MX Bob Bike History - Component 13
1983 Honda XL200
North Stars, a Pacer, and Trouble

After selling my CR480, I still had the itch to ride, but didn’t scratch it until the next spring. I bought this bike brand new from Burnsville Sports Center. It was much tamer than a motocross bike, but it had the advantage of being quiet and street legal.

There were a few areas on the south side of the Mendota Bridge where I would ride. This was before the complete reconstruction of the Mendota Bridge, and the land and roads on the south side. I’m pretty sure that some of the places that I rode was land set aside for future highway, but the last time I drove across the bridge, the south side was now unrecognizable to me.

There were several tracks and areas to choose from. One track was hard packed and relatively smooth. Someone had built a few jumps and even a whoop section. I got to the point where I could double through it. This gave me confidence in those types of obstacles, a false sense of confidence as I would later find out.

There was also a sand track where I would ride. It was not maintained at all and got quite rough. Oddly enough, despite the bike’s lack of long travel and soft spring rates, I could go pretty fast in the sand with it. The suspension was balanced, the handling was good, and the smooth power made it easy to control. It forced me to keep up my momentum, because once I slowed down in the deep sand, it took a long time to get that speed back.

I was riding there once and there was a guy there with a new KTM motocross bike. I think he raced, because he had numbers on his plates. I passed him several times and he must have got so irritated getting passed by a guy wearing jeans on a dual sport that he wicked it up to pass me back, and ended up crashing pretty hard. He was unhurt, but I think one of the levers was not so lucky.

Other than that time, the time my Uncle Ed went out to watch me, and maybe 1 or 2 other times, I would ride alone. Riding by myself on an easy to ride bike gave me the idea that I could be competitive if I started racing again. The seed was planted. It was only a matter of time before I was racing again.

The previous fall, I started attending Brown Institute, as it was named then, taking their two-year Electronics program. I was living with my parents and didn't work for a while, a boomerang kid before that was even a term. Brown was the first time I ever really applied myself at school. The first year and half or so, I made studying and going to school my full-time job, and I got really good grades. I made good friends there. It’s a shame that all this time later, I haven’t kept in touch with any of them.

I couldn't afford to fix my van, but my parents, now retired more or less, let me use the Pacer. Yes, the same Pacer that I had to deal with in high school. When I heard that the motor blew, I was overjoyed that they'd finally get a different car, but much to my chagrin, I found out that they spent a great deal of money to rebuild the motor. Like a poorly built, car version of the Frankenstein monster, the abomination of all that is decent in mechanical engineering and style, was still alive.

To truly understand life with a Pacer, you need to know that the most noticeable characteristic of the car was not the image of the fishbowl on wheels, but how poorly made it was. This was not a good time for AMC. Their cars had very poor workmanship and reliability. The longer you kept one "alive", the larger the list of things that didn't work. One of those little things on this particular vehicle was the gas gauge. We would write down the mileage when we filled up, and then knew that we needed to get gas 200 miles or so later. It could go into the high 200s (bad mileage, but a big tank), so 200 was considered the safety point.

Despite what the marketing folk would have you believe, life with a Pacer was not all ridiculous sweaters and rainbows. The cars only looked like the second photo for a few weeks.

There was one weekend that was really cold, like highs less than zero cold. That Saturday, I was nearly spanning the Twin Cities as I was watching the North Stars with my old high school friends in Burnsville in the afternoon, then going to a party with my new friends over in a northern suburb of Saint Paul.

It was when I was driving the Pacer across the (old) Mendota Bridge that it started stalling out, and finally sputtered to a halt, right about dead center across the bridge. It was out of gas, even though it was less than 200 miles since the last fill. I did not properly factor in how drastically the extreme cold would reduce the range.

It was four-lane road, but no shoulder, and cars went 60 MPH or more quite regularly on it. I was by myself and it was decades before I owned a cell phone, so I decided to leave it there and go for gas. I left the hood up and a flag on the car antenna (you remember those), and headed out for the dangerous, sub-zero, quest for gasoline.

There was no retail anywhere near the north side of the bridge, let alone a gas station. I decided it would be better to go back to my parent's house, because it was only slightly further than the gas station, or so I thought, I knew I had a partially full gas can there, and one of my parents could drive me back to the bridge. I half ran, half walked, and arrived at the house quite exhausted.

When I got there, my parents were not home, so they, and the other car, were not there. I needed to get back, the car had probably been there nearly an hour by then, so I decided that, even though I was tired, it was zero outside, and the roads were icy, it would be quicker to ride my bicycle.

I used to ride bicycles in the winter back then, so it wasn’t entirely out of my realm of experience. This was different, because I didn’t usually go when it was below 10 degrees, never went on a busy road or highway, not ever one-handed carrying something heavy, and never testing all those skills at the same time. How I made it there without breaking a bone or getting hit by a car, I’ll never know.

By the time I rolled up onto the scene, there was one slightly damaged, parked car, and a badly damaged one behind it being towed away. The Pacer was nowhere to be seen. I advanced across the busy highway by staying on the seat and paddling over. It would have been difficult to dismount completely at that point. I was quite tired, and trying to assess the situation. I was quite taken aback with the conversation I had with the young highway patrolman.

“Are you the owner of a gold Pacer?”

“I was the driver of it earlier” (as I’m paddling safely to the other side of the road and away from traffic)

(Angrily) “Why don’t you get off your damn bike and walk like a normal human being?”

I was so stunned by the command that I don’t remember exactly what happened next. As much as I probably wanted to come back with a snappy retort, I remember that I resisted that urge with all my strength, and tried to calmly explain what had happened. He seemed utterly unimpressed with my Shackleford-like journey to arrive back with gasoline, and was red-in-the-face mad. As he was giving me a parking ticket, he checked some boxes usually reserved for moving violations. "Reckless Endangerment" was one. I don’t remember the wording of the others, but they sounded equally severe.

The patrolmen gave me a ride to the tow-yard, and I was able to put the gas in and drive it away. I found out what exactly happened with the accident. Everyone was avoiding the car, it was broad daylight after all, until they didn’t. The first car involved stopped, the second one stopped, but the third car crashed into the second one, pushing it into the first. The Pacer was untouched.

The checkbox thing hadn’t really registered yet, so I thought I’d just have to pay a parking ticket and be done with it. That time estimate was off by over nine years.

Not sure when it sank in, but I came to realize that I had to appear in court, because if an officer checks any of those boxes on the bottom, it made it an automatic misdemeanor. The maximum punishments at that time were $500 or 6 months in jail. I had visions of being in the big house.

Big mean looking guy: “What are you in here for, punk?”

Me: “Well, parking ... but it was a really viscous case of parking. I showed them. I could be coleslaw right now.”

(Still me, but yelling in a different voice) “Shut up, they’ll hear you!”

In retrospect, I may have given that "If ever in prison, make them think you are crazy" strategy way too much thought.

The court appearance was quite routine. The public defender got me a $50 fine and nothing on my record. I went home thinking, "Well now it’s over". A while later, I moved away, and never saw the car again.

This is one of the few stories in this motorcycle list that spans a long period of time (and has nothing to do with motorcycles whatsoever). If left in the linear time format, it would not reappear until the Intermission, a full five chapters from now. So let's jump ahead, shall we, to 1992 Minnesota.

1992. It was a banner time for Minnesota sports. The Twins had just won the World Series, the North Stars made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, and the state hosted the Super Bowl and the US Open. This has nothing to do with the story, but I just like repeating those phrases whenever possible. I‘m not even sure that it was 1992 that this next part of the story happened.

My dad's insurance agent called me one day. It turns out that the driver of the second car had back injuries from the accident. The one who plowed into him only had the minimum liability coverage, so he went after my dad's insurance company also. Since he was suing for more than the coverage, my dad would have to cover anything over that amount. All this had been slowly unfolding for the last five and half years.

I was brought in by the plaintiff's lawyers to give a deposition. I had never been involved in a deposition before. At the time, I thought that it was more annoying than anything. They kept asking the same questions, and asking about these little details from nearly six years ago. Of course the main question was "What did the fuel gauge say?" My answer was always that it didn't work, but they were hoping to get me to contradict myself. Their whole "recklessly running out of gas" strategy was probably resting on it.

After giving the deposition, life continued on for a few years. Our beloved civic treasure, the Minnesota North Stars, were stolen and sent off to the land of cowboys; people who will never understand icing, and cheer louder for fights than goals. Again, nothing to do with this story, but it's important to always remember the actions of tyrants like Norm Green, or we could be doomed to see the Utah Wild, although those two words together are almost as funny as an actual team name, the Utah Jazz (funny because, little known fact, jazz clubs are technically illegal in Utah).

A real North Stars shirt, not these facsimiles that started showing up. Years of poor laundering testify to its authenticity.

More time passed and I was living back in Minnesota. Kind of out of the blue, a lawyer from my dad's insurance company called me. The suit had been crawling ahead, and there was now a court date set. He told me that I may have to testify. I stewed in those juices for a month or two, until the day before the trial when we got a call telling us that they had settled. We never heard the details, but didn’t really care. Finally it was done, a bit over nine years later.

After two years of electronics school, we've jumped back to 1985 now, I graduated with my Associate degree in Electronics and started looking for a job. I didn't find one in Minnesota right way, so in the fall of 85, I made the decision to go back to Virginia. I was going to get a job, start racing again, and everything was going to be like it was before, except without the hassle of being in the Navy.

It wasn’t quite the smooth plan I envisioned. I couldn't find an electronics job and ended up as an electrician's helper working for a perpetually angry man, pulling wire outside in the cold weather, and trying desperately to anticipate what tool or material Mussolini Jr. wanted me to fetch from the truck next. The worst part is that the pay was low. Now that I had to pay for an apartment, storage space, and food, I had less to spend on racing than I did at the end of my Navy times.

Although I used the XL for alternate transportation, I knew that it would have to go in order to buy a race bike. I really took a bath when I sold it. My budget for a race bike suffered because I got so little for it, but I guess I was desperate. I really missed that bike. I had a lot of fun on it and it was extremely low maintenance. I tried unsuccessfully to replace it a few years later, which is part of the reason why I didn't ride for so long. But, I get ahead of myself.

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Revised August 2017