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Wednesday, February 24, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Motorcycle Buff Larry Poitras Owned Poke's On On Capitol Hill

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Larry Poitras, whose blocky orange Poke's Cycle building on Capitol Hill was a mecca for motorcycle buffs, took a chunk of Northwest cycling history with him when he died Saturday (Feb. 20) of lung failure.

"It's a name that should go down in history, that's for sure," said his old friend Jeri Drager. "He's been around as long as I can remember."

At 77, Mr. Poitras was one of the last surviving founding members of Jolly Rogers, a dirt-scrambling group of bikers that in 1943 built the South End's first major motorcycle track. They bought the land for $1,500 and used two horses and a plow to create the tracks. They bulldozed a bike climb that exceeded a 45-degree angle.

The pompadoured Mr. Poitras was a local authority on Indian-brand motorcycles. He also was an early dealer of BMW, Yamaha and Norton bikes, and served as first president of the Motorcycle Dealers Association of Washington.

Although he purportedly had "hated" Harley-Davidsons for some 40 years, according to one son, he bought a new Harley four years ago, leathered up, and drove to Sturgis, S.D., for the international Harley gathering.

"He saw that a lot of other older guys were doing the same," said his son Ross Poitras, who lives near his late father's home in Brier.

Ross Poitras took over Poke's after his father retired in the 1980s, and sold it last year.

Born in Riverton Heights south of Seattle, Mr. Poitras grew up tinkering on motorcycles in his basement. He was a perfectionist who insisted that every tool was clean and in its right place.

Mr. Poitras opened Poke's Norton Service in Seattle in 1946. In 1947, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to work for dealer Hap Jones. He returned to Seattle in 1949 and opened Poke's Cycle on Madison Street.

He told people he earned the nickname "Poke" because he got thrown in the "pokey" so often for causing trouble when he was fresh out of Foster High School.

"I used to get kicked out of class drawing (motorcycle) designs when I should have been studying," he said in an interview last year. "But if I got thrown out of French class, what difference did that make? I was making more money than my dentist in the 1950s."

He moved Poke's to 12th Avenue in 1960.

Many classics were on the floor, including the old Indian cycle, whose beefy frame and chain-wrapped tires he once used in hill-climb competitions.

"He loved bikes," his son said. "But since about 1957 on he was very involved in boating, and we went boating almost every weekend. He talked a group of other motorcycle dealers into getting boats, too."

Also surviving are his son Mark Poitras of Granite Falls; a sister, Elizabeth Baxter of Sumner; and four grandchildren. His wife of 35 years, Pearl Poitras, died in 1986.

Services are at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 1155 Broadway E., Seattle.

Remembrances may go to Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, XF-01, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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