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By Staff | Aug 7, 2015

We heard them every summer as broiling July faded into blistering August.

Out on County Highway 5, a mile east of our dairy farm, the rumbling roar of powerful motorcycles bellowed across the distance as men and machines made their annual migration to Sturgis.

Sometimes our family would be in town fueling our stodgy old Ford station wagon when a biker would stop at an adjacent gas pump.

We were fascinated by the riders and their Harleys. We had heard them referred to as “hogs,” but didn’t know if that meant the bike or the biker. We knew better than to approach the guy and ask.

The biker would be clad in black leather. We envied this clothing choice, mainly because black is best for hiding dirt.

But what riveted our attention was the motorcycle, a thundering conglomeration of chrome and steel that had been forged amidst a storm of sparks and flames in that mystical place called Milwaukee.

We had bicycles at home, but it was like comparing a baking soda and vinegar volcano to Mount Vesuvius.

My two younger brothers and I often wished we were bikers.

We imagined that they led lives of absolute freedom, unfettered by such botherations as chores and school and bathing.

We tried to emulate the bikers with our bicycle. No self-respecting motorcyclist would ever pedal, so we took turns pushing each other up and down our driveway on our trusty Hiawatha.

Motorcycle sounds were crucial for this fantasy. We eventually learned that it was best if the rider made the motorcycle sounds as the pusher kid would quickly become winded.

Kid power soon lost its appeal and we began to search for other sources of speed.

We examined our lawnmower closely, but could never get past the engineering challenges of affixing its Briggs & Stratton motor to our bike.

There would have also been the problem of explaining to our parents why our power mower was suddenly powerless.

The most effective method to imitate a motorcycle was to take the bike to the top of the hill on the gravel road that ran past our farm.

It was a grueling, stand-on-the-pedals climb to the summit, but well worth the effort.

After catching your breath, you would point the bike downhill and pedal as hard as you could, hurling yourself into earth’s gravity well.

For a few brief moments, the world would consist of nothing but the wind buffeting your face and the motorcycle noises blasting from your mouth. That and perhaps a few stray droplets of saliva.

When I was 10, my pal Bobby claimed to have solved the bicycle speed puzzle.

Bobby said that all a guy needed to do was extend a bike’s front forks. This would cause the front wheel to arrive at where you were going faster than the rest of the bike, inducing a self-perpetuating sequence of acceleration.

One hot August afternoon, I rode our bike over to Bobby’s farm to test his theory. We sawed the forks off a scrapheap bicycle, removed the front wheel from Bobby’s bike and hammered the cannibalized parts onto his front forks, effectively doubling their length.

After reinstalling the front wheel, we were ready to roll.

County Highway 5 ran past Bobby’s driveway. The road slopes there, so it was an ideal test track.

Bobby pedaled down the hill as if he were being chased by a grizzly. I biked behind him, hoping to witness bicycle engineering history.

Things began smoothly. But just as Bobby approached top speed, his bike’s front end began to whipsaw like an insane windshield wiper. Then his front wheel flew off.

There was no time to react and even less time to stop. My front wheel plowed into Bobby and his bike as they skidded down the pavement.

I was launched into the air and the road rushed up to meet me. Thankfully, I was able to avoid serious injury by stopping my fall with my face.

We picked ourselves up and assessed the damage. There were numerous scrapes and scratches, but nothing serious.

Our persons, however, were another matter. Bobby lost several square inches of skin to the pavement, and I had a fat lip and a chipped tooth.

As we stood at the roadside, a distinctive growl arose from over the hill. A Harley soon crested the rise. It slowed as it rolled past and its rider solemnly nodded at us in a sign of brotherhood.

We waved at him with our skinned hands, then collected the wreckage and began to hobble home.

“I don’t know what went wrong,” lamented Bobby.

“I do,” I replied. “Your motorcycle noises weren’t nearly loud enough.”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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