My interest in motorcycles started when I was 3 or 4. it was before my brother was born in 1960. My mom and her friends would rent scooters with drivers and ride around Namsan. Once she let me go for a ride around the block and I was hooked. She did this as a fad and after several rides she never did it again
In 1966 we transferred to Fort Carson. I was ten and begged mom to buy me a Sears Minibike after seeing one on display at Sears in Colorado Springs. She convince dad and for Christmas I received a Sears lawn mower engined powered bike, called a minibike.
We could only ride on the playground at Elementary School. My dad prepared the minibike and stuffed it into the truck and drove us there and my brother and I took turns learning how to ride it.
In 1969, dad retired from the service and we moved back to Seoul where we rented a home near a bus station just outside of Camp Coiner. I was now in 7th grade and rode the minibike all over Namsan, down the other side and explored all the areas I could reach without running out of gas.
I often rode it on Yongsan base. I rode it to the pool, library, and at night took my girlfriend out on dates.
One evening, on the way to drop my girlfriend off, I ran a stop sign where the road from Embassy Compound crosses 8th Army drive, adjacent to the golf course. An MP jeep was parked in the dark near the golf course and came after me, I panicked and drove off down the street and onto Collier Field thinking he would stop his chase and let us go but nope. He jumped the curb, flew about 5 feet into the air and came after me across the field which at the time had an Antenna with a fence around it. I came to a stop just before the fence. The MP packed my bike onto the Jeep and my girlfriend home and me to the Provost Marshall Office.
She got grounded for a month. At the Provost Marshall ’s office they checked my ID and find out they know my dad, the Sgt. gets on the phone and calls my dad to come and pick me up. I received a stiff warning to obey all traffic laws.
My parents later bought me a used Honda CT70 which was more road worthy. I road that CT70 all of over and foothills around Seoul. I even rode the 70cc motorcycle to Chong Peong with mom on the back.
In 1971, dad had a friend who got transferred and had a used 1969 Yamaha DT1 for sale. Dad bought it for me. He got it registered in Osan since the Air Force at that time was more motorcycle friendly. The PX in Osan had Yamaha motorcycle for sale and had a DT250 on display. You could actually order one through the PX.
So I was a freshman and rode my Yamaha to school right through the winter. I didn’t know anyone else who had a motorcycle at that time so I rode mostly by myself. One summer while exploring out in the RGH area, I spotted trails that ran way up into rice paddies and into the foothills, so I started to explore that area by myself on weekends. After several weekends riding by myself, I came around a corner on a trail that ran through a small village and saw another dirt biker come my way. We circled each other like two aliens meeting on another planet since we were dressed up in our gear amazed that there was another dirt biker in Seoul. It was Larry Holt.
Four Dirt Biking Buddies
We stopped took off our helmets and shook hands. We became great friends and rode every weekend. Often he invited, Kim, a friend of his who also rode. Not many people could ride with us since Larry rode a hand built CCM500, and my Yamaha was the state of art for off road motorcycles at that time. Kim was a good rider and owned a Yamaha. The three of us were a great match. We met at Larry’s RGH home and rode just about every weekend right through the winter.
As we got better Kim suggested we try racing other Korean riders who had a flat tract race series held all around Korea. To race the circuit we had to form a club and race against other teams. We named our club, Han Mi Club, named after me since I was Korean American. The first race was at Suwon.
Meanwhile at school I ran into Dana Miller. I sometimes wore my dirt biking shirt and Dana didn’t take anytime introducing himself and we became close friends. His dad just transferred from Idaho, and his new Honda CR125 was packed and on its way to Yongsan.
We moved to Riverside Apts. I was always curious to see if we could get away with riding our bikes down the steep embankment across the street from Riverside Apartments. Once Dana got his bike we took off riding almost every day after school at RGH, which was a long ride. So one weekend I talked Dana to ride over and explore going down the embankment and ride in the sand on the Han River bank. We rode our dirt bikes all over town and was never stopped or ticketed. I guess it was so new and extraordinary, Cops and people just stood and watched in amazement. We were really popular.
Once we got down to the riverbed, it was a dirt biker paradise, there was clean white sand, perfect for a motocross track. So Dana and I made our track and raced each other. Soon other kids got motorcycles and they joined up at the riverbed to ride in the mud in the winter and sand in the summer. We did this almost every day after school and got really good at off road dirt bike riding.
I invited Dana to join our club and our first race was at the Suwon Stadium. The picture below is during one of our practice runs, everyone was too excited during the race to take pictures, and Dana and I were racing so this is the only picture of our flat track race days.
Larry, Kim and I raced at Pohang, and Cheju Do. Stories that will follow.
By Rocco Serrato, Seoul American High School student from 1969 to 1975