BAPTISM BY FIRE
Stay loose, look where you want to go, watch out for gravel, and always pay attention to other drivers. These are just a few of the things we tell our friends or family when they’re learning how to ride a motorcycle. It can be complicated at first. Usually folks start out on an easy-to-ride beginner’s bike, but Andy Schwanbeck, a graphic design teacher from Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, dove in head first when he bought an old hardtail Triumph to learn on. Here’s his story.
Andy’s father grew up as a dirtbike guy in the 1970s. Motorcycles were always around, but for whatever reason, it took Andy a while to develop a real interest in them. “I didn’t even know how to ride a motorcycle, let alone what a Triumph was at the time. I was just scouring the internet and became obsessed with these small bikes. I fell in love with the simple look of just an engine in a frame. There was nothing to them,” Andy said. “So my dad, Terry, and I started traveling around to bike shows together for a couple of years. One day at the Triumph National Rally, there was this bobber just sitting there for sale, and I knew right away that was it. I think I was twenty-three years old, and this was my first bike.“
The Triumph was a 1968 TR6 in a 1969 Bonneville frame that was purchased from White Rose Motorcycle Club, a local group who hosted the rally in Oley, Pennsylvania. The ‘For Sale’ sign had a note stating that it needed someone who knows bikes and isn’t afraid to wrench, which was comical considering it was Andy’s first motorcycle. After they hauled it back home, he spent some time in the backyard learning how to ride before making it his own.
Working with this Triumph has been a great way for Andy and his dad to spend more time together, whether riding or just being in the garage. They started with some small stuff that needed work—rewiring the ignition, re-routing the oil lines, and just cleaning things up at first. Eventually, they ripped it all apart to paint it and have the engine rebuilt.
A year after picking up the bike, Andy and his father rode 130+ miles back to where he bought it. The guys were pumped to see him riding it and all the work he put into it since. Andy mentioned that the process was “about finding the right parts and pieces to make it my own. It’s an ongoing project, and things change. It had a short exhaust and drag bars at first, but as I grew confident, I started doing more dramatic changes. I’ve had it for ten years now, and I’ve learned a lot about mechanics and how motorcycles work.”
“This is my first bike and something I’ll never be able to part with. You go through all these moments of pure excitement, and then scare the shit out of yourself a few times. It’s one of those bikes that makes you feel like a reckless kid again,” he said. So, if you’re reading this and want to get into motorcycles, just know that it’s never too late to learn.