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One long ride

The rider may be a mechanic or a businesswoman as aficionados of classic motorcycles satisfy their desire for lustrous chrome an

The rider may be a mechanic or a businesswoman as aficionados of classic motorcycles satisfy their desire for lustrous chrome an

April 04, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Dick Castle is between motorcycles. He doesn't know how many he's owned - 150, 200 - maybe.

"There will be another one," he said.

Castle, 80, was 14 when he got his first motorized two-wheeled vehicle: a three-quarter horsepower motorscooter. It didn't have a clutch. He just pushed it, jumped on and went.

He was still in high school when he got his first motorcycle: A 1939 Harley-Davidson. It cost $15.

Things change.

The road is populated with sleek motorcycles favoring fiberglass over chrome, but there's plenty of room and choices for riders who want old-style motorcycles with hefty horsepower.

In the 1920s there were more than 100 American motorcycle manufacturers. Now, only one - Harley-Davidson - survives, Castle said.

The company, headquartered in Milwaukee, Wis., celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003.

Castle always rode Harleys. He worked on them, too. Still does, although he has taken the signs off his small wooden shop in Hagers-town's West End. The phone number is unlisted. He said his biggest job is to keep his business small.

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Bikers who know him know where he is. Bikers who want to know him find him.

Wrenches line the wall of the heated down-a-few-stairs workshop. A motorcycle - its front wheel off, in need of new springs - is a work in progress.

"I was a tourer," Castle said. He can't count how many times he went to Daytona Beach, Fla., the site of national motorcycle rallies. He also rode to rallies in Sturgis, S.D.

In those days, bikes were out of gas in 100 miles, Castle said. A good day's journey was about 400 miles.

Castle worked at Mack Trucks Inc. from 1962 to 1987. It was the first "closed-in" job he had. When there wasn't enough work for employees, they were sent home, he said. He filled his spare time and supplemented his income with motorcycle repairs. He worked with his father, opening the Washington Street parts and repair shop in 1960.

Motorcycles have changed in the years Castle has ridden them.

"The quality and looks are highly improved," he said.

It's big business.

In 1903, 21-year-old William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson, 20, made the first Harley-Davidson motorcycle available to the public. Their factory was a 10-by-15-foot wooden shed, according to information on the company's Web site at www.harley-davidson.com.

Things change. The company reported revenue of $4.62 billion for 2003, its 18th consecutive record year.

M&S Harley-Davidson, the 2-year-old, spotlessly clean 25,000-square-foot dealership just off Interstate 81 in Chambersburg, Pa., provides local evidence of that change.

The spacious showroom has 35 to 40 motorcycles representing the Sportster, Dyna Glide, Softail, V-Rod and Touring Harley-Davidson families. There are racks and racks of gleaming chrome parts and accessories, as well as gear, a world of collectibles and clothing. A woman's wedding outfit - white leather jacket and floor-length straight skirt - can be unlaced from the bottom to accommodate a bride who wants to ride off to her honeymoon with her hubby on a "hog."

M&S owners, brothers Bryan and Darren Moats, have been around motorcycles most of their lives. Their father started a motorcycle business in 1964, selling Japanese cycles and Harleys.

Their customers come from all walks of life - "regular" working people, professional people - "people that love the lifestyle and the image," said Bryan Moats, 37.

People can get out of their business suits and "let down" on a motorcycle, said 39-year-old Darren Moats.

Susan Levitan, a lobbyist for the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO in Annapolis, Md., is one of them.

Levitan, formerly known as Susan Tuckwell, lived in Hagerstown for years, working as a Herald-Mail reporter and in public relations for Allegheny Power. She's worked on political campaigns and lost her 1998 bid to become a Washington County Commissioner by fewer than 200 votes.

Levitan has had her motorcycle driver's license since she was 17 or 18. She's owned several motorcycles since she was a college student - a British bike, Japanese bikes. Levitan gave up motorcycles when she had her daughters some 20 years ago.

"I had some common sense," she laughed.

But she's back in the saddle.

About five years ago, Levitan, 52, bought a 1996 Harley-Davidson Custom Sportster motorcycle. It has a sky blue tank and "lotsa chrome," she said.

Riding a motorcycle has long been a part of her life.

People think you are a character out of "The Wild One," the 1953 film starring Marlon Brando as the leader of a motorcycle gang, she said. But it's not a big deal.

"It doesn't change who you are," she said. "I just like to ride."

Ron Keller also likes to ride.

The Big Pool resident has owned his 1993 Harley-Davidson Low Rider for six years. He said it's like having "your own perpetual carnival ride."

"It's become a passion," he said, and that seems to surprise him a bit.

Keller, an electrician, describes himself as an 18th-century man of the woods in a 20th-century body. He has horses. He's into American Indian culture. He has a teepee.

And despite an accident three years ago when a deer ran onto the wet road on a rainy night, he loves riding his bike.

Keller, 56, likes to ride in the country after work - up Fairview mountain, through valleys, along the river.

"You become supercharged on it - taken away by it," he said.

Bryan Moats also likes the freedom of being on a motorcycle. You're closed in a car, he said. "When you're on a motorcycle, you can smell all the smells - fresh cut grass, flowers. You're just such a part of it - nature."

"The common theme," Keller said, "is to follow that front wheel where ever it goes."

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