The friend of mine who just died last Tuesday was killed when the motorcycle he was riding was hit by a car that ran a red light. He was 66 years old. When I first met him almost forty years ago, he was riding a chopper that he had built himself. In recent years, he was riding for the Christian Motorcyclists Association (CMA) and they turned out in the hundreds for his funeral. Neither of us were Christians when we met and became friends all those years ago, but we both eventually came to the truth from different directions and were both finally headed to the right home in the heavens. He often said that he wanted to die quickly and while he was riding one of his bikes. He got his wish, but it doesn’t make me feel any better. It did rekindle my memories of riding motorcycles though.
I have long had a love affair with motorcycles and came by it naturally. My father rode them during WWII and afterwards (pictures are on Facebook, "Charles Wiggins added new photos). I got a motor scooter (an Allstate copy of a Vespa) when I was in high school and my first real motorcycle after I was married but still in college. That motorcycle, (see picture at the right), was a 250cc Suzuki X-6 Hustler, a two-stroke that vibrated like crazy. I rode it to class, raced it, did hill climbs, and once rode it from Abilene, Texas, to Austin, Texas, which was the longest trip I ever took on it. If you’ve ever ridden a two-stroke bike, you know why you don’t take long journeys on them because your legs will still be tingling five days later. I raced motorcycles in California on a Kawasaki 350 Big Horn, and my last motorcycle was a 1400cc Yamaha Star Venture that I once rode from New York City to Lowell, Arkansas. I was supposed to have ridden from Newark, New Jersey, but took a wrong turn and ended up in Manhattan, thus making my trip from NYC through Indianapolis on the weekend of the Indy 500 (not good planning on my part).
When I had my Suzuki X-6 Hustler, I rode a lot with Karen’s brother, John, who had a Suzuki T-10 that would suddenly seize up while he was riding it, and he would have to stop and look at flowers while it cooled off before he could continue. I can’t remember quite how it happened, but he and I ended up riding with the Bandidos motorcycle gang out of Austin for a few days. It was exciting and I don’t remember much except that while we were with them, one guy broke his arm and two were arrested. I sold the Suzuki before Karen and I moved to California in 1970, but I bought a Kawasaki 350cc Big Horn once we got there. I raced that bike in the desert and rode it a lot. I owned another 500cc motorcycle before buying the big Yamaha that Karen and I rode together whenever we could. She loved to ride that bike. She and I both took a motorcycle riding course in Rogers, and she got an “A” as you might expect. She loved riding on the back of my big Yamaha and we rode to Heber Springs for Thanksgiving one year and almost froze to death. She never complained. I sold the big bike before moving to Africa, and, since I’ve been here, I’ve only ridden on a little 125cc motorbike called a “piki-piki.” I didn’t mean to ride it, but I called a taxi and discovered when he came to get me that he had sold his car and changed to the small motorbike. I was and am a big guy and knew that if I got on the back of little bike, it would just tip over, so the driver had me drive it and he got on the back. We were quite a sight putt-putting through Bunda and crowds were gathering. By the time we got to the mission, all of the staff were lined up laughing and applauding as I rode that little bike back home. That was my last ride. My big Yamaha I rode all over Arkansas doing revivals while I was working as a general evangelist for the United Methodist Church. Whatever money I raised went to an international mission fund, and it was from this that the One Book Foundation was born. You can see from the picture that there is a Bible on the gas tank and I wore my clerical collar when I rode. Many people would honk, wave, and give me a “thumbs up” as I rode by. Once, at a gas station, a really scraggly and thin woman came over to me. She didn’t have all her teeth and I expected her to ask me for money. I had worked out what I could afford to give her, but she didn’t want money. She told me that she was taking her sick baby to a hospital in Missouri and asked if I would hold it and bless it before she drove on. I was humbled immediately and moved my bike out of the way. I held and blessed that sick little baby and prayed for it and her as she drove away. I had a passenger for the rest of my riding that day. Jesus was on the back of my bike reminding me that He, not I, was in charge and just to do what I was called to do and everything would be fine. I think my friend is riding with Jesus today. That’s the way I’ll be remembering him, anyway, and I’ll be smiling through my pain.