We all do our very best to prepare for an event, whether it’s a race or a long trip, we get things ready. Holidays are no different.
Usually on Christmas we have a house full of family and friends, most of them motorcycle people. The stories are flying and the more beer we have the stories fly even higher but that is part of what makes the day special. We watch classic races (World Superbike Imola 2000, Troy Bayliss and Colin Edwards…the best race to watch over and over), ‘On Any Sunday’ and whatever movie somebody brings…last year we watched Big Faus and Little Halsey (or is it Big Halsey and Little Faus??? Does it matter?).
This year everyone was here and it was time to put the turkey in the BBQ (in Southern California that is the preferred method…) Instead of putting stuffing in the turkey we put some garlic into a can of good beer, put the turkey over the can and cook. It always comes out great…except this time. The turkey decided that this year the beer was going to be administered a bit differently.
We ended up ordering pizza. Happy Holidays to all and a very Happy New Year. Now sit down and start planning your first big trip of the year. I am.
The other day MotoWorld staff photographer Heather and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Long Beach Motorcycle show. New motorcycles, (and all the hoopla that goes with them) and all the new goodies that you just have to have for your new motorcycle. I love seeing the new motorcycles, and yes, I do my fair share of drooling on them (sorry to the people who have to keep cleaning them all day…), now I only need the bank to give me a bigger line of credit to build a bigger garage and then I could have some of those motorcycles. For me however it’s the people who really make the show worthwhile.
Media day at the show is a circus. A Ringmaster parades us all around the show to each manufacturer where they tell us all about the new and exciting models and features but the real interest, for me, is listening in and being part of all the side conversations. Magazine editors, contributors, photographers, builders, racers and manufacturer reps.
Most of us in Moto-Journalism may only see each other a couple of times a year, if that, and when we do it’s not so much about motorcycles but our lives in general. We all read each others stories and product reviews so when we see each other it’s all personal. Some have new gig’s, some have increased their family size, moved their business or started a new one. Old contacts are renewed and new ones are made, it’s a great day to be around motorcycles and motorcycle people.
This year at the show I ran into my old friend Bill Stermer from Rider Magazine, we haven’t gone for a ride together for a couple of years so it was a good time to plan one. Next I met up with one of my favorite (and very fast) ladies, Laura Klock. Laura and I met at Bonneville back in 2009, she had just set a land speed record aboard a Victory Vision. Laura rode this fully dressed touring bike down the salt with the stereo blasting a cup of cold coffee in the cup holder to something a bit north of 150mph. This was not your average touring bike (thanks to husband Brian Klock) and Laura is not your average touring rider…by any stretch of the imagination.
My good friend Matt Capri, who happens to be the premier Triumph speed merchant/builder on the planet, and I had a wonderful conversation about his newest creation, a 350 lb (wet) 100+ hp Bonneville, and how much fun (scary fun!!) it is to ride. The thing about talking with Matt is that you can’t contain his enthusiasm. Arms flailing, face going through all kinds of contortions and he is talking so fast you only catch every third word but you heard everything.
My friend Skratch was there painting a gas tank and we talked about how his business is growing. Skratch is a really talented painter and builder of both cars and bikes and always a lot of fun to talk with, especially while he is taping off a flame job. Actually the fun part is doing all that I can to distract him…it never works, the man is a machine.
I spent good time with my old racing friend Evans Brasfield. Evans is actually one of the people that got me into Moto-Journalism, and I’ll never forgive him for that…I mean never ‘forget’ him for that. We have raced sprint races together, endurance races, reported on World Superbike races and camped out in the rain at those races. Evans’ writing (he now writes for Motorcycle.com) and riding I have always enjoyed and seeing him again was a nice bonus to the day.
Media Day is about the people in motorcycling that make it for me. Old friends like Nick, Bruce and Beth from Two Wheel Tuner Magazine (sadly the magazine is gone but they are still doing really well), Sandro and Robert (RobDog) from Galfer Brakes, catching up with Arlen and Cory Ness and their work with Indian motorcycles, new friends like Alicia Elfving (the motolady.com), Cristi Farrell from Moterrific Podcast and Christa from RoadRunner magazine.
Seeing all the chrome and beautiful paint, the faster than any of us can ride legally on the street motors, the bikes that want to make us cash out our 401K’s so we can ride to the tip of South America are all well and good but for me, it’s the people and their stories and their life on motorcycles that make going to the motorcycle show and my job great.
I’ve been around motorcycle racing for far too many years than I care to admit sometimes. From desert racing as a teenager to showing my AARP card while signing up for a roadrace. When you love racing, it stays with you for life.
Over the years I have learned that motorcycle racing, no matter what the form, is a community. We all help each other..” I need a clutch lever for a Bultaco Pursang..anybody have one?” …someone shows up in about five minutes with it. Over the PA system comes “rider number 112 needs a clutch pulling tool for a GSX-R750..if you can help he’s behind the garages in a green Dodge truck”…five minutes later, you got a tool. Racers are good people.
The generosity of racers towards one another is a beautiful thing, but I think there is something that binds us together even more closely. No, it’s not the risks of racing, it’s not the kind of bike we ride or the type of racing we do and it’s not sharing tools and parts…it’s our pit bike.
Yes, the lowly pit bike. Never washed except when it’s left outside and it rains…at the track it’s always left laying on it’s side outside the trailer, hasn’t had new tyre’s since the Truman administration, the gas in the tank has been in there since your dad was a kid and it was his pit bike and when somebody asks you what it is, you say..”Uh..I don’t know”.
The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield epitomized the ’Pit Bike’…” I don’t get no respect”…but what would we racers do without our pit bikes? How would we go get new tyres mounted at the Dunlop truck? How would we go visit friends almost a half mile away in the desert?…and most importantly…how would we go get lunch???
So today, go out to your barn, garage, shed, under the plastic tarp…pick up your little pit bike and give it some love. Wash it, you might want to even think about checking the oil…we’re going to call Oct 22nd official pitbike appreciation day
… we’d have no luck at all… and then there’s ‘ the best laid plans of mice and men’… and lastly, ‘what could go wrong?’…we’ve all heard those sayings and for some of us they are all too true.
Building a Bonneville Streamliner is no easy task. First there is the design concept, then the engineering, “what do you mean you don’t fit in the cockpit?”… all the parts, replacing parts, re-engineering for the third time and all the while reading the rulebook…’the tilt sensor has to be set for what angle??’ When you finally think you’re ready, it’s off to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah with lofty goals of a Land Speed Record. Besides all the work you put into the bike, you also need a healthy dose of luck.
This year our team, Left Coast Racing, was mounting its third assault on ‘The Salt’. Past parachute and shifter problems had been dealt with, new electronics installed and a nose cone mounted…we were ready, what could go wrong?? Tempting fate is never a wise move.
It’s a long drive from Southern California to Bonneville, we decided to split it into two days. First stop Las Vegas…confusion at the hotel, room change and a really bad rollaway bed, not a good start…a portent of things to come?? Nah..just a no sleep night. Saturday morning , a really bad hotel breakfast…we should have hit one of the casinos for their $4.99 all you can eat breakfast buffet’s, it would have to have been better.
Interesting drive up what is known as the ‘extraterrestrial highway’; you know, I didn’t see any extraterrestrials or UFO’s… all those extra miles for nothing, sheesh. Finally we caught a glimpse of the Great Salt Lake, I have seen Salt Lake many times and it never ceases to amaze me. No matter how many times you go to a race track, when you see it from a distance and know you’re almost there and you’re going to be racing on it soon, your heart speeds up, your breathing steps up and mentally you are already racing.
Our first day was spent getting the bike tech inspected; a few minor adjustments here and there and we were ready to fly. Well, some tweaks were not quite so minor…re-engineering for the fourth time. Lets go racing…uh tomorrow.
The Bonneville Speed Trials are an interesting dichotomy. The long track (also known as the International track) is either eleven miles or eight miles long and the Mountain Track is either five or three miles long. We started our record quest on the long track. You get anywhere from two to five miles to build up speed and then speed through the measured mile, the whole run takes anywhere from five to seven minutes tops, but…you have been waiting in line for nearly two, maybe three hours. Bonneville is the epitome of ‘hurry up and wait’. The good thing about waiting, at least for a journalist like me, I get to meet and talk to a lot of interesting people. But, more about the luck of ‘Left Coast Racing’.
Monday morning dawned bright and beautiful and no wind!! Perfect for running a streamliner. After a good three hour wait at Mile Zero, the starting line, our Norton powered streamliner was green flagged. The moment Eric, launched the bike…our luck struck…the parachute popped out??!! WTH?? Right at the starting line?? One-quarter mile later Eric and the Norton were laying on it’s side. there went that day. The rest of the afternoon was spent figuring out why the chute popped out…by time we got the problem sorted, there was no way we could get another run in. “Anyone want a beer?” Nobody said no.
Tuesday morning, motto for the day..”we’re prepared , what can go wrong?” Again, tempting the gods is not a smart move when it comes to racing. Another loooooonnnggg wait and we’re back on the track. Eric launched the bike perfectly, the motor sounded great and off we went to catch him at the end of the track. One of the great things about the BUB Speed Trials is that they have a dedicated radio frequency to broadcast what is going on all day…so we’re listening to Eric’s time while he is still on the track…104mph. What??? This thing is geared for around 212mph..what happened?? The announcer said something about damage to the bike as it passed the timing lights. What happened?
The Salt Flats are sitting on top of parts of The Great Salt Lake and every now and then you get a ‘pothole’. Not a good thing on a race track. Track workers spotted it, put cones all around it, warned Eric at the start about the cones but for some reason Eric was determined to aim for those cones. Back to the pits with our crippled motorcycle. Clean up the damage and it’s back to the track. The next run would be great right? Right? A sputtering motor kept the ‘liner to a slow 105 mph.
When you tempt the racing gods, they send the ignition gremlins. Four hours of searching, changing, searching more and changing more; builder Ken and master mechanic Kevin think they have the problem solved. However, it was too late to make another run that day. “Anyone want a beer?” Again, nobody said no.
Welcome to Wednesday morning and high hopes for a good run. We get to the Salt Flats early so we can get a jump on the day. Right out to the staging area to take our place in line and visit with everyone else hanging around for their turn to run. Tom Mellor and his 195 mph Triumph Trident ( towed by a Rolls Royce ) is there, the worlds fastest 50cc streamliner is there as is the former Land Speed Racing record holder, the BUB #7. We’re all back to waiting, that’s part of Bonneville, we’re used to it. While waiting I had a moment to talk with Chris Carr, pilot of the BUBS#7, former Land Speed record holder, multi-time national flat track champion and all around good guy…I asked him about the Indy Mile a couple of days before and then we talked about the BUBS Streamliner, he told me they were having some issues ..fuel? ignition? They didn’t know…HA..even the big guys get caught by the gremlins.
Our turn finally comes up…ok, we’re ready, lets go. Eric launches perfectly, the bike sounds great, and off we go chasing him down. Over the radio comes his speed, 125mph…only 125 we thought? Something still has to be wrong…big sighs from the team. When we pick up Eric he tells us he never got out of third gear. What?? Now, always wanting to think positively, I looked on the bright side…”hey, 125mph in third gear!?. that’s great!! Imagine what it will be at the top of fifth!!” By the looks I got from the rest of the team, being Mr. Sunshine wasn’t going over so well.
If you want to set a Land Speed record at Bonneville, you have to make two runs…one up and one back within a certain period of time, making no modifications to the motorcycle. Even at 125mph we were on record pace so we set out for our return run. Again, a good launch but…it sounded like we hadn’t exorcized all the gremlins, Eric’s top speed 105mph. Back to the pits to start the process all over again. Another few hours of searching revealed…not much. It was getting late in the day, the track was closed and the restaurant was going to close soon. “Anyone want a beer?”
Now, its Thursday, the last day, we have until three o’clock to achieve our goals and set the record for our class. We have done everything we can so now it’s up to the ‘Salt Gods’. After waiting for what seems like an eternity… is this beginning to sound familiar??..we’re lined up, Eric is strapped in and………the Norton won’t start. Are we out of gas? Can’t be, but it won’t start and it won’t start. Our hearts sank, this was our last chance. I couldn’t muster up a Mr. Sunshine comment. We just went back to the pits in silence. “Anyone want a beer?”..no answer required, I just passed them out and cursed the ignition gremlins.
We packed up our home away from home and headed back to the hotel. Showers, another beer and off to dinner to start making plans for next year. That is one of the beauty’s of racing..there’s always the next race. There is only one problem with running a streamliner, you can’t just run it up and down your street to see if it’s running right…your neighbors won’t like you and neither will the local constables.
Friday morning we say good bye to Kevin as he heads home to Reno, Ken, Eric and I start the long trip back to Southern California. It’s an easy drive, long, but easy. Breakfast at the Silver Cafe in Pioche, Nevada, the best breakfast I have had all week. Next stop Las Vegas.
Like I started this tale with, if it wasn’t bad luck we’d have no luck at all. While leaving the gas station in Las Vegas, we discovered that someone had put concrete posts at the end of the gas pump islands right where we wanted to go…how inconsiderate…one of those posts took the fender right off our trailer and bent the axle. Didn’t we leave the gremlins behind in Utah? Fortunatley a trailer supply house was literally around the corner and three hours later we were back on the road to home.
The Bonneville Salt Flats is a very humbling place, not only for the fact that it can dash your hopes of being in the Land Speed Racing record books, but also for it’s stark beauty. Flat, white and seemingly endless. Mountains seem to float in the sky, motorcycles disappear into the distance followed only by the wail of the exhaust. Bonneville is so much more than seeing how fast your motorcycle will go. There is something about the salt thats brings you back year after year. Whether you are riding, wrenching or writing, the salt gets in your blood. I’ll be back next year, nothing could keep me away.
As Ed traveled along through the Arizona desert he started to think about why he took this trip in the first place. The vastness of the desert, the heat that rose up from the road and the sound of the motor lulled him away, back into his own memories. Ellen had left him and he simply wanted to escape.
Taking time off work was easy, getting his mom to watch the kids was even easier. Since Ellen left Ed wasn’t much fun to be around so the kid’s enjoyed being at Grandma’s a lot.
Car, train, plane, boat or motorcycle? Motorcycle. Out of the back corner of the garage came the ’69 Bonneville. Ed and the Bonnie had been together since she rolled out of the Triumph dealer brand new.
Whenever life seemed to get tough, time on the Bonnie cured everything. Ed had solved the world’s problems from the seat of that motorcycle. The Vietnam War? Ended somewhere between Lake Tahoe and L.A.. Over population in India? Easily fixed outside Steamboat Springs. Starving kids in Africa? Cured in Montana. Ginger or MaryAnne? That’s easy, MaryAnne. Now, deep in the Arizona desert, Ed had a new problem to solve.
The ride had been pretty uneventful so far. In the time between Reseda and Palm Springs, Ed had figured out that either his trusty old leather jacket had shrunk or married life had put a few pounds on him. He opted for the jacket shrinking. A short but expensive stop at Madman’s Motorcycle Mall and Ed was much more comfortable.
Tucson seemed to be a good goal for the first day, but a dinner stop would come sooner. Nyland, California. This is where you set your watch back, About twenty years. “Home Cookin’ and Cold Beer” said the sign outside Tiny’s Diner. Ed trusted the large number of eighteen wheelers and pickup trucks outside more than Tiny’s sign. Inside Tiny’s, the noise level was at last five times louder than Ed’s Bonneville. Truckers talking with each other as if they were on their CB radios, farmers talking loud enough to be heard over their tractors, cooks and waitresses yelling orders at each other and over all this was Johnny Paycheck sing “Take this job and shove it” on the jukebox. The smell inside Tiny’s Diner ranged from dirt to diesel to fried onions, except for Polly the waitress, she wore perfume that smelled like Gardenias.
The sun had already set when Ed left Tiny’s. Fill up the tank, put on the new jacket and head for Tucson. In the dark, the desert is even more vast and desolate. Distances between towns seem to grow and the number of cars and trucks gets smaller. At one point Ed just pulled over and stopped. He shut off the Bonneville’s motor. The dark and stillness of the desert night covered ed completely. No matter how many stars there were in the sky his world was totally dark. Why did she leave?