Above: 196? Montgomery Ward Riverside (Benelli)
Ours were red.
Related Posts - Motorcycles: A Magnificent Obsession
As I move toward the end of this little discussion of motorcycles and motorcycling that I think of as “the early years,” I want to share a bit of personal idiocy in which I talked Earl into joining. I was going to subtitle this part of the series “Could I Really Have Been That Stupid?” but that sounded kind of embarrassing, so I left it out. Instead I call it "The Evil Little Motorcycles."
And, while I am not one to anthropomorphize things there was one time when I was convinced that there was something inherently evil in two motorcycles that I talked Earl and me into buying. Of course, there wasn’t. I can say that now some 40 years removed from the scene, but it sure felt like it then. This particular story will take more than one posting. But it is actually true. That’s worth something.
Montgomery Ward at one time was in head to head combat with Sears Roebuck for the supremacy of department store and catalogue sales in America. You could buy literally almost anything from Wards. (I don’t know why but we never said Ward; we always said Wards. They even call their web site “wards” now. We also called the company "Monkey Wards.")
You could actually buy a house from Wards, and it would be delivered by truck, stick by stick. You could buy almost anything you could imagine for farm use, including the barn, and windmills. You name it, you could get it. And it got pretty far in to selling auto and truck parts, and even motor scooters and motorcycles. Not parts for motorcycles, but actual motorcycles and scooters.
Around ’68 I got a sale catalogue from Wards about a close out sale on what they called “Ward Riverside” motorcycles. Before I tell you about that fateful day, you need a little background on Montgomery Ward, the Riverside label, and Benelli motorcycles.
Riverside was the brand name of Ward’s vehicle related items. Wards was not a big motorcycle seller but if there was a niche for them in anything, they would offer it and see how it went. In the case of motorcycles it was generally a bust. But they tried twice in their history to sell two wheeled motorized transportation.
Wards originally sold motorcycles in 1911 and 1912 but was unsuccessful. The company tried selling them again from 1959 to 1969. They sold some bikes and scooters, but not many, under the marque “Ward Riverside.” Mitsubishi of Japan supplied them with motor scooters and Benelli of Italy supplied the motorcycles.
Benelli was founded in 1911. They sold motorized bicycles and engines and other parts to other companies but did not make their first complete motorcycle until ten years later in 1921. These were small bikes displacing first 100cc, and later 125cc, 150cc, and 175ccs. Benelli’s production took off in the 1930s and for a while it was one of the largest selling Italian marques. By 1950 Benelli was making a name for itself in motorcycle racing, winning, among other titles, the 250cc World Championship. They won that title again in 1969, and many other lesser titles in between.
Like most Italian motorcycles manufacturers Benelli motors was almost always broke, and it changed hands several times. By the end of the ‘60s Benelli was again on the ropes in spite of cutting a deal in ’59 with Wards to try to revive its fortunes in the US market. It was not to be, and that ill fated marriage ended in divorce in 1968. By 1967 Wards was heavily discounting existing stock and continued to discount the rest of the bikes that they had committed to buying in 1968 and 1969.
Benelli recently has been revived once again as a niche, pricy, hand made sports bike for the wealthy. Whether it survives the current financial recession is doubtful. That the name will be revived again should it fail again, is, however, certain.
Italians love to back a loser when it comes to traditional Italian motorcycle marques. Like ghosts from a misremembered past, old Italian motorcycle marques will rise out of the mist to haunt us tomorrow just as they haunted me in the past. These ghosts are sometimes playful poltergeists. Some, however, like the one that haunted me, are evil.
So, back to the catalog. There I was sipping my third or fourth beer, just passing time thumbing my way through the Wards sale catalog with no thought of buying anything. Toward the back there was a big ad for a close out on 250cc Wards Riverside motorcycles, “while stock lasts.” The bikes were only available by catalogue, only available by freight delivery, still crated in the transport carton from Europe, and marked down to about 40% of their normal price. I’m not sure but it seems these bikes sold for about $500 and they were marked down to $199, plus freight. No returns were authorized at that price.
Even back then that was cheap. I knew the bikes were made by Benelli which didn’t have a bad reputation. And they were all red bikes! I like bikes that are red. Sue’s bike is red. I like it. Black is good too. My bike is black. I like it.
So the bikes being red probably was what sent me over the edge. I wanted one! Now, perhaps the fact that all the bikes were red should have been a clue; but it wasn’t. Hindsight being what it is, I now have deduced that these bikes were likely all from a quick production run in order to fulfill contract obligations prior to Benelli trying to sell itself to another manufacturer rather than just close the doors and walk away. Benelli had no choice but to honor the contract and probably figured “the hell with quality, just build them and ship them.” And Wards had to buy them for the same reason, but then sold them at a big discount so it could get out of the motorcycle business.
I didn’t think that through then probably because I am cheap. Not just a little frugal. Cheap. Am now. Was then. I can’t begin to tell you the number of “bargains” I have bought that turned out to be cheap crap. I am a legend in my own time when it comes to buying cheap. Buying cheap, I have lately come to admit, is even more important than quality, or the lack thereof.
However, while I have bought a lot of worthless, poor quality junk in my time I have been largely successful buying motorcycles. Perhaps that is because mostly I buy used bikes and carefully check them out before buying them. I know what a pile of crap bike looks like and how it runs. I have bought those before intentionally and paid next to nothing for them – intentionally. But usually I buy good used bikes at an excellent price and, far more often than not, I sell them for more than I paid for them.
But I had to have this new Wards Riverside 250cc, red, sexy, four stroke, single cylinder bike! Did I mention it was red? Being cheap the first thing I thought I needed to do was to reduce the cost of freight. Freight wasn’t really expensive back then. Gas was about 29 cents a gallon. But even if the freight was only $25 wouldn’t it be nice to cut that in half? (It turned out to be about $30, so I was close.)
So I rode over to Earl’s on the Honda. He was sitting on his back patio drinking tequila sunrises. “Earl, you know how we’ve said it would be nice to have a couple of smaller bikes for farting around on the back country roads? Sure, you remember saying that. You do too like to do that. Don’t argue. I know what you said. You were probably too drunk to remember, that’s all. Anyway, look at this ad. Here’s our chance and it will be cheap fun. We can split the freight and the whole thing won’t cost us much more than $200 or so apiece.”
Earl wasn’t really crazy about the idea, but he went along. He probably figured our friendship was worth more than $200. Besides, I had more than once spent more money than that on some lame brained idea of his. We never found out how much we valued each other but we knew it was more than $200.
So we ordered the bikes, prepaid, and waited for them to arrive. We had them shipped to Earl’s house because Earl had recently been divorced, for the second and last time, so there would be nobody to bother us when we set up our shiny RED motorcycles, and a bonus for me, I could drink whatever whenever I wanted to without comment from anybody. And, besides, Earl had an actual garage. My garage was a tarp strung between some trees that delayed the rain for a minute or two before you got drowned.
The freight company delivered the crated bikes to Earl’s house but refused to back the truck up the driveway to the garage “for insurance reasons.” Ever notice if somebody you are paying to do something doesn’t want to do it its because the insurance won’t let them? Anyway, the truck had a hydraulic lift on the back and Earl and I put down our beers and helped him squirm the first heavy wooden crate onto the lift, lower the lift and try to push it off the lift onto the ground. For little bikes those were heavy damned crates. Eventually we got it done, got another Bud, and went back for the second bike. (I wonder why the insurance didn’t preclude us from helping him in his truck?)
We decided it will be easier to get the bikes to the garage if we put one crate on top of the other and then we could use Earl’s pickup to back up to the top crate, shove it into the bed of the truck and move it to the garage. So the guy let down the lift with the second crate to just a bit above the top of the crate on the ground.
Then with him on the ground supervising us, (how do that happen?) Earl and I start shoving the crate and after a few inches it sticks. We start walking it back and forth and inching it slowly forward. It sticks again and again. So we, Earl and I and a couple of neighbor guys who were in the gathering crowd watching this botched landing with smirks on their faces - all four get up on the lift gate, and, under the watchful supervision of the truck driver, I go, “OK. On three. One. Two. THREE!!”
And we all shove as hard as we can. The crate unsticks, slides forward way too far and gravity does the rest. So there we are looking at this crate, splintered and busted all to hell, laying cockeyed on the ground. Earl looks at me and says, “That one’s yours.” Well, I’m not taking that crap so I say, “Who wants a beer?” I don’t even look at the crate but just make a beeline to the fridge in Earl’s house.
When I come back with the beer the truck is gone. I ask Earl, “Where the hell did he go? We need to file a damage claim.” Earl says, “I told him that, but he said that we couldn’t file it because the insurance wouldn’t pay since we were the ones that damaged it.” Which pretty much explains why he was supervising and we were doing the shoving.
Anybody tells you truck drivers are stupid, have them talk to me. I’ve got proof they aren’t.
What next? With two crated motorcycles sitting in the street, darkness approaching and one bike likely a dented twisted mess, what would you do? Me? I went back inside and switched to scotch and soda.
And so the plot thickens! But we have to stop here for now. Think of it as a radio serial. Will Monte and Earl ever get the bikes into the garage? Will Earl switch from beer to Wild Turkey? Will the truck driver have a change of heart and come back with the claim form? Stay tuned.
Next: Motorcycles: A Magnificent Obsession, Part Six, Or, What is Really in Those Crates?
1299 page views 2010 02 03