Sunday, September 30, 2007


TE Lawrence in the traditional dress of the Arab tribes he studied and fought with
This short essay/reminiscence from T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) is one of my favorite pieces of motorcycle writing. It's from his book 'The Mint', published posthumously in 1955. 'The Mint' is a collection of notes and essays penned by Lawrence while serving in the Royal Air Force (1923-35), and edited by his brother, Professor A.W. Lawrence, who inherited T.E.L.'s estate (and who had to sell the American rights to 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom' to pay inheritance taxes in England on Lawrence's death in 1935, aged 46).

Lawrence gained his 'of Arabia' during the First World War, where his adoption of Arab dress, language, and custom gained him the respect of King Faisal, and convinced British brass to give T.E.L. a free hand to conduct commando raids on Turkish positions, using Arab tribesmen as his soldiers. After his rampant successes during the War (and promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel), he returned to England and sought the anonymity of enlisted military service to escape his fame, which partly resulted from cooperation with journalist Lowell Thomas during the Arab Campaign (Thomas sent frequent, romantic/heroic stories about Lawrence to the English press, and made him a hero). 'The Mint' chronicles those years spent in the RAF.
TE Lawrence with a camel and an Enfield rifle
Lawrence published two original books during his lifetime; 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom' (1926) and 'Revolt in the Desert' (1927), which was an abridged version of 'Seven Pillars'. Interestingly, Lawrence refused payment for his writing, feeling that he had already been paid by the government for his service in the military, on which the books were based. 'Revolt' was a best-seller, and profits went to a fund for children of RAF officers killed in action. If you're interested in reading his work, I'd suggest 'The Seven Pillars of Wisdom'; Lawrence had a natural gift for writing, and his dear friend George Bernard Shaw helped him edit the the book. It's a classic.

Of course, Lawrence writes here about his experience riding his Brough Superior S.S.100 model.
TE Lawrence with his first Brough Superior SS100, 'Boanerges', of which he writes in 'The Road'
The Road:
"The extravagance in which my surplus emotion expressed itself lay on the road. So long as roads were tarred blue and straight; not hedged; and empty and dry, so long I was rich.

Nightly I’d run up from the hangar, upon the last stroke of work, spurring my tired feet to be nimble. The very movement refreshed them, after the day-long restraint of service. In five minutes my bed would be down, ready for the night: in four more I was in breeches and puttees, pulling on my gauntlets as I walked over to my bike, which lived in a garage-hut, opposite. Its tyres never wanted air, its engine had a habit of starting at second kick: a good habit, for only by frantic plunges upon the starting pedal could my puny weight force the engine over the seven atmospheres of its compression.

Boanerges’ first glad roar at being alive again nightly jarred the huts of Cadet College into life. ‘There he goes, the noisy bugger,’ someone would say enviously in every flight. It is part of an airman’s profession to be knowing with engines: and a thoroughbred engine is our undying satisfaction. The camp wore the virtue of my Brough like a flower in its cap. Tonight Tug and Dusty came to the step of our hut to see me off. ‘Running down to Smoke, perhaps?’ jeered Dusty; hitting at my regular game of London and back for tea on fine Wednesday afternoons.
George Brough - on crutches after an accident - and TE Lawrence in 1930
Boa is a top-gear machine, as sweet in that as most single-cylinders in middle. I chug lordlily past the guard-room and through the speed limit at no more than sixteen. Round the bend, past the farm, and the way straightens. Now for it. The engine’s final development is fifty-two horse-power. A miracle that all this docile strength waits behind one tiny lever for the pleasure of my hand.

Another bend: and I have the honour of one of England’ straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air’s coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar’s gravelled undulations.

Like arrows the tiny flies pricked my cheeks: and sometimes a heavier body, some house-fly or beetle, would crash into face or lips like a spent bullet. A glance at the speedometer: seventy-eight. Boanerges is warming up. I pull the throttle right open, on the top of the slope, and we swoop flying across the dip, and up-down up-down the switchback beyond: the weighty machine launching itself like a projectile with a whirr of wheels into the air at the take-off of each rise, to land lurchingly with such a snatch of the driving chain as jerks my spine like a rictus.
The Bristol F2B fighter
Once we so fled across the evening light, with the yellow sun on my left, when a huge shadow roared just overhead. A Bristol Fighter, from Whitewash Villas, our neighbour aerodrome, was banking sharply round. I checked speed an instant to wave: and the slip-stream of my impetus snapped my arm and elbow astern, like a raised flail. The pilot pointed down the road towards Lincoln. I sat hard in the saddle, folded back my ears and went away after him, like a dog after a hare. Quickly we drew abreast, as the impulse of his dive to my level exhausted itself.

The next mile of road was rough. I braced my feet into the rests, thrust with my arms, and clenched my knees on the tank till its rubber grips goggled under my thighs. Over the first pot-hole Boanerges screamed in surprise, its mud-guard bottoming with a yawp upon the tyre. Through the plunges of the next ten seconds I clung on, wedging my gloved hand in the throttle lever so that no bump should close it and spoil our speed. Then the bicycle wrenched sideways into three long ruts: it swayed dizzily, wagging its tail for thirty awful yards. Out came the clutch, the engine raced freely: Boa checked and straightened his head with a shake, as a Brough should.

The bad ground was passed and on the new road our flight became birdlike. My head was blown out with air so that my ears had failed and we seemed to whirl soundlessly between the sun-gilt stubble fields. I dared, on a rise, to slow imperceptibly and glance sideways into the sky. There the Bif was, two hundred yards and more back. Play with the fellow? Why not? I slowed to ninety: signalled with my hand for him to overtake. Slowed ten more: sat up. Over he rattled. His passenger, a helmeted and goggled grin, hung out of the cock-pit to pass me the ‘Up yer’ Raf randy greeting.
TE Lawrence in his incognito years within the Tank Corps.  Not his unusual one-piece linen suit.  The watch he's wearing is an Omega aviator-chronograph, which now supposedly sits in the Omega museum, Biel, Switzerland.
They were hoping I was a flash in the pan, giving them best. Open went my throttle again. Boa crept level, fifty feet below: held them: sailed ahead into the clean and lonely country. An approaching car pulled nearly into its ditch at the sight of our race. The Bif was zooming among the trees and telegraph poles, with my scurrying spot only eighty yards ahead. I gained though, gained steadily: was perhaps five miles an hour the faster. Down went my left hand to give the engine two extra dollops of oil, for fear that something was running hot: but an overhead Jap twin, super-tuned like this one, would carry on to the moon and back, unfaltering.

We drew near the settlement. A long mile before the first houses I closed down and coasted to the cross-roads by the hospital. Bif caught up, banked, climbed and turned for home, waving to me as long as he was in sight. Fourteen miles from camp, we are, here: and fifteen minutes since I left Tug and Dusty at the hut door.

I let in the clutch again, and eased Boanerges down the hill along the tram-lines through the dirty streets and up-hill to the aloof cathedral, where it stood in frigid perfection above the cowering close. No message of mercy in Lincoln. Our God is a jealous God: and man’s very best offering will fall disdainfully short of worthiness, in the sight of Saint Hugh and his angels.

Remigius, earthy old Remigius, looks with more charity on and Boanerges. I stabled the steel magnificence of strength and speed at his west door and went in: to find the organist practising something slow and rhythmical, like a multiplication table in notes on the organ. The fretted, unsatisfying and unsatisfied lace-work of choir screen and spandrels drank in the main sound. Its surplus spilled thoughtfully into my ears.
Lawrence on his 1926 Brough Superior SS100
By then my belly had forgotten its lunch, my eyes smarted and streamed. Out again, to sluice my head under the White Hart’s yard-pump. A cup of real chocolate and a muffin at the teashop: and Boa and I took the Newark road for the last hour of daylight. He ambles at forty-five and when roaring his utmost, surpasses the hundred. A skittish motor-bike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness. Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.

At Nottingham I added sausages from my wholesaler to the bacon which I’d bought at Lincoln: bacon so nicely sliced that each rasher meant a penny. The solid pannier-bags behind the saddle took all this and at my next stop a (farm) took also a felt-hammocked box of fifteen eggs. Home by Sleaford, our squalid, purse-proud, local village. Its butcher had six penn’orth of dripping ready for me. For months have I been making my evening round a marketing, twice a week, riding a hundred miles for the joy of it and picking up the best food cheapest, over half the country side."

Saturday, September 29, 2007


The Yerba Buena chapter of the AMCA hosted a rally in Groveland, CA, just outside of Yosemite National Park on Sep 23-26. The National Rallies for the AMCA are always held mid-week over three days, and I laid out the route for this one (it's fairly easy to find three days of spectacular roads in this area). Around 130 motorcycles attended, mostly Harleys and Indians, but there was a smattering of other machinery - a couple of BMWs, a couple of BSAs and Nortons, several Triumphs, and only one Velocette (my '33 mkIV KTT). Even though I had laid out the route and delivered the rider's meeting on Monday morning, I had to go home and work on my bike! Since my Velo Clubman had cast me off in August, I hadn't completed work on any of my other bikes, and I still haven't figured what caused the lockup on the VM. That left the ever-reliable Mule, but last time I tried to ride it, there was precious little compression. So, for the first time in 8 years, I took the head off to see what was wrong, and found plenty - most serious being a cracked and chipped exhaust valve. Luckily, I had bought a nos valve from ebay, so stuck it in the guide (loosey-goosey), ground the seat, and threw it all back together. A push up the road, and, as always, she fired up.
The rally site was the Yosemite Pines in Groveland, which was a perfect location - we had reserved the entire place, which had cabins, yurts (!), and rv spots. A LOT of the attendees from out of state (probably 80) had driven RV's with trailers containing the bikes - they came from all over the US; Iowa, Ohio, Texas, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Arizona, etc, so the long-haul comfort is understandable. The trick seems to be to attend a string of these Road Runs, moving further westward with the season; our ride was connected with an unofficial rally in Bishop immediately afterwards, followed by another national run in Death Valley, and quite a few of the riders were going to make all 3 events.
Top pic is club VP Kurt Hansen on his Indian Chief; it was cold Monday morning, around 34 degrees, but warmed up quickly and all 3 days hovered in the 80's during the afternoon (although it was in the 30's over Tioga pass - 9943').
Pics 2 and 3 show the Yerba Buena hospitality tent, where we had complimentary coffee and pastries in the morning, and cold kegs of beer. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Najeras (Tony and Jet pictured, but Ricky helped too) made a breakfast of chorizo, eggs, and tortillas - yeah!
Pic 4 shows morning sunlight filtering through the haze of someone's exhaust; lovely. The two closest bikes are Tom and Jenny Parker's Indians, featured in my blog post on the pre-16 ride in Atascadero.

Pic 5 has a yurt and yurtster with his Indian - this fellow was from Ohio

Pic 6 is yours truly on The Mule, ready for action

Pic 7 is a 1913/14/15 Excelsior, the oldest bike on the rally. Click on the pic and note the nitrous bottle (!), which is currently empty as when last used, the extra power sheared off the clutch center nut. Perhaps they didn't have nitrous in 1915?

Pic 8 is Erhard and his faithful Zundapp outfit, complete with driven sidecar wheel and locking differential for really tough going. Ask and he'll tell you about every thread pitch and micro part he's made on the machine.

Pic 9 is a simple but attractive Harley 45" bobber. This machine is a much better representative of a period Bobber than the bikes currently emulating the look. Stripped-down for lighter weight and better performance (and you'll need it with that flathead engine).

Pic 10 - a gorgeous US-spec Triumph Bonneville, ca '61, love the orange paint

Pic 11 the multitudes assemble for my Rider's Meeting - not easy to be heard with so many people!

Pic 12 Custom tank art is big on the American machines, usually involving scantily-clad women, who are definitely not model-thin! Nice depiction of a D-Day P38 Lightning, with 'twin boom' fuselage. The riderette has her own twin booms!

Pic 13 Matt on his highly customized and self-fabricated BSA B44 - a click on the pic will show what he's done to the bike - brake airscoop, exhaust system, bikini fairing, seat, sidecovers, etc. It goes well too.

Pic 14 the inimitable Dr Wu, on his BMW cafe creation. 'Other Jeff' won an award for 'Best Non-American' machine at the banquet - congratulations.

Pic 15 is a standard WW2-era Betty Grable image, very discreet in these days of internet access. All pinup girls seem to be based on Betty Grable or Betty Page; what is it about Bettys?

Pic 16 that's Stanley Miller from Texas

Pic 17 the REAL riding women, hauling 600lbs of Yankee iron around the canyons and mountain passes; they are awesome (pardon the adolescent gushing, but these gals are far sexier than the painted pinups). About 10% of the riders were women, about half on British, half on American machines.

Pic 18 Local hotrod builder showed up for lunch on Weds.

Pic 19 Bring your dog too! Apparently the pup loves to ride; when it got hot, a little water on the head helped.

Pic 20 needs no explanation

Pic 21-23 Stopping for a break before descending on Wards Ferry Road; a one-lane canyon road with rocks on one side, a guardrail-free cliff on the other, so very little room for error. This is a road never forgotten! Everyone stopped to let their brakes cool off and and chat for a bit. The shot with the Indians gives a good impression of the terrain. Unfortunately, Mike Kane decided to go over the edge.... but he didn't get hurt!

Pic 24-25 Mikes' bike 40' down the cliff, and hauling it up to the top with the help of a towtruck and cable. More in another post. It was an amazing experience, and Mike definitely has a guardian angel.

Pic 26 The Badgers end the day in fine style, ready for the banquet
Pic 27 Banquet outdoors, waiting for the full moon to rise, the food catered by the Charlotte Hotel was terrific, and everybody got a prize

Monday, September 03, 2007


On day 2 I was resigned to driving the chase truck behind the Velos, waiting to catch anyone with mechanical issues... but there were two or three sweep vehicles, and they always seemed to have picked up the wounded before I other trucks which where 'unofficial' the whole point of the rally for me. Pic 1 shows my only potential customer, Mark Hoyer of Cycle showed up. The chase truck is supposed to be the last vehicle on the road, as a courtesy to the rallyists, which means the driver doesn't see many bikes, except at lunchtime when I was able to have conversations with various riders, which is World, whose MSS ate no less than 3 auto-advance units during the week - surely a record.
We made our way towards Glacier National Park. There were some large wildfires near our route, so I chose to take Going to the Sun Road, one of the most spectacular stretches of asphalt in North America (pics 3 and 4). Visibility was a bit limited by smoke, but you could still feel the dramatic peaks and plunges of this passage through the Rockies. I've been over this stretch about 6 times, and half the time it's raining and visibility is much worse than with smoke, so I was still happy with the view.
We camped in St. Mary, which is on the east side of Glacier, in a brushy area with low Aspen trees. The brush turned out to be Huckelberry bushes, which were loaded with ripe fruit, and delicious. I suppose the bears think the same, but campground much, as there weren't many warning signs or advisories to use bear lockers to store food (unlike Yosemite Park, where there are signs EVERYWHERE warning apparently they don't bother the about bears). Still, about the only animal which makes me irrationally nervous is the Grizzly, and Glacier is about the #1 spot in the lower 48 states to encounter such. I was feeling pretty lousy and sore, and unable to sleep in any position but on my back, so I padded the floor of my truck with moving blankets and slept inside - not much bear protection, but I slept really well (painkillers helped).
We had a short day Wednesday to explore the park (which I missed, taking the opportunity to drive to Calgary - I needed to pick up a '31 CS1 Norton anyway - which will be discussed in another post).
Thursday, we rode up to Waterton Park in Canada, which is the northern half of Glacier, and has equally dramatic scenery. (pic 5) The two parks make up the International Peace Park, and are great areas to explore. As I was driving the truck, I followed every side road to a view spot or hidden hotel, which was a bonus.
Our next stop was the town of Eureka, Montana, which is in the middle of NOWHERE, about 10 miles south of the border. Border crossings, by the way, were fairly uneventful; there had been much concern in the club as we had heard many reports that anyone with a prior conviction in the US (ie drunk driving or other misdemeanor) wouldn't be allowed into Canada. As far as I know, none of our group had any real trouble. I tried to smuggle the Norton across the border, but it aroused the curiosity of the border guard, and I had to declare it and process the paperwork to import it... this took about 20 minutes and cost me nothing, as there is no duty on importing old bikes into the US (unless it is between 740-885cc; then you are competing with Sportsters and will pay 7%).
Next pic shows one of the odd things that people living with long winters will do.
We stopped at an interesting motorcycle shop, which, although having the Indian name, was entirely filled with nice examples of early Japanese bikes (Honda Dreams and Black Bombers, early Suzuki two strokes, Bridgestones, etc). Pics 7 and 8.
Next pic is of Kim Young's '30 KSS in front of the WORLD'S LARGEST TRUCK (well, maybe at the time it was parked there). It's pretty big, and was used to haul coal from the many open pit mines in the area.
Next pic is Mark Hoyer, Bill Getty, and John Sims, stopped at a dam on our way south. Bill owns a large British motorcycle parts distribution business in SoCal, and rode his swingarm MSS on the rally.
Next 6 pics show the camping at Eureka,