Where It All Began for Me

By Billy Rainford
We’ve all got these stories about where it all began, and this one is mine | Bigwave Sr. photo


ince I wasn’t at a race this past weekend and don’t have a bunch of content to go through, I thought I’d use this Throwback Thursday to bore you all with where it all began for me. I know we all have individual stories about the day you got the ‘moto bug,’ and here’s mine.

The year was 1981 (yep, you read that right!) and I remember it like it was…a hell of a long time ago!

The guy across the street from me was a bit of a hooligan, but that’s an entirely different story. Although he was a total troublemaker, the day he got a dirt bike was the day I first laid eyes on what would become a huge part of my life. His first bike was an old metal-tanked Yamaha with twin shocks and about 2 inches of travel. I thought it was pretty cool but didn’t really get caught up in the whole thing…yet.

His next bike was a 1979 Suzuki RM125 and that’s when it happened. For some reason, I can remember him washing it after a ride without a nozzle on the end of the hose. The way the water hit the plastic, the sound, just resonated with me. All I wanted, from that day on, was a bike of my own to wash in the sunshine in my own backyard! Sometimes it’s weird what stands out in your memory.

Of course, he had to fire it up after he was done and then there was no escape for me. The sound of a brand new 125 2-stroke is something that goes in one ear…and stays there! I was hooked. Plus, what kid doesn’t want a dirt bike, anyway?!

My neighbour’s 1979 Suzuki RM125 is what got it all started for me | Suzuki photo

Now, normally it’s pretty difficult to talk your parents into getting a motorcycle when you’re a little kid, but I had an ally. My dad was straight from Liverpool, England, and had lots of British friends around my hometown of London, Ontario. One of them was a guy named John Allan. He and his son, Mark Allan, were very into racing and the conversation would often drift from work-related subject matter to more important things like where they had been racing the past weekend.

I was definitely a late starter, compared to riders who become prodigies at a young age – I got my first bike at the end of Grade 8. After spending all of my spare time riding my homemade bicycles to the nearest gravel pit to watch Steve ride or standing in his driveway or backyard watching him clean his bike, I finally placed a newspaper classified section in front of my dad.

For Sale – 1980 Kawasaki KX80

And you know what? My dad was actually giving it some thought! My mom? Not so much thought was needed…I don’t think she really knew what was about to happen.

OK, so my dad, my buddy Cary, and I drove over to “take a look at” this one-year-old 80cc dirt bike. I know we didn’t own a trailer or a van at the time, so I don’t even remember how it made it, but it made it back to my house and it was mine!

It was in perfect shape and cost my dad $600 (except it was missing a kickstarter which the previous owner promised was “on order”).

So, now I had a little dirt bike to start playing around on. It was the end of the school year and I was able to head over to that same gravel pit with my very own minibike to ride! I had never experienced more joy in my life. That was it. Game over. Once two wheels get in your blood, there is simply no turning back…but you all know that already.

So, after about three rides, my dad’s friend, John, mentioned they were going to head up to Hully Gully on a Thursday evening to ride on an actual track. Cool, we thought. Let’s go, too.

We thought we were just going to Hully Gully to ‘practice’ on an actual track | Bigwave Sr. photo

We did the 1-hour drive north of London to the Hully Gully track up near Varna, Ontario, for my first chance to ride around an actual track. What’s that you say, this is an actual race?! Um, no, I’m not ready to race, thank you very much!

It’s no big deal…the gate will drop and you’ll race!

Mark looked at me and said, “It’s no big deal, the gate will drop and you’ll race!” I don’t know if you remember your first gate drop, but I wasn’t ready to ‘race’ anyone! My bike still didn’t even have a kickstarter! I can still remember Irv Ford‘s voice over the loudspeakers: “Hold on a second. It looks like we have a push starter on the line!

John and Mark Allan circa 1982 | Bigwave Sr. photo

How did I do, you ask? How do you think I did?! I was so far behind that I considered never riding again! How was it possible these other riders were going so fast? Did that guy just lap me…again?!

Yep, that’s what I looked like at my first race. Let’s break this one down a little… | Bigwave Sr. photo

I didn’t have much gear, at the time. I was wearing a helmet from Canadian Tire that my dad painted to match my Kawasaki. I remember it was ‘Volkswagon Green’ that did the trick. Let’s look at this a little closer:

Ill-fitting and cheap helmet…check.

Kidney belt on the outside of my jersey…check

Indoor volleyball knee pads…check.

Innuk winter boots…check.

Blue and brown striped socks…check.

Ski goggles…check.

Bangs cut by yours truly so they didn’t get in my eyes while I rode…check.

Levi jeans…check.

Photo of buddy picking his butt at my very first ‘race’…double check.

WOW, I need to explain those bangs!

You see, my helmet didn’t fit very well. Couple that with the fact that I was using my downhill ski goggles and you’ve got a vision problem waiting to happen. When I had my goggles ‘in place’ they didn’t even hit my face! They were suspended an inch or so off my skin. That meant my hair could just drop down into my eyes and give me problems. A pair of scissors and one cut – problem solved…except for looking cool at school, but I guess moto was already more important. I remember the day I got a wasp caught inside those same goggles…

So, that was how it all started for me. I know we’ve all got stories about ‘Where It All Started,’ and that’s mine. A lifelong love affair with motorcycles was started by a guy across the street who I probably otherwise would not have gotten to know had he not been into motocross. He also said he was sponsored by Suzuki Canada and got a free bike that turned out to be a gift from his grandmother, but that’s another story…

That’s where it all started for me. Where did it start for you? | Bigwave Sr. photo