Flying Hoosiers Hill

by Maynard Hershon 

†††† I went to Indiana University off-and-on in the early '60s until I realized I was simply not interested. I dropped out of school and went to work in a motorcycle shop, shrugging out of muted plaid button-downs and into blue cotton work-shirts with my name on the pockets, crushing my parentsí dreams.

†††† I worked at Stewart's Speed-Sport near tiny Elletsville, Indiana. I told the guys there I wanted to road-race. Graciously, they pretended they had not heard me and treated me better than I deserved. Whatta bonehead I was. It took me years to learn what they could've told me in 45 seconds. Still, they treated me well, except for one guy.

†††† That guy, the best rider and sharpest mechanic there, Ron Robbins, lives in Florida now, I hear. Heís been a pit mechanic on a successful Daytona racing team. He works as an expert witness for Kawasaki. Perhaps he helps analyze legal claims people make against Kawasaki. He's an accredited master motorcyclist for sure.

†††† Jeez, he hated me. I had longish hair then, meaning about the length of the Beatles' hair at the time, not long by the standards of the last few decades. But I had that hair and a citified background, being from cosmopolitan Indianapolis and all. I'd been to college. Maybe no one from Robbins's family ever had.

†††† I was not, at that time, a country music fan. I had friends who used proscribed substances and discussed Fellini films. I had what I figured was cultivated taste in motorcycles: I liked Velocettes and exotic Italian "thoroughbreds."

†††† I thought, with astonishing inaccuracy, that I could ride my way out of a paper bag.

†††† Ron Robbins, who loathed me, owned a 1,000cc Vincent hill-climb rig. I remember he was always trying to keep oil off the points and clutch. I believe he had the kind of love/hate relationship with that Vincent I've had with bikes that worked great on rare occasions when they felt like it, never when you wanted them to.

†††† Robbins, who came at me once with a two-pound sledge but stopped himself and did not hit me, also owned one of the rare, early Bultaco Metisses with its genuine, nickel-plated, Rickman-built chassis. Robbins didn't merely own that Metisse; he rode the hell out of it.

†††† I remember thinking that yellow Bultaco was one of the prettiest motorcycles I'd ever seen, and I still think so, but what did I know about Metisses? I wanted to be a road-racer. I wanted to be Steve McQueen, too, and probably had better odds at that.

†††† Almost every guy working at Stewart's had some model or other of woods bike, usually a 175 or 200 Bultaco Sherpa-S. One had a couple of Tiger Cubs, another a Cotton 250. They could ride damn well in scrambles, enduros or hill-climbs - or just playing in the woods there in southern Indiana.

†††† They talked like rednecks, those guys, but they had a kind of class it'd take me years to learn to appreciate. Four decades later I can hear their voices as I write this.

†††† Eventually I bought a 200 Bultaco Matador, an early dual-purpose motorcycle, my first dirt bike. I rode enduros and, once, the annual hill-climb at Flying Hoosiers (Motorcycle Club) Hill. I have a grainy old black and white photo of myself on that hill. If you don't study it closely, I look quite heroic.

†††† A closer look will reveal the gulf between appearance and reality. Unlike most men, who only suspect how inept they were at times in their lives, I have photographic evidence. What luck.

†††† In '64, no one had successfully climbed Flying Hoosiers Hill on a 200. My Matador ran well (I'd have said it ran "good" at the time and I still say it sometimes now) but I let it down. With another pilot, that bike would've climbed the hill. I'm still ashamed to think about it, all these years later.

†††† I got a great start. Then I forgot or was too stupid to know I had to get way forward on the motorcycle. I should've tried to sink the thumb-up Bultaco emblem on the steering damper knob into my navel. I should've weighted the front end. But I failed to do so.

†††† Instead, I sat more-or-less upright, ass in the saddle, my stupid feet dangling off the stupid pegs, grinning as if I knew what I was about. Halfway up, where my buddy shot the picture, you can see the front tire just lifting off the ground. Ooops.

†††† A split-second later my Matador flipped over backwards, spit me off and flopped down the hill without me, injuring itself not at all, a mercy for which I remain thankful.

†††† If I could return to my past for a day or even an hour, I believe I'd try to get back to Bloomington in 1964, to that same humid summer afternoon, to the base of Flying Hoosiers Hill.

†††† I'd be wearing that same Levi jacket, Spanish boots and Bell helmet you can see in the photo. I'd be sitting on the same fine-runniní 200 Matador, head bent back, staring up at the rope-lined dirt wall I had to climb. Iíd be trying to hear the engine and the crowd over the roar of blood in my ears.

†††† Again by God I'd get good start, but this time my feet would stay on the pegs. Iíd lean forward until the damper knob imbedded itself so deep in my belly it'd take surgery to get that sucker out. We'd soar over the top, me and that sweet Bultaco, the first 200 ever to climb Flying Hoosiers Hill.

†††† I'd have the trophy today instead of just the old photo. And I might've had a handshake from Ron Robbins.



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