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Written by Greg Schmitz

Our friend in the North - Greg Schmitz - has been busy writing about biking, Alaska and life. Sensibly he’s started at the beginning and his first encounters with motorcycles, over to you Greg…

Phil has asked me to write a column from Alaska, so I thought I would start by giving some background, that way you can refer to this for some of the references. This introduces you somewhat to who I am, where I came from and what possesses an otherwise pretty sane person (mechanics tend to be that) to ride motorcycles in the somewhat dubious environs on the State of Alaska and Yukon Territory of Canada (just across the Alaskan Border).

Firstly I am not a volunteer up here, at least not originally. My parents were post WWII adventurers, bound and determined to live in the last exotic place in the US. They were also determined to inflict it upon their children (for their long-term benefit they said). Like many attempts, the first one failed, but they tried again and were able to stick the second time when my dad got a full time decent paying job.

The second attempt meant hauling 3 kids up over the extremely dubious Alaska Highway of those days. So, rather than being excited - at age two - I was hauled squalling and kicking all the way.

I was a bicycle fanatic from age 6, and as I could get no cooperation, I taught myself to ride by launching off garbage can racks (you have to understand bush Alaska, loose native dogs, the 55 gallon fuel drums they used for garbage barrels and the racks they built to hold them and keep the dogs out of the garbage). By age 11 we had moved into urban Anchorage where we were exposed to motorcycles, and of course they caught our fancy. Small stuff at first, Honda 90 trail bikes, a Kawasaki 80 CC two stroke trail bike (a long straight run and the engine would seize) and finally a Honda 305 a friend had left that my brother got running. Cycles could get you places, we lived up on a hill a long way from anywhere, and that was a killer ride on the single speed bikes of the day.

I elected to graduate from High School (grade 12 for us) a half year early, and went to work for the State Parks campground construction branch. That earned me enough money to take flying lessons in the winter down in California. The reason I choose that area was one of my older brothers had been assigned there for his navy training. They had a school and it seemed like a great situation to have someone to pal around with and learn the ropes (I had not spent any significant time out of Alaska, so the lower 48 states were a completely strange world).

Other than getting there, the other big requirement was transportation, I had pretty much decided that something in the 500cc range would do, Honda had that 4 cylinder 500 that looked pretty neat, and it seemed like I could handle it.

My brother had a seriously strong opinion that that was a mistake. While he no longer had it, he had one of the original (‘69) Honda 750’s he had bought used in San Diego when he was there for basic training. He put a lot of hard riding miles on it and rode with a lot of Navy guys who had smaller machines. While there was nothing mechanically wrong with the 500, he felt extremely strongly that it was too small for the high speed California Interstates (75 mph or 120 Kph) and that while it could do it, it would strain its guts out without enough reserve to get out of a bind. I was seriously hesitant, I didn’t think I was ready for a cycle that big but his comment (that proved to be totally accurate) was that there was no significant difference between them handling or weight wise, and lots of benefits to just go that big and not wind up buying two bikes. He went big right away, his Navy buddies stared with 250 - 500cc machines and then moved up, he felt just buying big was smarter and he knew what he was talking about. He flat recommended the Honda 750, it was very reliable, good handling, great power, mechanically very straightforward and reliable. Good solid technology, not cutting edge, but all done well.

So began the search, one offer to a bike shop for a used one that had shed its chain, cracked the case and had to be rebuilt. Offer for reduced price for cash was re-buffed rudely (I had the cash, but my brother Jeff was not willing to give them maximum bucks for a previously used and damaged machine). The second one we looked at was a private seller who was getting divorced. He was offering very reasonable terms on an extremely well kept machine with low miles and a custom helmet that matched low key custom paint on his cycle (and fit me). And so I got my first Honda 750.

Greg Schmitz - Anchorage, AK

Part 2