Tuesday, January 12, 2010


While the life of an 'expert commentator' may sound glamorous (being flown to events, put up in hotels and actually getting paid), the reality is far more workmanlike. As mentioned, early arrival at Las Vegas airport on Wednesday meant a very early flight from SFO - in fact, I booked the only seats available there and back. By non-coincidental planning, both the massive Consumer Electronics Show and Adult Entertainment Expo (read: computer and porn conventions - a natural pairing if ever there was one!) are concurrent with the world's largest Old Motorcycle Auction, meaning all flights are booked long in advance, and I hadn't.

My early arrival allowed time to poke around the motorcycles as they were offloaded into the cavernous halls of the South Point Hotel, located 10 miles from the Las Vegas 'strip'... which means a $30 cab ride each way if you want to see what else LV has to offer beside motorcycles, crappy food and gambling. Which is all SPH has available, and I tried every restaurant in the place over the course of 4 days. No, I never left the hotel! My daily schedule (8am to 7pm, or 11pm) would require a substantial sacrifice of sleep and money if I wanted to explore the 'good' parts of Vegas...neither of which I cared to part with. I've already seen Bette Midler, thank you, and eaten at Thomas Keller/Daniel Boulud/Michael Mina's latest alternate-universe clone of the restaurants which made them famous elsewhere. For whatever reason, they ramp up the fat-butter-salt content to satisfy the yearnings of hungry masses, eager to eat at big name, big city joints.

Our film shoot to finish the Classic Motorcycle Roadshow reel went well and late into Wednesday evening, as we needed quiet in the hall; not easy with P.A. microphone checks, semitrailers driving in, and stevedores manhandling motorcycles. We finished around 11pm, and producer Mick still needed to edit the thing, as it would be 'looped' on a big TV at the Classic Motorcycle Roadshow booth, near the auction bleachers. See the result below; feedback welcome - this show is for you!

After a very late dinner (no problem in the temporal netherzone which is Vegas), it was up to my room for some last-minute 'notes to self' on the 500 motorcycles which would pass under my nose over the next 3 days, about which I needed to say something meaningful! When presented with such an array of machinery, I'm constantly finding 'holes' in my internal encyclopedia; for instance, I can expand at length on Lambrettas, but a Cushman Super Eagle is a cipher. Facing a seemingly endless lineup of the American scooters (one man's collection actually), it seemed prudent to start googling before bed.

Thursday morning; habit had me bolt upright at 7am and walking through that unique ringing buzz of the casino to get my coffee, where I met Gordon McCall for breakfast in the lobby's only quiet spot, near the sports bookmaker's corner. Gordon is committed to making his Quail Motorcycle Gathering next May as prestigious an event as his Quail Motorsports Gathering has become over the years. Watch this space for more details as they are confirmed, but it looks as though quite a few GP stars will be on hand, there will be track time at Laguna Seca raceway, a ride along the coastline, and other attractions. The quality of motorcycles on hand in 2010 will be ramped up dramatically from last year, which Gordon admits had a 'club' feel. Sounds like an event not to miss - soon to be a world-class Gathering, given Gordon's track record.

Mid-day Thursday meant more TV spots, clustered around the Vincent Black Lightning brought from Norway by Espen to sell at MidAmerica on Saturday, the high point of the auction. The Vinnie was compelling not simply because of what it was, but the fact that it had clearly been ridden regularly, and wasn't simply a show bike or an investment. Remarkable for a machine so valuable and storied; Espen and I soon discovered we were kindred spirits, with a love for riding motorcycles which technically belong on the track (ie, in full racing trim), and a disinclination to clean off the dirt after every ride! Old dirty fast racing bikes, that's what floats our boat.

Classic Motorcycle Roadshow interviewed a whole phalanx of experts and opinioneers about the Vincent's sales prospects (and the Jefferson/Lake machines as well) - here is Somer Hooker discoursing about what makes a Lightning so unique and compelling.

The story of this particular machine is very interesting; originally imported to the Swedish Vincent dealer, the bike made a rapid detour to Yugoslavia and back, perhaps to avoid taxation issues, as all it's racing history is documented in Sweden proper. Later retirement from active competition meant the possibility of road use, which was undertaken by... stamping the frame numbers from a Vincent Series B 'Rapide' OVER the Lightning numbers, after filing off the originals. This is the only case I've heard where racing serial #s are overstamped with road #s... it's usually someone faking up a racer from a roadster, not vice versa! Espen claims to have spoken with the fellow who played the numbers...a policeman no less...who wouldn't sign a notarized admission of his long-ago act, to protect his reputation at age 90. How utterly frustrating. Still, a little microcrystalline analysis from a global metal testing outfit confirmed the original numbers did correspond with the Swedish import story, and match the (thankfully unmolested) engine serial number.

And, as this Lightning is one digit away from the infamous Rollie Free 'bathing suit' bike, I just had to!