Rebuilding a family heirloom from the ground up
Story by Greg Williams
Photos by: Aaron Pierson
Those who call the prairies flat haven’t spent much time near Lethbridge. The hills surrounding this southern Alberta city are plentiful, and they’re steep. If you’re a motorcyclist, some of those inclines present a unique challenge: getting to the top, starting from the bottom. It takes a certain amount of skill and a well-prepared machine to make the crest. Arthur and Brian Pierson, father and son, had successfully figured out how to tackle these hills. In fact, throughout the 1970s, Brian was a champion hill climber and motocrosser, taking home hundreds of trophies.
Riding skills aside, another reason Brian was so competitive was thanks to his choice of machinery – every bike he rode was a Kawasaki. That’s because, in 1969, Arthur (probably better known by his nickname, Smokey) opened Lethbridge Kawasaki in an old Husky gas station on the north side of town.
“My grandfather worked in the Lethbridge coal mines, and was a motorcycle enthusiast,” grandson Aaron Pierson explains. “He rode an old Harley-Davidson, but in the late 1960s, he got out of the mines and bought the service station to do his own thing. He took on Kawasaki because there was already a Honda shop and a Yamaha dealer in Lethbridge.”
Aaron’s dad, Brian, was a bit of a hooligan in his younger days, riding on the street and occasionally getting into a bit of trouble. But he was a force to be reckoned with in dirt-related competition – as was the entire Pierson family, with all members getting involved in hill climbs, dirt track, hare scrambles and motocross events.
Much of that competitive spirit spilled over as the Pierson family helped others prepare machines for racing. One of those bikes was a 1975 Kawasaki S1C two-stroke 250 cc triple-cylinder hill climber set up for racer Darren Toth.
“It probably started life as a street bike, ridden for a season and then traded back in,” Aaron says. “My grandfather and father would have then built it up as a hill climber. To climb a hill, you have to ride wide open from start to finish, and I think this S1C would bog down at the start. There’s not much bottom end, but plenty of mid-range and top end.”
After a season or two, in 1977 or ’78, the S1C was taken apart and the pieces scattered. The engine, however, was stashed away in a storage trailer behind Lethbridge Kawasaki, all but forgotten until 1996, when a 14-year-old Aaron found it.
“I was digging through that trailer when I came across the S1C engine,” Aaron says. “I grabbed it and stuck it away.”
Aaron hauled the triple-cylinder engine around with him over the years until 2008. That’s when he decided it was time to build a machine around the engine and envisioned putting together a supermotard-style street bike. Having grown up working at Lethbridge Kawasaki, Aaron is a self-taught mechanic with some serious wrenching skills. However, his family had to sell the dealership when Brian was diagnosed in 1998 with ALS, finally handing over ownership in 2000. Aaron was too young to take over the reins, and he moved on to work at other local motorcycle shops before getting a job with Pratt and Whitney dyno-testing aircraft engines.
“That spelled the end of the family shop,” Aaron says. “My father was a passionate motorcycle enthusiast, and loved to ride and race. When you get the owner of the shop out and racing, it’s easy to sell product, and for 30 years around here it was just green bikes everywhere.”
Planning on getting another old Kawasaki back on the street, Aaron began his build buying a frame, forks and wheels from a friend’s dad. The chassis was a 1975 S1 roller, with an active VIN – and that would make the…