Saturday, November 03, 2007


The All-British Ride was held yesterday in brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies, with a record turnout of around 200 machines. The header photo of Roland Badertsther sums up the quality of the day's ride. This event is organized by the BSA club, and always has a strong draw, with riders coming in for the day from hours away, to see the great variety of makes and chat with old friends.

Pic 2 shows the Maple trees turning colors above the endless lineup of bikes; there seemed to be half a dozen of everything; Vincents, Velos, Matchlesses, Ariels, featherbed Nortons, BSAs, but the biggest head counts were on Triumph twins, Norton Commandos, and modern Triumphs.

I don't think I've posted a pic of an Ariel Square 4, so here's a nice example of a late model Mark II, with 4 exhaust pipes and a nacelle headlamp, all painted a deep maroon. A very attractive engine design, and very expensive in its day, with 100mph performance, 45hp, and 450lbs, it has a smooth and brisk power delivery. The Ansty link rear plunger suspension wears rapidly, though, and can make for a wallowy ride unless kept in top shape.

Another big 1000cc ohv machine is Paul Zell's awesome Egli Vincent, surely the fastest 'old' bike present, and ridden with verve by its creator. I think its about the best looking Vincent I've ever seen, and Paul fabricated the sheet metal himself.
On the opposite end of the speed spectrum is Art Sirota and his BSA M2o in a shined-up military olive drab. I think I passed Art 3 times on the day, which of course means he passed me twice! I did stop for a beer in Bodega Bay, tasted soooo good, sitting in the sun, perched over the water at the Tides.
Next pic is a chopper BSA A10, with wild flame paint job. Definitely not a 'bobber', as the frame has been stretched and the forks were extra-long.

Once on the road, the line of bikes stretched out over miles as riders found their paces. The roads west of Novato have knots of very tight twisties interspersed with straighter sections where, if you're inclined, you can really let your engine rev out. I kept my speed below 90 (I think) as the roads aren't well paved, and at speed I find I'm in the air as much as on the pavement. At one right-angle corner at the end of a long straightaway, traffic tends to bunch up, and one young woman couldn't see the turn at all, and ended up on a gravel farm road going a bit too fast. The forks on her ex-Dutch military Matchless G80 were a bit bent, and she was a little woozy from the tumble, so we didn't see her or her friends later, which is a pity. The Matchy is a time warp machine, with its original military markings and paint.

That's Roly again on his Norton ES2 cafe racer, looking happy to be out in the glorious sunshine, with a bit of green grass and rolling hills in the background. This pushrod 500cc engine sits within a wideline Featherbed frame, with a short-track Manx alloy tank and magnesium Fontana front stopper.

No, I don't think a Matchless G12 is a cow of a bike, it just looked good parked on the grass, This is actually a very nicely restored machine, with the correct faux-megaphone silencers and deeply valanced mudguards. I've always thought them very handsome machines, with shapely castings on the timing cover and cylinder heads.

Next pic; we're all back on the road, twisting the wick up. For you English readers, I'm on the wrong side of the road here! But, as we have no hedgerows, we can see a long way up the road ahead for oncoming cars (of which there are few). I do believe that's the Zellvin I'm following - we are about to pass two modern Triumphs.

That's Harley Welch, organizer of the Moto Melee and Giro d'California, riding his trusty BSA B33 with rigid rear end and tele forks (and a Gold Star front brake). It's a heck of a lot less oily than my KTT, but he won the Exxon Valdiz award for oiliest bike present. Early BSA singles are rarely ridden in the Bay Area, perhaps because there are so many Goldies around.

Speaking of Gold Stars, there were several on the ride, including this Catalina Scrambler, complete with original sticker on the tank, which is a map of Santa Catalina Island (22 miles off Los Angeles), where the 'Catalina Grand Prix' was held on dirt roads starting in 1951. This event was often won by Gold Stars, but John McLaughlin won several times on his overbored Velo MAC (the Mellow Yellow Velo).
This BSA has a straight pipe like my bike, and sounded terrific. I don't think the headlamp is original, but otherwise the bike looks very standard, including the large air filter trunk which replaces the battery box. I once owned just such a machine, minus the airbox, and found it very powerful fun to ride. It went to live with Rene Meier-Asboe in Berlin, who had a motorcycle shop there in the 80's, but this was before the Wall fell. He used to come to the US and buy shipping containers full of motorcycles to bring home (he also bought a '59 Triumph T110 from me), and padded the bikes with hundreds of pairs of Levi's blue jeans! He claimed to make more money selling the jeans than selling the bikes.

Here's a small selection of the bikes parked up in the town of Tomales. We filled up both sides of the street for the whole length of the downtown.

Pete Young brought his '37 Velo MSS with sidecar (a modern copy of an Australian Dusting chair, I believe). Inside the 'car sat his daughter Sirisvati, who has been thus ferried around since she was about 18 mos old. Pete has rigged up an automotive child seat, compete with seat belt and 4-point harness for the passenger.

What does she think of riding with Dad? The picture tells the whole story.

I didn't catch this fellow's name, but he has a lovely Royal Enfield model J (500cc), ca '47. Not a common bike here in the states, but even Bullets are rare.

Here's a trio of Commandos in front of some charmingly rustic sheds in Tomales. Many of these Nortons are non-standard cosmetically, and upgraded mechanically. I think they're very popular here in California as they can be made reliable with some easy modifications, and are comfortable to ride long distances, with their rubber-mounted power train. They're fast, too, although I find their handling disconcerting when pushed hard (I also know this can be corrected with improved mountings etc - the late Nortons I've owned have all been standard, and squishy).

James and Kumi Johnson looking cool in the sun. Kumi is wearing a one-piece Belstaff suit of waxed cotton - something I hadn't seen before. She says she found it 'new old stock', probably because it is quite small, but perfect for her.

Los Quatro Amigos, standing behind a nice off-road BSA B50 T, ca 1971/2. Non-standard exhaust (originally they came with a big trapezoidal muffler sitting in that open triangle below the seat) which weighs less and probably sounds better.

Cresting the hill on Coleman Valley Road, between Occidental and the sea. What a view; I always stop here for a moment to drink it in. Plus, a good spot for a couple of miles 'engines off' run, as the road becomes very steep and twisty before joining Hwy 1.

Big crowd means big lunch line. The BSA club treats us well though, and there was ample food for everyone, parking on the grass, and lots of picnic benches on which to sit. Even cake at the end for your sweet tooth.

I wasn't the only one taking photographs! Your photo may soon appear in the BSA newsletter. Gotta love the apropos t-shirt, and if you click on the photo, her boots!

Here is a nice Triumph Bonneville among other agricultural implements. I do believe that large barrel/wheel behind the bike is for spreading manure on fields. Sorry, the bike was obviously posed in this picturesque spot, just begging for 'insert your favorite farm tool joke here.'

Which is unfair, because THESE machines are truly agricultural! And interlopers! A very nice pair of Indians - a '47 Chief and '41 Sport Scout, which appeared at the end of the day, quietly. I wouldn't have minded them along on the ride - they would have definitely been less of a road hazard than that BSA M20.

I couldn't tell if this late Featherbed Norton was a 650ss/Mercury/Atlas, as they all look alike, but the fact that it has twin instruments mounted on the top of the fork (instead of a speedo in the headlamp and tacho on the fork top) argues for an Atlas, 750cc of solid torque. I had one as my third-ever motorcycle, and while I loved the power and handling, it shook horribly and ate its big-end bearings. Shook so badly that I literally couldn't see straight at 100mph. But, I've ridden others in the years since, and they've all been lovely and fairly smooth. Mine must have been a bad one. A Frenchman named Dominique bought it in 1986 - where is it now?

1 comment:

The Creeper said...

Excellent write up and photos, Paul!