Saturday, April 12, 2014
Motorcycle Cannonball writer Rebecca West recently interviewed me for thoughts on the September 2014 event, in which I'll ride Bryan Bossier's 1933 Brough Superior 11-50 across the USA from Daytona to Tacoma, in a team with Alan Stulberg of Austin's Revival Cycles. I have a curious mix of dread and anticipation for the event; it's truly an endurance rally, 17 days of 320+ mile rides, a rigorous up-before-dawn schedule, and timed checkpoints at least twice daily. Any maintenance needs to be done after the day's ride...and before the next!
Here's the interview; check out the Motorcycle Cannonball website here:
"On September 5, the Motorcycle Cannonball will be welcoming back another familiar face to the endurance run in the form of Paul d’Orleans. For anyone involved in 2012’s event, you probably remember Paul and his small but extraordinarily quick 1928 350cc Velocette in the Class 1 Division — that and his chronicling of the journey through tintype photography, but we’ll get into that later. If you’ve never met him, he’s the motorcycle aficionado behind The Vintagent and a respected consultant for Bonhams who splits his time between New York, San Francisco, and Paris. This year, he’ll be riding a 1933 Brough Superior 11-50 courtesy of owner Bryan Bossier of Sinless Cycles. In stark contrast to the little Velocette back in 2012, this particular bike is the largest model in the Brough production lineup and boasts a sidevalve v-twin JAP engine featuring a 60-degree configuration that Paul claims to be very smooth.
Having gotten into the antique motorcycle scene well ahead of the curve, he loves Broughs and has owned many over the years. He views these beautiful, old British motorcycles as grand touring machines along the same vein as Harley or other American touring bikes. Ironically enough, by his own admission, he’s not a touring kind of guy, though. Like the seductive sounds of Calypso’s siren song, racing is what actually calls to him. It speaks to his soul and is his true passion in motorcycling.
We were fortunate enough to catch up with Paul in between his busy schedule (he’s in the process of publishing his third book in the last year!) in mid March regarding the upcoming event, the bike itself, the team he’s assembled, and their efforts to put a Brough Superior across the continent this fall. All in all, this multifaceted individual seems pretty confident at the prospects for success and what lies ahead.
Q: In regards to a Brough Superior making a transcontinental run, to your knowledge, has it ever been done before?
A: I don’t think so, at least not in modern times. I think this is the first time anybody’s done it, or at least tried — but we haven’t done it yet (laughter).
Q: Bearing that in mind, I guess the $64,000 question is: will it make it?
A: I do. I really do. I think we’re going to take it easy. The bike’s a little bit of an unknown quantity, because I know more about its history from when it lived in England than America. But I’ve been in touch with some of the people who worked on it back in England for the preparation of its more recent sale, along with my riding partner and the man who will be doing most of the preparation — who is certainly a capable mechanic — and we’ll be bringing the right spares and hoping to make it all the way through this time. It’s a strong bike.
Q: Will it be a challenge for the mechanics?
A: It’s so unpredictable. Some of the other folks who really didn’t have many problems in the past on the run have spent years developing these motorcycles. We’re basically taking an old motorcycle. It’s pretty much as it is — which may seem foolish in light of previous experience (more laughter) but, you know, we’ll just see how it goes. It really is the only luxury motorcycle intact in the event and definitely the only Brough.
Q: What's special about this model?
A: This was considered the most robust of the Broughs. It was used a lot by police forces in England, Canada, and in South America. It was actually a surprisingly fast sidevalve that would do 100 mph, but it was always intended as more of a sports tourer and not like a full house racing machine. Interestingly, it was also George Brough’s favorite motorcycle back in the 1930s. This was probably due in large part to the point he was at in his life.
Q: Any weaknesses or drawbacks?
A: Weaknesses of the bike include the timing side bush on the crankshaft, which drives the dyno. That bush is known to be slightly weak, so we’ll need to keep an eye on that. But otherwise the frame, the forks, the wheels, and the brakes are good. The gearboxes are standard. It’s basically the same gearbox as on a Norton Commando. It’s a good, strong bike. Broughs aren’t exactly known for their handling (limited cornering clearance), but it’s just a matter of getting used to it. It’s nothing dangerous.
Q: Speaking of brakes on old bikes, have you ridden this on any steep grades or inclines yet?
A: Actually, I haven’t been on this particular bike yet.
Q: I can only assume you’ll be remedying that soon . . .
A: Oh, absolutely. I just haven’t gotten round to it yet because it’s currently in Austin and I’m looking at a May deadline on my last book, but I’m not too worried about it. I’m going to be going to Austin probably during the summer to hang out with it.
Q: Who’s your team comprised of?
A: Bryan Bossier, the very generous owner of the bike I’ll be riding who lives in Baton Rouge, LA, should be along at some point; Alan Stulberg of Revival Cycles in Austin, TX, who is my riding partner and who will be bringing his No. 1 mechanic along; and Susan McLaughlin, who is my photography and life partner. I want to express my extreme gratitude to all of them, especially Bryan for the loan of the motorcycle. It’s pretty amazing when you think of it.
Besides being a rider with a need for speed and a self-professed flea market junkie, Paul’s also into tintype photography, as mentioned earlier. The tintype process was patented by Hamilton L. Smith back in 1856. A cheap process used mainly by beach photographers and other itinerant lensmen, it was also commonly used during the Civil War by photographers following the military encampments and early Western explorers. He was introduced to it two years ago by his paramour, Susan McLaughlin, who is an alternative process photographer, and he’s been smitten with both ever since.
Much like old bikes, the thing Paul loves about tintype is he doesn’t feel like it’s an obsolete process. He considers it a photo process that has a lot of character; it takes a lot of attention and the same kind of interest and dedication and love that it takes to get the best out of an old motorcycle. It’s a very natural relationship for him because, as he says, he’s already got something very much like that in his life with his strong connection to old bikes. The process is very unpredictable, which is surely akin to riding antique motorcycles, and a real draw for him.
This year, as in 2012, they’ll be using a mobile darkroom on the road with all kinds of temperature and altitude variants beyond their immediate control, which makes it all the more exciting in his view. If you’re not familiar with tintype, check out Paul and Susan’s latest joint endeavor at MotoTintype.com where you can visit several galleries consisting of their amazing work. Though all of the galleries are visually arresting and capture the viewer’s imagination, the Cannonball and Bonneville pix will be of particular interest to riders in this event. The love and enthusiasm brought to these intriguing images can only be matched by Paul’s love and enthusiasm for living life full speed ahead. We wish him and his entire team the best of luck in 2014."