It had been a long, brutal winter in Northwest Indiana, and while I’m not much for group rides, I’d been looking forward to this one. I stabbed the Ural into gear, eased the clutch out and fell to the rear of the column of anxious riders on their gleaming machines. Acrid blue two-stroke exhaust hung in the air as Yamahas, Suzukis and Kawasakis ring-dinged away, while Hondas, Cushmans and Vespas ka-chumped along. The smells and sounds of the colorful bikes took me back decades. For a brief time, I was once again a teenager out for a ride with my buddies.
The pack in that fading memory from 1972 never numbered more than five or six bikes. The present-day rendition included more than three dozen, covering a wide range of sizes, makes and models. We left the Porter County Regional Airport and headed for breakfast in the next county. Backroads were the rule of the day, in part to accommodate the limited power of the smaller machines, but also in deference to many of the bike’s dubious registration statuses. Some things never change.
A yellow 1973 Suzuki RV125 Tracker had caught my eye during the pre-ride coffee and donut session. This was partly because it reminded me of one a friend used to own, but mainly due to the excellent restoration. Tom Rigg’s father bought the Tracker new, but as often happens, later sold it. The bike was ridden hard and put away wet, then left to languish in a barn. Tom eventually reacquired the little RV and rebuilt it into the gem it is today.
As we rolled along, friendly waves and smiles abounded from just about everyone we passed; whether farmers tilling their fields or folks mowing their lawns, our eclectic collection brought out the best in people. The bigger bikes stretched their legs on some of the longer straights, though the top speed rarely exceeded 45 or 50 mph. Even so, the column got pretty strung out at times.
The annual “Tiddler Run” went off without a hitch. The chase vehicle had no customers, and unlike the rides of long ago, no authorities showed up to spoil the festivities. Our invading hoard quickly took center stage in the parking lot of a busy truck stop. Talk in the crowded restaurant naturally centered on bikes, but airplanes were also a popular topic. One third of the guys, I learned, have flying experience, and 25 percent own at least one aircraft. It’s been said that while not all riders are pilots, it’s a rare hangar that doesn’t have a bike or two stuffed in a corner.
The run had its origins nearly 20 years ago when Bill Pearson spotted a primo Ducati single riding by. He gave chase and finally caught the owner, Bob Shudick, an accomplished collector and restorer of the Italian marque. Shortly after this year’s ride, Bob’s ’66 Ducati 250 was loaded on a cargo plane bound for Italy. There, he took third in class in the Moto Giro D’Italia. A mutual friend, Nick Sgouros, was invited to join Bill and Bob’s rides. Nick was also involved in AHRMA racing in the 750 Sportsman class on a 650 Yamaha.
Not unlike kids tearing up a vacant lot, the trio attracted other riders. Eventually, the group migrated to its present meeting place, Louie Bakrevski’s hangar. Along with vintage airplanes, Louie has a soft spot for early Cushmans and owns a nice bookend pair. It turned out that quite a few of the guys enjoyed old scooters, mini-cycles and trail bikes. Somebody came up with the idea to take the little ones out, and the Tiddler Run was born.
Many of the riders see their quaint machines as a two-wheeled ticket to a simpler time. Bill Pearson’s story, for example, began as most of ours did: convincing his mother of the absolute necessity of having a motorcycle. Eventually she relented and Bill became the proud owner of a shiny new Rupp mini-bike. It was soon replaced with a used Harley Sprint and then a long list of Hondas. His mother’s fears became reality 15 years ago when Bill lost a leg in a bike wreck. For a brief time, he wondered if he’d even want to ride again. Having other bikes available, he gave it a go and discovered the passion still burned bright.
Bill has amassed an impressive collection of British and Japanese machinery in his well-appointed two-story garage. He approaches his acquisition and restoration work methodically, primarily seeking machines that were out of reach during his formative motorcycling years.
Not unlike my teenage compatriots, these guys run an informal operation with no dues and no by-laws. Just show up and ride. They aim to keep it that way. The “rules,” if they can be called that, are simple: Pick a machine that best represents what you rode or, often as not, wish you could have ridden back in the day, and have a good time.
Lately I’ve been hanging out at the airport and watching the classifieds. While my ’05 Ural Patrol is a throwback in its own right, a proper tiddler would be a blast. The weekly meetings have had a definite effect on me; old bikes, small or large, can be virtual time machines, transporting us to a different time and place. While you can never truly go back, with a little help from polished aluminum, chrome and paint, it might be possible to recapture just a sliver of fleeting youth.
(This article Running (Slowly) With the Pack was published in the November 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)