A Biker’s Movie Review of “The World’s Fastest Indian”
Bonneville Speed Week 2007
North Texas Norton Rally 2004
Mid-Ohio Vintage Motorcycle Days 2004
North Texas Norton Rally 2003
British Motorcycle Owners Rally – New Ulm, Texas 2002
Classic Bikes at Daytona
North Texas Norton Rally 2002
The Art of the Motorcycle
March 16th Ride to the Races
Daytona Bike Week 1999
Festival of 1000 Bikes – Brands Hatch 1998
Enfield Pageant of Motoring
Classic Racing at Mallory Park 1988
My Ride in a Race Car
Click the photos to enlarge
By Bill Bath
To say I’m a “classic biker” is a major understatement. I starting riding in 1961 at age 15 and at the same time began my life-long education in motorcycle mechanics. I learned the hard way, by taking engines apart and making mistakes putting them back together. I learned about timing the cam shaft to the crank shaft by putting my Cushman motor scooter engine back together and finding out that it only turned a few degrees before locking up tight. I learned by doing it wrong that the capacitor has to be wired to the coil side of the breaker points and not to the grounded side of the points. Without the capacitor to absorb the arc when the points open, the points will burn and the engine will stop within only a very few miles. Over the years, I learned to repair, rework or replace just about every part on a motorcycle. I never had to take one to a bike shop because I learned to fix it myself.
When the 2001 Triumph Bonneville that I bought a few years ago became increasingly hard to start when cold, I didn’t think twice about working on it. The symptoms were simple. The engine would fire, run for a second or two, then die. After a few of these start and die cycles, the engine would keep running but would die if the throttle was opened even a little bit. After the engine warmed up, it would run fine until the next time I tried to started it up cold. When this condition became bad enough that I couldn’t ride it one day, I started taking action. I pulled off one of the rubber caps on the intake manifold and squirted a little gasoline into the port. After replacing the cap, the engine fired but died as soon as the squirt of gas was used up. Obviously, I thought, the ethanol in the gas has plugged up the idle jets and the engine can’t get enough fuel to start. Time to take the carburetors apart.
Taking the carburetors apart on one of these bikes starts with taking them off the engine. This is the hardest part because the carbs are fitting between a thick rubber tube on the engine side and an elaborately shaped rubber air horn on the filter side. Getting the rubber air horn out is one of the most difficult jobs I have ever done on a motorcycle. There is less than an inch of space between the end of the carb and the face of the filter housing. The so-called “factory manual” that I got with the bike was absolutely no help at all. It didn’t give even the slightest clue of how to remove the air horns. Of course, that only slowed me down for about a minute. I attacked the air horns with a very dull, flat blade screwdriver and in only about 30 minutes I had the first one off. What a hassle! There must be a better way to do this but I haven’t found it yet.
After disconnecting the throttle position sensor cable connector and the four little carb heater wires, and finally freeing the throttle cables from their rather ingenuous mounts, I had the carbs off the bike and on the bench. Time to get serious. The constant velocity Keihin carburetors are simple to take apart and easy to clean except for one trick feature that stopped me short more than once. The needle jets are only about half an inch long and a little more than an eighth of an inch in diameter. They are not actually fastened into the carburetor at all. They fit into a tight little hole in the carb body and are held in place by the main jet holder that is actually screwed into the bottom of the carb. The problem is that if the jet holder is removed, the jets don’t fall our right away. They stay stuck in that tight little hole until no one is looking. Then they fall out and roll around on the shop floor until you can’t possibly find them. This happened to me twice. The second time, I ran the bike without the needle jets until the plugs fouled so bad I barely made it home.
So I replaced the spark plugs and started taking the carbs apart again. Amazingly enough, I was standing over the half-disassembled carbs, wondering what to do next, when I happened to see a little brass tube laying on the floor next to my left foot. I stared at it for about a minute before it came to me that I had seen that part before. It was one of the missing needle jets! I was happy that I had solved the mystery of the fouled plugs. After rooting around in my spare parts box, I found a spare jet for the other carb and started reassembling the carbs. That’s when I made my next mistake. I decided to adjust the float levels.
I had done this before on other carburetors so I didn’t think there would be any problem. After all, I had the factory manual to show the correct adjustment. Of course, this was more easily said than done. Unlike other carbs I had worked on, the Keihin float needle has a tiny little spring-loaded pin in the flat end of the needle that provides some kind of pre-load effect to the float lever. The manual said to adjust the float with the lever touching, but not depressing, this little pin. I found this to be almost impossible to do accurately because the pin is so small and the actual contact point is extremely hard to see. However, I didn’t let this stop me. I adjusted the floats as best I could then put them back on the bike. Because the air horns are so hard to install, I left them off for a quick test run around the block. That was my fatal error. On the test run, I found that the engine would not run with more than a quarter throttle. The sound the engine made was just like the time I tried to put a big, two-barrel carburetor from a V8 Ford on my Mom’s little Falcon six.
Obviously, I thought, I must have adjusted the float level so low that the fuel level is below the main jets. So I took the carbs apart again and tried a few more times to adjust the floats. I made some minor improvement but the engine still wouldn’t run past a quarter throttle. After finding a web site that explained how to make a crude monometer to check the actual level of the fuel in the bowl, I thought I had the floats about right. I made another run only to have the same result. At my wits end now, I figured that the only thing I had not tried was re-installing those rubber air horns. Using my trusty flat blade screw driver, I put those horns back on and the engine ran perfectly! I learned the hard way that this engine will not run without those annoying air horns. Fifty years on the job and I’m still learning motorcycle mechanics.
And the hard starting problem that started this long adventure went away when I replaced the cheap little British air hose clamps on the engine side of the carbs with some real American radiator hose clamps. The problem had always been a vacuum leak at the intake manifold. I guess I should have checked that first.
Main Street Flat Tracker
By Bill Bath
Mickey’s Triton was idling in that steady, classic Triumph manner as he waited for the light to change and stop the Main Street traffic. He blipped the engine every so often to keep the plugs from fouling but otherwise he was in no hurry. He was on his way back to the shop after a fast run out by the lake. He had needed to see if his new gear ratio was better or worse than what he had been running. That morning he had replaced his rear sprocket with one that was two teeth smaller and he was happy to find that his highly modified engine could still pull strongly right up to redline. The higher top speed was nice and his 5-speed, close-ratio gearbox still gave plenty of acceleration for the next time he wanted to pass some of those V-Twin cruisers that seemed to be everywhere these days.
Main Street was four lanes wide in this part of MotorcycleCity. Mickey was stopped at the light, near the curb, on the two lane road from the lake, when he caught a glimpse of a red motorcycle in his bar-end mirror. A second later a young guy on Triumph Tiger Cub pulled up next to Mickey’s Triton. Mickey knew the rider was the son of one of the guys who regularly stopped by the Ace to drink a beer and talk about his 3 BSAs. The young rider’s name was Bobby but everyone called him The Kid. “Hey Mickey,” The Kid said. “You been out riding with the guys today?” “Nope,” replied Mickey. “Just out for a little test ride.”
Mickey knew The Kid’s bike well. The Kid’s Dad had built it up special for flat-track racing when he and Mickey were still in their teens. The little 200cc single-cylinder engine had been tuned up for racing but it was slightly underpowered against the larger machines in the 250-class. The Kid’s Dad had been marginally successful on it in his day and now it was time for The Kid to give it a try. The little Triumph was really stripped down for racing. It had knobby tires, a solo seat, and no lights. It had a license plate but it sure wasn’t street legal. You would get pulled over in most towns for riding a bike like this but not in MotorcycleCity.
“You headed out to the dirt track?” asked Mickey. “Oh yea,” says The Kid. “Have to practice everyday or I’ll lose my touch. I’ve been working on my power slide; trying to keep the bike from sliding too wide midway through the turn.” Mickey knew The Kid had a lot of potential and plenty of courage but his skill level was low and he needed a lot more practice. The one thing The Kid did have going for him was he was absolutely fearless and a born showoff. Of course, Mickey knew, those two things will get you killed if you don’t learn self-control first.
Mickey knew the light was getting ready to change when he saw the yellow come on for the Main Street traffic. He was just about to shift the Triton into gear when The Kid says, “Let me go first and I’ll show you a trick.” Mickey nodded and The Kid rolled his bike forward and turned the Cub nearly crosswise in front of Mickey. Then he cocked his front wheel to the full left stop and leaned the bike back toward Mickey until the Cub’s tank was nearly level with his bent, right knee. The light turned green and instantly The Kid twisted up the throttle and dropped the clutch. The Tiger Cub’s back wheel started spinning as the knobby tires completely lost traction on the asphalt street. Just when Mickey thought the bike was totally out of control The Kid started hopping his right foot to push the bike toward the power slide so that the bike was sliding completely sideways out into the middle of Main Street. The unbelievable scene seemed to Mickey to be playing in slow motion right before his eyes. The Cub’s front wheel was more or less rolling toward the center of the Main Street while The Kid was pushing the rest of the bike sideways to keep up with it. Three or four more right foot hops and The Kid was getting close to the middle of the street and the cars waiting at the stoplight. By this time the Tiger Cub was starting to gain a little forward momentum as The Kid was lifting the bike up and pulling the handlebars around so the front wheel was pointing more toward the other end of Main Street and less toward the sky. He was more than half way across the center lane when he lifted his right boot off the road and put it on the foot peg. The Kid was still crossed up as he settled into the saddle and crouched behind the bars. In one more bike length he was lined up straight and catching second gear. He didn’t bother to look back.
It took a couple more seconds before Mickey was able to retract his chin from where it had dropped open and remember that he needed to let out the clutch and get rolling before the light changed. As he rode away he knew two things. One, he had witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime stunt and two, he would not be able to keep from telling this story down at the Ace even if it meant that Dad would ground The Kid for weeks because of it.
The Wall Rider - A Bike Story By Bill Bath
Mickey the biker loved living in Motorcycle City. The mayor didn’t call it Motorcycle City, but that’s how Mickey and his friends thought of it. They called it Motorcycle City because it had so many great roads and high-speed curves. Mickey’s favorite was The Wall of Death off-ramp where the Interstate went past downtown. This particular ramp was a 180-degree switchback turn with a 25-mph speed limit and a solid concrete wall on the inside and outside radius. The base of the concrete wall was angled out a little bit, which if the wall were straight instead of curved, would tend to push a car tire back toward the center of the road. So this little inclined ramp, plus the inevitable dirt that built up at the base, was just what a good rider needed.
Mickey didn’t exactly plan his first encounter with The Wall, but he lived to tell the tale, which is all that really matters. Mickey was racing down the Interstate that day on his way to Motorcycle City’s version of the Ace Café when he peeled off on The Wall of Death off-ramp. He was hard on the brakes, trying to burn off enough speed to make the turn, but he knew he was still going too fast. He entered the ramp as close to the inside wall as he dared, but not so close that the shoulder of his black leather jacket would brush it. He knew he was going too fast, but what could he do? He was in-between the curved walls and committed to the turn. Heeled over as far as he dared, his turn radius was still a little wider than the radius of the ramp, and he saw he was heading toward that outside wall. With the brakes heating up and the bike rapidly running out of road, Mickey’s front wheel hit the little fill of dirt and ran up part way onto the wall. The bike’s forward momentum and the horizontal force against the wall were just enough to allow Mickey to lean in a little farther and point the bike back toward the road. The front wheel slid off the wall; the back wheel rode the dirt for a split second, and Mickey was through the turn and back on the surface street.
Three blocks down, two left turns and a right, and Mickey slid into the parking lot of the Backstreet Ice House (aka The Ace Café). Mickey was a classic biker and his Triton drew the usual admiring glances from other bikers sitting by the big open doors. Mickey took off his helmet and gloves and laid them on the seat of the Triton. The gleaming 750cc Triumph engine was just starting to make those sharp little cooling-down, popping noises as Mickey walked into the building and pulled up a chair at a table half surrounded by his biker friends. “Hey Mick, you still keepin’ that old bike on the road?” said one of the guys at the table. “That bike and me will run forever,” Mickey replied. Some of the older riders sitting around the table nodded in agreement. The modern Thruxton rider at the table just shook his head. “How can you expect to stay up with traffic on a 30-year-old motorcycle?” he asked. “My Triton handles better than any modern bike and the soft compound racing tires I’m runnin’ provide all the grip I need to stay out in front of bikes like yours,” said Mickey. The Thruxton rider knew the Triton was fast and Mickey was a true go-faster, but he just couldn’t believe the classic café racer could outrun his bright-yellow 900cc Thruxton.
About a week later, Mickey and the Thruxton rider had a chance to see who had the better bike and which one was the better rider. Mickey and his pals, including the Thruxton rider, were on their way back to the Ace Café after a long Sunday morning ride through the hills and back roads on the north side of Motorcycle City. They had been riding since early morning, and now it was time to head back to the Ace for burgers and beer. Just about every rider in the group had taken a turn at being the leader. This usually happened when one rider pulled out in front and led the group down a road to a particularly good turn that the rider knew well. Every rider had some favorite curve that fit his riding style and his bike so well that he could sail through the turn faster than anybody else. Some riders are drawn to these favorite curves for the adrenaline rush and the satisfaction of sticking to the perfect line through the turn. Some do it for the sheer joy of feeling the bike leaning over to a near-impossible angle and then pulling it back up as they power out of the turn. In any case, when a rider found a curve like this, he practiced his line and his technique over and over until he could take that turn at maximum speed, maximum lean, and maximum exit speed. Other riders were wise to this fact, and they followed the lead rider with caution. Better to enter the turn a little slower and follow the right line than to go in too fast only to have to brake too hard, go off line, and scare themselves silly trying to stay on the road.
The Thruxton rider had a favorite turn, too. It was The Wall of Death, and the group was quickly closing on the entrance. Mickey had been dueling with the Thruxton all day, and now the Thruxton rider was in the lead and lining up on the entrance to The Wall. Mickey saw his chance to put an end to the Classic vs. Modern bike debate and show his friends that those old British engineers knew what they were doing when they designed the Norton featherbed frame.
The Thruxton rider moved to the right side of the exit lane preparing to lean his bike hard to the left as he entered the turn. His technique was to brake hard just before leaning in, ride a line that just clipped the inside apex of the turn, and then smoothly apply power on exiting the turn. Mickey was right behind him, and he knew this technique well. He had seen the Thruxton rider do it a dozen times before. Now was his chance. Mickey resisted the urge to clamp down on the brakes. Instead of diving toward the apex, Mickey stayed on the outside and lined up on the outside wall. He knew he had only one chance to make this turn, and he knew the only way to do it was to keep the throttle on and the engine wound up tight. Mickey guided the Triton almost parallel with the beginning of the outside wall. At the last second, he heeled the bike over and let the front wheel ride up the dirt and onto the wall. Instead of turning down toward the road, Mickey chose a line right down the center of the wall. He let the bike lean over until he was horizontal, and the bike was parallel to the roadway. He rode The Wall of Death, and he passed the Thruxton in the middle of the turn.
Now it was time to brake. He knew he had to be slow enough to get at least half way back to vertical before he ran out of wall, but he had to balance that need against the centrifugal force that was holding him to the wall. Backing off the throttle and quickly clamping down on the brakes, he let the bike rise up from horizontal as he aimed for the dirt curving at the bottom of the wall. He was still leaning at about 45 degrees when the bike came off the end of the wall. For a split second, he felt that stomach-pit sensation of falling before his race tires bit into the road. He fed in more throttle as he pulled the bike up to vertical and looked back over his shoulder to see where the Thruxton was. Luckily, the Thruxton rider had the good manners to slow down as the Triton came down in front of him. Maybe it wasn’t good manners. Maybe it was the astonishment of Mickey’s ride on The Wall of Death, but in any case, they all lived to tell the tale. And tell it they did. For years afterwards, when anyone mentioned The Wall of Death, everyone would have to tell what they saw that day. As for Mickey, he never rode The Wall again. For some things, once is enough.
A Biker’s Review of “The Worlds Fastest Indian”
“The World’s Fastest Indian” may be short on motorcycle riding and Bonneville racing scenes, but one thing it has plenty of is the “biker spirit”. The desire to improve your bike and get the best out of it is in all of us. To be honest, we have all, at one time or another, wanted to ride it flat out, wide open, laid down, hiding behind the gas cap just to see how fast it would really go. Well, Burt Munro had that dream, that spirit of motorcycling, and he never gave it up. This movie lets you get to know and understand this man. Even more, understand why he spent his entire adult life developing and improving a motorcycle that even in 1962 was an antique.
After watching this movie (twice… so far) I can understand how he was willing and able to work on his bike 16 hours a day for ten years. I loved getting to watch him make a piston in his little shed. I loved the way he figured a way to get his trailer back on the road after breaking down in the middle of nowhere. It was great to hear him tell the tech inspectors how he made his own racing tires. And most of all, I loved riding along in that streamliner on his record run across the salt. I bet every biker felt himself looking through that tiny little windscreen, following that black line, listening to the engine scream, with the speed climbing and climbing and climbing.
Another biker trait that really showed through in this movie is the camaraderie of bikers. Who among us would not have helped push that streamliner to get it started, or wish Burt good luck like the Artic Angels, or help him out with a little something in the hat? Many people who don’t care about motorcycles will write Burt Munro off as a harmless eccentric, a real gentlemen that was way too dedicated to a crazy dream, but bikers understand. We see a little bit of ourselves in Burt Munro and that is the true magic of this movie and why it will forever be the greatest movie about the spirit of motorcycling ever made.
Bonneville is the hottest and most surreal event I have ever attended. When you drive off the end of the paved road and onto the salt it’s like leaving the world behind. Driving out to the pit area is like sailing a boat across a very calm lake. You have to follow some yellow cones (channel markers?) to give you some idea of the correct direction. The salt is so flat that I swear you can see the curvature of the earth when you look at the horizon. You spend a lot of time looking at the horizon because the spectators are kept well back from the two courses. Even with field glasses, a racing motorcycle on the short course (farthest from the spectator area) is just a dot on the horizon as it speeds across the salt. The horizon takes on a new meaning at Bonneville. If you are near the pits, you can’t see the starting line because it is over the horizon. When you stand at the starting line a fast car or bike is over the horizon and out of sight in less than 10 seconds.
I spent the better part of two days hanging out on the salt and I am happy to report that there are still some guys racing old British bikes. I met Max and Craig, a father and son team from Indiana, racing a 250 BSA (B4885) that they bought on eBay just to race at Bonneville. They didn’t set a record but they did have a personal best of just over 79 mph. One of my favorite bikes was an old BSA 500 single (B599) with a big turbo sticking out from under the tank. I’m not sure what year it was but it had girder forks and the guy said it had “all the extras.” That bike did set a class record at 66.593 mph. Another bike I really liked but failed to get the number of was a Triumph twin with a beautiful set of external head bolts. The rider said it had about 12:1 compression but when he shot the nitrous to it, the pressure really went up a lot! The little 500cc Weslake engine bike (B1276) set a record at 99.328 mph, as did the beautiful Elgin-Moody Tiger Cub (B948) at 78.668 mph.
From a technical standpoint, the most interesting bike was a motorcycle streamliner (B5050). It had a 250 cc water cooled engine and the rider (driver?) had to lay face down and head first in a little body that was about 2 feet tall. What a thrilling ride that must have been with the riders head literally only inches above the salt. That little streamliner topped 170 mph but it failed to beat the record set by Don Vesco in 1972. In the accompanying photo the back of the rider’s silver helmet is just visible at the front of the cockpit opening.
Another amazing bike was an Indian Chief (B746) running in the 1000 cc class. This bike had a really minimal handlebar fairing made out of hammered aluminum. The top half of the front wheel was shrouded in sheet metal. The flathead engine looked stock, but it must have run really well because that bike set a class record at 139.694 mph! By the way, if you look at the list of records at www.scta-bni.org and scroll down in the motorcycle records to 1000cc Class S-F you will see that Burt Munro’s, aka Bert Munroe, record from 1967 still stands.
Everyone who goes to Bonneville has to have a lot of patience and endurance. It’s about 90 degrees at 8 o’clock in the morning and 107 in the afternoon. The racers have to get in line and wait a long time for their turn to run. By 9 AM, the line was half a mile long and the wait was 4 or 5 hours. I was impressed by the officials at the starting line. They wear all white pants, long sleeve shirts and hats. They stand at the starting line all day listening to the 2-way radio to be sure the course is clear before they let anyone start. As each rider or driver gets up to the starting line the official gets right up in their face, looks them carefully in the eye, and asks them how they are feeling, do they need any water, are they running the short course or the long course. This little talk is really important because after waiting for 5 hours in the hot sun it’s easy to get dehydrated and disoriented. This is especially important to the bikers because as the guy on the blown Triumph told us, riding the salt this year is like racing on snow. Another guy told us that his family never understood why he kept coming back to Bonneville. Then they watched “The World’s Fastest Indian” and now they understand. And now that I have been there, I understand it too.
250 cc BSA
Turbocharged 500 cc BSA
500 cc Weslake Engine
Triumph Tiger Cub
Rider reving the engine
Rider strapped in cockpit
BarberMotorsportsMuseum and AHRMA Races 2006
George Barber assembled the finest motorcycle collection in the world and then he built the world’s best building to house the more than 500 bikes on display. His five story museum has plenty of space to walk almost all the way around most of the bikes on display. It has floor to ceiling windows on one side that look out on a great downhill, right-hand turn on the track. In addition to the wide range of British, European, and American motorcycles on single stands, there are lots of bikes mounted very ingeniously around some of the columns. There is an amazing 5-story stack of bikes on each of the four corners of the giant elevator in the center of the building. There are a few race cars and a nice display of memorabilia as well. In my opinion, this is a better museum than the NationalMotorcycleMuseum in Birmingham, England. I have not been to the British museum since the big fire a few years ago but when I was there, most of the bikes were parked so close together that you couldn’t see much of them. Barber is so much better in this regard, because not only is there plenty of room to move around the bikes, they are also elevated on bases that you can admire the engine details without bending down.
The Barber race track provides really excellent spectator viewing of the historic motorcycle races. The track is set in a small valley so there are many grass-covered hillside sites for the fans. Most of these sites provide views of several corners. One of the best is directly across from the paddock where there is a good view of a sharp one-eighty horseshoe turn. Then, after a short break, the riders come out of a fast right-hander to pass at full song down the back straight. The sound produced by those big bore twins and 500cc singles is one of the best parts of an AHRMA event. The only disadvantage of this track is that it is designed for Formula I cars so the fences are set up a little too far back from the track. The crowd seemed very light; perhaps because the track was so big or because this was only the second year for AHRMA races at Barber.
The swap meet and motorcycle displays around the track were big drawing cards for the fans. The swap meet was located in a partially muddy field but there were enough dry patches that everyone could get around pretty easily. There were a lot of HD and Harley vendors with a few British and European dealers as well. The Antique Motorcycle Club of America fielded a big group of bikes. The highlights for me were the triple-engine Commando drag racer, the Triumph sloper, and the “secret” prototype Indian Four with an OHV engine and shaft drive. My favorite motorcycle (outside of the museum) was a 1912 Abingdon King Dick. I had never heard of this brand, but the company is still in business in England making hand tools.
In some respects, this is a better event than Mid Ohio. It doesn’t have as big a swap meet, a stunt show, or a Wall of Death but it does have the best motorcycle museum in the world. The museum is open year round so if you’re ever in the Birmingham, Alabama area be sure to drop by… but be ready to stay at least half a day.
1912 Abingdon King Dick
Triple-Engine Norton Drag Racer
A Tree of Motorcycles
Vetter Hurricane and View of the Track
Across from the Paddock
Prototype Indian 4
Dirt Track Race Day in Baytown
By Bill Bath
I was especially happy to get a chance to spend the day at HoustonRacewayPark because I really like dirt track motorcycle racing, but seldom get the opportunity to see it. The 3/8thmile dirt track was well maintained and the aluminum bleachers were clean and comfortable. Perhaps the best part of the day was the chance to watch amateur club racing in the morning and then expert class professionals in the evening. Each event had its charm and I would be hard pressed to say which one I liked better.
The amateur races were put on by the Vintage Dirt Track Racing Association and they put on a well managed event. Most of the race bikes were Japanese but I am happy to report that there were a few old British bikes mixed in. I spotted a couple of Triumph twins, two unit construction BSA twins and at least three 500cc BSA Victors. The riders were more varied than the motorcycles with young guys competing against gray-haired veterans. Some of the riders were obviously new to the sport, while others were obviously more experienced. VDTRA club member Butch Brandon raced professionally from the time he was 16 until he retired from racing in 1986. Some of the races had the full compliment of 12 riders while others had as few as three. The action was nearly non stop and I had to drag myself away from some of the races to have time to tour the pits.
The day was not without a touch of drama and surprisingly enough it was in a three bike race. Standing on the top row of the pit area bleachers I watched the three bikes line up and get flagged away. One bike lagged behind at the start and then dropped out on the back straight. I was just about to drop out myself when I noticed that the two remaining riders were staying right together. It was an amazing race. The lead seemed to change three times every lap. These guys were good, they knew how to ride, and they were not afraid of wheel to wheel competition. But of course, when you think you’re too good to fall down that’s when it happens. On maybe the 4th or 5th lap, the riders were backing down hard going into turn 3. The rear wheel of the lead bike swung out just a little too far, slowing the bike just enough so that the following rider hit that wheel from the side and both riders high-sided and slid to a dead stop up near the wall. For maybe 30 seconds there was absolutely no movement from either rider. The guy on the PA system said, “We got problems” very slowly twice before the first guy from the pits made it out to one of the bikes. The ambulance started up and turned on to the track. Everyone was holding his breath when the pit guy lifted the bike off the first rider who then stood up and started limping around. The second guy didn’t seem to be so doing so well. The EMT’s put him on a back board and then in the ambulance. But, that guy was lucky and by the time the ambulance drove into the pit gate, he was able to get out of the ambulance with nothing more than a swollen ankle. They said he had just had the wind knocked out of him when his motorcycle fell on top of him. This just proved the old saying, “A good rider may be down but he’s never out.”
The professional races, billed as the “Lone Star State Hot Shoe National”, are another level of racing altogether. All the riders are expert and sport class veterans of the Grand National Championship racing circuit. One of the riders, Chris Carr, is a 6-time Grand National champion and although his bike carried the number one plate, I don’t think he finished higher that 6th in a field of 12 riders. Most of the bikes were professionally prepared XR750 Harley Davidsons. These bikes weigh about 300 pounds and make something over 100 horsepower. The engines look like a ¾-scale Vincent with two forward facing exhaust pipes and two rearward facing carburetors. The bikes themselves are skinny but the tires are fat. The front tires are wider than the rear tire on most old Brits. When these bikes came out on the track, the announcer called it the “Rolling Thunder Show,” and with good reason, too. When the pack of 12 motorcycles comes blasting out of turn 4 for the short drive up the front straight you can be sure that the chest cavity of every person in the stands is vibrating right in sync with those engines.
I had forgotten just how wonderful it is to watch an expert rider on a fast oval track. By the time the lead rider is about halfway around the 4th turn, he is already lined up for the straightaway. He’s had about 150 degrees of turn to adjust his speed and his line. His feet are up on the pegs, his back wheel is hanging out, his front wheel is turned out and his bike is leaned in at just the right angle to balance the centrifugal force of the turn with the sliding friction on the sides of the tires. At some point before the curve really ends and the straight really begins he twists the throttle to wide open, holds the wheels straight for a few seconds and starts lining up for the next turn. And oh yes, the following riders are doing the same thing but they’re also trying to find that extra bit of traction that will let them dive in under the bike ahead and take the lead. And in classic racing style, it happened just that way on Saturday night when J.R. Schnabel took the lead on the last lap of the final race. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.
BSA Flat Track Racer
Ready at the Pit Gate
VDTRA Racing Action
Flathead Harley K-Model
Triumph Twin Flat Tracker
XR750 Harley Davidson
Ride a Mile in My Shoe
North Texas Norton Rally 2004
Camping out by the lake with motorcycles! That’s the charm of Lake O’ the Pines. Classic bikers have been doing it every October for 20 years. While it’s true that the North Texas Norton Owners Association doesn’t put on any field events like we have at the BMOA rally, they do have a wonderful campsite and some truly excellent twisty roads. In addition, the motorcycles on display in the bike show and riding around the campground are second to none. Here are few of my favorites:
1938 BSA M20: With a top speed of over 108 mph recorded at Bonneville this has to be the fastest M20 in the world. If you consider that in stock condition, this bike had a top speed of no more than 55 mph, then this is the equivalent of making an unfaired Triumph 650 top 200 mph. Although the flat head, side-valve engine was extensively modified and enhanced with nitrous oxide this bike still retained both factory kick-stand and a typically-British prop stand that hinged under the seat and clipped to the rear fender stay when not in use. One really trick feature was the revised intake port that was drilled at a steep angle up into the block so that the carburetor bore pointed directly at the underside of the intake valve.
Hogslayer: Twin 880cc Norton Commando engines, Hilborn injectors from an Offenhauser racecar, running on 100% nitro methane meant only one thing. Harleys were going down in 1974. It must have been pretty bad because the engineers at the Harley factory put up a sign in the design office saying “Get Hogslayer!” The builder, T.C. Christenson finally stopped development of this bike in 1977 when Norton stopped producing motorcycles. From now on, it will be on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in England.
Texas Ceegar: Reaching a speed of over 214 mph in 1956, this bike is the granddaddy of all streamliners. Powered by a single, 650cc, iron head T110 engine, this bike was built by Jack Wilson, Stormy Mangham and Big D Cycles in Dallas. After suffering major damage in the National Motorcycle Museum fire, the Texas Ceegar was sent back to Texas to be rebuilt. Luckily, the original body molds were in good shape and Keith Martin and his team at RPM cycles were able to restore it to like new condition.
Sunbeam S7 Sidecar: This outfit had two things going for it. First, the wheels and tires on a Sunbeam S7 always looked too large and out of proportion for a solo bike (although this was corrected with the S8 as Malcolm pointed out) but with the sidecar they looked just right. Second, the beautiful Bender Florin sidecar was the perfect match. My old riding buddy and sidecar aficionado from Lubbock, Ramsay Banks, informed me that the Bender Florin was built by an American living in Denmark in the early 70s using the old Bender (Dutch) sidecar design and tooling.
The Dakota Four: 112 Cubic inch inline 4. This is what the Indian 4 might have looked like today if production had not ceased in the early 50’s. This “modern” version is 112 cubic inches and 95 horsepower. Although it looks a little too long and tall, it does have the classic air cooled engine and 4 into 1 exhaust. It had a fine exhaust note in the campground but we never got to see it on the road.
Captain America in Miniature: At first glance this bike looked like a copy of Peter Fonda’s bike from the Easy Rider movie but the proportions seemed wrong somehow. Closer inspection revealed that it was based on a 125cc Honda engine. But wait a minute; Honda never made a V-Twin like this. Turns out the rear cylinder is a dummy, grafted on the crankcase at just the right angle to look like a Harley. A separate gearbox mounted between the engine and back wheel and a Harley oil tank completed the disguise. Not really a “classic” bike but it sure was clever and well done.
Westlake Speedway Bike: This speedway racer with 500cc Westlake engine won the Peoples Choice award. It had all the right stuff including the right hand mounted gravel deflector (speedway riders only turn left) and the left hand mounted rear wheel sheet metal spoke guard. The fact that few people in America have seen one of these bikes is probably the reason for the award.
1947 Triumph Speed Twin: Showroom perfect condition is the only way to describe this beautiful classic. Owner Kevin Giles pointed out that just this year, this bike has won the Concourse Award at New Ulm, Best Pre-Unit and Best of Show at the BritBike.com show at Mid Ohio, Best Other British at the National Norton Rally, Best Pre-Unit at NTNOA, and First Place Antique, 2nd Place Paint, and 2nd Place Best of Show at the Lone Star Rally in Galveston, Texas. This bike is a real show winner, especially when you consider that the Lone Star Rally is a Harley Davidson event.
The most memorable moment of the rally came at the end of the awards presentation. David Edwards, Editor-in-Chief of Cycle World Magazine, was made honorary president for a day so that he could present the Presidents Award to the most outstanding bike at the rally. He started off by mentioning the Checkerboard Norton and I’m sure Mike enjoyed hearing that. He also mentioned the Westlake, the Sunbeam, an Ariel Square Four and several other bikes before presenting the award to “the Texas Ceegar and the crew who restored her.”It was a wonderful moment. People were standing up to applaud. Guys were shouting. Flash cameras were going off all around and I had a small lump in my throat just to be a witness to a piece of motorcycle history.Be sure to check out the ntnoa.com web site for a more complete description of the presentation and some really great photos.
The 2004 LakeO the Pines rally had a lot more memorable moments. These are just a few of my favorites. I like this rally more every year and I hope that next year we will see more BMOA riders make the trip North.
Hogslayer's Twin Nortons
BSA M20 Bonneville Racer
M20 Engine Modifications
Sunbeam S7 with Bender Florin Sidecar
Texas Ceegar Award Presentation
Captian America in Miniature
Westlake Speedway Bike
1947 Triumph Speed Twin
Mid Ohio Vintage Motorcycle Days 2004
Mid Ohio is better than Daytona! The camping is better, the racetrack is better, the swap meet is bigger, and the European bikes outnumber the Harleys by a big margin. Driving to the track in my little red rental car, I wondered why I wasn’t seeing more bikes on the road heading for the track. After I got inside the gate I understood. All the motorcycles were already there.
The Mid Ohio Sports Car Course is located in a rural area about half way between Akron and Columbus. It’s all rolling hills, green fields and farmland. The racetrack is really great for spectators because the hills put more of the track in view at the same time. There’s a great spot at the end of the back straightaway where you can sit in the grass on a hill, in the shade, and watch the riders as they brake into the first 90 degree right hand curve, then a quick 180 back to the left, followed by a sweeping 135 back to the right, then a short 45 to the left, and up over a small hill, accelerating out of site. You can also stand on either side just before the hill and watch the bikes coming right at you before they curve away. I think this view is better than Brands Hatch, which I used to think was the best spectator track.
Camping at the track is like the BMOA’s New Ulm Rally on steroids. No, it’s even better than that! I met up with some BMOA friends who were camping with a great bunch of guys from britbike.com. Our camp was about 100 feet off the back straightaway. When practice started at I was moved to say,“I love the smell of racing fuel in the morning.” The campground was quite orderly, probably due to the mostly over- 40 crowd. Camps were arranged back to back with a gravel road in between the rows and there were a lot of rows. Showers were available in a specially built semi-trailer that had 4 stalls for men and 4 stalls for women. Some of the other camping areas had real buildings for showers. One extra feature that we’ll never have at New Ulm is pizza delivery by 4-wheeler direct to your campsite.
The racing was excellent, although we had to wait out a rain shower on Saturday afternoon. As soon as the lighting and significant downpour was over, they went back to racing. Racing a classic bike on a wet track takes some kind of nerve, but these guys had it.
I don’t know how many bikes there were at Mid Ohio but it seemed like thousands, maybe 10 thousand. There were bikes parked everywhere and a steady stream of bikes going both directions down the road between the track and the swap meet. There was a giant parking lot for cars but not many other places to park other than the campgrounds. So people without a bike had to walk (or rent a golf cart) to get around. Obviously anybody with a vehicle of the two or three-wheeled variety was using it to get around. The traffic was a non-stop parade of motorcycles, scooters, sidecars, minibikes, antique Italian mopeds, classic Brits, Old BMWs, and bicycles. It was a kick to just stand in the shade and watch them go by. At one point I saw the Arkansas 2-stroke-sidecar guy that provided so much entrainment for us at the Lake of the Pines rally last year.
One of the highlights of the rally was the swap meet. They claimed that it covered 35 acres and had more than 1,000 vendors. I didn’t meet a single person who said that he had walked the whole thing. A lot of the swap meet was taken up with Japanese bikes and parts so I guess the classic Honda clubs are not far away. There were also a lot of Italian, German and other European parts vendors. I even saw a couple of French motorcycles. There were plenty of British bikes and parts for sale including some of the major US parts supply stores. There was no end to the strange and wonderful bikes to see in the swap meet area. Some of my personal favorites were the twin engine Kawasaki 4 with remote mounted handlebars over the rear engine, a twin engine Wizzer motor bike with two engines mounted side-by-side, and a little, fully enclosed Moto Guzzi that had a spare wheel mounted crossways between the front wheel and the frame.
The AMA bike show was another great place to see some different machinery. Heading that list was a custom bike built around a Lincoln Zephyr V-12 flathead engine. One interesting feature was that the radiator was mounted inside the big leather saddlebag so the classic look was not diminished by a front mounted radiator (ala Boss Hoss). There was a Ford flathead V8 motorcycle that would have looked better if it had not been parked next to the V-12. There was a great 1928 BMW opposed twin and a Norton with a stylish, twin headlight, polished alloy fairing. BMW was the featured marque at the rally. They had a big tent full of classic BMW motorcycles and Isetta cars. The Blue Moon Cycle racing sidecar was my favorite.
A couple of other events worth mentioning were the flat track races at the Ashland County Fairgrounds and the Jean-Pierre Goy stunt show at the track. The Ashland ½ mile dirt track was fist class, well maintained and operated with plenty of seats and good food. The racing was certainly higher caliber than I saw a Daytona a few years ago. There were a lot more bikes and the competition was a lot stronger. The race for 60 year-old riders was just as fierce as any of the others. It was really great to see Triumph twins racing against Harley flatheads. Standing at the fence, being pelted with little dirt clods from the spinning knobby tires, and feeling the wind from the racing bikes, I thought, “Man, it just doesn’t get any better than this.” The stunt show was awesome! Goy’s front and rear wheel wheelies on a 600cc BMW single were the biggest I have ever seen. But that was only the warm up. When he came out on a 900 pound BMW K1200RT and did the same stunts, the crowd was really impressed. He was doing wheelies so high the fiberglass saddlebags were dragging on the asphalt. Then to top it all off, he got a woman from the audience to ride on the back and he did it all over again. What a show!
Goldstars at the BSA stall
Moto Guzzi with Spare Wheel
BritBike.com Bike Show
Ace Bars on a BMW
Britsh Flag Norton
BMW Sidecar Rig
Production Heavyweight Race
North Texas Norton Rally 2003
This year’s Lake o’ the Pines Rally was better than ever because of the participation of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, Tejas Chapter.These folks were responsible for bringing some truly rare and museum quality motorcycles that we rarely get to see.To my mind, the best of these was a 1916 Triumph Model H complete with a Wicker Sidecar.Along with that were a 1916 Royal Enfield and a 1935 Indian Four.And then there was the beautiful 1927 Raleigh 250cc Single that arrived (on a trailer with an excellent Indian Scout) too late to enter the show.In fact, there were more Indians at this rally than I have ever seen in one place in my life.There were several other Scouts and at least thee Indian Chiefs.There was also a really nicely restored Indian Enfield from the late fifties sporting the big twin cylinder engine.
There were plenty of British bikes there too including an X-75 Triumph Hurricane, a near perfect 500cc BSA Royal Star, a rare 1965 Triumph T120C “East Coast TT Scrambler”, and an even rarer 400cc Norton Electra.Triumph twins and Norton Commandos were simply too numerous to mention.
There were a lot of European bikes there too.One of the more interesting was a 1978 Laverda Jota.This 1200cc motorcycle claimed to be the fastest production motorcycle with a top speed of 139mph.Of course that would have been the fastest in 1978.Another bike I really liked was a 1936 BMW R12.This is the flathead opposed twin with a pressed steel frame and telescopic forks.Probably the best BMW at the show was a 1963 BMW R69 with Steib sidecar.The red upholstery of the hack chair set off the sparkling black paint so beautifully that it made you smile just to look at it.And if this “eye candy” wasn’t enough, the bike that claimed to be the real “eye candy” was an extremely well prepared Ducati Desmodromic Single.This bike even had a little viewing window on the head so that you could look into the engine and see the right-angle gear drive to the camshafts.This Duc was only beat out by two votes for the Peoples Choice Award that was won by (what else?) a Vincent.
There were many other interesting bikes in the show such as the Chris Carr XR750 Harley Davidson, a 1959 Riverside Moped complete with bicycle pedals (How many of us can remember riding a moped?), and a genuine Sears 250 split single.My personal favorite in the other bikes category was a 125cc Royal Enfield Model RE.Although this bike was an early 50’s model, the original design dates from 1939 when this bike was known as the ‘Flying Flea’.It received this nickname from the Red Berets of the British Army’s Airborne Division during World War II because they would drop these bikes by parachute for immediate use by the soldiers on the front line.
BMOA’s member Jeff Dancy won 1st Place in the “British and Other European” class with his wonderful, original paint and totally complete 1955 Ariel Square 4.After the show our group of 5 riders took the spectacular 38-mile ride around the lake with Jeff’s Ariel leading the way.Jeff mentioned that the handling and suspension was about what you would expect from a 50 year old motorcycle but I noticed that he didn’t have any trouble powering out of the corners and keeping up a steady pace.The sound of that famous British 4-cylinder engine was fascinating to hear.
In addition to the great bike show, the scenes around the campsite were great too.A big guy from Arkansas brought an old Yamaha 250 dirt bike to which he has grafted on a neat little sidecar.He was happy to let anyone ride it or to give them a ride in the hack.His main shtick was riding through the campgrounds with passenger and chair lifted way off the ground.Another sight that I really liked was a guy with two little black bulldogs and a nicely restored 305cc Honda Hawk.Every time he would start that Honda, the bulldogs would race over to it barking and snapping at the front tire.The guy could not get away from these two dogs running back and forth in front of the front wheel.The best part was that as soon as he stopped, the dogs ran up and starting biting the front tire.Man, they sure hated that Honda.The award for longest distance rider went to a guy who rode a new Triumph from Ruidoso, New Mexico, 900 miles away.
This year’s rally was dedicated to Ed Mabry.Ed brought a wild double-engine, Bonneville top speed record setting, open-wheel motorcycle.This bike featured two of the old style, turbocharged, Triumph 3-cylinders making a total of 450 hp.This bike has exceeded 260 mph and it currently holds a class record with a two-way average of 238 mph.Mabry’s group, Team Triumph Texas, claims the title of Fastest Real Motorcycle because this bike is open wheel and not a streamliner.Check out the story of this bike and also some great motorcycle pictures at www.teamtriumphtexas.com.Late on Friday night I happened to notice the motto that was printed on the side of the Mabry Racing trailer.It said, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”That pretty much sums up my view of the Lake o’ the Pines Rally and my feelings about of motorcycling in general.
Royal Enfield - Indian
RE "Flying Flea"
400cc Norton Electra
1963 BMW R69 with Steib Sidecar
1936 BMW R12
Ed Mabry's Double Triple Triumph
1935 Indian Four
1916 Triumph with Wicker Sidecar
1955 Ariel Square Four
British Motorcycle Owners Association Rally – New Ulm, Texas 2002
Let me start off by saying this piece is not meant to be a report on the 2002 BMOA Rally.There are others in the club who can do that much better than I.Instead, I just want to relate some of the small details that I enjoyed and I hope you will enjoy them too.So here, in no particular order, are the things that stuck in my mind.
Metalflake Herb rode up from Flordia on a Gold Wing towing a beautifully custromized Triumph twin on a neat little trailer. He said that the Gold Wing didn’t even know the trailer was back there and as proof, he dug a photo out of his wallet that showed the Gold Wing with a pop-up camper trailer hitched on back and the Triumph on it’s trailer hitched to the back of the camper.Now I have seen bikes pulling trailers before but I never saw a bike pulling two trailers!Of course, after seeing Metalflake in action during the field events, I have to say he is just the man who could do it.In the slow race, I saw him come to a complete stop, hold for several seconds, and then ease ahead as smooth as could be.And guess what, he did it more than once.Slow race or drag race, Metalflake and that Triumph were tough compatition.
Speaking of compition, the guy that won “ride the plank” made 3 perfect full plank runs in a row.This same fellow raced another Triumph in the drag race and they went across the finish line so close together that it took four runs before the other guy got a bad start and finished about a foot behind.Now that is some fine ridin’ by any standard.
While gawking at the Munch Mammoth, the owner told us a story to illustrate what it was like to ride the Mammoth.For those who are not familiar with this bike, it has a 1200cc, 4-cylinder, NSU car engine, direct mechanical fuel injection, and oil cooling.When it was introduced in 1967 Friedl Munch claimed a cruising speed of over 110mph.So anyway, the owner said that the Mammoth is geared high and can reach 80mph in first gear.Well, a guy with a new, high tech Moto Guzzi wanted to race so the owner gave him a chance.The owner said that Guzzi rider was “spooled up and tucked in” when the Mammoth caught him and the Mammoth was still in third gear.Then he shifted into forth and pulled away.What a story!
There were some unusual bikes at this years ralley.One of the nicest specials was a Indian Chief with a Moto Guzzi engine.The tank sported a replica Indian head logo but instead the word “Indian” in the logo, it said “Halfbreed”.
Another great bike was the 1916 Royal Enfield V-twin.The engine was a 6 hp JAP with a neat little hand crank under the seat to start it with.According to “The Story of Royal Enfield Motorcycles” by Peter Hartley, this bike was built during World War I when the Ministry of Munitions stopped the production of civilian motorcycles and all British factories were switched over to producing materials for the war effort.This bike may have seen service with a sidecar as a gun mount or for “conveying wounded quickly to field hospitals”.One of it’s best features was a little clear glass bowl on top of the tank where the rider could watch the oil drip, a drop at a time, into the total loss lubrication system of the engine.
There were some great little moments too.Like discovering a totally unrestored Vincent parked in trees just like it was any old Brit.And listening to stories told by a man who had sold motorcycles for 40 years and who knew Bud Elkins when he made that famous jump over the fence in “The Great Escape”.Or like listening to beautiful straight piped Vincent rev up; louder than a Harley.Or gazing at a wonderful replica of a 1950’s ISDT Royal Enfield single like the ones that the British team rode when the won the International Trophy at the 1951 International Six Days Trials.These are the kind of moments that keep me coming back to New Ulm every year.I hope they never stop.
Classic bikes are alive and well at Daytona Bike Week.Two days of road racing at the speedway and one really great night of flat track action made the trip to Bike Week 2002 worth it for me.What’s the best part?Maybe it’s the sound of a 500cc Norton Manx pulling hard out of the International hairpin, catching the next gear, throbbing away.Maybe it’s the racers and fans from all over the world that you meet while walking around the pits.Maybe it’s the specials or the classic bikes in the BSA Corral or the ’47 Indian Chief mixed in with the BMWs in the parking lot.Or maybe it is just the idea of being at the track with the famous bikes and riders that we all admired so many years ago.In any case, here is a brief report from the trip.
The weather was bad!I got to Daytona Sunday morning with the intention of going to Ocala for the AHRMA flat track race that night but by the time I got to Ocala it was raining so hard my little rental car almost go stuck in the parking lot.Monday was the first day of road racing at the speedway.It was 38 degrees that morning and mid 40s during the day with no sun at all.However, the track was dry and the racing was great.Tuesday was a little better.It was still mid 40s and a cold wind was blowing right down the middle of the infield but the sun was shining.I saw some guys from Ireland that were wearing shorts and tee shirts…while I had on two jackets!And then the next great thing happened, they announced that the flat track races were rescheduled for Tuesday night.Of course it was a 2 hour drive back to Ocala but it was really worth it.More about that later.
The level of competition at the speedway was really fierce.These bikes and riders may be old but they definitely came to race.Gary Nixon was there riding a Team Obsolete 1970 750cc Honda 4.There was a big 1971 MotoGuzzi 748 ridden by a very small man from Japan.There were a couple of new (India) Enfield 500s that are allowed to race because they are still the 1950s design.There were a lot of racers from Europe and Canada.I noticed a bike trailer in the pits that was being towed by a Rolls Royce with Ontario plates.One thing that I thought was really clever was the Trackside welder guy.He put a steering wheel and a seat on the front of a big Lincoln diesel welding machine so that he could ride the welding machine around the pits.
The parking lot at the track was so full of Indians and Vincents that I lost count.I talked to a guy from Quebec that was riding a beautiful BSA/Watsonian sidecar outfit.I was complaining about how cold it had been in Houston and he said that it has been so warm in Canada this year that the Maple trees are leafing out too early and the maple syrup will not be as good because of the warm weather.There was a big swap meet in the infield at the track.I saw a really nice 9 ½ gallon BMW tank for sale for only $700!Better still, I saw a BMW parked on Main Street that had an auxiliary 5 gal. gas tank mounted on a rack over the seat.The rider was using it for a backrest!
Main Street in Daytona Beach is the place to see the really nutty bikes.Like a Harley with dual Weber carburetors or one with a crankshaft driven supercharger!My favorite memory of Main Street was a big, fat guy and his girlfriend stopped at a red light on a V8 powered Boss Hoss.The crowd on the sidewalk was heckling him so he just stood up, held the front brake, twisted up the throttle and smoked the rear tire.The girl on the back didn’t seem to notice. My guess is that this was not the first time this guy had done this.All the bars and motels in the area have “Welcome Bikers” signs.I guess they have had plenty of experience with bikers because my motel had a sign in the room that said “Please don’t bring your bike in the room”!I thought this was pretty good because my room was on the second floor.
One of the bikes at the track was an Allstate (Puch) 250.It brought back the memory of going to Sears when I was a boy and seeing the Allstate scooters and this motorcycle parked between the lawnmowers and edgers in the garden department.Another interesting bike was a 350cc BSA military sidecar outfit.The rider was wearing full army fatigues complete with sidearm.The bike had a WWII rifle in a fork-mounted scabbard that was so old the buckles were pulling through the leather belts.
I had to leave the speedway early in order to get to the dirt track in Ocala before dark.This was a scheduled AHRMA flat track event and here again, these old boys came to race.The races were held under the lights on a very nice ¼ mile oval.It was such a thrill to see Triumph twins racing against a well-prepared Harley K-model.There were several Harley 250cc Sprints and quite a few Bultaco and Yamaha two-strokes.Beno Rodi was there with a couple of Royal Enfield singles and a guy from Connecticut with a (India) Enfield 500.The weather was cool but not too bad until about an hour after sundown.By 10 o’clock, I was sitting in the car running the heater every 20 minutes to keep from shivering and so was everyone else that was parked next to the track.I was really lucky though; my car was parked 10 ft. back from the fence right at the exit of the 4th turn with a clear view of the finish line.With the window cracked a inch so I could hear the engines, it was just like having a sky box at the Astrodome only this box seat was right down at trackside.What a great night.It was nearly midnight when the last race finished.And all I can say is you certainly get your money’s worth at an AHRMA event.I’d like to encourage everyone to check out www.ahrma.org on the web and go to one of their events if you ever get the chance.
Dirt Track Wheelie
Hand Shifters Lineup
Long Distance Gas Tank
North Texas Norton Rally 2002
The weather was perfect!Not just good riding weather but perfect riding weather.After a long, hot summer in Houston, the weather at this year’s Lake O’ the Pines Rally near Jefferson, Texas, was just too good to be true.At in the morning, a tee shirt was just right.The warm sun on my back felt good and then riding into the shade of the trees overhanging the road was like riding into a well air-conditioned room.Not too cool, not too hot, just the most perfect riding weather I can remember.And then, of course, the pine scented air and the quick views of the lake before bending the my Royal Enfield Interceptor into the next turn made the 5 hour drive to get there worth every minute on the road.
For those who have not made the trip to the NorthTexasNortonOwnersAssociationLake O’ the Pines rally I can say that it’s worth the trip just to ride the 60 mile circuit around the lake and to stay at the great camp site beside the lake.But in addition to all that the NTNOA put on an excellent bike show and you get to meet riders from far, far away.One hardy individual rode a beautiful John Player Norton all the way from Kansas City, that’s 650 miles one way, and then put that bike in the show.Of course, there were plenty of great bikes there that we have not seen at New Ulm.Some of the bikes that deserve special mention were a 1938 Zundap 600cc opposed twin.This was a prewar model with a pressed steel frame and those nutty, German reverse action hand levers.There was a very nice 1940 BSA M20 and a Triumph Thunderbird with complete, full-bodywork around the rear wheel.There was only one, very hard-used, and slightly incomplete 1949 Vincent but it was sporting a 1967 British tax sticker.My personal favorite and winner of the Best of Show award, was a 1934 BSA Blue Star with Dusting sidecar.The bike was the 500cc single model with dual exhaust pipes.The Dusting sidecar was new to me.It was manufactured in Melbourne, Australia and it had the most curved up, pointed nose I have ever seen.From the side it looked a bit like a speedboat rising out of the water under full throttle acceleration.The Dusting also featured a little passenger door with a key lock.The thing that stuck me was that the door was only about 9 inches high and 12 inches long, barely big enough to provide access for the passenger’s foot!
Another thing that struck me about this rally was the great number of motorcycle campers.There were dozens and dozens of bikes parked next to little, single person tents, no two of which were alike.There were a lot of Italian bikes to be seen.There were four Moto Morini’s in the bike show as well as some more at the campsite.Although it didn’t win a trophy plaque, the cleverest bike in the show had to be a 1928 Maytag!Yes, sports fans, that’s right, a Maytag.Actually this was a homemade motor scooter with a solidly built and varnished wooden frame.The engine was a genuine 1928 Maytag gasoline washing machine engine.Lots of washing machines had little engines like this in the time before fractional horsepower electric motors were available.The Maytag brochure hanging from the handlebar showed a picture of a ladies high heel shoe pushing down the little kickstarter.
There was an inside joke going around with a group of riders (from Dallas I think).They all had on matching black tee shirts with a big, white-lettered logo on the front that said “Brotherhood of the Bearded Lesbians.”I wonder what that was all about.I asked one guy but all he would say was that they made it up over some beers.I can’t say I understood the joke but they seemed to be laughing about it all the time.
1940 British Army BSA
John Player Norton
BSA Blue Star with Dusting Sidecar
Royal Enfield Bullet
The Art of the Motorcycle
The Guggenheim Museum motorcycle exhibit is missing one feature that places it above any other motorcycle museum that I have ever seen.That one feature is the absence of any ropes or rails or barriers that stop you from getting your face right up close to the bikes.What they do have is plenty of security.In fact there are security people all over the exhibit but as long as you don’t actually touch anything, they will leave you alone.Unless of course, you are foolish enough to try to operate a ballpoint pen inside the exhibit…like I was.I was just starting to take a few notes to include in this article when a very polite security lady approached me and said ballpoint pens were not allowed.I guess they were afraid someone might put a scratch on some of the most beautiful bikes I have ever seen in my life.The security lady was kind enough to get a little pencil for me and so now I can go on with this story.
Most of the bikes are displayed on raised platforms about 2 feet high, with a mirror top so that you can see underneath without having to stand on your head.Another nice feature of this exhibit is the little electronic narration machine that you rent for three bucks.Most of the bikes have a number near their nametag that you key into the machine and a movie star tells you some interesting facts about the bike you’re looking at.Samuel L. Jackson is one of the narrators and you can really hear in his voice how much he appreciates motorcycles.
The exhibition features bikes from every period in motorcycling; from a steam powered bicycle (this one was the big front wheel, nose smasher-type, ridden before the safety bicycle we use today was invented) to the most modern, hub-centered steered, multi-cylinder crotch rockets of today.There was a good selection of British bikes, although strangely enough they didn’t have a single Royal Enfield!Of the 125 bikes on display, I estimate that at least half of the bikes were nonBritish and this might be one of the most interesting things about the selection of motorcycles.Most of the British bikes on display were like those we have all seen running at New Ulm, Daytona, or other classic venues.They were fine examples, of course, and some of the older ones have certainly never been seen running in this country but the bikes that were built in countries like Germany, Czechoslovakia, Italy, and France had details and features that I had never seen before.Some of the Italian, fully enclosed motorcycles had a style like nothing I’d ever seen.Now, because we all know the British bikes so well, I’d like to give honorable mention to just a few of these “foreign” bikes.
My personal favorite was the 1925 Bohmerland with its beautiful wooden sidecar. The Bohmerland was very long and low.The seat was lower than the top of the fenders and the rectangular gas tank was even lower than that.It was longer than any other motorcycle with a rigid mounted rear axle and a leading link front fork.The handlebars were very low and there were struts running from the handlebars down to near the axle on the front forks.It was nicknamed “the bike for eight” because its seat was so long.
The 1923 BMW R 32 was the first of the well-known boxer series.Up until 1921, BMW had only built airplane engines.From 1921 to 1923 they built engines for other German manufacturers like Victoria.The R 32 has a 500cc opposed twin engine, transverse mounted in a tubular frame and shaft drive.It was amazing to see how many features of that basic design carried over into the BMW boxer twins on the road today.
The humble little 125cc DKW first introduced in Germany in1939 was easy to spot because this is exactly the same motorcycle that was produced in England after World War II as the BSA Bantam and in the U.S. as the Harley Davidson Hummer.The 1970 49cc Derbi Grand Prix racing bike really stuck in my mind because of the description on the display.The little 3 cubic inch engine was redlined at 15,500 rpm and the tag said “revving like a sewing machine and wailing like a mechanical banshee”!The 1922 Megola Sport with its 640cc, five-cylinder radial engine (mounted inside the front wheel!) was certainly a tribute the theory that you can make anything work if you try hard enough.
While standing next to the Captain America Harley Davidson we met a guy with a very interesting job.His name was Jim and he is a BMW rider who belongs to the European Motorcycle Owners of Las Vegas, NV.Jim works 10 hours a week taking care of the bikes in the exhibit.His main job is to keep the tires aired up and to wipe up any oil that might drop out of one of the bikes on to the mirror tops.He also keeps everything nice and shiny because even though the security is tight, people still can’t be kept completely away. Jim had to clean the lipstick off the front fender of the Indian Chief because a lady had planted a big ole kiss on it.Another lady had fainted and fallen such that her face brushed against the brass tank on one of the old steam powered motorcycles.The problem, Jim explained, was that whatever cosmetic she had on her face reacted with the brass tank and it took Jim two hours to polish it out.
The Art of the Motorcycle exhibit is at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.I don’t know how much longer it will be there but if you get the chance to go be sure to say hello to Jim.And also be sure to see the collection of motorcycle manuals and sales literature that is also on display.Antique to modern, this has got to be the best motorcycle exhibit in the world.
Daytona Bike Week 1999
Daytona Bike Week is something I have always wanted to see and the Antique and Historic Motorcycle Racing Association (AHRMA) events that are held during Bike Week made it perfect.Bike Week is a completely different event depending mainly on the kind of motorcycle you ride.By far, the big attendance draw is the Harley Rendezvous.The AHRMA races are attended by a relatively small group.Although the AHRMA races drew maybe a thousand fans, the Harley deal draws more like 40,000.These attendance numbers are just an estimate based on my observation.The only way I can describe my experience it to set the stage and then describe the crazy and amazing things that I saw.
The Harley Rendezvous is epitomized by Main Street.Of course there are all sorts of other things that really appeal to Harley people (like the Easyriders display area, Spider’s Swap Meet, and a million stalls selling tee shirts and leather biker clothes) but the main event is Main Street.This is the place to see and be seen and these people do truly love to be seen.Main Street is blocked off to bikes only on the weekends so that both sides of the street are filled with a handlebar to handlebar display of bikes parked next to the sidewalk.The street is a nonstop parade of bikes in both directions.About 98% of the bikes are Harleys and Japanese copies of Harleys.Every so often there is a Triumph, Moto Guzzi, Indian, or BMW but mostly it’s Harleys.There are new ones and antiques, stock ones and radical customs, sidecars and trikes.The riders are just as varied as the bikes.There are outlaws and grandmothers, young guys and old dudes, girls in leather and girls in bikinis, and quite a few dogs as well.On the sidewalk, older folks outnumber the younger generation by at least 4 to 1.Nearly everyone is dressed in Harley leather vests or hats and tee shirts from other Harley trips no matter if they are on a bike or not.Leather chaps are really big as well as little black biker helmets that can be bought everywhere for about $16.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the sights of Main Street:
Boss Hoss trike with 350 cubic inch Chevy engine and rear fenders from a ‘57 Chevy.
Grandmother driving a Honda motorscooter with a sidecar.
Guy driving a homemade lounge chair complete with table lamp, stuffed dog, and pulling a trailer with a motorcycle on it.
Cop checking the lounge chair rider’s license and registration.The chair had a Minnesota license plate.The chair passed inspection and the driver continued to cruise main street.
Lady holding her pet Prairie Dog on her chest.The Prairie dog was wearing a collar and a leash.The prairie dog was staring intently into her face the whole time.
Guy with the faces of the Three Stooges tattooed down his arm.
Trike make out of the rear end of a Porsche.
Lady with a dog so small that she gave it a drink of water out of the screw-on bottle cap of her designer water bottle.The little dog didn’t even knock the cap over.
Custom Harley with California license plate that said “MOTWN”.
Harley with “The Last Supper” painted on the back of his fiberglass luggage carrier.The owner was passing out free bibles.
Bald guy with an elaborate, old map style, compass tattooed on the top of his head.
Chinese guy, tattooed from head to foot, with a 4” diameter ring in his nose.
Advertisement for “Motorcycle Demolition Derby”.
Homemade 4-seater trike with a pickup bed.
Sparrow electric cars (Body by Corbin, the Harley custom seat and fairing maker).
T-REX:- A sport bike (not a trike) with 2 car wheels in front and a bike engine driving the single, wide rear wheel.The driver and passenger sit side by side like a sports car.
Black dog riding in a World War II Harley sidecar and barking at the crowd.
Cushman Eagle with a 1,000 cc Sportster engine.
Cushman Eagle with a single cylinder diesel engine.
1960 era 305cc Honda Dream in perfect condition.
Chinese motorcycle, that is a copy of a BMW but with flathead engine, with sidecar.
Vulcan with twin belt driven superchargers.
Daytona has a law about having an open container on the sidewalk.So all the drinking is in the bars and beer gardens that line Main Street.Most of the bar tenders were girls in bikinis and thongs.Plenty of food including a place called Boot Hill Saloon that offered a “Giant Biker Sausage”.Boot Hill’s slogan is “It’s better here then across the street” because across the street is a cemetery.In a bar called Froggys, they had a disk jockey to play the music and make wise cracks at the crowd.There was a tall sign next to the DJ and at the top it said “Tips for Tunes”below that it had a price schedule.At the top is said “$2 Your tune played in 1 hour”below that it said “$5 Your tune played in 30 minutes”below that it said “$10 Your tune played in 10 minutes” and below that it said “$20 your tune played Next!” and then down at the very bottom of the sign it said “$50 your tune played RIGHT F***ING NOW!!!”In another bar they had a good little Southern Rock band playing and they had girls in bathing suits walking through the crowd selling ice cold shots of whiskey.Great gimmick for these guys.Every bar had a sign that said “No Colors, No Weapons, No Attitude”.
There were Harley Owners Group (HOG) riders from everywhere in the world.I was behind a dresser on the street that had a European license plate.Then I noticed that his backpatch said Norway.I bumped into at least 6 different groups of Germans.Lots of people speaking French and Italian.I saw three guys who’s back patches said Arabian Gulf Chapter Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.Only saw a handful of Japanese.Many, many bikes from New York.Many older riders.I saw an old couple with a Harley trike and the old guy driving it had to be at least 75 years old.They were riding down Main Street just like they owned the place.A lot of the bikes on the street were barely street legal drag bikes and every time there was 50 ft. of clear street in front of them, they would generally light up the rear tire.Needless to say the crowd loved it. As a guy standing behind me on the sidewalk said, “These bikers are so easily amused”.
A new company called Excelsior-Henderson rented the Peabody Auditorium to advertise their new bike that is designed to out Hog the Harleys.I also saw a company selling motorcycles with the Indian name on them.They had Indian fenders and seats but Harley engines.I also saw some enterprising girls in bikinis washing bikes for tips.
Completely separate and apart from all the Harley lunacy were the AHRMA races.I attended two days of road racing at Daytona International Speedway and one night of dirt track racing at Daytona Municipal Stadium.The first day at the Speedway, Classic Bike Magazine sponsored a show for classic bikes that had been ridden to the event.There were about 50 or more bikes entered in the show.There were half a dozen Vincents including a fully faired Vincent Black Prince and a 1939 HRD Rapide.There were some first class Indian V-twins and an Indian Inline-4.The Triumphs and BSA’s were beautiful but nothing special.There was one guy with a 1967 Royal Enfield 750cc with about 8,000 miles on the clock, he wanted to sell it for $4,500!
The racers were from all over the world.It was easy to spot them because they had their race bikes and all their parts stuffed in to rental vans and mini vans.One group had a sign on their rented van that said “Parking for Irish Only”.One old guy brought a totally original 1922 Naricar, a 1915 Indian V-twin racer and a 1926 40hp Indian V-Twin racer.Some Italians brought a 2-cylinder, a 3-cylinder, and a 4-cylinder MV Agusta road racers.Beno Rodi was there racing a couple of Royal Enfield singles.There were a lot of famous and historic racing bikes including a Benelli 4 Grand Prix racer, a Motobe that beat the factory Hondas at Daytona in 1962, and several Honda works racers.The AHRMA web site does not have the result yet but check www.ahrma.org later.A guy from Holland showed up with a Britten and a team of mechanics from New Zealand.That Britten ran away from the other bikes in its class.It did a wheelie nearly every lap coming out of the International Hairpin at about 60 mph..
On the second day, they had the Parade of Great Men.These were guys who had raced at Daytona since the days when they raced on the beach.Before the race they had an autograph signing.I bought a poster with their pictures on it for a dollar and they all signed it.The most memorable signatures to me are: Carroll Resweber, Gary Nixon, Don Rickman, and Derek Rickman.The other guys were unknown to me.Among these the one who really stood out was Ernie Beckman.He is over 80 years old now but in his younger days he was a member of the Indian Wrecking Crew that regularly beat the factory Harleys.Another old guy who was there was Dick Klamforth and I learned that he won the Daytona Beach Races in 1949,1951, and 1952 on a 500cc Manx Norton.I would like to look at some old Cycle World magazines to see if I could find some of these other guys like Al Knapp and Bobby Hill.The Rickman brothers had several examples of their Rickman framed bikes as well as several racing bikes.They both competed and did quite well.The competition was very fierce with quite a few crashes but no injuries except for one guy who got hit in the leg by a flying battery that fell off another bike on the back straightaway.Another guy finished the race even though his clutch cable broke just before the start.Another guy drove straight off the track and laid it down in the hay bales when his gearbox locked up going into the hairpin.
They had racing classes for everything including hand shift Harleys and Indians.There were quite a few racing BMWs and Vincent 500s.Ducatis and Moto Guzzis also did very well.Of course no one could touch the MV Agusta 4-cylinder and was it loud!There was also some great racing between a 1939 BMW 500cc Rennsport and a 1938 Manx Norton.
The dirt track racing was truly a time warp back to the 60s.AHRMA put on a truly professional event on a well prepared 1/4 mile flat track oval.They also had races for everyone including a race for bikes built before 1951 and another race for riders over 50 years old.The 250cc class was dominated by two strokes that I had not thought of in years.Bikes like OSSA, Bultaco, and Montessa did very well.The 500cc class was equally divided between Japanese and British Bikes.BSA Victors were popular but the Triumph twins were just a little faster.Honda Singles were doing pretty well if the rider was aggressive.Beno Rodi raced in the 500 class with a Royal Enfield single.In one heat, he got a really good start and held on to second place right up to the end.The 750cc class was really great competition with several Triumphs, Yamahas, and a Harley Davidson 750cc flat head.One guy had a Ducati V-twin but it broke down before the first lap in two different races.
I also went to a British Swap Meet in Deland and looked at the classic bikes that were being auctioned off later in the week.The most memorable bikes in the auction were a 1928 BMW R42, a 1934 Indian Scout, and a 1979 Benelli 750cc Six-cylinder.There was a 1938 Triumph Speedtwin that was advertised as ex-Steve McQueen.Probably the nuttiest bike was a trike that was built from a BMW boxer twin.It had an enormous car electric starter grafted on to the top of the engine and a chain drive between the BMW rear end and the differential in the rear axle.One tee shirt stand was selling a shirt that said “Lucas Prince of Darkness”.It had a big drawing of a Lucas headlight switch on the front and the three positions were labeled “Off - Dim - Flicker”!
Daytona Bike Week runs for 12 days and many people come for the entire time.The motels are nearly sold out in the towns 25 miles outside of Daytona.Some motels only take reservations for a minimum of 7 days.There are quite a few seedy little motels near the beach that had vacancies but I understand that they were getting $150 a night.There are campgrounds all around Daytona that are filled with trucks and motorhomes with trailers for the bikes.There are campgrounds for bikers only.One guy who rode down to Florida from Chicago told me “I’m a biker not a trucker”.The biker camp grounds are full of tents.All these places have a bar or beer barn of some description so I guess this is where the serious drinking is going on.Everyone in town was careful not to drink and drive.Also, everyone in town was very polite.I guess this was because no one knew who might be armed.It was really strange to see a big biker in a leather vest and no shirt saying “Excuse me”.
Well, that is the story of my trip to Daytona.Maybe someday I will make it back. Maybe not but this memory will surely last forever.
Wild Bike on Main Street
Armchair Road Rider
Always take your dog
Ner-A-Car (on left)
Britten Carbon Fiber Racer
Flathead Hand-Shift Indian
Boss Hoss '57 Chevy
Fixing a BSA
HRD (pre Vincent)
Armchair Rider Police Check
Starting a Flathead Indian
Trike Lady Pick-up
All Chrome Sportster
Festival of 1000 Bikes – Brands Hatch 1998
Brands Hatch is one of my favorite race courses because the main part of the track is in a small valley so that you can sit comfortably in the grandstand and see a good portion of the race track. The Festival of 1000 Bikes is an annual event that draws motorcycles from every period. There are belt-drives, flat tanks, rockers, and modern bikes and there are period gentlemen to ride and admire every one. This event was a motorcycle display and demonstration rather than all out racing. There was a demonstration of grass track racing on Speedway style bikes. There were Sprints (we call it drag racing in the U.S.) and road racing with both solo and sidecar machines. And there were a lot of club displays including an Indian club.
One of my favorite parts of this event was the parades. Anyone riding a bike could join the group to make a lap of the track. There were so many bikes that they had to have two parades. Each parade was lead by a track marshal and policed by several other marshals on either side of the parade riders. However, by the time the last of the riders got around to the last turn there were no marshals to be seen and everyone twisted the throttle for a final blast down the grandstand straightaway. It was really great to hear all those bikes of every size running at full throttle if only for few seconds. It was also really noticeable when a guy on an old Harley came blasting out of the turn. He wasn’t going real fast but he sure was making plenty of noise.
It was great to see and hear all these wonderful old bikes running and racing. Even if they were not seriously racing, they were still revving the engines to near red line limits. I really liked walking around the pits. One race bike that I saw in the pits was an old vertical single with exposed pushrods. What paint it had on it was black but mostly it was covered with oil. I don’t mean some runs and drips; I mean literally dripping with oil. There were lines of oil drops hanging below the tubes of the frame over the engine and around the rear wheel. There was oil running off the rear wheel rim and over the tire. There was oil dripping from the underside of the seat. The engine looked like it had had a bucket of oil poured on it. The patch of oil soaked tarmac stretched from in front of the engine to the end of the back fender. To top it off, someone had made a makeshift sign and left it leaning against the bike. It said “If you think this bike is awful, you should see the bloke that rides it!” Man, I wish I had the photo but I’ll never forget it or this wonderful day.
Near the Pit Gate
Grass Track Demo
The Indian Club
Vincent with Sidecar
Enfield Pageant of Motoring
While on a business trip to England I took the train to Enfield to see some classic British bikes but what I found there was so much more. Of course there were plenty of bikes but in addition, there were car clubs, customized Minis, stationary engines, a Wall of Death, and something I only seen in books, Show Engines.
Show Engines are basically road going steam engines (Road Locomotives) that were used to tow circus cars to small towns and then to provide electrical power to put on the show.The engines were beautifully restored in Victorian style and delivered to the pageant site on flatbed tractor trailer trucks. All the engines were running and every so often one of the drivers would blow the steam whistle. Unfortunately they could not drive them around on the soft ground; after all, they are constructed almost entirely of cast iron and they weigh many tons. On these machines, the engine is directly coupled to the rear axle during travel but can be uncoupled with a dog clutch to allow the engine to drive the power takeoff. A wide pulley on the power takeoff shaft would drive a 6” wide flat belt connected to a generator mounted above the boiler. In addition to the show engines there was an actual steam roller.
The stationary engines date back to the time before farms had electricity. These single-cylinder, gasoline engines powered everything from generators to farm machinery. Quite often the cooling system is simply an open-top tub cast into the cylinder block. As the engine ran, the water boiled away, and more water was poured in. The speed of the engine is controlled by a mechanical fly-ball governor that uses a linkage to hold the exhaust valve open if the engine is running too fast. They have large flywheels to smooth out the firing pulses and to keep the engine turning over while the exhaust valve is lifted. Several of these engines were idling as I watched. It was so interesting to hear the big, low compression engine fire and then the engine would make several revolutions before it fired again.
The Wall of Death was a great thrill. I had not been to one since I was a boy growing up in Texas. This particular Wall of Death was an original wood construction and it swayed mightily as the bike went around. Amazingly enough the bike was a 1930’s Indian V-Twin. The Englishman who rode it said it was the most reliable bike he had ever used.
The pageant included an Auto Jumble (known as a Swap Meet in the U.S.) where I was able to buy some really nice Whitworth sockets and one of these handy little open-end wrenches that fit four different side bolts. There were a hundred or so motorcycles to look at and along with the Mini cars I was surprised to see a display by the Pre50 American Car Club. They had a nice ’49 Cadillac and some prewar sedans. The American Independents had some ‘70s muscle cars and a real ’32 Ford Hot Rod.
What a great event this turned out to be. I would recommend it to everyone. I know I’ll go again if I ever get the chance.
Generator and Control Panel
Classic Racing at MalloryPark
Classic motorcycle racing at MalloryPark in England in 1988 was everything I hoped it would be. As a young rider growing up in Texas I dreamed of riding and racing in England. I never did get to race but I did finally make it to a real British road race. The Spring Vintage Motor Cycle Meeting, organized by the Vintage Motor Cycle Club Ltd – Racing Section was held at Mallory Park Circuit. MalloryPark, located between Coventry and Leicester, is a fine small track that is perfect for motorcycles. The small hill above Edwin’s curve, at the end of the Stebbe Straight was my favorite spot to watch the action. The bikes come around a wide curve onto a short, slightly downhill straight then brake hard for a sharp left into the right-hand Edwina turn before winding on the power and up through the gears toward the more open track of the LakeEsses.
There were plenty of classic British motorcycles both in the car park and on the track. The 1000cc Vincent solo bikes were especially interesting to me because Vincents were so rare in Texas that the only ones I had ever seen were show bikes on display. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Vincent racers because I had just seen 3 Vincents in the car park that were obviously everyday riders. Of course there were plenty of Triumph, BSA, Norton, and Matchless bikes both in the car park and on the track.
There were plenty of sidecar racers too. These were classic sidecar rigs with a wide open deck sidecar attached to a standard solo bike frame. The 600cc Panther with it’s sloping single cylinder rig looked like a antique piece of farm machinery. I met Nigel who was racing a Royal Enfield Meteor. He explained to me that with the Enfield forks in the sidecar configuration, the rig would “Turn on a Tuppence”. Although I am a big fan of Royal Enfield, I knew his 700cc bike was outclassed by several Vincent based sidecars. The big surprise to me was that Morgan 3-wheelers were raced at the same time as the sidecars; although they did get a 15 second head start. The fastest Morgan, a 1932 Morgan Racing car, had an 1100cc JAP engine and a completely stripped out body. Inside the cockpit, there was space for the driver, the chain drive to the rear wheel, and a tiny place for the passenger to lie (perfectly still one assumes) in a nearly prone position.
Once the racing was underway, it became clear to me that two wheels in front work a lot better than two wheels on the side. The Morgan was able to outrun the Vincent sidecar every time in spite of the fact that the Vincent sounded great and the passenger hung over the back wheel and out the side in the most heroic fashion. In fact, all the riders in every class were ridding hard and putting on a great show. It was a great day of racing made greater by all the wonderful vintage and classic motorcycles.
Morgan Racing 3-Wheeler
Line Up for the Grid
Vincents in the Car Park
My Ride in a Race Car
Thanks to Rush Limbough and my wife, I got the thrill ride of my life last week.Rush talked about taking his wife’s children out to Las Vegas Motor Speedway so they could drive a racecar.My wife convinced me to check it out and I sure am glad I did.I didn’t know this but the Richard Petty Driving Experience is apparently operating at all the Nascar tracks around the country.They have 7+ levels that start off with the “Ride-Along Program” and end with full driving-school training.I chose the “ride-along” for my first “experience.”The Ride-Along is basically 3 laps riding shotgun with a professional driver in a real Nascar racecar.I had no idea what kind of a deal this ride might turn out to be but after we got out to the track and listened to those engines start up, I started thinking this might be better than I had even hoped it might be.And guess what?It was even better than that!
To start off with, they put you in a one-piece Nomex driving suit and make you wear a helmet.You climb in through the window of a real, and I stress the word “real”, Nascar racecar.You sit in a full-support racing seat just like the driver and they strap you in with the regulation 5-belt harness and wrap a padded neck support ring on you just below the helmet.The pit man puts up the web net in the window opening and gives the driver a thumbs up sign.
They put the cars out two at a time. I was in the second car, which I thought added a lot to the realism.The driver gets the OK on his radio and he throws the ignition toggle switch to run and holds the starter toggle down while the gear-reduction starter starts to spin up the engine.They claim that these cars have 600hp V8s and after you hear one start, there’s no doubt in your mind that it’s true.The exhaust note has that sharp sound that only comes from a really high compression engine.With the engine running, the noise and vibration are intoxicating.The drivers get the signal and we blast off.Not a tire-squealing blast off but certainly in the pin you to the seat category.By the time we hit the curve at the end of pit row, we are just about wound out in third gear.The driver moves over on to the 12 degree banked track, drops the stick into fourth and floors it.He moves the car up to about 5 feet from the wall and by the time I can turn my head to read the tach, we are flat out at something over 6,000 rpm!
We were told afterwards that 6,000 RPM in 4th gear calculates out to 162 mph and that these cars were only about 5 seconds slower than the qualifying lap times for this track.I don’t have any way to verify that but I measured 38 second lap times for other cars on this 1.5 mile track and that calculates out at an average speed of 142 mph.
So, back in the car, we dive down to the inside paint strip and come out of turn four heavy on the gas.We’re up against the wall in a heartbeat, and I look up, and there is a guy in the starter’s box giving us the green flag.We flash past the starter and start diving into turn one.I know the Goodyear racing tires are sliding as we drift through the turn because of the difference in the vibration of the car from when it was on the straightaway.Accelerating out of turn two, I noticed that the muscles in my neck were starting to tighten up from the centrifugal force trying to pull my helmet out the window.In seconds, we are diving into turn three again and I notice that the engine is running at about 4,000 rpm at the apex of the turn.We take the checkered flag and start to slow down so that we can turn on to the pit road just before turn three.About a hundred yards from the pit, the driver cuts off the engine and we coast in to a stop.Man Oh Man, what a thrilling ride.I had to sit down for about 10 minutes after I took off the driver’s suit because of the adrenaline rush.
Nascar will never look the same to me again.I have never been a big fan of stock car racing but it has one advantage that I never thought of before.It’s the only real, purpose-built race car that has room for a passenger seat!And all I can say is this ride is well worth the hundred bucks that it costs.If you are ever near a speedway and get the chance to take a ride, I don’t think you will be disappointed.You can check it out on the web at www.1800BEPETTY.com.You might also want to check out the 8 lap Rookie Experience where you get to drive the car yourself.There was a group of gray haired gentlemen doing just that while I was coming down after my ride.
Race Car Rider
Reflections on Fifty Years of Motorcycling
By Bill Bath
As a card carrying member of the first wave of the Baby Boomer generation, I will grudgingly reach the ripe old age of 65 this year. I recently read that 10,000 people will turn 65 every month for the next 10 years. This fact brings a reflective state of mind. I think it is a good time to look back on my fifty years behind the handlebars. The face of motorcycling has changed a great deal since I started riding in 1961. In those days, motorcycle riders were often viewed by the general public as low class, no class, or second-class citizens. Motorcycle riders were thought of as hoodlums and trouble-makers. 1950’s movies like Motorcycle Gang and The Wild One with Marlon Brando reinforced the idea that we were all just one step away from reform school. In those days, if you saw a guy on a motorcycle he was probably wearing a mechanic’s uniform. Today, that guy on motorcycle could just as easily be a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer.
The fact that so many riders are now educated people may be one reason that you rarely see a motorcyclist being pulled over by the police. In the 60’s and 70’s it was common to be stopped and be “hassled by The Man.” The police watched us constantly and there were a lot more police on the street in those days. It was common to get pulled over for accelerating away from a stoplight too fast or making too much noise. If you made a turn faster than the policeman though necessary, you would get stopped for a lecture and maybe get a ticket for reckless driving as well. If you had straight pipes they would write you a ticket. If you had a muffler they would shine a flashlight down in it to see if the baffles had been modified. Today, so many bikes are running with loud pipes that it’s surprising to see a motorcycle before you hear it.
Motorcycles in the “old days” were so simple that just about anyone could do their own maintenance work and keep one running. Taking the head off to clean out the carbon or adjusting the points was no big deal. No one needed anti-lock brakes because very few motorcycles had brakes good enough to lock the front wheel. No one had an electric starter. Lots of bikes didn’t even have a battery. Everyone’s bike leaked oil. It was only a question of how much oil it leaked. Of course this rule didn’t apply to BMW’s. The joke was that they were so oil tight, every two weeks you had to take a quart out! Harleys, on the other hand, were notoriously bad about throwing oil off the chain onto the rider’s back. Today, motorcycles are so complicated that you need special training to even identify the problem, much less repair it. The electronic engine management system on most modern bikes is so sophisticated that motorcycles start easier and run better than ever. On the other hand, modern bikes run perfectly until the day the black box fails and then there is nothing left to do but take it to the dealer. The old bikes were less reliable but they generally give some warning that a problem was developing.
When I started riding, no one wore a helmet. The only riders that even owned helmets were racers and motorcycle police. When helmet laws were first enacted (1970 in Texas) I bought my first helmet. It was a lot thinner construction than the helmets of today, but at least it kept me from getting a ticket. In a way, I’m glad that I had to get a helmet. I learned that a helmet streamlines your head and really reduces neck strain on long rides. I think that wearing a helmet should be a personal choice and not a law. Still, I think everyone would be smart to wear one.
In the 60’s motorcycle shops were just that. They sold motorcycles and parts. They didn’t sell clothes and the limitless supply of lifestyle gear and accessories. They didn’t sell motorcycle jewelry or designer boots. Girls mostly rode on the back of motorcycles. You seldom saw a girl rider because most girls couldn’t kick start a bike. I remember the first time I read about an electric starter for a ladies’ motorcycle. A guy in California put a small electric starter on a 500cc Triumph. He had to put compression releases on both cylinders so the electric starter could get the engine spinning with no compression before releasing the lever so the engine could fire. Modern motorcycles with reliable electric starters have allowed lots of women to join the ranks of motorcycle riders.
Back then, every ride was an adventure. You never knew when you might break down so you prepared yourself and your bike. Before departing on a road trip, you would tune up your bike and pack spare parts and tools. Maybe this was just a totem against breaking down but you rarely needed anything that you brought with you. The Honda 4 of the early 1970’s changed all that. The 750cc Honda 4 was a reliable bike that you could ride anywhere. Honda actually changed the face of motorcycling forever with their “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” campaign. Their little red 50cc motorcycles were everywhere. It was hard for people to see someone riding one of those little bikes and think of them as a hoodlum or an outlaw.
Overall, motorcycling has never been better. There is a style of bike for every taste. Now, with electronically controlled engines, anyone can ride a motorcycle without knowing anything about how it works. Press a button and it starts. Press a button and it stops. In between, it runs great. Anti-lock brakes make it safer than ever. GPS keeps you from getting lost. Cell phones keep you from getting stranded. Built-in stereo keeps you entertained. Some cruisers have engines bigger than a lot of cars. Today’s crotch rockets are blindingly fast. The dual sport motorcycles are also a modern innovation (but not one I really understand). Motorcycling has become an acceptable pastime. It is truly a sport than can be enjoyed by everyone. I don’t know abut others but this Boomer is entering his golden years doing a wheelie (OK, mentally!) Motorcycling is still a heck of a ride.