Sunday, November 03, 2013


The dry magnificence of northern Marin County - cypress trees, brown grasslands, rolling hills with roads snaking through their hollows
I haven't ridden the BSA club's biggest annual ride in 6 years or so, but I was in the San Francisco Bay area at the end of October, which means two excellent vintage events on consecutive weekends.  The All-British Ride is an interesting contrast to the 49-Mile Ride, which attracts an incredible variety of machines, from Harley choppers to scooters, mopeds, nicely restored Britbikes, and more importantly, riders of all ages and persuasions.  The British Only focus of today's ride didn't shrink attendance, as nearly 200 machines rode the 100 mile loop around the best roads of Marin Country.
A 'Chinese Red' Vincent Rapide, the only one I've seen which isn't a Touring model.  Original color?  Who cares.
Notwithstanding the obvious differences in the motorcycle marques (Norton, BSA, Triumph, Vincent, Velocette, AJS, Matchless, Royal Enfield) between the two rides, the most glaring (and discussed) factor on the All-British Ride was the visibly greying hair among the riders.  I've been carving corners with these Bay Area hotshots for over 25 years, and as a group, we've grown older together, but the number of young 'replacement' riders, who'll likely buy/inherit our machines, is notably few.
Autumn is fully present in this mostly evergreen land, so we celebrate a little leaf color where we find it
Where are they, now that 'Motorcycles are Back!', as the cover of 'The Ride' rightly exclaims?  As seen in the 49-Mile Ride, they're busy riding Customs, Bobbers, Choppers, and Cafe Racers, of all makes and varieties, and aren't particularly interested in 'one make' clubs, the supposed lifeblood of the old bike movement.  Well, if the lifeblood is stale, it's time to infuse a little 'new blood', and do more than simply accept the existence of modified motorcycles...if the vintage motorcycle movement wants to thrive, it needs to celebrate what's happening, and start diggin' the customs, man.
Around 200 machines makes for crowded fuel stops, but every stop is a chance to catch up with old friends
For everyone over 50 reading this, who's a member of a Vintage or one-make club, we could do worse than to recall what made us tick at age 22 or 25... being cool, having fun, getting laid.  If modified old bikes fulfill those 3 requirements - and they clearly do - that's where we'll find the next generation of vintage enthusiasts.  If they don't feel scorned for removing the fenders from their Triumph or Honda (which is exactly what we did at their age), they might join us on a vintage ride, to discover why we love these events; riding an old motorcycle in beautiful countryside on a sunny day is a pretty close second to getting laid.  And it lasts all day!
Another of the 6 Vincents present and ridden, and isn't it glorious to see a big Vin heeled over in a corner?
It was great to see old friends, and hammer my Bonneville around the bends where I learned to ride a motorcycle properly, and understand their - and my - limits.  I had an ear-to-ear smile from my first kickstart of the morning until I parked the Bonnie in the garage, and my energies were renewed.  Motorcycling is the best.
Lovely Ariel Square Four mk2 - a rhyming song in aluminum
Roland Batterscher tries out a replica of Eddie Mulder's Pike's Peak-winning Triumph, a masterpiece of custom fabrication
British chrome shining in the morning sun; c. '68 BSA A65 Lightning and a late-model Triumph T160 Trident 
About 8 years ago I was asked to help sell a c.1950 BSA A7 plunger for an elderly man who'd had a stroke, and could use the money.  It was easiest just to buy the bike for the market rate, ~$3500 at the time, and pass it along to a new owner, which I did.  The BSA had been used for occasional fishing trips, and had only clocked 3200 miles; it still had the original tires, and the paint and chrome was a bit oxidized but completely original.  The all-iron motor was quiet and sweet-running and smooth; it was a gem of a machine but I was into racing bikes only at the time, so sold it at no profit to Gus.  Gus still has it, and rode it on the All-British.  He says it has a suprising turn of speed, but shouldn't be pushed to hard around bumpy corners, as the plunger suspension sets up a yawing roll which is disconcerting.  Above is the original sticker from San Francisco BSA dealer Molander Motors.  
Lots of late Triumphs and Commandos in Cali
Kumi and Mike adding serious cool to the venue
My '65 Triumph Bonneville waits patiently while I snap roadside photos.  The early single-downtube Triumph frame isn't the stiffest of chassis, and under hard cornering the front forks squirm.  It's best to ignore all the flexion, and just point it where it needs to go... and it does indeed go.  
The Squariel glinting in the 10am sun
Possibly the ugliest bitsa on the ride, or jolie-laide as the French might say - 'pretty/ugly' - is Roland's crazy Triumph-Rickman mix, with Ceriani road race forks AND magnesium brakes, Norton Electra tank (the fastest any Electra part has ever gone!), Harley XR tail section, etc.  Fast and fun, a crazy but functional Street Track hybrid
The legendary Lou Brero Jr and the BSA mix he'd completed at '2am this morning'.  Lou's father was a Ferrari and Jaguar factory team driver in the 1950s (see pic here - Jr is now past Sr's age!), and in the 1980s, when racing cars values started going through the roof, Lou Jr's inherited ex-factory Ferrari 375MM and Jaguar D-type became the subject of international intrigue, with hilarious magazine stories of the 'lost' team Ferrari, etc.  They were never 'lost'; the locals knew exactly where they sat!
Velocettes demand supplication before accepting a new owner!
Autumnal reds and yellows everwhere...
A typical California Commando, slightly modified for road use, in this case with a fork brace and steering damper (unnecessary in my experience), and a Corbin seat.  The Roadster model with 'peashooter' mufflers, as seen here, is a perennial favorite, being fast, smooth, and good-handling.  The ideal old bike, in many ways, for reliable modern use.
Paul Adams bonks home on his 'purchased from new' 1960 Velocette Venom Clubman
In the 1980s, container loads of Triumph Tridents and pre-unit twins left California for Australia, in a time-phased import shift from England, with a temporary stopover in the USA.  A few are still around, though.

Gold Stars galore, in many styles of originality and specification
The late '50s BSA Gold Star is a miracle of a good design, mixing a timeless beauty with exceptional performance.  The keen-eyed will note a TT carburetor - this is an early CB34 Goldie, ca.'54, the first year of the big-fin cylinder head.
King of the Cafe Racers, and one you can buy new from Patrick Godet in France, the Godet-Egli-Vincent.
Lovely pipes on this BSA A10 Spitfire scrambler
A new Triumph Thruxton with an infection of checker-tape, which has spread to the helmet!  Or perhaps it originated there. A hot bike, with Keihin CR carbs and a true Cafe Racer kit of clip-ons, rearsets, open reverse megaphones, and a humped seat.
The BSA CB34 Gold Star in question, with an original-fitment 21" front wheel.  Utterly gorgeous.
The Royal Enfield J2 I featured in The Vintagent back in 2007(!), a lovely father-son story. Curtiss overfilled the oil compartment!
Cali chrome!  A Triumph Daytona 500cc, done up Desert Sled style...
Another 'used to be mine' interesting Velo Venom Endurance I discovered on the edge of the Mojave desert, totally neglected and sat outside for years.  The gearbox was rotten, but the rest of the machine, which was stripped to the last nut and cleaned, was basically reassembled, with just a few parts replaced, but is almost totally original.  Owner Jeff Scott has put tens of thousands of miles on her since...
Mike Shiro's immaculate '58 Norton Dominator 99, one of two years with the chrome tank panel (instead of the chromed tank of the '52-'57 Featherbed models.  I love the discreet grey used on these and the Featherbed Internationals...
While a Triking uses a Moto Guzzi engine, they're built in the UK.  I've driven one - they're quick and handle really well.  Reverse gear is your outstretched palm...
Another Vin, this time an all-black Touring Rapide...
Ca. '68 Triumph Bonneville
BSA Rocket 3 sparkling
Blue Gum eucalyptus trees were planted in the 1800s as a fast-growing 'lumber', which proved useless, but they've spread across the state, and now riding in Marin County looks much like riding in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney!
Vincent Black Shadow and Norton Commando
Another Norton Commando Roadster 
Conrad Leach blasts back to San Francisco via the Golden Gate Bridge
Say hi to the tourists on the fake cable car!


Canajun said...

Great photos that brought back a lot of memories from the first BSA Lightning I ever rode on (as a passenger only, sadly) to the Norton Commando (of which I owned several). Thanks.

Cortes said...

Paul, We are having this same discussion of the "graying of the membership" in all the old car clubs. The Rolls-Royce Owners Club, and Bentley Drivers Club are suffering from the same disease. The RROC and BDC average age is now into the late 60's. We are on the whole still active but wonder where the next generation is going to come from. Al the Car clubs have the problem, not just the single marque clubs.

braunj said...

The CT Brit Iron Assn (old guys) and the CT Rockers (young guys) have formed a close relationship to work past the Gray Line. You will see members of both clubs at each event. It's pretty cool to see an old guy talking piston clearances and gear ratios with a young guy with lip rings and tattoos. An open mind and a sense of humor (on both sides) makes it work for us.

Tim Kern said...

Paul, when these bikes were young, so were we. In the late 1960s, we had no desire to toodle around on 40- and 50-year-old motorcycles, and the younger riders of today don't want to, either.

For half the money of a nice Lightning, they can get an infinitely quicker, more-reliable, better-handling Ninja.

In 30 or 40 years, when they're in their 60s, they'll look back at their quaint old Hyabusas and remember how great the "old days" were, when 170 horses and 200mph were considered a big deal.

The Vintagent said...

Hi Tim,

I heartily disagree. I've always been interested in older bikes as very cool design objects, and my friends all felt the same. The deeper I got into bikes, the more I grew interested in very old machines too, which I think reflects the trend with most vintage enthusiasts.

For example, my first Ducati 750GT round-case was only 12 years old when I bought it, hardly 'vintage' but also not new. Still, I and everyone else knew it was an instant classic. Equally, we all felt the Kawasaki Ninja was destined mostly for the scrapheap, even though its performance was excellent. Why? No soul, all plastic.

We rode old Triumphs and Nortons because they were cheap and cool, not because we 'longed for them when young', as the argument goes - which I think is true only for a small segment of the collector world.

Where this IS true is a financial spike from competition between an age-similar group of non-enthusiasts, who seek to recapture their youth, and want the same machines. These are not Vintagents, and only occasionally do they reach beyond their narrow interest.

That's my conclusion from 35 years of motorcycle collecting, and closely watching the collector and auction scenes.