® A Day in the Life: Joe Minton

A lot of the younger riders don't remember Joe Minton, of course. It's too bad. I met Joe when he appeared in class the first day of the second semester at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College. There we were, Motorcycle Repair students just starting out. The Honda Gold Wing was just a picture in a magazine. Triumphs and Honda 750s and Kawasaki Z1s ruled the day. The first GSX-R lay more than a decade into the future. Joe was a revelation. He spent the whole first day talking about whatever we asked about, and much of that week, too, as I remember it. Engines, suspensions, electrical, he was a treasure trove of knowledge. We could hardly believe our good fortune. It was from Joe I first heard the word, "Kettering" (I recall clearly Joe musing on the fact that the person who interviewed him for the teaching job didn't know the word...). Also terms such as hysteresis, that is, the effect of a tire whose compound is designed to not bounce too much; damping; dwell; valve overlap, carburetion. I still have notes from that first week on metallurgy, machinist fits, brake pad compunds, lovely lovely stuff! Dizzily we drank it all in. Joe explained every bit of it in that wonderfully conversational way of his. And in a three-piece suit! Yep! Within the year he would be Cycle Magazine's darling, writing all those heady tech articles, and the inspiration for many written after he quit Cycle and then Motorcyclist, and finally Rider, before going American, and finally getting on with Mikuni's L.A. office. The famous cam timing articles, XS650 and CB750 and SR500 hop-ups, the Gentleman's Express, which everyone who uses the term today owes to him. He lost the suit quickly enough. He also became pretty well known as an expert trial witness. But when we knew him he rode a CB500 Four that was tricked out with a modified fork, requisite 4-1 exhaust, BMW R60 turnsignals, and that Brit-made cafe seat that was so popular back then, and K81 Dunlops. He actually showed me how to degree a cam on his bike! It's the truth! I am not sure we knew what was happening to us students. But it was wonderful! Joe also regalled us with canyon racing stories from time to time, telling us once to escape the Griffith Park Sheriffs he and another fella actually propped their bikes up on their back wheels to hide them in the men's restroom! He apparently was part of a group that would eventually be referred to as the Griffith Park Backside Sliders. We loved it! Many if not most of the guys in that class went on to start their own companies. Ten years later I ran into Joe at Ontario Motor Speedway, before it was closed of course. Bearded and awol over to the Harley side by then, he was still Joe. Quiet, friendly. Competent. He didn't remember me, of course -- there were probably 20 guys in that semester's class. But I'll never forget it. Or him.

Email me
© 1996-2018 Mike Nixon