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Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group

L'Association Canadienne de Motos Anciennes


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Steve Summers Bio

I grew up in Southern California just at the time Japanese motorcycle manufacturers began flooding North America with their products. They were easy to ride, affordable to buy, and fairly easy to maintain. From my perspective, the only other game in town were Harley-Davidsons (cop bikes and choppers). European bikes were around but not as ubiquitous. Oddly enough, my first memories of having actual physical contact with motorcycles were on two separate occasions—both involving British bikes. The first was a BSA 441 Victor Special belonging to a friend’s older brother; the other an Ariel Square Four to a cousin. These events were unbeknownst to their owners and never elevated past throwing a leg over their saddles and putting on my best Marlon Brando impression a la “The Wild Ones”. However, the die had been cast. Those stolen moments at the age of 13 in 1967 initiated a lifelong love affair with two wheels and a throttle.

Not long after, I secured employment at one of the local motorcycle shops that sold Hodakas, Kawasakis, and Suzukis. They not only sold motorcycles, they manufactured complete dirt bike conversion kits (VanTech) that were shipped world wide. All the customer needed was a donor engine and they could build their own trail/desert bike to suit their riding needs. I was hired to stock and track parts that came from the machine shop and moved through the storeroom. Within several weeks the shipping manager quit and I was appointed “Shipping Magnate”. My destiny lay before me. I was on my way to the top! Being almost fifteen and head of world wide distribution was—well pretty heady. It took roughly three weeks before the higher-ups concluded that their world wide distribution was in peril. I was politely shown the door. However, during my brief period of employment, I became endeared by both the service and sales department personnel which helped expand my knowledge of motorcycle engineering and functionality. These lasting friendships would prove beneficial in years to come. All that was needed now was a driver’s license. 

At the age of 15 1/2 I was able to secure my learners permit. In doing so, I immediately ran down to my old employer’s showroom for my first purchase — a new 1970 Kawasaki 250 F4 Sidewinder Dual Sport. It wasn’t as competitive as the other makes, but it did provide solid transportation as a commuter to and from school as well as trips to the beach or camping excursions. Within a year I would trade up to a Kawasaki 175 E7F Dual Sport. I say trade up because the 175 could out perform the 250 and was just a more versatile unit. However, the tarmac was tugging at my desire for far off destinies laying beyond my current ride’s capabilities.

By February, 1973, it was time to scratch the “Distance Itch”. I had a friend drive me down to the local Harley-Davidson dealer and bought a new Sportster XLCH 1000. I sold everything I owned to make the purchase. Initially I had been saving to buy a 1971 Rickman-Metisse TR6R 650 Triumph which was offered on consignment at another friends motorcycle shop. Although it was a “Desert Sled” the owner of the shop said with a little massaging we could get it street legal. It was in showroom condition with few hours on it. I thought it was one of the sexiest bikes ever built. Hell, Steve McQueen owned one. You can’t get much “Cooler” than that. However, when I showed up with the cash, I found out the owner had pulled his bike from the shop the night before as he had found a buyer on his own. It would take several weeks of soul searching to arrive at the realization I had to move on. And, some 50 odd years later, I still think of the R-M TR6R as the one that got away. Enter the XLCH!

When I picked up my “CH” there were few in stock. This would be about two years after AMF had taken over the failing Harley-Davidson brand and made a lot of design and production changes. The jury was still out as to whether the public would take to these changes. However, the hope was that these efforts would bring back the brand from extinction. My unit was black with “Sparkling America” trim which I didn’t care for much. Still reeling from the R-M TR6R loss I wasn’t about to waste time placing an order with Harley. As soon as my 90 day warranty expired I would replace the ugly stock pressed steel exhaust with after market staggered dual drag pipes. This purchase would lead the way to further upgrades, such as; two different 2 into 1 tuned headers and a “Phase Three” primary belt drive kit fitted with a new Barnett clutch and springs. This latter purchase would be the upgrade that made the most difference. It was basically a blower belt drive assembly off of a dragster. It would replace all the steel components in the primary drive including the clutch basket with those of aluminum. And, in doing so, it eliminated about half the weight and a whole lot of vibration. Throttle response was snappier and there was less maintenance. Belt drives are quite ubiquitous today, but this was in 1974 and quite a novel performance approach at the time. I would own my “CH” for roughly six years and clock just under 80,000 miles. In 1979, I would sell it to a kid I worked with in order to fund a year off for world travels.

Within a short period of purchasing my “CH”, I began to miss trail riding and would purchase one of the most enjoyable bikes I ever owned—a 1971 Saracen Trials. I learned early on that I wasn’t Moto-Cross or Desert Racing material. I had neither the killer instinct nor bankroll to make these sports worth my while. I did however warm up to trials riding. A friend of mine’s father had a problem—and a Saracen. He had runout of space in his garage with all the motorcycles and accessories he had acquired, and his wife was on to him. Realizing I had caught him at a critical moment, I asked if he would be willing to part with the Saracen. He pondered the offer for couple of minutes and we finally came to an agreement. My only ask of him was to get it street legal before the deal went down. This little unit was powered by a 125cc Sachs engine with a heavier than stock flywheel and 5 speed trans. It weighed less than 180 lbs. I wasn’t a competition trials rider, but out trail riding I could get through some of the tough areas my companion riders couldn’t or had much difficulty in clearing. It was a superb little bike to ride. Sadly enough, it would get liquidated along with the “CH” to fund my pending world travels. 

When I returned from my travels I purchased an old P28 Swedish wooden sloop. It became my home as well as hobby and eventually key to my future entrepreneurial efforts. It was in pretty rough shape, but I was 26 and anything was possible! From the age of 19 I had been honing my skills as a welder, and much of the hardware on the boat needed replacing. At the time, I was working in a small fabrication shop and was lucky enough to use the shop’s equipment to fabricate what I needed. Soon, neighbours on the docks were asking if I would build them custom pieces of rigging or hardware for their boats. These asks would increase in time to where I decided to open my own shop.

One such dock neighbour (Roy) approached me with an interesting offer. He had just purchased a new Mason 41 sloop and wanted to outfit it with a custom radar arch with multiple mounting points for wind generators and solar panels. His dream was to cruise from California to the Caribbean and be self sufficient as possible. He also had a 1976 R90/6 BMW that he was never going to ride again. When he purchased the bike new from Reggie Pridmore Motors (RPM) in Ventura, California, he had Reggie include his performance package in the deal. This would entail dual plug heads, lightened flywheel, Dellorto carbs and Boyer Bransden pointless ignition. If you included all the touring gear as well, Roy actually paid more in upgrades than the unit’s list price. He asked me what I thought the arch project would cost and would I be interested in the /6 as partial payment. I tried not to operate on horse trades as my creditors didn’t horse trade either. However, with less than 10,000 miles on the clock combined with the Pridmore upgrades—the deal was most intriguing. We would settle on the /6 covering my labour with Roy covering all other expenses.

Roy was more than eager to “Help” in the fabrication process, and while doing so, he would constantly comment on how he was getting the “Short end of the stick”. Finally, I gave him an 8” grinder with a soft sanding pad and put him to work sanding and polishing a mirror finish on some hot roll stainless plate that had a starting surface texture of 60 grit sandpaper. After a couple of hours (with breaks) he quit and never doubted the deal again! This project took place in the summer of 1986. The /6 is Havana Gold in colour and has been affectionately known as “Brown Bear” since I took ownership and of which I still hold title to this day. My /6 would endure more than several long term hibernations over the years due to further ventures abroad and would finally develop an electrical glitch. This issue would not get attended to until after my move to the London area.

Once the dust settled from the move I began looking at getting my /6 back on the road. The first effort was to replace the long dead battery as well as some odds n’ ends that needed replacing. The move required getting familiar with the local BMW dealership which also sold Polaris and Indian products. In procuring new BMW parts over the next several months I would browse through all the rolling stock on the floor. One day I straddled an Indian Scout for giggles as it reminded me of my old “CH”. Once my parts order was filled, I picked up a Scout brochure and my box of parts and headed home. My wife would spot the brochure and commented on how “Cool” the Scouts looked. I would park that exchange in the back of my mind for the time being.

Several months would go by and more /6 parts would be purchased. Then, one day the dealership owner approached me with a deal that was intriguing. He just had a cancellation on an Indian Scout Bobber and asked if I would be interested in picking up the order. I had my hands full with my /6 and thought not about the offer. I had been toying with the idea of parting with my /6 as I am getting up in years and finding it difficult throwing my leg over the saddle. The Bobber was a lot easier to mount. Hmmm? My wife was waiting in the car for my return and when she saw my face she asked me, ‘What’s wrong?”. I looked at her and said, “I think my life has gotten more complicated”. We discussed the offer all the way home. We needed to drop some books off at our local library, and in doing so, we debated all the plus’ and minus’ but could not come to a conclusion. Finally my wife said, “If we only had some divine intervention”. Seconds later, an older rider rolls up and asked where he could go to vote. My wife looked at me and asked, “Is that what I think it is?”. I replied, “That’s a full dress Indian Chief. The biggest Indian they make!

So, the Scout Bobber I got was not the model I would have ordered. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a platform that offers lots of possibilities. For a long time I’ve wanted to try hand forming aluminum sheetmetal. And, after riding the Scout over the remainder of that first riding season, I was really missing the comfort of my /6’s S90 sport fairing and decided to try my hand at duplicating one for my new ride. As mentioned earlier, the Scout took me back to my old “CH”, and I now have duplicated and incorporated the /6’s S90 fairing on the Scout. Subconsciously, I’ve morphed some of the attributes of both the “CH” and the /6 into “FrankenScout”.

Over the past 50 years, I’ve considered myself a “Lone Rider”. Not by choice, but just that my peers weren’t as impassioned as I was about bikes. My skillsets have progressed to what I would consider middle of the road. Owning my /6 for almost 40 years with little mechanical problems has not provided many challenges to hone my mechanical skills, but then, I’m more of a fabricator than mechanic. Now that I’ve joined CVMG, Ausable River Section, I feel as though I’ve found my “Tribe” where I can share what I have to offer with those who can share their knowledge and experience as well. You never know what events will leave a lasting imprint on a kid. Mine was a few stolen moments of fantasy some 57 years ago on that BSA 441Victor Special.

One of the more memorable rides I have taken, or at least comes up most in conversation, took place in the summer of 1973. I had taken my annual summer leave of Los Angeles—“The Pit”— for the cooler and less hectic environs of the Northern Sierras. Since I first got licensed, I would spend my summers at Lake Almanor, a lake located northwest of Lake Tahoe and southeast of Redding, California. Every year there would be work waiting for me pounding nails with some of the local construction companies. This particular year I would be making the pilgrimage on my new 73’ Sportster XLCH. At the end of the season I wanted to prolong my adventure by taking a putt from Lake Almanor over to the Northern Red Woods close to the Oregon State line and then follow the coastal route back down to L.A.

The plan was to leave Lake Almanor early in the morning in order to reach my destination of “Starvation Flats” near Fortuna on the coast south of Eureka by the end of the day. This would take about 5-6 hours covering roughly 250 miles. A close friend of mine lived there and had offered me a place to stay while in the area. I had made this trip many times but always taken the busier and faster Highway 299.

This time I chose the lesser traveled HWY 36. Except for a small deviation through Lassen National Park, a few miles north of Lake Almanor, I took Highway 36 all the way to the coast. Lassen Park is at the epicentre of where the Southern Cascade Mtn. Range from the north collides with the Northern Sierras and provides both volcanic/sulphur works and alpine meadow/emerald lake panoramas at an elevation over 10,000 feet. From there I made my way down through the volcanic devastation on the western side of the park into California’s Central Valley. This area, with an elevation of roughly 300 feet, is mostly farm land and for the most part hot and humid. I quickly made my way across the valley towards the Trinity National Forest which I enjoyed all the way to The Red Woods on the coast.

Highway 36, a two lane highway, can be hazardous at times especially during inclement weather. Snow storms and landslides are common issues to this day. Aside from its unpredictable nature, HWY 36 provides a nice curvy glide through the Trinity Alps and Forest back up to an elevation of over 4,000 feet, then winds down to the coast.

One of the hazards I encountered was a low spot in the highway that had been washed out by the adjacent river. Knowing my “CH” was a far cry from being an English trials bike, I knew I was in for a struggle crossing the roughly 100 yard area that needed to be forded. Cars were backed up on both sides of the washout. I took depth readings with a stick and chose the best path available. Of course, “Best Made Plans of Mice and Men”, as soon as I cleared roughly 20 feet from shore, the algae on the submerged rocks had me bounding a wide array of directions and soon was up to my cylinders in water. I did make it though, and luckily without loosing forward momentum. Once I cleared the washout, I received a round of applause from those watching from the shorelines. Back on terra-firma I took stock of the “CH" and all my bungied belongings and saw that all was right. Then, the people in the cars decided to make a move as well. The first car that entered the washout immediately became swamped. luckily there were enough people around to assist in its retrieval.

It was getting on into late afternoon when I began my descent down the western side of the Trinity Alps. My destination was not far up the line, so an easy glide down the mountain was all that was necessary to arrive by dark. I had passed through some old logging towns and rounded a fairly sharp bend when all of a sudden I came upon a group of five young ladies, all dressed out in “Hippie” peasant skirts, sandals—and nothing else! These “Counter Culture Cuties” were peddling their push bikes with passion. Topless with glowing gleams of gladness, they made their way through the curvy road ahead. As I rolled up on them, I pulled in my clutch lever in order to coast on by with as little disturbance as possible. I could see that they were all enjoying the moment and I did not wish to intrude upon their bliss. In passing I simply remarked how great the sunset was and bid them “Happy Trails”. A gush of giggling and laughter followed as I engaged my clutch and throttled up towards my final destination.

A bottle of wine and dinner were waiting for me when I arrived at “Starvation Flats”. There was much talk about of the day’s travels and the passage of time since my host and I last saw each other. It had been a great day of cruising California’s varied topography. But, this was just the beginning of my return to L.A. I would spend the next few days touring The Red Woods from the Oregon Border south and eventually make a four day run down the coast home. My summer’s travels would cover roughly 4000 miles with never leaving the state. 

Cycle World Test 


The Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group (CVMG) is a not-for-profit organization aimed at promoting the use, restoration and interest in older motorcycles and those of historic interest.

The Canadian Vintage Motorcycle Group (CVMG) is a not-for-profit organization aimed at promoting the use, restoration and interest in older motorcycles and those of historic interest.

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