Established in 1983. A We Went Fast Origin Story

To go riding, first I had to solve a puzzle. One slide was harmed in the making of this story.

If you can start it, you can ride it. That was the single ground rule placed upon the little yellow motorcycle sitting in garage. That was dad’s way of saying ‘yes’ but also saying ‘no’ at the same time. He wanted to say ‘yes, let’s go’ because he’s the one who bought the bike. But it was also the middle of winter in Michigan and the child he spoke to wasn’t quite four years old.

So he responded with a challenge; figure out how to fire it up and we’ll go riding. Starting a Yamaha PW50 isn’t overly complicated but it has just enough built-in procedural logistics to make it difficult for unsupervised toddlers to whiskey throttle into immoveable objects. Once those safety features are unlocked, however, game on. The sides of barns, fences and homes instantly become the magnetic south pole and the motorcycle is the north pole. Cutting directly to the climax of this essay, I first ran into a slide and then a target practice backstop some indeterminate time later. Both crashes were ugly.

Yamaha PW50, Brett Smith
Brett Smith works on his target fixation skills. See that slide in the background? Definitely smashed into that.

The PW50 didn’t just show up one day, as first motorcycles often do for little children. There was no ‘surprise!’ reveal on Christmas morning, it wasn’t hiding around the corner or suddenly sitting next to my pedal bike. I actually got to be a part of the process and it’s my earliest memory. It’s as cloudy as what came out of the tailpipe, but I can recall visions of that day, the apartment interior, the bike coming to life, the sound it made. First, a rapid tapping sound of the tiny piston furiously cycling inside the air-cooled cylinder, then ‘waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh’ when the throttle was twisted back. Blue-hued smoke rolled from the exhaust. Tantalizing.

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That funny looking yellow bike, with the duck-billed profile seemed far more exciting than the baby blue, banana-seated, ape-hanger-handle-barred Huffy that I rode countless laps around our front yard, which was encircled by a sidewalk and driveway. Blood from my elbows still stains the brick in the spot where my ‘racetrack’ narrowed between a hedge and the edge of the garage.

We got the motorcycle around the time my little brother was born, Christmas Day, 1982. Now that I consider it, that’s quite the gift for becoming a big brother.  

I don’t know how I solved the puzzle of igniting the 49cc two cycle engine. This I have no memory of, but I do have an image based on my father’s own testimony.

Yamaha PW50, Brett Smith
Going fast since day one. Brett Smith on his Yamaha PW50, July 1983

He was in the backyard either tinkering or weeding. Most likely weeding. If a weed-pulling title existed dad was chief invasive slayer of Genesee County. We lived on a quiet country road so the sound of an unfamiliar engine starting caused him to drop the fistful of massacred weeds and run toward the house. Coming into the garage he found that the now-four-year-old me had mastered the multi-step combination of choke, handlebar toggle switch (off-start-run!) and the kickstart lever, which is accessed on the left side and toward the back of the bike. The fuel line was most likely still off.

That was spring/summer 1983. That’s why We Went Fast claims ‘Established 1983’. Maybe it happened sooner than dad wanted it to. Or maybe it was planned to happen exactly that way. No matter; dad kept his word and that’s how I wound up wandering the back yard in my knock-off low top Chucks, Toughskins jeans, green Yoda t-shirt and a visor-less Bell Star 120 that was already a decade or more old at that point.

The Establishment Tee from We Went Fast.

The We Went Fast Establishment Tee
The We Went Fast Establishment Tee. Click the image to see the product page.

Writing this 40 years later jogs another memory; in one of the first motocross races I did, in the fall of 1984, I stopped in the middle of the moto to help a fallen rider. I didn’t just pick up the kid’s bike for him, I started it too. Maybe his dad didn’t have the same if-you-can-start-it-you-can-ride-it rule. I got him going again and he took off and beat me but I got the satisfaction of paying it forward.

In April 2023 I entered a cross-country endurance mountain bike race. I just wanted to finish the 50 kilometers of jagged Pennsylvania rock and insufferable climbs. After 32 km I found myself feeling better than I expected but when I came across a guy who had flatted and exhausted the supplies he brought (two big holes in his tire!) I pulled over and got him going again.

Those slim fit Toughskins jeans were getting to be a little short on me at this point.

He was running with the lead group, specifically fifth overall in the 300-rider event. Just like that kid from my PW50 days, this guy waxed me in the end. Turns out, he loves moto and rides off-road as well as bicycles. Moto people have a way of finding each other.

That’s the story of how We Went Fast was established in 1983. What’s your established date?

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