Every couple of days, I walk out my back door; forsaking anything that normally catches my attention, and I sit in my tiny shed. I survey the table of parts that will one day become the bike that I have, for the past two years, consistently failed to rebuild. I imagine what it will eventually look like, before turning away in defeat, and promising myself that this is one project that I will not abandon.
The bike (incidentally it is a 1981 XV750, Yamaha Virago) is important to me because riding is one thing that draws my family together. Each of my siblings ride, race, or in some other way tinker with motorcycles. My parents guard a hoard of over 20 bikes of various purpose, vintage, and stage of construction. Even my partner, Linh, now owns two bikes, a 1989 Honda CBX that we recently reconditioned, and a 250 Suzuki Bandit.
It is from Dad that our family interest in motorbikes most likely stems. He has been riding since his youth, which considering a recent weekend racing event marked his 74th birthday, is some considerable time. In fact, during his years riding and racing in New Zealand, he found himself riding with – and against – Burt Munroe (he of ‘The World’s Fastest Indian fame).
All of this sentimental family history would be irrelevant, if not for our recent trip to The United States of America. Linh and I found ourselves travelling to Texas over Christmas in order to visit family and inspect a possible chicken farming opportunity they scratching around in the adjacent state of Arkansas. Following the obligatory family time in the Lone Star State, and a quick foray into Louisiana, we managed to wrangle a week in the mountains of Utah, where we hoped to throw ourselves down the mountains at high velocity.
‘The greatest snow on earth’ (a claim I am yet to verify) was not the only reason that we chose Utah. Considering our connection to bikes, we saw in this trip an opportunity to make a pilgrimage (and one that had nothing to do with any nearby Morman temple). About an hour from the state capital of Salt Lake City, towards the edge of the titular salt lake, can be found one of the world’s great hubs of speed – Bonneville Salt Flats. It was here that Burt Munroe challenged giants in his self-modified Indian and broke the land speed record (for that class).
Bonneville Salt Flats are synonymous with speed, and have always been mentioned with near reverence in our family – which is some feat in an environment where reverence is normally accompanied by the prefix ‘ir-’. During late summer and fall (autumn as we call it) this little corner of the ancient lake Bonneville becomes a cacophony of sound and speed. As we were in Utah for the famous snow, we missed the intensity of race season in favour of the power that had fallen over Park City, and the relative quiet of the week before the Sundance Film Festival.
After a few days testing our new snowboards on the slopes, we took the half-hour trip back to Salt Lake City in the face of inclement weather. With a day and a half to spare, we took advantage of the sights, visiting the Morman Temple Square, and the epic vistas of Antelope Island – complete with free roaming bison and salt lake views). After a contrastingly awful night at one of the worst motels I’ve ever experienced, we escaped the fog of our clearly not non-smoking room (apparently America is yet to receive the memo about smoking being antisocial, unpleasant, and hazardous) and took to the road.
We’d requested a small car upon fronting up at the hire company, and after being offered a mustang, the clerk decided that our day’s travel would be better suited with a truck. We eventually reached a compromise and drove away in a colossal Dodge Ram Longhorn. The truck turned out to be a wiser move than we’d initially expected thanks to recent snow and rain. The drive from Salt Lake City to Wendover on the Nevada border took about two hours and included some of the more spectacular views of rolling plains and salt pans that I’d ever seen.
We also noted that there was more than a little water lying on the lake bed. As we crossed the salt flats we paused to appreciate the bizarre art installation that can be found about 40 miles from Bonneville before coming across a fuel station about 3 miles outside of Wendover. Here we turned off the highway and drove down a narrow, snowy causeway out onto the salt flats. I’d imagined finding myself driving out to the Bonneville Speedway many times before, but upon arriving I realised that I’d neglected to consider one fact; Bonneville is a lake bed. As we pulled up at the iconic sign for the Speedway, I realised that the reason that racing takes place in summer is that the winter rain and snow meant that the lake was full.
After some pictures, we drove on to Wendover, where there is an interesting airfield that was used to train bomber crews during World War 2. It also happens to be the filming site – and resting place – for the plane scenes in ‘Con Air’. Bonneville Salt Flats did not turn out to be quite what I expected, but it was still a worthy day trip and an excellent way to connect with our family love of riding.