You Can Borrow My Dad

My Dad’s main message was a love of motorcycles.

mom and dad on an H2 motorcycle
"Mom and dad out for a scoot on an H2, which was followed by another stroker, a GT750. My dad once put me and my brother Bill on this bike, took us up to Skyline High School, sat us on the curb and did wheelies for us in the parking lot. At the age of 53, this guy decided to try roadracing with the USBA on an RZ350 and grabbed some podiums. My mom stuck a wrench and a shop rag in her back pocket and became the pit crew. It was great fun."Bev Labrum

Tough week. My father passed away on Tuesday May 10. Here is my editorial column from November 1993 in Sport Rider magazine, and I reprise it in memory of my mentor, best riding partner and father: Bill Ienatsch.

Chances are, your parents discouraged you from motorcycling from the day you were old enough to understand the stove is hot, dogs bite and candy-toting strangers aren’t your pals. Doing their job of shielding all possible destruction from their offspring, parents list life’s evils and erect battlements to seal Junior and Juniorette hermetically within safety’s womb. Right or wrong, your parents decided what would or could hurt you and banned it from your life.

I’m so sorry.

To make up for your initial years of motorcycle deprivation, you can borrow my dad for a while. Like all good dads, he has some valuable lessons to teach.

framed Nick Ienatsch magazine column
"Back in 1993 I wrote about my dad's approach to cars and bikes, and he framed it for his office wall. Car and bike care was part of the Ienatsch life and continues; during the past week my mom, brother and I joked as we parked the car all by itself at the far end of the parking lot so the doors wouldn't get dinged. Lifetime lessons from a true motorsports enthusiast."Nick Ienatsch

No member of the Ienatsch family has ever had to replace a clutch in a family vehicle. My dad explained about throw-out bearings so often that my mom, brother and I have nightmares about resting a foot on a car’s clutch pedal. Even now, my dad will glance at my feet when I’m driving to make sure my left foot rests on the floor between shifts. The lesson extends to motorcycles, and I distinctly remember my dad flagging me down during my initial ride on my ’75 TM125 and telling me to quit slipping the clutch. The only time I abuse a clutch is during dragstrip testing, and I cringe while doing it.

My dad can downshift a motorcycle so smoothly you won’t notice the change. Sitting on the back of his bike for as many years as I did, I began to notice his various techniques. He only uses two fingers on the clutch lever and only pulls the lever in far enough to disengage the plates rather than wasting time with full lever travel. His movements are quick and sure and he blips the throttle between gear engagements so the engine rpm is matched to the shorter gear, minimizing wear and tear on the clutch plates. Sometimes he holds the throttle steady and simply executes a smooth downshift, the engine revs rising when the clutch lever goes in and matching the selected gear just right. My dad doesn’t downshift all the way to first gear every time he stops; he’ll engage neutral from second gear most of the time. My dad has never had to replace clutch plates in any of his motorcycles.

I can remember having the cleanest dirt bike in the gully—that was part of the agreement my dad and I made when he bought me the bike. I would take care of it, clean the air filter, gap the plug, change the tires. He taught me how, and I haven’t quit cleaning and working on bikes since.

riders with their motorcycles in front of Newcomb's Ranch
"My dad would visit California from Utah and we'd ride all day, every day. That's him in the black jacket in the background, up at Newcomb's Ranch, accompanied by Lance Holst, my future wife Judy Perez and the late John Cordona. This was 1992, but it was every time he visited."Nick Ienatsch

A service manual will get you started, and I learned my lesson about reading the instructions. Dad and I had each bought a set of case guards for our Suzuki street bikes, and he told me to wait for him before installing mine on my 1000. Well, at the age of 18 I needed no help from any man, and I busied myself bolting on my guards before he returned from work. As I was tightening up the main mounting bolt, I heard a faint but definite crack. Moments later, oil trickled onto the ground. I had selected the wrong bolt and put the end of it through the engine case. True story. The instructions warned of this exact problem, but they were still in the plastic wrapper; my dad had read his instructions the previous night. That weekend we pulled my engine from the frame, the biggest job he and I had ever undertaken. I'm sold on instructions.

My dad bought the first 1980 GS1100 in the Salt Lake City valley and enjoyed the hell out of it. I can remember watching from the seat of my XT500 Yamaha as his taillight disappeared into the distance, his right wrist pinned as he explored the bike's limits on the far side of Utah Lake. He taught me there's a time and place for everything, that a motorcycle's straight-line performance can be tested fairly frequently if you choose the locations carefully. From him I've learned that wholehearted enjoyment of performance remains one of the purest pleasures on this earth and that well-timed enjoyment of horsepower will put a smile on your face for the rest of the work week. The laws of the land and the laws of physics won't allow wholesale speeding during every waking moment, so take a note from my dad on how to extend the life of your license and the life of your body: carefully pick your time to enjoy performance.

framed photo of Nick Ienatsch racing
"I never missed an opportunity to tell my dad "Thanks" for being who he was, for passing his love of vehicular travel to me. This picture hung on his office wall, adorned with the SBK ticket-lanyards from the races at Miller Motorsports Park. We'd drive out to the park and idle around all weekend on a YCRS FZ1, kings of the world and part of the "in crowd." He loved it. I loved it."Nick Ienatsch

Many of my dad’s teachings were little things. Don’t get in the habit of using the bar-mounted kill switch because you’re bound to leave the key on and drain your battery. Change your oil and filter every 2000 miles because fresh oil is cheap insurance. Set your helmet somewhere secure at gas stations because it will always fall off the seat or handlebar. Don’t touch the paint, especially if it’s dirty, because you’ll scratch the surface. Reset your tripmeter when you fill the tank to check your fuel mileage. Check your tire pressures frequently. Clean your face shield with a soft cloth and lots of water to prevent scratching. Don’t use a heavy key chain because it will mar your triple clamp as you ride. Wear earplugs when you ride out of town. Write down everything you do to your bike in the owner’s manual. Record the key number and serial number in your permanent files. Manipulate the choke lever so your cold engine doesn’t rev wildly during start-up.

In the years I spent growing up on bikes, my dad hammered home the importance of stopping and steering the motorcycle, watching blind spots and predicting traffic flow, but these are lessons other agencies teach. My dad’s main message concerned how to care for and love a motorcycle and then enjoy it to the fullest during a Sunday ride with a group of friends or commuting to work on weekdays. If you came to motorcycling late in life, borrow my dad to catch up on what you missed. And if you follow his fatherly advice, your motorcycling life will be as wonderful as mine.

More Next Tuesday!

party with motorcycle people
"When you're thinking about the life your kid should have, consider motorcycling. I always told my dad how blessed I felt to have a motorcycle-riding dad. This group was brought together by motorcycling, specifically motorcycle racing, and my dad reveled in the atmosphere and buoyant personalities involved in this industry. Seen here at a party in SoCal, from left to right: Steve Biganski, dad, Judy, Susie Lee (now Houseworth), Eddie Lawson, Tina Magrow, Andre Castanos, Warren Pratt. Yeah, fun."Nick Ienatsch