Tag Archives: vintage motorcycles

What a difference a day makes

Last week I headed down to Venice…California, not Italy, for a Vintage BMW event. I had some extra time so I took a quick tour of the Santa Monica Mountains roads that I love which is always fun.

I was riding up Decker Canyon pushing my old BMW as hard as I could, having a great time and then the feeling came upon me…I needed a restroom. Not because I scared myself on that one particular uphill blind right hander with a Cadillac Escalade coming down the hill in my lane, it was my second cup of coffee taking its effect. Next stop,The Rock Store.

Ed and Verns place was a gas station along Mulholland Highway in the middle of nowhere many lifetimes ago. Now it’s a restaurant, convenience store and on every Sunday, a So.Cal bike show. Well known riders, custom bike builders, and everyday riders like you and I show up there.

There are two times to show up at the Rock Store on a Sunday – really early (the sportbike crowd), or if you are a “I had a really good Saturday night” type (the cruiser crowd), a little later. Either time requires good parking skills. I think a new YouTube video should be watching someone trying to park their bike in the middle of 250 other motorcycles before they have had the second cup of coffee of the morning.

If you’re riding Mulholland Highway on a Sunday morning, you share the road with a number of black and white cars or motorcycles with red and blue lights along with your “enjoying a beautiful Sunday morning on a motorcycle” brethren – a small fact of life but it’s still fun. Saturday is a little different.

I thought for a Saturday I’d pretty much have the road to myself. I was wrong. I was hustling along (well, as fast as you can hustle a 34 year old BMW) and all of a sudden (literally) in my rearview mirror was a group of riders that went by me as if I was anchored to the Malibu pier. My first thought, I need a faster bike. Second thought, I have one…it just needs new fork seals, rear brake master cylinder rebuild (yes, some of us do use the rear brake), and a current registration…all minor details which I’m sure I’ll get around to eventually.

When I got to the Rock Store I was surprised at how many motorcycles were there. It wasn’t a large number, but certainly more than I thought would be there. As I walked around I met Roy on a beautiful old BMW R27, Tashi on Royal Enfield Bullet 500, and Bill on a KZ1000 ELR, each of them enjoying the day (the weather was perfect) and the ride. The common thread among them was the enjoyment of less traffic, less law enforcement…which, can and does allow for a more spirited ride, and once at the Rock Store, easier parking.

I met a young journalist from Japan wandering through the bikes. He was working on a story about the Rock Store for a magazine back home. He thought that there would be more bikes there. I told him Sunday was the day for large numbers of all kinds of bikes. “Ah, Sunday…what day is today?” he got off the plane from Japan just a few hours earlier. It was Sunday on his body clock. The young journalist took pictures, talked with riders, shared his own stories, and for those of us that got a chance to meet him, made the day more interesting.

I headed up over the mountains to the coast to keep my appointment in Venice. I wasn’t in too much of a hurry that I still couldn’t enjoy a fast blast over a couple more canyon roads before cruising the coast south, so I put the BMW, and myself through our paces. But then…I caught up with the Black Sheep Scooters.

I didn’t need gas, but there at the Chevron station in Malibu was a gaggle of scooters, the Black Sheep Scooter Club. I had to stop. This is a loosely knit group, and I mean that in more than one way, heading off on a two day camping and riding adventure. Scooter pilots from all over Southern California somehow managed to get together, go ride, and have a great weekend. Except for this one poor guy whose Lambretta decided it had had enough fun for one day. I made my way down to Venice, hung out with the guys at Black Kat Motorwerks, checked out all the cool old vintage stuff at The Garage Company, and then spent some time with my old friend and racing partner Ted Toki at his shop in West L.A, talking about our kids, hot rods, and his latest (old) Triumph.

The ride home that evening was wonderful. A perfect late summer night over the canyons, the R90’s headlight was just bright enough to guide me over roads I can probably ride blindfolded, and all was well with the world.

We all look forward to the Sunday ride but, I found that a Saturday ride might be just as entertaining, if not a bit more.

Everybody has a story to tell

There is something about traveling on a motorcycle that is different from any other type of travel. Sometimes we ride with specific destinations and time frames and other times we just wander. I have ridden rally’s with check points from Mexico to Canada and then spent days just wandering the western US on my way home. In forty years and and nearly three quarters of a million miles on two wheels, I have a lot of stories and memories but I find I spend more time listening to and enjoying other riders stories. Everybody that travels on a motorcycle has stories of great routes, favorite destinations, the best restaurant in Wyoming or Utah. Tales of breakdowns and rescues, new friends made and occasionally tragedies. Everybody has a travel story.

Last week while covering the World Superbike races at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah I met a couple of men with a truly great story. Heather and I were sitting outside enjoying an end of the day beverage and our view of the Wasatch Mountains when a man stopped and said we looked so happy he wanted to take a picture of us, then we got to talking. CIMG6249

Terry and his friend Guy had ridden down from Vancouver, BC to attend the races. Terry took a few days off from his job as a tile setter and Guy is retired so, time for a ride. I need to back up a minute here, when we arrived at the campground the evening before the first thing I saw was a Vincent Black Shadow across the way. My first thought was that someone trailered it and is just riding to and from the track. I was wrong. CIMG6259

After taking our picture, Terry told us that he and his friend had ridden down on on that Black Shadow and his old Norton Commando. I was impressed to say the least, to have that kind of faith in old English motorcycles, brave men indeed. But then story got even better. CIMG6261

A year or two earlier these two guys got a wild hair up their fannies and decided they wanted to go see the TT, The Isle of Man TT. It would be easy to fly over to England, rent a couple of bikes, take the ferry across to the island and have the trip of a lifetime…but NOOOOOO (in my best John Belushi imitation), they’re going to take their own bikes. Both the Vincent and the Norton are treated to rebuilds and upgrades, crated up and loaded onto the plane.

Terry, Guy and their wives had a fantastic time at the TT but now the trip was just beginning. For the next two months for Terry and four months for Guy they traipsed all over Europe. Now, most people going to a foreign country get a bunch of maps, spend months poring over them, planning a route, changing it half a dozen times and reading the tour guides. And again…But NOOOOO, these two decide that a compass is plenty good enough. “ Today we go North”, let’s see where we end up? It was like that for two months, they have very trusting wives. The days ride ended wherever it ended. Now let me remind you, this wandering the country side and the cities, the story about navigating a European Roundabout while looking at the compass to see which exit to take was hilarious, was done on a 1952 Vincent and a 1974 Norton. Not for the faint hearted.CIMG6264

Terry’s story continued on for a while and I just wanted to hear more and more, I wanted to do a trip like that. We said our good nights and thanks for the story now it was time to refresh the beverages and start making dinner. The rest of the night I replayed his story in my head and loved it again and again.

All motorcycle travelers have stories and thank you Terry for yours. You’ve made my day many times over.

The economy and salvage yards

thum_933495725b6bf0a9As you’ve read before, I’m starting work on a Cafe Racer project based on a 1971 Honda SL350. It’s going to be a very cool bike when it’s done but it’s going to need some surgery and odd parts. Off to the boneyard I go. I know the owner pretty well and I know he keeps odd hours, like you never know what days he is going to be open and for how long that day. Oh well. Knowing this, I decide to call first before making a fifty mile trip to find closed doors. No answer, call a couple of hours later, no answer, call the next day, you guessed it, no answer. So I call a friend who lives close by to see if there is a sign or anything that says when the place is open.  My friend calls back with some bad news. There is no sign about hours and it looks like a lot of the old bikes and stuff that you can see from the street are gone.  This is very distressing, time to open a beer.thum_933495725efe0a2b

When gas prices were at their peak earlier this year friends at motorcycle shops were telling me guys pulling old bikes out of the garage and and starting to ride again. Parts sales were pretty good, accessory sales were up and so were cheap used bikes. Not so with new bikes though.  With a lot of these old bikes being drug back out into the light of day you would think that the salvage yards might be doing a pretty brisk business, I mean a good part from a salvage yard is usually less than half the cost of new.

As gas prices started coming down and the weather stated getting a little cooler, the old bikes were relegated to the corner again. Even scooter sales that were doing so well started slowing. Motorcycles here in the U.S are looked at more as toys instead of transportation. Everywhere else in the world, small size motorbikes are a major part of the traffic scene. And with gas prices as high as they are in Europe and other areas of the world you can understand it. But, wait I’m getting off topic here, let’s get back to the boneyard.

Digging around some of the lists and forums I’m on, I’m finding that salvage yards are going the way of the DO-DO bird. They are disappearing.  Riders that work on their own motorcycles seem to be going away as well. Younger riders on newer bikes aren’t interested in crud covered old bikes and unless you have all kinds of computer stuff you can’t work on a new one.  So again, back to the salvage yard. With a bit more research and calling a couple of other salvage yards around the Southern California area, I learn that the value of all those parts is greater as scrap metal than parts. And with business slowing it’s better to send it to the smelter than to someones garage. A pretty hefty number of the motorcycle salvage yards in Southern California have closed over the past couple of years. Those of us that dabble with vintage motorcycles are find it increasingly difficult to find parts.

The econmy is hitting motorcycling in all ways, from the lowly salvage yard all the way to MotoGP. Just this morning, sources inside the Kawasaki MotoGP team leaked it that Kawasaki was pulling out of the 2009 MotoGP season. This is sending some shockwaves through the motorcycle racing world. American Honda pulled out of roadracing here in America citing economic woes. With two major players out of the game, I wonder who’s next.

Well, I think now I’ll go outside get on my trusty little Honda 350 and see if the salvage yard is open. If Greg isn’t there oh well, it’s nice day for a fifty mile ride.