Sunday rides with the Turple family were a little different than the ones most of us remember as kids.
Sure, the entire family would go out together. But they did it on one motorcycle.
With a sidecar, mind you. Dad Glenn Turple was at the controls, and son, Dale, sat behind him. Mother Joyce occupied the sidecar with young daughter, Brenda, on her lap. The other son, Gordon, sat in the sidecar’s back seat.
“If you wanted to get to know [dad],” Brenda says, “you had to go out for a ride with him.”
That’s because Glenn Turple devoted a lot of time to the road, biking thousands of kilometres through sun, rain and snow, around the region and, at times, around the continent. On the wall of his office at the Gasoline Alley motorcycle dealership that bears his name is a certificate, feting his record of riding more than one million miles.
“When we went on holidays, the family would go in the car,” Brenda says. “But dad and one of the kids would ride along on the motorcycle.”
At 87, Turple’s lifelong passion for motorcycle cruising is undiminished. Out front sits the Honda Gold Wing trike he has ridden every day this winter except for one – and that was the day he went to Calgary for the unveiling of a classic motorcycle show.
As he spreads out his lunch of hard-boiled eggs, celery and peanuts in the fluorescent-lit kitchen, Turple recounts his seven-plus decades of biking with stunning clarity. It started in the 1940s, ripping down rural back roads on old British machines through wicked winter snowdrifts before rolling those same broken bikes back to an old shed on the family farm to put them back together.
Those rough-and-tumble early days belie his family man motorcycling lifestyle. Turple is the Father Knows Best of the biker set. He never drank or smoked, and he avoided the black leather so closely associated with outlaw gangs.
There are hours of stories to hear, but there’s one question I’m anxious to ask: As one of the first Honda dealers in North America, what did he really think the first time he saw them?
It was the spring of 1959. He and his brother Rex were struggling to get their nascent dealership off the ground. His dealership and two others, were reviewing the new lineup of British-made Triumphs, BSAs and Nortons that Vancouver distributor Trevor Dealey had brought out to show them. But then, Dealey told the group, I want to show you something else.
They walked into a separate room and discovered the first tiny Honda 50s to reach North America.
“It was Japanese junk as far as we were concerned,” said Turple, who until this point had known the Asian country for its cheap post-war toys. “All I could think of was those little 25-cent tin cars they used to make.”
None of the three dealers wanted to take a chance on these unknown and underpowered novelties, so Dealey had to leave them on consignment with Greene’s, a competing dealership. Turple went on a trip for a few weeks and, by the time he returned, he discovered every Honda had been sold.
At the time, Alberta had a “moped law” that allowed 14-year-olds to ride tiny gasoline-powered bikes. Turple figures Hondas were a hit because they met the legal size, ran well and were cheap enough for farm kids. The two-stroke 50cc mopeds from the Czechoslovakian company Jawa were considered crude by comparison. Seeing his competitor’s success, Turple decided he wanted to catch the Japanese bike tide, too. He became, by his reckoning, the third dealer in North American to sell the now iconic brand.
“People who bought them liked them so well, we sold more and more.”
But it wasn’t for him. Like his peers, Turple wasn’t interested in riding a 50cc bike that was lucky to hit 80 km/h flat out. “We were selling Hondas but riding Triumphs and BSAs,” he says. Turple stayed with his big bikes until 1966, when Honda introduced its first 450cc twin: “I’ve been riding Hondas ever since.”
His love affair with bikes started in 1941 with a broken-down 1926 Harley Davidson he found in a neighbour’s backyard and bought for $25. “I never did fix it,” he admits, but his brother Rex – the mechanic of the pair – did. They shared the bike until an errant screw destroyed the timing gears – a short-lived experience but enough to give the brothers the bug. Together, they launched a motorcycle dealership selling mostly used bikes out of a shed in the rural community of Olds, Alta., about an hour north of Calgary.
British bikes ruled, and they were “reasonably reliable, as long as you didn’t go too fast.” Turple says his moderate riding pace allowed him to cruise many thousands of kilometres around North America – sometimes alone, sometimes with his wife Joyce on the back – without ever having a serious breakdown. He’s been across Canada and to every continental U.S. state, including Alaska, which he finally reached in 1996.
Today, the Red Deer dealership is in the hands of his children, Gordon Turple and Brenda Neufeld. Naturally, they both ride.
When asked about what motivates such passion, Glenn shrugs and says there is “something different” about people who love motorcycles as much as he does. His daughter has a more complete answer: “He loves to ride,” Brenda says. “It keeps him young. Four wheels and a windshield put him to sleep.”
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