Friday, November 30, 2007
According to Mitch Stacy, AP, "Evel Knievel, the red-white-and-blue-spangled motorcycle daredevil whose jumps over Greyhound buses, live sharks and Idaho's Snake River Canyon made him an international icon in the 1970s, died Friday. He was 69."
Makes me feel old. I'm also 69. I thought he was older. In recent years his son Robbie has carried on his exploits.
Read the complete story.
Here's a YouTube video of Evel pronouncing his faith -- a different side of the man who lived life on his own terms.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Nick Cedar, a photographer with many books, magazine articles, and calendars to his credit, took some photos of my mkIV KTT Velo this weekend, for an upcoming article in 'Motorcycle Classics' magazine (Margie Segal will be writing the text).
He chose the Marin Headlands as the backdrop; the day was crystal clear and warm, almost too warm for the vintage outfit they requested from the rider! The view from the headlands is directly over the Golden Gate Bridge, back towards San Francisco, as can be seen over my handlebars in the second photo. The Headlands is a State Park, and used to be part of the greater military defenses of SF bay, which have all been decommissioned since the 1970's. Thus, there are many gun emplacements and concrete batteries along the cliffs, making for dramatic backdrops, with stunning overlooks.
Pic 3 shows curious tourists - it's always the men who talk, and 80% of the time they ask if the bike is a Norton. Aussie and Kiwi tourists seem to know the most about bikes in general; for some reason I'm rarely approached by English tourists.
Apparently a $200 fee is required to take commercial photographs in the park, to help deal with the congestion caused by a photo shoot (there are always a zillion tourists clogging the first 1/4 mile of the road into the park, who all take three photos of the GG Bridge, but very few venture further into the hills). A park ranger stopped and quizzed us about the photo setup, but I told the truth and said I would be posting them on my blog (Nick kept mum).
Nick's getup was completely minimal - not tripods or lighting rigs, just a camera and the occasional fold-out reflector, to cut through the oily gloom around my engine! And, as you can see in the pix, I haven't washed the Mule in 18 mo's (I do wipe it down to check for loose bolts), which is how they wanted it for the article.
Pic 4 shows crumbling decay at the Headlands, and I do mean the concrete. You'll note my helmet acting as a kickstand - it works well, but I should stop using this particular helmet, as it was reputedly used by a privateer racer in England, who raced a mkVIII KTT in the 50's. I haven't found a pic of the helmet anywhere though, so if it rings a bell, drop me a line. It has a yellow stripe which ends at a 'V', forming an arrow of sorts, but also the Velocette V (there's a Velocette tank transfer on top of the yellow paint). Click on the first photo for a better look.
Pic 5 isn't the ranger, he's one of a group of Alameda Police who happened to show up, circle the Velo, and stop to chat! They had just completed their motorcycle training, and were out for a celebration ride on a beautiful day. You meet the strangest people on a Velo.
That's Nick on the bike - now he has an oil stain on his pants. Sorry!
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, November 14, 2007
Stars have always ridden motorcycles. Check out my article, Famous Motorcyclists, for a few more riders who are not in the news anymore.
Do you know any other famous riders and what they ride? Tell us by leaving a comment, below.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Von Dutch had Hollywood friends as well, including Steve McQueen, and the auction included a few items which had this double-whammy provenance, including a lowly Kawasaki 100cc dirtbike, and a Scott two-speeder (pictured below). Both machines sold for many, many times what a normal example would fetch.
Top pic is my favorite item from the auction - a sign from Von Dutch's shop in Tempe, Arizona (he moved back and forth from LA over the decades). This sold for $16k, and frankly, I regret not having stepped up for it. I don't consider the man a tremendous artist, but he did some very nice work at times, and is an important figure in the now-huge world of 'kustom kulture'. It's about 4' in diameter, and an impressive piece of folk art.
Next two photos show a '53 BMW R51/3 - not a bike you would expect Von Dutch to customize, and he's noted the fact on several locations - the tank logo says in very small letters 'would you believe its a' , then a normal size "BMW?". The tank is from a Ducati single, although a similarly painted Hoske tank was included. I like the detail shot from the rear of the tank - "Von Dutch is still alive! '66", perhaps indicating that his popularity was waning at the time, due to changes in youth culture post-British Invasion, and the advent of the psychedelic era, which repudiated the macho image of hotrodders and Boozefighters. Speaking of whom, the Friday night reception at the Peterson Auto Museum was filled with a neo-Boozefighters club, so I presume someone has resuscitated the name. Who were they originally? If you've seen 'The Wild One', that's who they were; a SoCal bike gang made up primarily of demobbed WW2 soldiers, roaming around the state, and eventually morphing into the Hell's Angels.
What was Von Dutch's motorcycle pinstriping like? Here's a '55 Moto Guzzi Falcone which he personally owned. If you squint, I think you can see the seed of the Modern Primitive movement on this Guzzi - picture all the young hipsters you've seen who have tattoos just like this.
This young lady, who shall remain nameless, chose to provide the sexual drama she felt necessary to spice up the auction preview party on Friday night. She's standing behind 'Ringadingdoo!', which was Steve McQueen's 1970 Kawasaki 100cc G31M Centurion, which Von Dutch decorated, as apparently McQueen didn't like the original Kawi green. The Ringading bit refers to the sound of a two-stroke dirt bike... some of the foreign auction attendees didn't get the reference, so I'll explain it to the world. It sold for $45,000, plus auction fees and tax, which totals out at $57,125.25... Kaching-adingdoo is more like it! By the way, the dapper fellow on the far right of the photo is Andrew Reilly, who works at Bonhams in SF, in the motoring division.
Next pic is your selection of Triumphs for the day, sir. Is it good marketing to line up 12 nearly identical bikes? Well, it looked cool anyway, and there were some very nice machines on offer, including a '59 Bonneville which sold for around $25k.
These two women were considering the prospect of owning a piece of history, but I don't think they bought anything on the day.
A SHORT TUTORIAL ON AUTHENTICITY
Here we have three photos of a 1912 Indian Board Track Racer; the first shows what appears to be a lovely, patinated, racing machine. Detail shot #1 shows the conjunction of the frame, seat, fuel tank, and oil tank. Note the different colors for each of these items.
I've learned a few things rubbing elbows with restorers and other concours judges at events over the years, and a most useful skill is spotting when a motorcycle (or part of one) has been updated, replaced, or faked up to appear 'original'. This Indian was advertised as being in 'complete, unrestored, and original condition'. So, here we see that the frame is a darker color in the photo than either of the tanks, or the wheel rim. Logic would indicate that they would all oxidize at the same rate, given that they were painted at the same time and with the same material. So why should the tanks and wheel rims be brighter? They've clearly been repainted at the very least, more likely replaced, and might be brand new in fact - there's almost no way to tell within the time confines of the auction.
Years ago I discussed this with Mike Smith, who's since passed away; Mike restored and sold early American machines. As I have extensive experience with faux finish painting, we dissected the techniques he used to 'patinate' a new part for an 'original paint' motorcycle, in order not to disturb the visual continuity of the machine. He was quite frank about doing this, not wanting to deceive, but to harmonize. But of course, a later purchaser might not be so clear when re-selling the machine, which muddies the whole picture.
The third photo shows the nickel-plated handlebars; close inspection showed the nickel in perfect condition, but with an interesting overlay of what looks like a liquid chemical antiquing agent, to make it appear old. Caveat Emptor.
Enough school, time for TV! The Bat Cycle, from the original Batman TV series... the Peterson Museum has quite a lot of retired movie and television props on display, from Laurel and Hardy trick cars to a full-scale working Mach 5 from the Speed Racer cartoon. The Bat Cycle turns out to be...a Yamaha Big Bear 305... how disappointing. With all that fiberglass, PLUS Robin in the sidecar (which you can barely see), there's no way Batman would be catching criminals in any hurry.
Sitting in the parking garage is an icon of my youth, the Green Monster, a land speed record machine which used a Pratt&Whitney jet engine from a B52! I think my youthful priapism was stimulated by the nose cone. And yes, it used to be green, but the original builder sold it along and someone else risked his life breaking records for a few more years.
There are quite a few motorcycles in the Peterson, and this section was entirely ex-Otis Chandler, former owner of the LA Times and a big motorcycle and car collector.
Most beautiful bike on sale at the auction was this '56 Matchless G45, which came complete with its original crate and a bunch of spares which came in the box. Discovered in South Africa, the restoration was very high quality, as apparently the bike was totally correct and complete when found. I've always thought the G45 one of the best looking machines ever; it wasn't especially successful as a racer, having been developed from their G9 roadster (and thus a humble pushrod parallel twin 500cc).
Coolest bike on offer was this Crocker-engined special, with the big v-twin shoehorned into a badly abused Triumph rigid frame and forks, and topped by an Ariel tank. This machine was clearly a barn find, and always had a diaper underneath as the oil was still oozing out.
Best surplus part on offer was this Crocker racing engine, a unique prototype 500cc chain-driven ohc item, clearly inspired by the AJS K10/R10 series. Al Crocker made this up as his ultimate Speedway motor (which is what he was known for until that time), but soon decided to embark on his high performance v-twin motorcycles which bore his name. Thus this engine is unique...if you had shown up with $100k last Saturday, you could have taken it home and built it into a real giant slayer.
Here's the other McQueen/Von Dutch machine; Pete Gagan's '23 Scott two-speeder. I've ridden this machine through the hills of NorCal, and enjoyed it, once I'd gotten the hang of the two-speeds and keeping up momentum. If speed was maintained at 30-40mph over the hills and through the corners, it would go up any incline with no problem. Cornering hard to keep up the pace was a breeze as well, as the frame is excellent. The water in the radiator tended to boil off after a while though, and Pete cautioned that if it suddenly seemed to lose 20% of its power, it needed water! His reason for selling; given the intere$t in McQueen/Von Dutch, he could sell this machine, buy another Scott, and pocket the balance. As the bike went under the hammer at $38,000, I'd say he was quite right...
There was a Clark Gable Harley for sale, and a collection of Charles Bronson dirt bikes too. Then, 'Along Came Zaugg'; Jared that is, founder (with Brooke) of the Legends concours, who wanted a piece of Hollywood history too, and bought this '72 Honda XL250, complete with Bronson's tools, registration, and old gum packets in the tool bag, for the princely sum of $800, which is probably what it would sell for on ebay w/out the Bronson connection. Auctions are funny things.
Picture © 2007 Walter Kern
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Friday, November 9, 2007
The rear reflex reflector on affected GS500 motorcycles and the rear and side reflex reflectors on affected GZ250 motorcycles fail to conform to the requirements of federal motor vehicle safety standard No. 108, 'Lamps, Reflective Devices, and Associated Equipment.' The reflex reflectors have a reflected light output at some measurement angles that is less than the minimum output required by the standard. It is possible that this could contribute to a motorist's not noticing the motorcycle in darkness, which may contribute to a crash.
28221 units are affected.
Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.
On certain motorcycles, the voltage regulator/rectifier assembly may have an overcharging condition. An overcharging situation in conjunction with the loose battery connection could cause a stalling condition. An unexpected loss of engine power could cause a loss of control of the motorcycle increasing the risk of a crash.
326 units are affected.
Check out my Motorcycle Recalls feature for more details.
In 1955 when Yamaha developed its first motorcycle, the Yamaha YA-1, there were about 150 motorcycle makers struggling to compete in Japan's young motorcycle industry, and Yamaha Motors was the last company to enter the fray. At this time, the company had 274 employees working in two single-story wooden buildings that served as factories where they produced about 200 motorcycles a month.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
When I complained of poor starting on my '26 racing Norton, he replied thus:
"Do check the plug on your Model 25; my model 18s are very sensitive to plug condition; they 'eat' a new NGK every 1000 miles and refuse to start when it gets older; probably due to the Castrol R40 I use, no problem at all with the 16H that runs on mineral oil. Love the smell of R40 though, wouldn't miss it. The Inter is still new, took me 3 years to restore from boxes of bits, did only 30 miles yet, needs lots of fiddling. The 29 M18 looks less interesting but really is; has been worked on by a pro; lightened flywheels, slipper piston, larger inlet valve, the fastest 20s bike I've ridden so far; it doesn't vibrate and revs like hell; must have been used for racing".
The third pic of the '29 Model 18 makes a nice contrast with the flat-tank '28 version (second pic). The frame from 1929 is 3" shorter (53" axle to axle, vs 56" on the flat-tank), with provision for a saddle tank, and the valve rocker gear is more enclosed (although still not fully enclosed - that came in 1948, and on the Inter and Manx, never, even at their demise in 1962!). The clutch and gearbox remained basically the same, 3-speed Sturmey-Archer items (they changed to 4 speeds in '31, and shortly after, Norton bought the patent rights for the gearbox from S-A, and continued to use this basic design through the Commando years).
Norton kept several of their famous singles in production for decades; the model 18 started life in 1923 and ceased in 1954. The 16h began in '21 and also finished in '54, although it could be said that the 16H began in 1908, when the same engine first appeared in a belt-drive frame. A remarkable run of 46 years on a visibly similar engine.
I briefly owned an identical machine to his '29 ES2, which had been similarly tuned (I sold it to buy a supercharged Zenith KTOR, and now miss the Norton); it really went, even though it had an aluminum 'zeppelin' sidecar attached. The sidecar only weighed around 120lbs - great for acceleration, scary for cornering, as the zeppelin liked to fly!
The '27 16H pictured at the bottom is, like the Model 18, the last of the flat-tank Nortons. What had begun as a hotrod in the 'noughts and 'teens, had become a sport-tourer by this time. But, many enthusiasts prefer the flat-tank years, as the machines had a magic combination of lightness, agility, speed, and useful brakes/clutches/gearboxes. They handle surprisingly well too - my Model 25 feels as though it could safely handle another 20 hp. The long frame and relaxed steering head angle make for a very stable ride, yet the bikes can still be flung around corners with abandon.
I posted the bottom photo on my All-British Ride entry, but didn't know who the happy rider might be. It turned out to be Curtis Millman, and he had this to say about his Royal Enfield Model J:
"This bike has been in my family since it was new... I have the original sales receipt and license tags. My father paid $637.49 on Nov.12, 1946, for that bike in Vancouver BC, which must have been a large sum of money in those days. Thank you for including me and my family heirloom on your website... I look forward to future rides with the local club, as this was my first."
It's a lovely machine, and a really nice restoration. I especially like the blue pinstriping on the chrome/silver tank. Here's to seeing the RE, and Curtis, in the future.
Monday, November 5, 2007
Yesterday (Sunday) was the second run in the Polar Bear Grand Tour season. The motorcycle run was to Lewes, DE, the destination farthest south of all our runs. Since this is a long run, many riders choose to come down on Saturday and stay for the night. There was a large coastal storm sweeping up the east coast on Saturday. The storm had high winds but was located off-shore. Some riders normally staying overnight chose to cancel their Saturday plans and make the complete round-trip on Sunday. I was in that group.
Jane and I rode our trikes with some new Polar Bear riders from our local Gold Wing Road Riders Association (GWRRA) Chapter NJ-F group. The run started at 8 a.m. with six bikes in the group and ended for us at 6 p.m. in the dark on the first day that Eastern Standard Time (EST) became effective for the winter. All our communication was via CB radio and our lead and drag riders kept the group together with a minimum of difficulties.
Pictures and descriptions for the Lewes run are located on the Polar Bear Grand Tour Web site. Take a look. The picture, above, shows a bike that was at Lewes and has many special features including footpegs made out of old pistons.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
Pic 2 shows the Maple trees turning colors above the endless lineup of bikes; there seemed to be half a dozen of everything; Vincents, Velos, Matchlesses, Ariels, featherbed Nortons, BSAs, but the biggest head counts were on Triumph twins, Norton Commandos, and modern Triumphs.
I don't think I've posted a pic of an Ariel Square 4, so here's a nice example of a late model Mark II, with 4 exhaust pipes and a nacelle headlamp, all painted a deep maroon. A very attractive engine design, and very expensive in its day, with 100mph performance, 45hp, and 450lbs, it has a smooth and brisk power delivery. The Ansty link rear plunger suspension wears rapidly, though, and can make for a wallowy ride unless kept in top shape.
Another big 1000cc ohv machine is Paul Zell's awesome Egli Vincent, surely the fastest 'old' bike present, and ridden with verve by its creator. I think its about the best looking Vincent I've ever seen, and Paul fabricated the sheet metal himself.
On the opposite end of the speed spectrum is Art Sirota and his BSA M2o in a shined-up military olive drab. I think I passed Art 3 times on the day, which of course means he passed me twice! I did stop for a beer in Bodega Bay, though...it tasted soooo good, sitting in the sun, perched over the water at the Tides.
Next pic is a chopper BSA A10, with wild flame paint job. Definitely not a 'bobber', as the frame has been stretched and the forks were extra-long.
Once on the road, the line of bikes stretched out over miles as riders found their paces. The roads west of Novato have knots of very tight twisties interspersed with straighter sections where, if you're inclined, you can really let your engine rev out. I kept my speed below 90 (I think) as the roads aren't well paved, and at speed I find I'm in the air as much as on the pavement. At one right-angle corner at the end of a long straightaway, traffic tends to bunch up, and one young woman couldn't see the turn at all, and ended up on a gravel farm road going a bit too fast. The forks on her ex-Dutch military Matchless G80 were a bit bent, and she was a little woozy from the tumble, so we didn't see her or her friends later, which is a pity. The Matchy is a time warp machine, with its original military markings and paint.
That's Roly again on his Norton ES2 cafe racer, looking happy to be out in the glorious sunshine, with a bit of green grass and rolling hills in the background. This pushrod 500cc engine sits within a wideline Featherbed frame, with a short-track Manx alloy tank and magnesium Fontana front stopper.
No, I don't think a Matchless G12 is a cow of a bike, it just looked good parked on the grass, This is actually a very nicely restored machine, with the correct faux-megaphone silencers and deeply valanced mudguards. I've always thought them very handsome machines, with shapely castings on the timing cover and cylinder heads.
Next pic; we're all back on the road, twisting the wick up. For you English readers, I'm on the wrong side of the road here! But, as we have no hedgerows, we can see a long way up the road ahead for oncoming cars (of which there are few). I do believe that's the Zellvin I'm following - we are about to pass two modern Triumphs.
That's Harley Welch, organizer of the Moto Melee and Giro d'California, riding his trusty BSA B33 with rigid rear end and tele forks (and a Gold Star front brake). It's a heck of a lot less oily than my KTT, but he won the Exxon Valdiz award for oiliest bike present. Early BSA singles are rarely ridden in the Bay Area, perhaps because there are so many Goldies around.
Speaking of Gold Stars, there were several on the ride, including this Catalina Scrambler, complete with original sticker on the tank, which is a map of Santa Catalina Island (22 miles off Los Angeles), where the 'Catalina Grand Prix' was held on dirt roads starting in 1951. This event was often won by Gold Stars, but John McLaughlin won several times on his overbored Velo MAC (the Mellow Yellow Velo).
This BSA has a straight pipe like my bike, and sounded terrific. I don't think the headlamp is original, but otherwise the bike looks very standard, including the large air filter trunk which replaces the battery box. I once owned just such a machine, minus the airbox, and found it very powerful fun to ride. It went to live with Rene Meier-Asboe in Berlin, who had a motorcycle shop there in the 80's, but this was before the Wall fell. He used to come to the US and buy shipping containers full of motorcycles to bring home (he also bought a '59 Triumph T110 from me), and padded the bikes with hundreds of pairs of Levi's blue jeans! He claimed to make more money selling the jeans than selling the bikes.
Here's a small selection of the bikes parked up in the town of Tomales. We filled up both sides of the street for the whole length of the downtown.
Pete Young brought his '37 Velo MSS with sidecar (a modern copy of an Australian Dusting chair, I believe). Inside the 'car sat his daughter Sirisvati, who has been thus ferried around since she was about 18 mos old. Pete has rigged up an automotive child seat, compete with seat belt and 4-point harness for the passenger.
What does she think of riding with Dad? The picture tells the whole story.
I didn't catch this fellow's name, but he has a lovely Royal Enfield model J (500cc), ca '47. Not a common bike here in the states, but even Bullets are rare.
Here's a trio of Commandos in front of some charmingly rustic sheds in Tomales. Many of these Nortons are non-standard cosmetically, and upgraded mechanically. I think they're very popular here in California as they can be made reliable with some easy modifications, and are comfortable to ride long distances, with their rubber-mounted power train. They're fast, too, although I find their handling disconcerting when pushed hard (I also know this can be corrected with improved mountings etc - the late Nortons I've owned have all been standard, and squishy).
James and Kumi Johnson looking cool in the sun. Kumi is wearing a one-piece Belstaff suit of waxed cotton - something I hadn't seen before. She says she found it 'new old stock', probably because it is quite small, but perfect for her.
Los Quatro Amigos, standing behind a nice off-road BSA B50 T, ca 1971/2. Non-standard exhaust (originally they came with a big trapezoidal muffler sitting in that open triangle below the seat) which weighs less and probably sounds better.
Cresting the hill on Coleman Valley Road, between Occidental and the sea. What a view; I always stop here for a moment to drink it in. Plus, a good spot for a couple of miles 'engines off' run, as the road becomes very steep and twisty before joining Hwy 1.
Big crowd means big lunch line. The BSA club treats us well though, and there was ample food for everyone, parking on the grass, and lots of picnic benches on which to sit. Even cake at the end for your sweet tooth.
I wasn't the only one taking photographs! Your photo may soon appear in the BSA newsletter. Gotta love the apropos t-shirt, and if you click on the photo, her boots!
Here is a nice Triumph Bonneville among other agricultural implements. I do believe that large barrel/wheel behind the bike is for spreading manure on fields. Sorry, the bike was obviously posed in this picturesque spot, just begging for 'insert your favorite farm tool joke here.'
Which is unfair, because THESE machines are truly agricultural! And interlopers! A very nice pair of Indians - a '47 Chief and '41 Sport Scout, which appeared at the end of the day, quietly. I wouldn't have minded them along on the ride - they would have definitely been less of a road hazard than that BSA M20.
I couldn't tell if this late Featherbed Norton was a 650ss/Mercury/Atlas, as they all look alike, but the fact that it has twin instruments mounted on the top of the fork (instead of a speedo in the headlamp and tacho on the fork top) argues for an Atlas, 750cc of solid torque. I had one as my third-ever motorcycle, and while I loved the power and handling, it shook horribly and ate its big-end bearings. Shook so badly that I literally couldn't see straight at 100mph. But, I've ridden others in the years since, and they've all been lovely and fairly smooth. Mine must have been a bad one. A Frenchman named Dominique bought it in 1986 - where is it now?