Published DateLACONIA — "My wife says I haven't got a good side, except my backside when I'm going away," said John Lewis, a traveling man of 70 on his fourth visit to Motorcycle Week from San Bernadino, Calif., a round trip of nearly 7,000 miles.
A retired machinist nicknamed Grumpy by a waitress in Lytle Creek, California, Lewis began riding motorcycles as a teenager in Ohio. "I took my brother's Whizzer out, " he said, "until he caught me." he bought his own Whizzer in 1958 and three years later was aboard his own 1940 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead. For the past 24 years Lewis has ridden a 1989 Harley-Davidson Springer Soft Tail, which has taken him across the country eight times. "The bike's on its third speedometer," he said.
Apart from his four journeys to Laconia, Lewis has made seven to the rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, but his one trip to Daytona was abbreviated. "I went once and didn't even spend the night," he said. "Everywhere I went to park the police told me to move. I didn't buy a patch, a pin or a T-shirt. I just left."
Lewis rides alone. "Ride with a group and you get a lot of cry babies," he explained. "There's always someone who doesn't like this gas station or that restaurant." Nor does he follow set routes or hurry his trips. "I go wherever I feel like turning," he said, adding that he likes to pass through small towns and stop at family restaurants. "I'm always getting lost," he confessed.
Looking askance at those who tow or trailer their motorcycles to rallies, Lewis asked "what's wrong with them? Can't they ride? If you can't ride your bike, you might as well as stay in your dadgum car," he snorted. Likewise, he refuses to wear a patch, pin or T-shirt touting any place unless he has been there.
Lewis said that his wife, Ruthie, has not been on his motorcycle in 15 years. After completing a riding course with the California Highway Patrol, she repeatedly asked to ride his Sportster and just as repeatedly he refused. When she asked why, he told her he had taken out a $100,000 insurance policy on her life that would not be effective for six months. With that, she never asked again.
Lewis has had better luck with Justine, the daughter he and his wife adopted as an infant who is now twelve, "She wants to ride," he said.
On June 18, Lewis will turn 71, though the sign at Cedar Lodge where he is staying has already celebrated the occasion. Age and arthritis in a once broken leg is catching up with him, Lewis conceded, but he did not rule out returning to Laconia, which he called his favorite rally because "it's the furthest away and I can do it. I'm doing all I can while I can," he continued. "If I can make it, I'll try."