Steve Penick first fell in love with British motorcycles at the age of 13, when his father brought home a Triumph Tiger Cub.
“Even though I wasn’t licensed,” says Penick, “we lived on the edge of Midland, Texas. There was a large, open area behind us, a couple of dirt roads, so we’d go out there and ride.”
Penick, now 73, continues his affair with British bikes from his home in West Falmouth. A retired mechanical engineer, Penick is waiting for spring, so he can head out on his 2006 Triumph Bonneville, which he says is “a pretty nice motorcycle.” His garage is dominated by a frame of a rare Norton P11-A Ranger 750, a work in progress, and informed observers will detect traces of Steve’s 1967 BSA Thunderbolt A65, also a work in progress. It’s persnickety work, but Steve has been tearing down and building up British motorcycles most of his life.
“I enjoy being a mechanical engineer and loving mechanical things,” he says. “I can’t really do the hardcore machining some of these bikes require, but I have taken all of those new pieces and reworked pieces and put them all back together. It’s always been a challenge to do all that, and the act of doing it is the pleasure and the reward of it.”
To be sure, there’s also a certain amount of riding involved. These days, Penick doesn’t roam too far from the homestead, but back in the late ‘60s, when he was in the Navy and stationed in San Diego, he took some time off to rendezvous with a cousin in Colorado, and they rode together to the great motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, which has been held continuously since 1940.
“We spent, like, three days in Sturgis, but the rest of the time we were kind of sightseeing—the Devil’s Tower, the Black Hills in South Dakota,” he says. “It’s beautiful country to ride in.”
And then there’s riding motorcycles just to be riding. Penick fondly recalls the time he and his cousin played tag in the Arizona desert.
“It’s what you do when you’re crazy and young,” he says. “He was it, he was trying to tag me. So I kept looking over my shoulder to avoid him and stuff. And all of a sudden I came up to a gully. And out there, the gullies are straight up and straight down, basically. I think the gully was maybe 10 feet wide. And I knew that if I tried to stop I wouldn’t make it, I’d wind up crashing down in that gully, and who knows what would happen. So I tried to jump over. I gunned it, went flying through the air, and I almost made it.
“What happened was,” says Penick, “the bike actually landed. The front wheel was on the other side, the middle part of the bike hit right on the edge and stopped dead, and I went right over the handlebars. I stopped rolling and I was laying there, checking my body out, thinking, ‘How am I going to get that motorcycle out of that gully?’ And I finally rolled over and looked over there, and it was laying on its side, on this side of the gully.”
“My cousin said what happened was it hit and bounced up in the air,” he says. “I went flying off, and the inertia of the moving motorcycle was kind of moving forward, and when the spinning rear wheel hit the edge of the gully, it squirted it right over onto safe land. So I kind of made it, but it wasn’t in the style with which I would have liked to.”
“My cousin said, ‘Are you OK?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think I am.’ And he said, ‘OK, would you mind doing that one again? I missed it completely.’”
Readers may be disappointed to learn that Penick is no longer jumping gullies, but he still has an eye for British motorcycles, and works on them every chance he can get.
“As far as dealing with the vintage motorcycles,” he says, “particularly the British motorcycles, many of them were works of art, actually. So to take one of those bikes which you’d find in a barn—dirty, greasy, pigeon poop on it, you know, hasn’t run in years—and you begin to restore it, so it’s like brand new. There’s a real sense of accomplishment there.
“And, as my wife says, it keeps me out of the pool halls!”
WHERE STEVE RIDES
“My favorite ride in Maine is up coastal Route 1 to Bar Harbor, up Cadillac Mountain and then over to Winter Harbor and around Schoodic Point. But only in September/October. I look forward to the same ride this year.”
Will Cutlip drives a 2001 Honda Civic to and from his home in Bath, Maine.