The Minibike - Part 1

Ican't quite remember how the mini bike came into my procession; after all it was 53 years ago and at that time I was the ripe old age of 12. A lot of more important data has flowed in and out of my CPU since then. I'm sure that the space used to store the facts surrounding the acquisition of a minibike; some 53 years ago, have been over written with more relevant data. Perhaps now that space contains far more useful factoids; like the location of the urinals along all the routes I frequently ride.

Anyway it came into my procession sometime during my 12th summer. It was pretty much a complete mini bike. However its 3hp Briggs and Stratton single cylinder engine didn't run, the tires were flat and the front end of the mini bike was still showing the results of its last stop. Obviously the last owner wasn't very good at avoiding solid objects or he preferred them to using the mini bike's feeble rear brake.

I can vaguely remember carrying and dragging this golden find back to my lair and guarding it like a lion with a fresh kill. Once again my 12 year old imagination began to take flight; once again I was seeing land speed records falling at my feet. The mini bike would carry me through my next step in personal-two-wheeled-internal-combustion-engine-powered-personal-mobility (P2WICEPPM).

With the clear memories of my last father and son chat at the conclusion of my earlier experiment into P2WICEPPM; I proceeded with great caution and extreme secrecy. I also decided that this time I would go off road and pursue my land speed records on dirt. After all, at the Great Salt Lake, they ran on hard-packed salt, hard-packed dirt couldn't be any different…

This time the lawnmowers engine was spared the disgrace of being part of my outlaw gang, instead my dad's cement mixer's power plant would be pressed into service. It was selected because it was hardly ever used and wouldn't be missed as soon. It seems at our house grass needed to be cut far more often than we needed cement.

With the engine part of the problem now solved. The bent front end was another matter. My pit crew/co-driver in this new endeavor to break land speed records was my friend and neighborhood sidekick Kenny. Kenny had a very simple fix for our bent fork problem; he would just ask his dad to help. Kenny's dad was a master machinist with all of the equipment needed to straighten out the minibike's bent and twisted front forks.

Kenny's dad was different; twelve year old boys sometimes fail to see adults (grown men) with interests as exciting as our own. Most dads were always very serious and more interested in behavior and education. But Kenny's dad "Mr. S" was different. Not only was he a lot more sympathetic to our land speed record goals; he also shared our interest in fast performance sports cars.

The image above as well as the other satellite images where taken in 2013, a lot has changed in the neighborhood since 1967 when I left to go sailing with the U.S. Navy. But I think it gives you an idea of life back in the good ole 1960.

If you opened any issue of "Popular Mechanics" magazine in the 60s and looked at the ads in the back pages of the magazine, you would find all sorts of great things you could build in your garage. There were complete plans which you could follow to build things like; furniture, boats, actual working airplanes, gyro-copters, and minibikes to name a few.

These weren't models or toys; they were the real thing. That airplane, the mini gyro-copter and the minibike, could actually be built and owned by you. They weren't put there to create hours of daydreaming subject matter for 12 year old boys…or were they?

Studying the pictures very closely it looked like the minibike I dragged home was exactly the same as the one pictured in the back of "Popular Mechanics". You see you could actually build one in your garage…

The front end of the mini bike was welded up from several different pieces of tubing and flat plates. I was pretty sure that its repair wasn't going to quick. We removed the bent front forks off the mini bike and handed them over to Kenny's dad. After a week that seemed like years had passed by, "Mr. S" delivered.

I'm sure "Mr. S" was glad that the hounding he got every day in the driveway when he came home was over. Kenny and I managed to meet him every evening in the driveway and hounded him for news and status on the mini bike's front end repair.

When the mini bike's front end returned home; it was not only straight, it was re-welded, sandblasted, and primed for paint. In short it looked like a brand new part. "Mr. S" wasn't a very tall man, but when he held the fork in the air to admire his work and point out to us all of the things that were done to it, he looked like a giant to us.

The next day we installed the mini's new fork. With two aerosol cans of black paint the mini's front end and frame were painted. We also removed the tires from the rims. Painted the rims and patched the holes in the tubes and then mounting the tires and tubes back on the rim and filled them with air. The "borrowed" engine went into the frame and the strange new centrifugal clutch slid into place on the end of the engine's crankshaft.

The strange new centrifugal clutch would allow us to start the engine with its pull rope. The engine would run at idle and not drive the rear wheel. Not until the engine was throttled up would the mini bike start to move; this solved the problem I had with the motorbike. I would not have to run alongside and then jump onto a running machine. Increasing the engine's rpms would spin weights out which would grab the inside of the clutch cover and rotate the little sprocket attached to it. The clutch cover's turning would turn the little sprocket which pulled the chain that ran from the engine to the rear wheel.

The rear sprocket was about two inches less in diameter than the rear wheel itself. But once the clutch engaged it turned, the amount of torque from the engine that was delivered to the rear wheel was unbelievable.

The memories of police interfering with my previous attempts at breaking land speed records with the motorbike were still pretty fresh in my memory. Lucky for me our back yard butted up against one of the largest sand and gravel pits on Long Island. Hundreds of acres of dirt roads traveling in and around the largest piles of rocks and sand anyone has ever seen. Mountains over 60 feet high of rocks; each mountain built from rocks all the same size, and sand were everywhere. The far side of the pit, away from our yard was bordered by the tracks of the Long Island Railroad. Cutting through the middle of the sand pit was a set of railroad tracks that crossed a bridge that was used to empty train cars of sand and gravel into waiting trucks below.

At the other end of the pit were conveyer-belts leading up to towers which were 100 foot high, sand and gravel would be placed on the conveyer taken to the top of the tower and dropped into the hopper. In the hopper rocks and sand were separated and segregated by size and then dropped into waiting trucks. The trucks would carry their loads to customers or a designated place in the pit and then dumped. This dumping is what created the mountains.

All the homes in my neighborhood were built at the same time by the same company, it was part of the post war housing boom. Every home in the neighborhood was either a single floor ranch or a two story colonial style home; each one had the same floor plan, each yard was almost identical in size.

The back yards of all the houses on my side of the street ended at a fence between them and the sand pit. Some homeowners installed a gate so that they could access the area beyond the fence to drop off grass cuttings; leaves and tree limbs…The gate in my yard gave us easy access to the one of my childhood playgrounds.

The fence line that separated back yards from the pit property ran for about 150 yards. There was a dirt walking path about six to ten feet from the fence that paralleled the course of the fence. This was a perfect place to make our high speed record runs with the mini bike. We were far enough away from houses and people that the noise wouldn't attract too much attention. After a week of running the mini bike up and down the foot path; it became wider and was being packed down more and more. Our track was also getting smoother and faster.

To get the most speed in a straight line I would get into an aerodynamic position by lowering my upper body down parallel with the mini's upper frame and seat. With my hands on the mini bike's handle bars, my head would align between my elbows, and I would view the fast approaching world through the handlebar uprights. In this position I would push the envelope to go faster and faster.

It didn't take long for this 150 yard stretch of track to become boring. We needed a longer and more interesting path to follow. Both Kenny and I figured that the longer the path was, the faster we could go. Ideas started to bloom not only in my head but Kenny's too; it was time for us to search for other places where we could do land speed runs.

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