Willy and the Snap-On bike

Back in the spring my wife and I became foster parents. Every second weekend an 11-year-old boy stays with us at our rural property.

The boy, who I’ll call Junior, is an absolute delight. His full time foster mother is a friend of ours, so it was an easy decision to help her out as respite parents. Following a criminal record check and an inspection of our home, we were given the green light, and we haven’t looked back.

My first goal was to find him a bicycle, and within days our friends Cheryl and Lorne had donated a basically new Huffy mountain bike.  Junior was thrilled. Then after about an hour he was bored.

It was Saturday afternoon earlier in the summer, while I was tinkering around with my motorcycle, when Junior found his motorcycle.

He’d already been given the run of the shop, and I told him to go and take a look in our old garage and see if he could find a dirt bike we could possibly get running. His eyes lit up. I was more thinking along the lines of a long-term project. Although I have a collection that includes about 10 motorcycles, the truth is most of them haven’t moved in ages.

Within a few minutes he was asking about a bike I’d totally forgotten about, which my friends and I call the Snap-On bike. It has a long and storied history.

Back in about 2006 me and my buddy Dave Radey, or Evel Dave as he’s known to many, were shopping at a local Canadian Tire when this little bike practically jumped out at us. Don’t let the Snap-On decals fool you; this bike is actually a Baja MB200, made in China of only the finest quality knock-off parts.

Originally equipped with a 196cc four-stroke 6.5hp engine, an automatic clutch and a hand brake, the original MSRP was $699, which I’d never have dreamed of paying. I’ve bought near-mint real Made in Japan motorcycles for that kind of money. But alas, the little Baja was in the clearance aisle, looking more than a little sad with a dented front fender and a sale price of just $399. I’m pretty certain we talked the manager down to $300 cash, on the condition it was “FINAL SALE.”

WOW — what a deal!

Once out in the parking lot, the fun really started. If memory serves me correctly we were pulling a trailer that day with our jacked-up golf cart on it, so before we loaded the Baja bike on the trailer, Evel Dave started tinkering around with it and noticed it had gas in it. Since I’d shelled out the cash it was MINE to test ride, so I climbed on and pulled the rope.

With zero warning the little bike roared to life and took off under wide open throttle — with me hanging on for dear life — clear across the crowded Canadian Tire parking lot. Evel Dave was surely running behind me yelling, but I couldn’t see him, or hear him. The kill switch clearly didn’t work, as I tapped it multiple times. I must have glanced down a few times looking for the spark plug wire, but at 47 km/h everything was a blur.

I swerved in and out of parked cars and made a huge loop, hoping it would run out of gas. My hat flew off. My eyes watered. Finally, and thank God for good boots and a firm grip, I squeezed that little brake lever with all my might and dragged my size 13 government-issued boots across the parking lot until that little bike ground to a halt, let out a cough, and died.

Evel Dave was laughing so hard I honestly though he was going to collapse. And I was mad. Mad that I’d almost died, mad that he thought it was so hilarious that I’d almost died, and mad because, well, FINAL SALE.

Of course my anger was short lived and we had a great laugh over the entire episode, and have since repeated it many times. We fixed the little Baja to good as new and slapped the Snap-On decals on it a few hours later.

The Snap-On bike has been to countless car shows, motorcycles rallies and even in the pits at a racetrack. Which reminds me, it actually isn’t even mine anymore.

A few years back, my neighbour Jeff Copp built me an aluminum centre console for my truck for a trip we took up north, and in exchange for his handiwork I traded him the Snap-On bike, which at that point wasn’t running anymore because me and my friends and my cousins and the local kids had basically burned the engine to bits. Jeff is dad of the century, and back then his son, Michael, was kart racing. He’s a stock car racer now.

Jeff needed a bike to get around in the pits so he swapped out the Baja’s old and dead 6.5 hp made-in-China motor for a genuine Honda 11.7 hp fire-breathing dragon. It even has a custom air-breather and a wrapped exhaust pipe. One night I rode it home from Jeff’s and he hasn’t asked for it back. It’s all good. Us country boys are like that.

So. Back to Junior. He finds the Snap-On bike. Covered in dust and looking dead, in a dark corner of the old garage.

Before long, and with help from my 29-year-old nephew Josh, that little bike roared to life. Despite the summer heat, Junior had to go in the house and put on long pants and a jacket. Gloves and a helmet were sized up. Sage advice was given.

It sure reminded me of growing up. It was as though my dad, Dave, and his buddy, Eddie, were right there with us smiling and laughing. Making memories. As a kid it always brought me immense pride and joy to hear my father speak about me. He’d become animated as he laughed about the time I came sliding near sideways on my Honda 50 into the driveway at 8 years old with the RCMP in hot pursuit.

My father used to call me Junior, which leads me to the latest and greatest story about Junior and his Snap-On bike.

In no time he had it all figured out and was tearing back and forth through our half-mile deep yard like the second-coming of Evel Knievel himself. Suddenly, in that exact moment, it occurred to me he was going WAY TOO FAST!

It seems in all the excitement, and despite our shakedown runs, both Josh and I hadn’t actually bothered to run the Snap-On bike wide open. Junior, however, did. And thank God he didn’t crash. We should have known, Jeff Copp only builds fast machines. Later, after he went to bed, we clocked it at 71 km/h.

We soon devised a throttle governor that I’m sure in no time Junior will figure out how to remove. He’s a quick learner and already knows his way around the toolboxes.

Plans are already in the works to fix up an old Yamaha snowmobile for Junior to ride this winter. There’s also a garage full of bikes he can fix and ride that should keep him occupied for the next 20 or so years. What’s mine is his.

But for now the Snap-On bike is his dream machine. I love the way he smiles when he talks about it. I also love the way he smiles when I talk about him.

6 thoughts on “Willy and the Snap-On bike”

  1. Great story! The love of motorcycles is learned. He’s clearly already been bitten by the bug. Bringing young people into the fold is honorable work and builds connections that cannot be broken.

  2. Great story, creating great memories. I remember my first minibike ride, at my uncle Tom’s farm on a CT70, I got out the 7/8 mile long driveway, then put it in the ditch beside said driveway trying to turn around. My older cousin came out on the tractor and rescued me. Sounds like your boy has a bit more skill than I did.

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