Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Snow, blown furnaces and Cycle Empire

Its been a harrowing week in some ways. My kids are a little under the weather and they passed it along my way. Must be some part of the homework program I'm unfamiliar with.

The upper midwest got some snow (finally) which also put me in gear to get a certain 29 year old Allis Chalmers snow thrower here and running again. A lovely safety orange beast sporting an old iron Briggs and Stratton five chuffer.

Then my furnace decides to cough nothing but cold air. Turns out it was a minor fix and if I'd looked a little more intently I could have saved quite a bit of money. Insulation fell into the fan negating the sensor to allow the thing to ignite. Point of the insulation? You got me...

Which brings us to Cycle Empire.

If you live in an area conducive to motorcycling, chances are you'll eventually find a strange store in your general locale. Usually on the outskirts of town. The kind of place which doesn't sell any particular brand of actual new motorcycle but its loaded to the rafters with out of date parts for any model you can think of from the last thirty years. Its also the kind of place where the owner puts out one of those huge chrome coffee makers you find at outdoor parties. Styrofoam cups still in the filmy plastic are stacked upside down next to it. Coffee Mate products on the other side. If he's a generous man there are little stir sticks but usually its a spoon on a napkin for everyone to use. He's got some local papers on the counter and if you're as lucky as we were, you showed up after work every Thursday for your own copy of The ONION. If you've never read the ONION its satire I rank with some of the finest. In those days it was incredible.

Behind you were some of the used bikes for sale. On occasion there would be a Vespa or two. I never knew where they came from and I wished I'd picked one or two of them up over the years. Less often would be the Cushmans. More like tiny motorcycles. The Vespas were cooler. We knew it even back then. The scooters were always put along the wall. The bikes more haphazardly rolled into sort of a line. Anywhere from five to ten motorcycles were for sale and they ranged from mid eighties UJM's to the occasional true antiques. It was there that I saw my first Indian Scout. A small machine commanding alot of money to part from its current owner. Apparently there was a little bidding war going on with that one as master was on vacation and told the store to give him the best offer when he returned.

Once you'd had your coffee, ONION, and a cigarette with the guys talking by the bikes and scooters, you moved to the right of the coffee counter and into another room. Saddle bags, oil, and literal stacks of parts seperated by brand and not much else greeted you in the isles. Old grey men lost deep in thought, hunting their own strange grails.

Turn right after the register and up a half flight of stairs brought you into a large room filled with every kind of riding gear you could imagine. Jackets, rain gear, protective gear, every imaginable brand of helmet.

Heading back out, you had to look up before you went down the steps because there hung the strangest brown Triumph custom motorcycle you may ever see. This thing looked like it formed itself out of a bad acid trip. They might do some interesting shaping on the discovery shows but they've got nothing on this thing. Its been hanging from the ceiling since at least the mid eighties and was present in the nineties when I last was there. I can't begin to describe it, you have to see it for yourself. All I know is the engine is definitely Triumph. The rest? From the mind of an insane visionary.

The beauty of Cycle Empire was it drew creativity to itself. It carried parts for the Harley crowd, the UJM crowd, sport bikes and things that sometimes left you wondering to yourself. Its lot could be filled to capacity with every concievable style of ride, the picnic tables crammed with people just hanging out and enjoying themselves. It was a mecca of bike-ness on the south side of Milwaukee and I miss it.

The Roadbum


Combatscoot said...

That very-much reminds me of the many shops around Atlanta that my Dad dragged me into and out of when I was a youngster. All but maybe one, The Cycle Barn, have disappeared, and I am sure it is not quite the same as it used-to be. I think it may even have another name, like Atlanta Cycle Supply. (Sigh)

American Scooterist Blog said...

You know, as long as there still is that type of store in the area where we live I think things will be alright. Its when places like Atlanta Cycle Supply disappear altogether that we lose something. Still looking for that store in the Saint Cloud area.


Bryce said...

There is a shrine to biking like that here in Kansas City. It's a Harley and Triumph place. Pretty specific, but it's in a cool place.