First to Last, the Tale of a Biker by Dennis W Lid

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An American rider recalls his life with motorcycles. Jim Algar reviews a mixture of biography, travelogue, military memoir and personal motorcycle journey…

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Those who love motorcycles tend to find easy, convivial company with others who share that love. But what leads us to motorcycles and motorcycling in the first place is always a personal journey, not always easy to explain or relate to others, whether their own journeys are similar to ours or wildly different.

But there remains with most of us a desire to make that connection, to explain how it started, to share the story of the ‘first bike’ and all the adventures that followed.

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Dennis Lid has written a slim memoir regarding his own journey and its objective, which he offers in an opening biblical quote: ‘For where they treasure is, there also will thy heart be.’ By no means a philosopher, he nonetheless understands what most of us feel, even it we have trouble articulating it; that motorcycles are more than just a conveyance or a mechanism, and our enjoyment of them and attachment to them goes deeper than we might think or admit.

A career military man, much of Lid’s motorcycle journey has dovetailed with the tenure and travels of his military career. He is of the American generation that had its life shaped, for better or worse, by America’s tragic involvements in Southeast Asia. (He hints at stories he could tell of those times and places, but wisely admits that they would be best saved for another time and another book.)

This book, ‘First to Last,’ starts at the end for Lid, rather than the beginning, as age catches up with him and he is forced to watch his last bike, a 1987 Kawasaki Ninja 750R, disappear down the street with its new owner, and he must come to terms with the fact that motorcycling for him will now be a matter of nostalgia and memory, not tangible activity. He is not bitter; rather, realistic.

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‘It happens to all of us sooner or later. Your time will come as well. It’s the dreadful event or occasion that ends your riding days. For some it’s accident or injury; for others an illness, and for still others it’s old age or just plain loss of capability or interest that brings on the occasion…that happening would seem to be an absolute tragedy-like the end of the world-except for the memories, that is.’

For Lid, the nostalgia and the memories begin with a classic American childhood of bicycles, BB guns and double-dare boyhood adventures in the Bay Area of Northern California… and a paper route that provided the leverage to convince his parents that he needed something with a motor. Not a motorcycle; hardly even a moped. In reality just a push bike with a scooter wheel on the rigid rear with motor and chain. Humble beginnings, yes…a s is so often the case. But it was a start.

‘The bike didn’t just provide transportation but a means of mobility, freedom, independence and control.’

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There followed a dry period – dry of motorcycles, at any rate – involving college years, ROTC, commissioning and a tour of Vietnam. Back stateside, drawing a Captain’s pay, motorcycling resumed while stationed in Georgia with a 125cc Ducati. Motorcycles and a military career remained entwined, as each advanced. A larger 250cc Ducati made way for a 161cc four-stoke Honda (converted for trail riding), then a Honda 305 Scrambler that figured in a 3,000-mile dash from California to North Carolina, but remained behind for a posting to Okinawa.

Not sure which one is Dennis

Scrambling at Kadina, Okinawa, 1968

There Lid discovered scrambling and a new 175cc Kawasaki scrambles bike, purchased at a local motorcycle shop that offered to sponsor him at the local scrambles races.

That same bike was converted for street use in Taiwan, next stop on the military merry-go-round. More bikes followed in various world-wide locales; a Yamaha 250 scrambler in Hawaii, a brief non-bike period in Panama, then retirement from the military and a civilian position with the Department of Defense, working in Japan for … the US Army. A couple of Hondas there; CS 500 and a Saber 750. A year of work in Europe saw him purchase his last bike, the aforementioned 1987 Kawasaki 750R Ninja, which returned to Japan with him, until the ‘end’ of his biking days.

This may sound like a dry CV and bike-purchasing history – ‘and then I was sent to, and then I bought’ – but Lid manages to create a mixture of biography, travelogue, military memoir and personal motorcycle journey that will strike a chord with more than a few members of the far-flung tribe that is the motorcycle community.

‘My friends, remember this tale of a biker, and that your time will come as well…In the meantime, keep on riding and hold on to those happy memories for a lifetime. Enjoy your bikes and every experience on each of them from First to Last.’

At 110 pages with photos and a few maps, First to Last: the Tale of a Biker is a quick read, but not without its enjoyments.

Reviewed by Jim Algar


First to Last, the Tale of a Biker by Dennis W Lid is published by CCB Publishing, ISBN 978-0-9781162-9-3.

Normal price £8.95 but discounted copies are available through Amazon

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