Sunday, August 17, 2008


It finally happened; the four established CA chapters of the AMCA have been waiting for a ride with the new Ishi chapter, which is located in Chico... and while only two of the other chapters actually showed up (well, southern California IS a long way for a day ride), the roads and the company proved first-rate.

Our unofficial meeting spot at 9am was the parking lot of the Chico Holiday Inn, and a few of the locals joined us to show off their antiques, including this Yangtze sidecar outfit, which was nicely complemented by a '42 Harley XA... both of which are reproductions of the BMW R71. Harley doesn't emphasize the XA in their literature, although both it and the Hummer were copies of German machines (the Hummer being a spoils-of-war copy of the DKW RT125). It seems General Patton ordered copies of the R71 made for his troops, although it retained Harley's leading link forks, rather than the ground-breaking new telescopic forks of the BMW. The Harley also uses a pair of Schebler carbs, which, due to their shape, required a move of the inlet tract towards the top of the cylinder. Most of the engine, gearbox, frame, and final drive are direct replicas of the BMW, and most parts are interchangeable, including the metric nuts and bolts (which required a new set of wrenches of this machine's owner)... apparently Patton wanted to snag parts from captured bikes during the war!

Our official meeting point in the morning was Durham city park, which was quite nice, with huge mature oak trees providing shade, although I think calling Durham a 'city' is a stretch - perhaps a dozen buildings near a crossroads were all I could see.

I grew up in the Central Valley (my father took a job as professor at UOP in Stockton), and was happy to leave it at 17 - boredom and heat had taken their toll. Almost 30 years later, I can appreciate anew the landscape, greenery, and rural architecture (especially the old Victorian farmhouses), and even the flat farmlands, with their endless fields of rice, are host to an amazing variety of wildlife by the side of the road. All of the rice paddies were fairly recently planted, and their green stalks were short, but a few were beginning to bloom a bright chrome green-yellow, and in these fields dozens of large white Cranes and larger Great Blue Herons stalked fish and frogs in the shallow water, and didn't mind our roaring by.

From Durham we headed south to Hwy 162, which we followed out of the flatlands, through Oroville, as the hills rose before us, and the temperature rose into the 90's. Very shortly after leaving town, just after crossing this green bridge over Lake Oroville, the road became sinuous and well-paved, and I said goodbye to my Harley-riding companions, as we headed the 65 miles up the mountain to Quincy. Nortons are indeed Roadholders, and Hwy 162 now ranks very high on my list of the best - it's the equal of Hwy 36, but gets demerits for summer heat. Luckily, Buck's Lake Lodge, our lunch spot, sits at 4,000', and was shaded by great evergreen trees, so the temperature was reasonable.

Bike of the Day went to Rich Ostrander's '40 Knucklehead 'Rocket' which he built as an homage to his late father, in the style which he would have enjoyed on returning from WW2... see the detail shot of the shifter knob; dad's photo with little Richard and his sister are embedded within the plastic - a nice touch.

The old Knucklehead goes very well too, even in the heat, although he had to stop and reattach a muffler on the way uphill. Everyone asks him what model Harley was the 'Rocket'... which I suppose speaks well of the integration of Rich's logo with the 'look' of the bike - a period custom from before the days of insane fiberglass and billet aluminum.

The Lodge supplied everyone with hamburgers and a spot to cool off, while this yellow '54 KH Sportster got a little throttle cable maintenance. I've always liked the sidevalve early Sporty's; they're such an anachronism by 1954, but Harley developed this engine to perfection through their typically dogged and conservative means... never changing anything until years after other manufacturers... but the KRTT, the ultimate racing sidevalve machine, was a thing of beauty and a miracle of the engine tuner's art. Their chassis development still left much to be desired, and Cal Rayborn was famously quoted that the racing Harley 'was the only machine he'd ever ridden which could throw you off in a straight line!' Add-ons like Ceriani racing forks helped cure some of these issues... as you can see the forks on this K are a little weedy for a big machine (I know, it's not big by Harley standards, but a '38 BMW has 4mm larger fork diameter). If that front brake looks familiar, that's because it's identical to the 8" BSA single-sided drum - which came first?

Some of the Ishi gang; president Rick Haner, with Gordon Matthews on the far left, and their club secretary 'Muck' on the far right.

After lunch the road through Quincy and out to Hwy 70 proved equally exciting to Hwy 162, and the boys showed they were no slouches. The roads up here are in excellent condition, so the rigid bikes had no trouble blasting along with the fast pack. This photo shows 3 Knuckleheads leading the way, ridden with verve...see the video as well.

After passing Quincy we descended into the Feather River Canyon, which is well-known among motorcyclists as being a fast and relatively safe road, as the curves tend to be constant and sweeping, although the consequences of a get-off could be serious, with solid Serpentine rock walls on one side, and the river on the other. There's generally plenty of runoff road, but we didn't need any. The canyon has six dams and seven hydro plants along its run, and tunnels bored through the mountains, making for an entertaining ride.

There are also two sets of train tracks paralleling the highway, which meander in all directions according to the terrain, making a crazy skyway of sometimes overlapping trestle bridges heading in different directions, and lots of train tunnels both above and below the road level. At times the landscape reminded me of a great model train diorama, with caricatures of oversize rocks and perfect pointy evergreen trees dotting the mountains, and trains coming from a hundred crazy directions.

The landscape was intriguing, but the air felt like a blast furnace, as the temp must have hit 110 at times, so we wound it on tight to keep cool, and I had a great time following Rick's 80cu" Knucklehead hotrod as we rocketed down the hill (see video). That's almost twice the capacity of my Atlas! It certainly picked up and went, although Rick says he'd like to raise the footrests for more ground clearance... as this canyon road is his regular 'Sunday morning ride', I'm certain he's got chamfered boots already.[And a note on the videos - yes I'm riding with one hand, as in all my videos; no fancy camera mounts. I can scan the landscape with a free camera, or focus on other riders, etc. We're doing around 70mph in this video, and a 100 degree wind is howling up the canyon in our face. I should put a music soundtrack over the wind noise, but what?].

We needed a stop in Belden Town, which sits across a nice little trestle bridge, and is a relic of a carriage house/hotel. I don't know if you can rent rooms there still, but the bar and restaurant are functional. In the early part of the 20th century, you would have guided your horsedrawn carriage down the ramp into the full basement/stables, before coming upstairs for a beer. Instead, we parked our mounts under a big tree with a large gold ship's anchor ('anchor down' the sign said), and headed in for a beer.

The river blew at full speed through the rocky canyon just feet away from us, while we were regaled with tales from a geophysicist, who was researching platinum deposits in the area. There are still huge gold and mineral deposits in the mountains here, not too far from where gold was discovered in abundance in the mid-1800's. The town of Cherokee was mentioned, which was one of the richest gold, diamond, and mineral deposits in the world in that era. The first diamonds in the US were found here in 1853; the DeBeers diamond cartel recently bought all the mining rights around Cherokee, purportedly due to the a huge cache of diamonds still waiting to be recovered...but has shut down the mine, much to the chagrin of the locals formerly employed there.

I took the side road detour to Cherokee, to find a tiny hamlet which clings to the hot hillsides, and a few historic sites marked 'no trespassing'. The photo shows the remains of what must have been the bank, with thick stone walls and a further stone vault in the corner. Once teeming with 1000 miners, 8 hotels, 17 saloons, and two churches, the old buildings are mostly gone, as is the mountain itself. This was the site of the largest hydraulic mining operation in the world, where the mountain was eroded under a barrage of oversize pressure hoses, blasting water 24 hours a day (at night they used giant arc lights), so the gold could be easily separated out of the resulting mud slurry, using 9 miles of sluice boxes.

One of the pressure nozzles sits like a cannon at the front of the old general store. The scars at the edges of the canyon which used to be a mountain are bright orange - a surreal scene. Hydraulic mining was outlawed as the huge influx of silt and debris overwhelmed the rivers downstream and created havoc, as rivers would quickly dam themselves with mud, instant lakes would form, and just as suddenly the water would be released in massive torrents, causing flash floods in the valley below. Not very nice for their downstream neighbors!

Thanks to the Ishi chapter for putting on a great ride.


glomad said...

What a great job you did documenting the ride! That takes some talent to be able to do that and ride at the same time! Thank you so much.... That was a fun day. Gloria :)

vintagent said...

Dirk Said:

"Dear Paul,
Your blogspot is very well done--tasteful, informative, and well written.
Great job!
P.S., The MGC 3B blurb is really interesting."

vintagent said...

Dr. Sprocket says:

"Hey Paul, Nice piece on the Ishi ride. His name is Jim but goes by "Muck'. Also it's a 40 not a 41. Glad you showed up. It was a great ride. About 350 on the old knuck. Just got it warmed up. Where were all those other Yerba Buena "riders". Rich P.S. Those Fort Sutter boy's were MIA too! must have been a bug going around."

Rick Haner said...

Hi Paul...
Thanks for bringing the norton out...nice to see some british iron along for a change..
Had a great time,enjoyed your company..and your documetation of the ride was first rate..Hope to see you sometime soon for some more canyon carving.and some cooler temps...should have the motor broken in next time we meet ;-)..Rick Haner

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul

I really enjoyed your piece on the Ishi road run. I own the yellow KH and my son Mike was on the orange 74 Sportster. I live in Mariposa. We have many good old roads for old bikes here. You should come sometime.