Thursday, July 31, 2008

2008 VELOCETTE SUMMER RALLY - The Ride, Part 3

I hadn't been to the top of Mt Shasta for years, so included a picnic at 8500' in our Thursday agenda. It was an easy 75 mile ride on quiet roads to the mountain, but some of us needed to do a little maintenance in the morning, so the lax schedule was welcome; that's Don Danmeier (president of the BSA club) taking care of his unique blue Venom.

Once again Norlene provided our high-altitude picnic, which really made for a dramatic lunch spot, overlooking the valley below. We were high above any smoke, but the lowlands were fairly well covered, so the usual crystalline visibility from up high was obscured. The final 6,000' of Mt Shasta towered above us as we ate at picnic tables seemingly at the edge of the world.

Our progress to the top, and down again, was spotted from millions of butterflies which had recently hatched. It was bizarre to ride through huge clouds of lovely Painted Ladies - when I first saw them along the road it was cheery, like seeing pretty flowers in bloom, but as I soon began to kill them by the hundreds with my body, helmet, and motorcycle, I felt a combination of horror and humor. It was also terribly distracting as we wound our way to the top, and many riders mentioned the challenge of ignoring the butterflies and keeping their eyes on the route.

Panther Meadows sit at tree-line, with clumps of mountain heather and wildflowers carpeting the terrain while small streams of snowmelt wind through. These meadows are held sacred by the local tribes, and make a perfect spot to listen to the breeze and the butterflies (yes, it's so quiet you can hear them crisply flapping their wings). Lanora Cox (editor of Fishtail West) thinks its a nice place as well.

It's 14 miles all downhill from the top of the mountain, and I love a good engines-off race. Jeff and Lanora were game too - those black specks on the video are suicidal butterflies! We were doing about 50+mph on the straight bits...

The Callahan-Gazelle road proved the be lovely and fast, but on the return high marks were awarded Forest Road 17, which paralleled C-G road, but wound over a dramatic mountain pass with deep canyons. 17 has no lines or guard rails, and is basically one lane, with only moderately bad pavement (nothing like as bad as Alderpoint or Mattole roads). It's my feeling that the narrower the road, the fewer lines, and the less marked the transition from pavement to vegetation, the greater the experience of intimacy with nature.

But at the end of the day, intimacy with a beer was just about perfect, and as mentioned the town of Callahan hides a perfect wild-west bar amongst abandoned hotel and bank buildings. The upper pic shows a few of the expats joining our rally - Dai Gibbison (Velo Tech forum guru, from London), Cheryl and Neville Mickelson (classic sidecar racing champion in New Zealand), and Graeme Glover from Australia.

2008 VELOCETTE SUMMER RALLY - The Ride, Part 2

After two 'loop' days which ended up back at the Benbow, Wednesday we ventured deeper into the wild heart of California. Our first challenge was Alderpoint Road, which heads northeast out of Garberville for 50 miles, eventually landing at Hwy 36. The surface is in very poor condition, and I think the locals prefer it thus, as it keeps tourists at bay - and motorcycle speeds distinctly down.

Barring the bumps, Alderpoint rewards exploration with breathtaking views of the inland Coastal Range, and passes through two tiny hamlets which haven't seem much progress in 40 years. The houses in Blocksburg are very close to the road, common in extremely rural areas, as the road used to be a horse trail. The first time I rode through here, perhaps 20 years ago, a laundry line fluttered white sheets from a house, while a girl of 8 or 9 wearing an old-fashioned gingham dress was spinning around in the sun, and I wondered if I was glimpsing a previous century.

But, we had come this way to visit Mike Cook as well, and completely inundated him and Bonnie with visitors. Mike was happy to have a task at hand, as Pete's '38 MSS had broken a sidecar strut - too many bumps! Being used to taking care of his own motorcycles, Mike had everything on hand needed to re-tube and weld up the break, and Pete's bike was soon repaired.

We had another casualty of the 'road disintegration blues', Bill Getty's Venom began to handle strangely a few miles after leaving Alderpoint Rd, and on stopping for lunch in Mad River, was mildly amused to find his frame had a 3" gap between the headstock and front downtube! By luck, the local towing company, headquarted several feet from the Mad River cafe (see pix below), was owned by a drag-racing enthusiast who built his own chassis, and was also well-equipped to repair the Venom frame. This took a bit more time than Pete's sidecar tube, as quite a few parts had to be removed from the bike to access the frame. The details of the fix are painful - the lower tubes were pried apart using blocks of wood and a jack, then a smaller tube was pounded into the headstock lug, slipped into the lower frame tube, and pinned at the top with a bolt, and spot welded at the bottom through holes in the tube. The new inner couldn't simply be welded to the headstock as Velocette frames are pinned, then hearth-brazed together ('sif-bronze welding'); thus there is brass contamination on the lugs and tubing where they join.

Bill and riding buddy Mark Hoyer (of Cycle World - this year without a press entourage) didn't leave Mad River until 9:30pm - and it was still a 3.5 hour ride to Etna, our destination. Their journey must have been epic - riding in the dark over 150 miles of relentlessly twisty mountain roads, using Lucas 6v headlamps. Cojones. The only saving grace, according to Mark - he couldn't see the deer coming, so didn't have time to be scared when they continually leapt across his path!

Hwy 36 began a stretch of true motorcyclists paradise, with smooth paving and 170 miles of beautiful bends. Our speed was kept down a bit when we began to encounter smoke soon after Mad River, which eventually became so thick it reduced visibility for riding quickly. Several large forest fires were growing near our path, but fortunately not near enough to close the roads - yet. The town of Hayfork, on Hwy 3, was particularly smoky, and the outskirts were being evacuated soon after we left. We almost lost one of our members, Kevin B, as he had a near-fatal encounter with a bee, as he's deadly allergic. Fortunately, he was stung just a few hundred yards from an ambulance depot, and was only unconscious for a few minutes...! As his wife Melissa was driving our chase truck, by 7pm I began to worry that it was so late, and was lucky to reach her by cell. 'Don't worry, we're just leaving the emergency room' was not reassuring! I felt like a mother hen all evening, until the last of the flock arrived at 12:30am. Luckily Kim and Kimberly felt like staying up late and drinking, so I wasn't waiting alone.

How do you feed 70 hungry motorcyclists in the tiny town of Etna, on the night when the local restaurant is closed? Call 1.800.Norlene. Not only did she cook for all of us, the food was excellent - her famous 'garbage can' turkey and beef, plus several salads etc, it was terrific - thanks again Norlene. Afterwards, there was plenty of time to tell lies about the day's adventures, like this gang of old friends. A keg of Gold Ale (delicious - not as hoppy as the usual CA microbrew, but malty like English beers) from the Etna Brewing Company made for a relaxing evening.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Visit to Orange County Choppers - Road Trip

The regular monthly gathering of Chapter NJ-F (F Troop) of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) was held at the Empire Diner in Freehold, NJ on July 27, 2008. After the gathering, many members and guests rode to the Orange County Choppers (OCC) headquarters in Newburgh, NY.

We rode in three groups, each with a leader and drag rider. Most members communicated via CBs to keep the groups together and informed.

I had seen the guys from OCC in June, 2004 when I was at the Americade Rally in Lake George, NY. At that time they were becoming well known through their TV show, American Chopper.

The motorcycle community was split as to whether they were amateurs who got lucky or genuine biker craftsmen who knew how to create a masterpiece chopper. I think that most were amazed that they caught on so fast and made a bundle of money doing what backyard mechanics had already been doing for 30 years.

Sometimes when I attend a motorcycle rally, something unexpected happens. At Americade 2004, I found out that the Orange County Chopper (OCC) cast from the Discovery Channel's American Chopper (now on The Learning Channel), was going to be in the area. This was not an official Americade event. It was thought up by the town fathers of Bolton Landing, a town 10 miles north of Lake George. They felt that they needed to do something to attract some of the 60,000 or so Americaders and get them to spend some money in their town. Turns out that a few emails and a phone call did the trick and the whole cast of Orange County Choppers (OCC) showed up for a 4-day run to meet with their fans and sell a few autographed T-shirts.

The Teutuls: Paul Sr, Paul Jr, and Mikey have to choose carefully their visits to rallies to allow them time to build the theme bikes required on their TV show. They skipped Laconia that year and instead did Bolton Landing where they brought 20 of their most popular theme bikes. Here's a picture of Paul Jr signing my OCC T-shirt. My wife, Jane, stood in a long line to get these shirts signed.

The Teutuls were just getting started then. They still had a small shop but millions of fans were watching them on TV every week to see that next theme bike being built and to hear the yelling and screaming as Paul Sr and Paul Jr clashed.

Years passed and they built a bigger and bigger reputation. Now they were in a huge building in Newburgh, NY that contained a showroom of their merchandise and products. Tucked in the back of the building is a small factory where their choppers are built in the glare of TV lights and multiple cameras taping everything going on in the creative process including the antics of the Teutuls and their employees.

Many motorcyclists now visit the facility. It's almost a motorcycle mecca. In fact, our group from New Jersey was only a small part of the riders present that day.

I took a few pictures of the new digs for OCC. The place is quite impressive. I have written descriptions and captions for each picture. Take a look.

If you'd like to know more about choppers, take a look at my Choppers article, my Chopper Gallery, and my Choppers subject. I also wrote a book review, Orange County Choppers: The Tale of the Teutuls - A Motorcycle Book Review.

If you decide to take a trip to Orange County Choppers, you won't be disappointed. Just don't expect to see any of the Teutuls there on Sunday, the day we chose to visit.

First picture ©2008 Jane Ann Kern; second picture ©2004 Walter F. Kern

Monday, July 28, 2008

2008 VELOCETTE SUMMER RALLY - The Ride, Part 1

Monday morning began with a rider's brief at 8:30am, to discuss the protocol for using the Chase Truck (keep ahead of it!), and make a few points about tricky intersections and recommended detours, such as the Drive-Thru Tree and Mike Cook's barn.

The ride looped south of Benbow to the coast via Highway 1, veering inland on Hwy 20 at Fort Bragg, going north to Branscomb Road, then heading to Hwy 1 again to loop back northwards. The stretch of Hwy 1 between Leggett and the sea is well-known among motorcyclist for being fast, well-paved, and well-banked for 20 miles over the low coastal hills; a real pleasure on two wheels at any speed, so it seemed best to traverse in two directions.

Feedback from riders at the end of the day was excellent, but I have no photos, as I was sitting in the parking lot of Benbow trying to sort out a major clutch issue on my 1960 Venom Clubman, which revealed a magneto issue (successfully sorted). The clutch defeated me after three complete teardowns and rebuilds - I switched to a belt drive kit a year and 100 miles prior, but on reactivating the bike after last year's disastrous high-siding front brake lockup, found that all grip on the clutch vanished instantly when kickstarting the engine. The same thing happened after the following three rebuilds, and I am still vexed. Luckily (well, I had an inkling) I had brought a backup machine, my '66 Norton Atlas, which proved absolutely trouble-free on the trip, although in need of some attention to the brakes.

So let's roll on to Tuesday; morning dawned foggy and cool, which is typical for summer near the northern coast, but many riders had scant warm clothing and were well chilled from our ride through the Avenue of the Giants. I think the redwoods are especially spooky and majestic on grey days, and really enjoyed a modest pace through this sanctuary of gigantic trees, stopping often to explore the odd little tourist spots. The Chimney Tree was a living tree which was completely hollow from bottom to top - which happens on occasion when fires attack the groves. Many redwoods have hollows at the bottom, but as the living part of the tree is under the bark, the trees can live indefinitely in this condition, although they are more vulnerable to collapse without their solid core. Drive-Thru Trees are made this way as well, and yes there are several in the area.

Note the scale of my Norton beside one of the larger trees - 350' is pretty damn tall. The older trees have no branches for the first 100' or more, and create a high canopy, in which unique animal species thrive - most never come down to the ground.

Ironically, the first town after exiting the Avenue is Scotia, home of the Pacific Lumber Company, which was bound and determined to cut the last of the old-growth trees until just this year, when a deal was finally hammered out to purchase the last unprotected stand of old trees. The lumber mill is pretty quiet these days although still functioning, albeit at a small percentage of its capacity. The mill is over a mile long in total, but most buildings are empty. The photo shows that some wood is still being harvested - second and third growth trees from the hinterlands. Demand for redwood is still strong, as it's excellent for outdoor decks and fencing, but all woods are becoming expensive to cull and mill these days.

The town of Scotia also houses a Museum of Logging, which is built entirely of redwood in the manner of a classic Greek temple! The columns as you can see are tree trunks with bark attached to mimic the fluting of marble columns. The local movie house is similarly a temple to the redwood, and the town has a beautiful Inn as well. It was a good place to stop and warm up, as temperature still hovered in the low 60's. The Museum housed artifacts and photographs of the glory days of the logging town, with trees taking two men up to two weeks EACH to fell by hand - that's how big they were. I've worked in many Victorian houses in SF which have Old Growth redwood panelling, and it catches the light like mahogany, with black zebra striping perpendicular to the grain - this is called 'curly' redwood, and is absolutely gorgeous. Apparently only trees which were a couple of THOUSAND years old produced such wood. The mind boggles.

The next town on our trek towards the Lost Coast was Ferndale, an oasis of Victorian architecture in a very damp clime. The lumber mills and other natural riches made for a very wealthy citizenry, and the area boomed during the early years of the 20th century. Nowadays the industries are gone, but the lovely old buildings bring new riches from tourism. Hot chocolate was on everyone's agenda, as we were all chilled by noon, although there were hints of blue over the ocean, and that was where we were heading.

The Mattole Road from Ferndale is the only paved road on the Lost Coast, so called as it's the only stretch of California coastline which has no real road access. The Mattole only touches the actual coastline for 5 miles or so before turning inland, and the southern part of the Lost Coast has only a dirt road and is little explored by tourists. The area was almost unknown until fairly recently, when motorcycle websites extolled the fascinating remoteness of the area and diversity of microclimates along the 50 miles of paved road. The first climate is the Cloud Forest, which is almost always shrouded in a mist, making for spectacular moss growth on the trees (see pic with green Spooky Tree). The actual tarmac is in awful condition, and our riders on rigid-frame machines had a tough job of keeping both wheels in line over some of the worst potholes and road heaves. Still, the profusion of greenery and wildflowers help ease the pain and drama of the hundreds of tight bends as we ascended the coastal hills to arrive at - a sunny seacoast! And nary a car to be seen, as was the case for most of the day. This photo of the coastline gives an idea of how remote the area feels - not much of any sign of civilization for 30 miles or so, when we arrived at the little town of Petrolia.

Petrolia is so named as the site of the very first oil wells in California, established in 1865, the very end of our Civil War. The oil was transported by ship to San Francisco to be refined there, probably as a cheap alternative to whale oil. No doubt the oil was simply seeping from the ground, as it was in other parts of the state later on, and of course in Saudi Arabia too! Easy to find in those early days, not so easy nowadays.

Petrolia (and why not Gasolia? or just Olia?) still has a few wells nearby, but is mostly a cattle ranching town, consisting of a church, a store, a hamburger stand, and a graveyard. Gotta love the pictographic hamburger sign, for the illiterate hungry. And yes, you can get petrol in Petrolia, which these local ranch women had come for, as all of the dwelling in the area are 'off the grid' and must make their own power. Lots of solar and wind power generators are hidden in the hills, as well as a lot of marijuana plantations. After seeing these two ranchers, several of our party expressed a desire to take up ranching themselves. They seemed to take the undivided attention of 60 leatherclad men with a sense of humor.

The remainder of the ride was warm and bumpy and twisty, and we hied back to the Benbow to shower off dust from several dirt sections, and have a cold beer. Day 2 was a success by most accounts, although I heard dramatically different interpretations of Mattole Road.
Bill Getty, owner of JRC Engineering and a rider for 40 years or so, felt that the day's ride had been one of the finest of his whole life (his mount was a '65 Venom).
Pete Young, riding his '38 MSS with sidecar, said he would be happy never to see the Mattole Road again in his life, unless it is re-paved.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Motorcycle Pictures of the Week - Jimi

Here are my Pictures of the Week as displayed on the Motorcycle Views Website. These are taken from the Moto Pic Gallery.

See Jimi with his 2005 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic. Jimi is shown with his daughter. For details, see Motorcycle Pictures of the Week.

If you'd like to see your bike as Picture of the Week, submit a picture of you and your bike along with a description of the bike.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Harley-Davidson Introduces the Tri Glide Ultra Classic for 2009 - a Trike

Yesterday, Harley-Davidson introduced its models for 2009. One of them is a motorcycle trike called the Tri Glide Ultra Classic.

Harley-Davidson hasn't made a trike since the Servi-Car that started out as a vehicle that could be attached to a customer's car so a mechanic could deliver the car and then use the Servi-Car to return to the garage.

Later the Servi-Car had other uses mainly for police use. Here's a YouTube video of a 1954 Servi-Car now owned by an enthusiast. He shows off the trike with the siren blaring.

Servi-Cars were made from 1932-1973. 35 years have elapsed since then without a trike in the product line -- until now.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an article by Rick Barrett that gives more details about the new Tri Glide trike. Here's an excerpt:

    "There’s a Harley-Davidson coming for those of us seeking more comfort or who have a fear of falling. Harley-Davidson Inc. has introduced a motorcycle for those of us with a taste for comfort or a fear of falling. The Tri Glide Ultra has three wheels and a brand-new chassis design. It retails for $29,000. The maker of Fat Boy and Softail bikes has sized up its customer base and found that many riders would rather be on three-wheelers than two-wheel behemoths that are too tall and too heavy for some people. Starting in the next few weeks, Harley will begin offering three-wheel touring bikes called trikes." -- Rick Barrett

Here's what Harley-Davidson has to say about the Tri Glide in a Press Release on its Website.

It appears that trikes are now more than just kits added to an existing motorcycle. They have attained a new level of acceptance as Harley-Davidson embraces them in its product line and, more importantly, backs them up with Harley-Davidson service.

I've been riding a motorcycle trike for eight years. My wife got hers before I got mine. I wrote an article about her experience in getting her trike.

In the beginning there weren't too many of us out there and we got a lot of attention on the road, in parking lots, and especially at gas pumps. I even wrote an article with standard questions I get and my answers.

I also wrote a How To about learning to ride a trike.

Then I created a Trike Picture Gallery.

Maybe trike riders are becoming mainstream after all. Thanks Harley-Davidson. Let's hope that Harley's 42 year run of Servi-Cars will be surpassed by a 50 year run of Tri Glides.

Picture ©2008 Harley-Davidson

Monday, July 21, 2008


Arriving at the Benbow Inn, we bumped into a Bentley rally! Two Speed Sixes from the late 20's/early 30's (unless they were replicas built on later chassis), and a lovely drophead tourer, out for a Sunday drive amongst the trees. Two of the cars had Swiss registrations, and were clearly veterans of many expensive old-car rallies, with stickers from the Colorado Grand and California Mille and several other European rallies which I didn't recognize, not being the consummate car guy. The owners were Swiss as well, and took our goggling and poking with aplomb - we were looking for similarities with our motorcycles, and found a few, such as the Andre friction dampers on the suspension, and the fuel taps; the mighty 14" drum brakes with fins and air scoops were most impressive (and many of the Velo riders expressed envy!).

The Benbow is a mock-Tudor Inn with a spectacular location next to the Eel River, surrounded by gigantic California Live Oak trees, and is clearly a destination for the well-heeled, plus a bunch of vintage motorcyclists. Unfortunately, our rallyists are split amongst those who prefer to camp vs preferring a bed, and the campground was a mile away up the Eel river. While spectacular in itself amongst the spreading Oak trees and nestled in a bend of the river, the campground was a bit isolated from the hotel, making campfire forays difficult. Still, the bar at the Benbow was a draw for everyone, and it was usually all ours by 10pm (see pic).

The Sunday is typically arrival day for rallyists, as we like an early start on Monday, with a rider's meeting by 8:30am to explain the route and the routine. Several of our members didn't arrive until Monday afternoon though, as the MotoGP in Monterey, 6 hours south, finished up on the Sunday - scheduling of other events in the Benbow neighborhood meant the week of July 20-26 was the only one available for our use.

On to Monday!

Saturday, July 19, 2008


The sight of two dohc ex-works Mondial 125's at the MotoConcorso certainly brought the marque to the forefront; Dave has been furiously sending me photos from here and there.
First a little history on the name FB Mondial; the fratelli Boselli (that would be Carlo, Ettore, Giuseppe, and Luigi) were all keen motorcycle enthusiasts and racers, and established the 'FB' motorcycle dealership in Milan, 1929. They began producing three-wheel delivery trucks before and during the War, using 600cc ohc single-cylinder engines.
Post-war, Count Giuseppe Boselli, the most successful racer of the brothers (having won a gold in the '35 ISDT), resumed industrial capacity with a flourish, creating (with Alfonso Drusiani) a wholly new 125cc dohc racer for the 1948 season (see second photo). Produced chiefly for publicity for his new works, the new design completely outclassed and outperformed all others in this capacity, which were primarily two-strokes or pushrod ohv machines.

The twin overhead camshafts were driven by a shaft-and-bevel system, with the unit-construction engine built of all alloy castings, an outside flywheel, and straight-cut primary gears, with a bore and stroke of 53x56mm. Using 9.7:1 compression, this first engine gave 11hp, enough to propel bike and rider to 90mph.

All other factories in the 125cc class, chiefly MV Agusta and Morini, scrambled to produce a four-stroke ohc racer, but Mondial had the edge for several years, winning Italian and World championships (1949/50/51).

Interestingly, in 1951 Cromie McCandless (designer of the Norton Featherbed frame) joined the FB team, yet it took another 5 years for Mondial to adopt the frame technology for which McCandless became famous; this was partly the cause of a lull in their racing success in '52-55 - failure to update their chassis. Plus, MV and Morini poured a bit of their own racing experience into the class, making race wins a bit more difficult for the tiny FB factory.
By 1956, the dohc Mondial was producting 17hp @ 13,000rpm, good for a speed of 110mph.

In 1957, further tweaks (such as a twin-plug cylinder head) brought 19hp @ 13,200rpm, and success at the Isle of Man TT (125cc and 250cc classes - Tarquinio Provini and Cecil Sandford riding, respectively), as well as Italian and World Championships in both classes.

Later that year, Morini, Moto Guzzi, and Gilera pulled out of racing, as motorcycle sales in Italy were grim (blame the Fiat 500!).

Count Boselli retired in 1960, leaving the factory in the hands of his nephew. Racing interest resumed in the 1960's, as Francesco and Walter Villa convinced the factory to dust off the 1957 125cc and 250cc racers. While the 250 proved uncompetitive, the 125 was still good enough for Francesco Villa to win the Italian Championships in 1961/2/3.
He then designed a 125cc two-stroke racer (two stroke technology having evolved by leaps, due mainly to the efforts of MZ's Ernst Degner), and won the Italian Championship in 1966/'67, but the firm began to experience financial difficulties, and racing was halted. (Walter Villa went on to win multiple World Championships with Harley Davidson/Aermacchi). Mondial continued to produce quality roadsters until 1977.

[I raced a '38 350cc mkVIII KTT Velocette at Montlhery in 2001, and was surprised to find a dustbin Mondial dogging my heels on the circuit. I simply couldn't lose the lightweight bike, and although I never saw it on the banking, on the infield corners it would always reappear, cutting inside my line...and I soon realized we were evenly matched. The Mondial had less hp than the Velo, but was 100lbs lighter!]