Ready to Race

Happiness is a well-stocked parts box.

Ready to Race

Boston Cycles became a center of life for me in the mid-1960s. I rebuilt crankshafts there. I bought parts there. I collected there the rumors that fed my two-wheeled imagination.

Proprietor John Jacobson had inspired despair in his businessman father when he'd operated a scooter-rental service in Harvard Square, and when John opened his Yamaha agency, his dad insisted he include a line of men's ready-to-wear suits, available for inspection to the right of the door upon entering.

I got $10 to rebuild a Twin crank and $5 for a Single. Retail is about 25 times more than that now—for the few crankshafts still assembled by press-fitting. The work paid for my racing parts. John would issue me a chit that I would take to Rose, the company's accountant. Disbursing funds troubled her—I could see it on her face when I went to collect my $10–$20. But she would brighten when I handed through the same window cash I owed for parts. Three dollars for a piston for my Yamaha TD1-B; $3 for the single ring, and a bit more for the wristpin, small-end needle bearing and wristpin clips. We felt privileged to pay cost-plus-10. These pistons, the late Gordon Jennings was telling us, embodied the latest hypereutectic aluminum-silicon alloy technology. Three dollars, please.

Having parts made us feel good. Parts were wealth. They were life on two wheels. Before leaving for the races at 11 p.m. on a Friday, we had carefully packed the parts box, a cheap steamer trunk. There were the pistons and rings in their cheerful, promising little white boxes in the top tray. Fresh pistons. There was also a spare crankshaft, should anyone need it. Clip-ons, right and left. A sensible person carried all crash-damage parts—footpegs, handlebar levers, cables, fairing brackets. In compartment boxes were all the small items—the carefully hoarded eccentric adjusters for the magneto points (not sold separately!), needle bearings, nuts, bolts, washers. Spare magneto coils, too, should one begin to die by sparking through its linen-and-varnish insulation to the oh-so-close rotor magnet.

Those bikes are museum pieces now. A breathtakingly beautiful TD1-B restoration can be seen in Yamaha's Media Center in Hamamatsu. All its colors, surface textures, and metal finishes correspond exactly to the feelings of elation that still reside in me from those times, from first seeing those wonderful, able locomotives.

In absolute terms the bikes were unreliable, steps along the way, but we loved what they did for us. As Ing. Todero of Moto Guzzi once said to John Wittner, "A racebike must always be ready, but it is never finished."