There are two types of people in this world; there’s the truly innovative and creative, and then there’s folks like me who aren’t but appreciate their work and wonder why I couldn’t have come up with those ideas. Case in point, an old friend, Steve Tice, and my 1970s-era Bell Star helmet that would ride up on my head at go-to-jail speeds.
Steve was a guy I had met through work. We both rode, he had roadraced, and he was considerably more experienced than I was on a streetbike at the time. I learned a lot from Steve in those early years, and he heard me grousing one day about my helmet riding up on my head after chasing him down some backroad on one of our antisocial, irresponsible, impromptu Potomac River blitzes. This was back when irresponsibility didn’t carry the social stigma it does today.
Remember the two types of people I was talking about? Yeah, well, my answer to a properly fitting helmet riding up on my head at high speeds was to cinch it down tighter and hope things improved a bit. Steve, on the other hand, had actually given this a little thought and devised removable Velcro-backed cheek pads to fit in the chin bar of his full-face helmet, cheek pads that were almost identical to the interior of every Shoei and Arai I was to wear a decade later on the track. What cognitive process led Steve to this solution is beyond me, and still is, which is why I marvel at the people who are able to create these elegant solutions. I’m a chin strap cincher.
Steve fabricated me a pair of these chin pads and never again was I plagued by a Bell Star riding up on my head approaching 100 mph. Something so simple yet so effective, it was genius.
Similar genius was evident some years later when confronted with a 650 interstate miles to cover, an unfaired Honda 750 to do it on, and a national 55-mph speed limit. Except this genius first emerged in Camden, New Jersey some 60 years earlier in the form of one Mike Slawienski. Some problems are timeless, so are some of the solutions.
I had an injured right wrist that I never had properly attended to, you can still see a bone taking a peculiar angle out of my arm at the joint – it makes for a real ice breaker on dates – and a young wife to meet up with at the end of that ride. I was looking for any advantage I could get to take the drudgery out of plodding along at 55 mph on a bike that was considerably more comfortable at twice that speed. And I found it in a Vista-Cruise throttle lock. Mr. Slawienski had patented the first throttle lock in this country back when asphalt was a novelty, and Cecil M. Kiser Jr., standing on the shoulders of giants – or Slawienskis as the case may be – came up with a more elegant version in 1979. That and a new pair of Grab On grips made the trip more bearable when legal speeds were called for.
When it comes to sheer genius of this variety Craig Vetter has to be regarded as one of the true innovators. When it came to simple, elegant solutions to an age old problem it is hard to top Vetter’s Hippo Hands, the gauntlet style hand protectors designed to deflect the cold winds of winter from an operator’s hands.
They attached to the handlebars, you could ride around in sub-freezing temperatures in summer gloves, and actually feel the controls. If you are a tactile-obsessed type like myself, this was a big bonus. Sure, there are electric gloves or electric grips or full fairings, but for a simple no-nonsense solution to make any bike four-season capable, it was hard to beat Hippo Hands. Unlike some of the cheaper variants, they actually worked as advertised.
My undying gratitude for Vetter’s creativity undoubtedly springs from my aversion to frostbite, but in a much larger sense we are talking about the same man that redefined what motorcycle touring was in the U.S with his Windjammer fairing. Suddenly you could take any CB750, GS1000, KZ1000, or early unfaired Gold Wing and turn it into a long-haul tourer. A set of Dunlop Touring Elites or Conti-Twins, and you were transcontinental-capable in relative comfort. And like all of Vetter’s offerings of the day, the build quality was top notch.
All of these innovations sprang from the minds of those creative folks who remain a puzzle to me. On a grand scale you have the Erik Buells and Dr. John Wittners of the world, re-envisioning mechanical “truths” they elected to redefine rather than accept, or you have the likes of Craig Vetter virtually creating a marketplace on his own through nothing more than a vision he had. Certainly, today’s electronic advances and smart-vehicle research are exciting, but I’ll always be fascinated by those singular characters who have a simple idea and see it through to fruition for all of our benefit.
Still, though the old challenges remain, unchanging, the elements are still the elements, and riders still confront them and are challenged by them. There will always be room for a creative mind with an elegant solution and a new way of addressing a timeless challenge; riding.
Ride hard, look where you want to go, and keep your eyes down the track.