Rock Road right next to “Grandpa Pidgeon’s,” a crazy discount and surplus store known to all those who grew up in the St. Louis area in the 60s and 70s.
Since I already had my own business (Southern Cycles) you might wonder why I would go to work for another one. The answer is simple—money! I made so much money working at The Touring Cyclist it was insane. My friend Lee Johnson, an electrical engineering student and I, would work as much as 80 hours a week and make $600 or $700 a week, which was unheard of at the time. Minimum wage was something like $1.65 an hour. College tuition was less than $300 a semester.
Living was good!
This cycle shop was amazing. The owner, the late Donald Humphries, was one of the most entrepreneurial guys I have ever known. He had four stores in the St. Louis area plus a booming mail order parts business. Don loved Lee and me because we could sell. And sell we did! We sold bicycles by the thousands- along with tons of accessories.
One Saturday, my friend Matt Thomas decided to organize a camping trip. His then-girlfriend (and now wife) and some other friends of ours would drive out to one of the Missouri state parks (can’t remember which one) and Matt and I would ride our motorcycles out to meet them when I got off work at 9 pm. That was the plan, at least!
A Honda CM400, very similar to the bike Matt owned. Photo by Dark Visor.
So when 9 pm rolled around, Matt was waiting for me in the parking lot on his new 1979 Honda CM400, a little red-orange bike I have always loved, and a huge improvement over the Honda CB/CL 350/360 twins that were probably the best selling street bikes made at that time. I hopped on my bike, a mint condition 1967 Bridgestone 350 GTR that I rode 20 miles each way to work and back. Mine was red with a chrome-sided fuel tank, typical for Japanese bikes of its age (I never cared for that look, especially then!), but it had a 40 hp twin rotary valve two stroke engine and a 6-speed gearbox, dual leading shoe brakes and was the size and wheelbase (and resulting ergonomics) of a 650cc bike.
Bridgestones were fabulous motorcycles. Their chrome plating was better than any other Japanese bike, and their engineering was superb. They had great brakes and were quality machines. My understanding is that they were so good that the other Japanese motorcycle makers asked them if they wanted to sell them tires or compete with them. Bridgestone responded by stopping production and sales of their motorbikes.
So on a warm summer evening, Matt and I took off on a 50-plus mile ride to that campground. We were on a two-lane rural highway when the sky opened up out of nowhere (we didn’t have weather forecasts on our phones back then like we do today) and completely drenched us through and through. But that didn’t stop us. We kept riding. Eventually we came to a small town with a laundromat smack dab in the middle of it, right on the highway we were riding. The door was propped open and the lights were on. I don’t know who thought of it, Matt or me, but we quickly pulled over and ducked inside to escape the rain.
A 1967 Bridgestone 350 GTR like the one I owned. I wish I’d kept photos of it. Gorgeous. Photo (and top photo) by National Motorcycle Museum.
We were the only people in the place. In fact, I don’t recall seeing anyone anywhere in this town or what else was there and open besides this laundromat. It was like an episode of “The Twilight Zone”! So we stripped down to our tightie whities and threw everything including our shoes into a couple of dryers, dug in our pockets for some coins, and fired them up. We didn’t want to get caught in our still-soaked underwear, so we both hid in a smallish utility closet where the laundromat owner kept mops and buckets, along with a whole host of spiders. We kept the door open a crack so we could see if anyone came in. Fortunately, no one did! And after 20-30 minutes our clothes were done. We took turns using the closet, shed our wet underwear, and put on our warm, dry clothes.
Ahh. Warm and dry again.
By then, the storm had passed and it was once again a perfect night. We rode on the rest of the way to the campground, met our friends, and had a fun evening of partying. The next day I showed Matt how to wheelie that Honda (fortunately I didn’t flip it!), and we eventually rode home. Matt, a high school dropout who went back to high school and graduated at the age of 20, eventually became highly successful as an expert in 8-color German printing presses and is known nationally for his expertise to this day. Even though I don’t see him as often, Matt and I are still friends, and we always laugh when we think back on that ride!