Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Club Photo

I was sorting through a box of old correspondence and came across this photograph inside the July 1929 Harley-Davidson Enthusiast. The envelope was addressed to Harry Beanham, an Australian motorcycle and photography enthusiast - I bought out his collection of old motorcycle photos through an online books dealer; you just never know what will come your way. I'll post some of Harry's home printed photos of his Broughs, ABCs, Indians, etc, from the 1920's thru the 60's.

I love the characters in this photo, especially the inscription 'Hello, Fats!' at the bottom. They look great - every sort of riding hat, jacket, and neckwear is visible. Click on the photo for a better look.

Polar Bear Grand Tour Visits Fort Dix, New Jersey

I don't know if you remember, but Fort Dix was in the news in May of 2007 after a terrorist plot was uncovered to attack soldiers at the base. That was after our last Polar Bear Grand Tour run to Fort Dix. We had our 2008 run to Fort Dix last Sunday, January 27, 2008 and security was tighter.

This was my first time back on my trike in three months and it felt good. I've been recovering from the removal of a couple of basal cell carcinomas, one on the back top of my left ear and one on the top right side of my forehead. These skin problems had conspired to keep me from putting a helmet on for nearly three months. Today I bit the bullet, put on my balaclava, gently placed my new Nolan flip-up helmet on my head and fastened the chinstrap. My glasses were rubbing against my ear and that brought a bit of pain. I was hoping that nothing was bleeding back there. The pressure of the helmet against the balaclava and onto the sore on my forehead was noticeable. The helmet felt smaller. Maybe it had compressed a bit from sitting in the garage for the last three months. At any rate, I was going to ride today. First was a four-mile ride to our monthly GWRRA Chapter F meeting. That went OK. Next was the 31 mile ride to Fort Dix. Surprisingly that went well too.

Jane and I rode with three other bikes from Chapter F. I cautioned the riders over the CB as we neared the fort to expect anything at the entrance because of expected tightened security.

The day was alternately sunny and overcast and about 33 degrees. There was a threat of light snow showers. Fort Dix was checking IDs today but not consistently. Sometimes IDs were checked, and sometimes riders were waved by. Some were stopped at the gate because their names were not on the Polar Bear roster. In one case, a rider was left at the gate while his wife was allowed in. Turns out his name was on the list all the time. But most got in.

Here are a few pictures and videos I took at Fort Dix. I confess I was a little apprehensive about taking pictures at the fort. I fully expected to be approached by an MP and have my camera confiscated but that never happened. I worry too much. There are a few pictures of me at the end taken by "Blondie," one of the Chapter F women who rode her own Honda Gold Wing 1800 with us. Hopefully, that will be enough pictures of me for a few years.

Motorcycle Road Tests Index

I just added eight motorcycle road test entries to my Motorcycle Road Tests Index.

These give information about where you can find the actual motorcycle road tests in the major motorcycle magazines. Also given are links to online motorcycle road tests.

I've noticed that many motorcycle road test reviews are now being posted in video form on services such as YouTube. You'll find a few of these videos listed in the new road tests that I've just added to my Motorcycle Road Tests Index. Expect many more road test videos in the future.

Check out the following links, just added:

2008 Models: Ducati Hypermotard 1100S, H-D Ultra Classic, Kawasaki Versys 650, Kawasaki ZX-14, Suzuki B-King, Victory Kingpin 8-Ball, and Yamaha Raider Custom.

2007 Model: KTM 990 Adventure.

Monday, January 28, 2008


I love coming across photographs which tell a hidden story about the motorcycle industry. I found these two photos at the Netley Marsh Autojumble a few years ago, and they tell a tale of pre-digital factory press photography and catalog production.

You might have seen this prototype B.S.A. 500cc OHC twin in Roy Bacon's 'Illustrated History of BSA Motorcycles' (1995, Ramboro)... but this photo is much better, as every published shot shows the 'after' image. This is the 'before' shot, and the hands you see on the left are using the old photographer's trick of gently shaking the large sheet behind the bike. This creates an indistinct white background, which greatly aided the re-toucher's job of making all the space surrounding the motorcycle completely white, for a catalog or for the press. As they had to paint all shadows, supports, benches, and people out of the photo, the big white backdrop saved a lot of time, especially around the spokes!

The BSA is an intriguing prototype from 1938, and was reputedly capable of 100mph, just like their Gold Star. The design is very clean, especially on the cylinder head, and reminds me of the post-war Jawa 500cc ohc twin. A pity they didn't make it, and the same goes for it's grandchild, the BSA Fury, a 350cc dohc twin from 1970. All the best designs from the big companies never made it past the 'teaser' stage (I'm thinking 4-cyl ohc Norton, Velocette model O, etc).

Second photo is a bit more brutal, but it shows the conditions and environment in which motorcycles were made or repaired in England in the 1920's. The bike looks like a Levis 246cc two-stroke ca 1923 (perhaps a Model K), and is set up for some sort of publicity shot. The poor lad (lass?) holding the machine will no doubt be painted out of existence, but look at the dismal back cobblestone alley! Two tea-rooms, a curious shopkeeper, and several workshops are visible, as is the gloomy fog descending in the background (which makes very even light for photographs, by the way - no shadows). The Levis has been upgraded with what looks like a Cowie speedometer, very unusual for a lightweight machine, but Levis made a good product - they won the Lighweight TT in 1922, with a machine very similar to this one. It used a typical dummy-rim rear brake, useless stirrup brake up front, but a very nice 3-speed Sturmey-Archer gearbox, which would have placed this little machine on the expensive end of the market.

You can stand up now, lad, my back is killing me!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Other People's Garages

Here's a bit of voyeuristic pleasure - a peek into the garages of some well-known collectors. These fellows have been playing with and accumulating motorcycles and parts for decades, resulting in dense and layered environments, which reward a few hours of study. Parts, tools, half-finished motorcycles, running bikes, artwork and memorabilia, and riding gear all compete for space... and sometimes there's a LOT of space to fill (and they always fill them up).

Top photo is one third of the amazing barn of the late Ken E. - there is a room to the left of this photo with running machines, and a room past the back wall which was full of parts stock, organized on industrial shelving, just like a functioning motorcycle dealership. Ken specialized in Indians, but worked on and owned all sorts of bikes; in the foreground you can see a Norton/Matchless G15, plus Indians from 1917-'47. Ken was a swell fellow, he's there on the left (to the right is Terry Wolburt).

Next pic is another Ken (B.), who had restored so many bikes over the decades that their leftovers began to encrust his little workshop with ever-thicker layers of spares and stuff. Ken worked on very interesting machines, from Pioneers to 60's bikes, and his '27 Velo KSS/TT is on the bench, along with two Ariels.

John P. has a 16th-Century barn with a thatched roof for his workshop, and you can bet he's very careful when welding in the shop. What you see here is two levels - the ground floor (which is dirt, btw), and the upstairs attic. Out of this unlikely old-world shop come some very valuable Brough-Superiors , along with Morgans, Rolls-Royces, and the occasional Renault-engine faux Indian 4.
Last pic is not so much a workshop as a storage space... I never saw Mike H.'s workshop actually, just two warehouses stuffed to the gills with Italian lightweight motorcycles, jostling for space with Alfas, Jags, and the odd Maserati. I think I was negotiating a trade at the time of this pic - my Brough 11-50 for his '62 Maserati 3500. I got scared out of the trade when I found that a distributor cap for the Mas cost $800 (in '91), and a gasket set cost $3000. Too rich for my blood - but it was a beautiful car.

Next is more of a workshop than a garage; it's the private workspace of a late Velocette dealer/repairer/tuner, and shows a very nice MkVIII KTT coming together on the bench. The bike has some interesting features, including the odd transverse mounting holes for the tank, and the telescopic forks! Those shelves are lined with gold...

Last pic, well, I have to keep my secrets, for purely selfish reasons, as I want what's peeking out from under the covers... a pre-war rigid frame, racing model 30 Norton, ca 1935/6. Horribly tempting under that tarpaulin, wouldn't you say? We did manage to extract some other motorcycles from this Aladdin's cave, but the Norton wouldn't budge. There's still time...

Okay, it wouldn't be fair to show everyone else's garage without a photo of my own. Here it is, in all it's glory - riding gear hanging from the ceiling, stacks of parts boxes, alloy rims leaning on the central heating unit, bikes being built up on the workbenches, the runners are lined up on the floor. Not pretty, but functional - and the most functional item of all is that big gray chest of drawers on the right; it's an old printer's file, which held thousands of lead print type letters. Solid oak, but painted gray (as it was formerly US Navy), it holds my stash of nuts and bolts, spare levers, electrics, magnetos - everything small enough to fit inside, basically. On top is my lathe - the cabinet is that strudily built.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Pictures of the Week - Bill

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

See Bill on his Kawasaki 1600 Vulcan.

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, January 23, 2008


I was inspired by the previous post to research the Rex-Acme marque, since Bernard Hieatt was racing such a machine at Brooklands. Rex-Acme motorcycles were renowned for a short period in the 1920's (say '24-28) for producing some of the most formidable racing motorcycles in England. Lots of success at Brooklands and in the Isle of Man (courtesy of Wal Handley) meant that this tiny manufacturer had great stature in the Vintage period, and the machines are now terribly rare and coveted.

Such was their racing pedigree, they used as their logo the Isle of Man triskelion on their logo (the Latin motto for the symbol - quocunque jeceris stabit; 'wherever you throw me, I stand' - the image is used in Sicily as well. Wiki claims a Celtic origin, but surely the invading Romans had a hand in it's design - triskelion is a Greek word anyway!).
I've seen a few at events around the world (although never in the USA), and none look remotely similar, such was the bespoke nature of their build, combined with years of mechanical changes for competition.

The top two pix are from the Banbury Run in 2007; the bike is a 1927 350cc Rex-Acme with a Blackburne engine (as all the racing bikes seem to have), belonging to Christopher Pierce. I note the Velocette positive-stop shifting mechanism on the gearbox; I think this bike used to belong to Brian Wooley, former editor of the Classic Motorcycle. Brian's bike had the same scalloped Velocette front brake as well. There is an article in Classic Bike from March 1985 which shows this machine, 23 years ago, in Brian's hands, reminding us that we are only custodians of these machines.

Next pic is from British Only; it's a 1928 500cc Blackburne-engined model, which was previously raced in Austria at some point; take a gander at the 'before' pic, which is pretty daunting. To be honest, the bike isn't well restored at all, and is going to need a better job done, with correct inverted levers and properly-fitting mudguards, and some decent paint and plating. The bike is too good to have a half-hearted job!
The 'before' pic shows an interesting feature of the Blackburne engines - their external flywheel. I'm not certain why they used this, as there is a complete set of flywheels inside the crankcase, but I understand that these engines are exceptionally smooth running, so perhaps the outside wheel dampens vibration. Another odd detail is the use of a crowded-roller drive-side main bearing, and a plain bush on the timing-side main... not a recipe to inspire confidence, but it obviously works well here.

The bottom two pix show a Rex at the Brooklands Reunion meeting in 2005, which has a similar early-style saddle tank as above. These first saddle tanks tended to be slab-sided and kind of squared-off, and were usually used for long-distance racing at Brooklands etc. You can see similar designs used by AJS and Sunbeam around this same 1926-28 period (George Cohen has such on his Norton sidecar outfit, too). It looks like this machine is ridden as well, as the owner has bothered to put a small silencer on the exhaust pipe. The carb is a later TT Amal, which I'm sure works better than the original Type 26 Amal track carb, which had no needle and was meant for full-throttle work only.

Here is a youtube video of a Rex-Acme in action! This is Martyn Adams with his 350cc ca '26 Rex.

I'm still researching Blackburne engines!

Here is a list of published articles I've found on Rex-Acme; contact me if you find more, and I'll add them to the list:
Classic Bike, Mar '85
Classic Motorcycle, Aug '90
Classic Motorcycle, Nov '93
Classic Motorcycle, Nov '04
'Historic Racing Motorcycles', J Griffith, '63, Temple Press
Plus, Rick Parkington has been chronicling an affair with his own Rex.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Motorcycle Memorials

My friend Josiah Leet sent me two pix of a motorcycle memorial he found on the internet (from Vintagebike.co.uk). 'Not to be Goth or anything..' he says. It depicts, in the manner of a classic 'Conversion of St. Paul' painting (except he's on a bike, not a horse), the assumption of a motorcyclists to heaven, presumably, and is a very nice work of Expressionist sculpture. While the figure is rendered in a stylized, post-Rodin blockiness, there is no mistaking the motorcycle - a BD from Czechoslovakia, the first series-built double-overhead-cam motorcycle, ca 1928. I don't know the identity of the sculptor, but the BD was designed by J.F. Koch, and had a unit-construction 500cc engine (ie gearbox within the crankcase). The Praga concern bought out BD in 1929, to add a line of motorcycles to the automobiles they had been making since the 'teens. This is a very rare machine (they made perhaps 2500 total), so the sculptor either had one, or the deceased did. I reckon the grave would be found in Prague?

Another incredible motorcyclist's memorial is in the middle of Reading, England, and was introduced to me by my friend Dai Gibbison (who is a Velocette web/tech guru). It depicts Bernard Hieatt, who died aged 21 years in May of 1930. Bernard packed a lot of life into those 21 years, having set two world records in a 200-mile race at Brooklands (solo and sidecar), and was an accomplished pilot with his own biplane, as well. Apparently he died while leading a race at Brooklands on his Rex-Acme sidecar outfit, after hitting the fence while dropping down from the Byfleet Banking, onto the straightaway. It was raining heavily during the race, and he complained at his last pit-stop of poor visibility on the track. I imagine his speed coming down from the steep banking must have been in the 80+mph range. His passenger wasn't seriously injured. Bernard won a Gold Star (for a 100mph lap at Brooklands during a race) on October 19th, 1929 on his Zenith-Blackburne - lapping at 104.85mph. He won another 100-mile race at the track on a 350cc Cotton-Blackburne, at over 91mph (1928). One suspects he had contacts with Blackburnes, or at least his mechanic did? Surely his Rex-Acme employed a Blackburne as well, as this was their most successful engine. (A topic for another post - there's almost nothing on the web about the Blackburne company.)

His family must have been well-off (who can afford an airplane at 20?), and the quality of the marble carving on his memorial is amazing. The top photo shows clearly the laces of his puttees, and the second pic shows the details of his double-breasted leather racing jacket; note the threads through the buttonholes! The bottom pic is a detail on the plinth, showing a motorcycle, but not as specific as the BD/Praga - it's probably the sculptor's own lowly sidevalve ride-to-work machine, not a Brooklands racer (no Brooklands 'can' - the regulation fishtail silencer required for racing at the track for both cars and motorcycles). There is a plane which looks like a Gypsy Moth carved on the other side, and each corner of the burial plot has a full size winged helmet with goggles. Note that his fingers are parted in the middle photo - the man was a smoker!

Both of these statues are private memorials, not sitting in a public park or at the side of a race track. It really begs the question - what bike on your gravestone?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

1937 DKW SB500 A

Sometimes when you're young, you don't really think that you're part of a big cycle, a passing of history from hand to hand. At the time of these photos (1988), I was just excited to have found an unusual old motorcycle for a good price, in great running condition, and totally original. What was also happening was the seller, Hollis Button, was letting go of his lifetime collection of old motorcycles, handing the torch to younger folks to carry on where he was leaving off.

Hollis was having health issues, but had been a member of CAMA (California Antique Motorcycle Ass'n - now defunct) and the AMCA for years, and had restored many motorcycles in his day. I recall a German enthusiast several years ago sending me photos of a 'San Joe Bee', supposedly ca. 1898, and made in San Francisco. Did I know anything about it? I did a little research, and it turned out that Hollis had built the thing out of spares to look 'antique' - he clearly had a sense of humor too!

The top photo tells the tale - there is Hollis looking anxiously on as I (dressed in period gear even at that tender age) acquaint myself with the hand-shift and controls on this '37 DKW 500cc twin-cylinder two-stroke. I had just purchased the machine, and was ready for the test ride. It turned out to be in perfect mechanical condition, and for the few years I owned it, remained so. We had many fun miles, the only bugbear was the prodigious smoke screen laid down whenever I opened up the throttle - I can remember one day going over the Golden Gate bridge, looking back at an enormous blue cloud behind me... not a very 'green' machine!

Second pic shows me under way. The 'Deek' would do 70+ mph, and handled very well. The frame and forks are pressed steel stampings, which can be seen clearly in the bottom photo (note holes in the engine plates below the gear-drive primary cover). I think the machine had come from Verrall's in the 1970's (note tax disc on bottom pic) - it had original paint and pinstriping, although Hollis had converted the original electric start mechanism (yep, 1937 e-start) for a Honda starter/generator. It was a stylish little machine, but ultimately it went away in order to buy my first Brough-Superior, an 11-50 model from 1937. I note that DomiRacer has a similar DKW for sale, and am tempted, but I rarely go backwards...

Some notes about the DKW story; at one time (1936?) they were the largest motorcycle factory in the world, and were amalgamated into the Auto-Union umbrella, which we know now as Audi. Their RT125cc two-stroke single was a huge seller, and immediately after WW2, both the Yanks and Brits 'appropriated' the blueprints and production facilities of the DKW factory - hence we had the Harley Hummer and BSA Bantam, both of which were faithful copies of the little pre-war DKW. After the war the factory in Zschopau ended up in East Germany, and the company became MZ (Motorrad Zschopau). MZ continued to develop motorcycles for road and race through the communist era (I rode a 250cc MZ across the Eastern Bloc in '88).

Their race chief, Walter Kaaden, used mathematical formulae to perfect harmonic resonance in two-stroke exhaust systems ('expansion chambers'), and the little made-on-a-shoestring racers became world beaters. Kaaden's protege, Ernst Degner, defected to Japan and sold Kaaden's secrets to Suzuki, who then went on to world championship status . Degner later committed suicide .... Who says there isn't drama and intrigue in old motorcycle history?

Airplanes and Motorcycles

Today was the Polar Bear Grand Tour visit to the Flying "W" Airport in Medford, New Jersey. It was a really cold day with temperatures around 25 degrees and a biting wind. Not many riders standing around outside today. They were all standing on line inside waiting for the sign-in to open at 11:30 a.m.

The Flying "A" is a real operating airport for small planes. It was the first time that the Polar Bears had visited this intriguing site. While we were there, I observed several takeoffs and landings of small airplanes and I intently watched a small helicopter doing maneuvers right in front of me.

Take a look at pictures and videos I took today to document our visit.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Flat-Tanks and Values

Lenny sent me an interesting question; he's looking for a Sunbeam Model 90 (and who isn't?), and wanted to know details concerning proper engine and frame numbers ('N' and 'E' prefixes, respectively), and where to look. There is a saddle-tank '31 M90 on BoA, (e11,500 - my mac has no 'euro' key), but I mentioned that if he wanted a flat-tank M90, to expect to pay a lot more (e15-20k, or more). Why the price hike for the flat-tanks?

All flat tank machines are coveted, as they were made for a very brief period (say 1900-28), whereas saddle tank machines are still the norm today (1928-2008). Due to a confluence of economic, esthetic, and design changes, the flat-tankers were truly the last of the hand-made motorcycles. The economic downturn in 1929 meant that production efficiency became paramount to a factory's survival, and luxuries of hand-assembly by skilled craftsmen would become a thing of the past.
Design changes around 1929/30 meant that flat-tank sporting machines are in general lighter than later saddle-tank bikes, as the new look arrived when the motorcycle industry as a whole made sweeping changes; frames were built with heavier castings and thicker tubing, using shorter, taller frame dimensions and full-cradle frames, smaller (19") wheels, heavier brakes and mudguards, full lighting equipment and speedometers as standard, etc - all progress in motorcycle design towards greater reliability and safety. A heavier machine is more durable, bottom line, and I can attest that 20's machines can be quite fragile, and frame breakages along with other disasters were not uncommon. The downside at the time; heavier components added 50-75lbs of weight, with no appreciable improvement in engine hp (although the change to enclosed valve gear and recirculating oil systems was a Good Thing). 30's bikes are usually slower than 20's bikes of the same model, in general - thus, a '33 Model 90 (second pic) is not as quick or as fast as a '28 'Bullnose' TT90 (top pic) but will stop and hold its oil better than its older brother.

Also, this transition period coincided with the advent of purpose-built overhead-cam racing machines, and thus the last flat-tank sportsters were the last 'same as you can buy' machines which could be seen winning races in Europe and England (America is a different story, requiring another post). Afterwards, it was all ohc, specialist machines - Norton M30, Velo KTT, Guzzi V-twin, BMW RS, etc, especially if you're talking about any factory effort from Europe (Germany or Italy), where the blossoming of an amazing period of racing engineering was just beginning (see pic of the Gilera 4-cyl supercharged racer -more posts to come!).

These 'works' machines became totally unavailable to anyone but a professional rider under contract to the factory - and they were sooo beautful, and today they are sooo expensive, if you happen to find a real one (yes there is a whole industry making 'reproduction' BMW RS, Guzzi C4V and ohc v-twins, etc).

Thus, if you buy a Sunbeam Longstroke or M90, Norton 16H or model 18, Velo KSS, Scott 2-speeder, etc, from the 20's, you can look at a photo of a racer from the period and see an immediate connection - a few days hard graft in the workshop could bring your bike up to the same standard of performance as the factory effort.
Racing success generates values, still to this day and in all cases; that's just how the motorcycle world works. Successful racing saddle-tank bikes (again, Norton M30, Velo KTT, Excelsior Manxman, etc) from the 30's and 40's have skyrocketed in value as well, whereas the updated machines from the 20's (Sunbeam M90, Norton M18) which were no longer competitive, don't fare as well at market.
They are still every bit as fun to ride, though, and hopefully that's the point.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

2008 Motorcycle Models - Links to Information

I have just updated my motorcycle makes and models information that links to the major motorcycle manufacturers' Web sites for 2008 models. Each model link provides pictures, specs, descriptions, prices, and more for 2008 motorcycle models.

The manufacturers are constantly evolving their Web sites and seem to enjoy restructuring many of their URLs with no thought to other Web sites that may be linking to them. That's why this mid-year update was done.

At this time of year, many riders are doing research to determine what bike they want to buy next. Hopefully, these 2008 Motorcycle Model links will be useful.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I've been collecting period photographs of motorcycles and riders for almost as long as I've collected the bikes - really good old photos are difficult to find, but the best ones seem to reach right through time and grab you. The 3 motorcycles pictured here are all ca. 1923 Norton 16H, distinguished by the diminutive front drum brake (5" of useless tin) combined with the old dummy-rim brake on the rear wheel. The top two pix are mine, the bottom was sent to me by John de Kruif, who downloaded it off the internet. The two gents in the pictures are paragons of sartorial elegance on a motorcycle, and both are eye-opening in their own way.
As a student of motorcycle gear, the top photo is really unusual, showing a collarless leather jacket - normally only a jerkin (leather pullover) would have no collar - this one is very modern, albeit using buttons instead of a zipper (so old school). If you click on the pic, you'll barely see a necktie poking out from under his jacket - and his jacket cuff length is cut as per a suit coat, ie with just a little shirt cuff showing. Normally riding jackets have longer sleeves to cover the rider's wrists when reaching for the handlebars. He's wearing very delicate gloves, not heavy riding gloves, so it must be summertime. No boots, but nice captoe laceup shoes, with long wool socks and jodhpurs. A well-trimmed moustache and some groovy square goggles complete the picture of a well-dressed man on a motorbike.
The bike itself is interesting, as it has a late-20's magdyno, and a big klaxon horn which needed juice! Also, an interesting speedo on top of the forks, and what looks like a sidecar attached.

Middle photo is one I picked up at an auction in Somerset, England, with George Cohen. An estate was being sold off, which included a beautiful 20's Sunbeam sports/touring car, among a lot of collected bike/car/farm eqp't, and some literature. This pic is tiny, only 1"x2", yet so evocative. The 16H has been hotrodded, 20's style, with the addition of seriously dropped handlebars, a bent gear selector rod (for foot shifting), and some kind of 'quieting' device for the open exhaust pipe. The Norton looks lean and mean, ready for action.

Bottom photo shows another handsome fellow in his best suit and racy cap, smoking his ciggie, very cool. Man-bags are apparently not a modern invention - I like its nickelled latches, just like on his toolbox. Again, he's wearing captoe laceup shoes, which was normal gear for riding and RACING in the 'teens and twenties, until helmets and leathers became compulsory.
This 16H is also fully electrified, and pulling a sidecar, which looks very short and made of aluminum - perhaps a Hughes sports model. I'm guessing that the silver disc under the tank is a generator, as the magneto is a CEV model (I have the same on my model 25), so no magdyno. There must be a belt driving the generator from the engine sprocket.

For decades, the 16H was a poor relation to the overhead-cam Nortons, but in the last few years their values have skyrocketed; collectors have begun to appreciate the role this motorcycle played as the red-hot sportster of the day, until eclipsed by faster overhead-valve and ohc machines.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


So, the Hot Rod show (which is the continuation of the legendary Oakland Roadster Show of the 50's/60's) was certainly more crowded than Thursday evening, and somehow a whole hall full of bikes showed up. 99% of them were Harley or Harley clones, making all the 'brand x' bikes the '1%ers' for once. You always knew I was a rebel. I saw three British bikes, and perhaps 6 Japanese machines, and one monstrosity with 8' tall truck tires and a Chevy engine. And of course lots of cars... the big building had all the shiny cars, the little building had all the rust rods, and I was surprised to find no bikini clad babes hawking products this year, for better or worse.
Our local AMCA chapter managed an impressive display, and the top two photos show natural enemies from the late 30's/40's period; dirt-track 750cc sidevalve racers, a Harley WR and an Indian Daytona Scout. I've ridden a WR, it was surprisingly fast, and handled well even on those balloon tires. It was loaned to me by Dale Walksler of the Wheels Through Time Museum; I was at the Death Valley AMCA run about 8 years ago, and my Norton lost the stellite pad on the exhaust rocker, making for a big loss of power (it kept running though!). Dale brought a semi-trailer rig full of bikes - I think he had four WR's with his museum logo, ready to loan out. I got to grips quickly with the hand-shift/foot-clutch, and had a lovely race with Dave Edwards of Cycle World, who was riding his '8 Ball' Indian bobber (as seen in the Guggenheim show). After leaving Dave literally in the dust of Artists Pallette canyon drive (he had the audacity to pass me on the one lane dirt road - one of the best little stretches of close-wall canyon road anywhere), I caught up with Dale leading the pack on his super hotrodded 1800cc flathead Harley. After passing them all on the way up to Dante's peak at something like 80mph, the connection between the engine and rear wheel was lost somehow - the bike was suddenly all neutral and free-revving. Of course, this happened only 100yards or so in front of Dale, who didn't think it was funny at all, in fact he was furious, livid, jumping up and down mad that I had broken his motorcycle, and remained so the rest of the rally. I guess we're not pals anymore. Luckily, it's a 21 mile downhill run from Dante's peak to the Furnace Creek rally spot, and I was able to glide the bike all the way. If the bike had made it another 2 miles before crapping out, I would have given everyone a run for their money (literally, there was a $500 purse) on the engines-off race down the hill. Dee Cameron won instead that year, and continued to do so on his Velocette for years afterwards. Should you happen to attend this rides, try not to borrow a bike, and if you do, try not to have it break under you.

That was a big digression. Someone brought out their 125cc CR93 Honda, ca1960, with original yellow CA plate and full road-going spec, as they were offered at the time. Amazing that you could buy a dohc roadster like this in 1960, which is basically a copy of the NSU Rennmax, which won the world championship so many times, and was the first bike to reach 200hp/litre; Honda only copied the best! The only let-down on this particular bike - it appears never to have been ridden since restoration. I would have been much more excited had an original-condition machine been on display.

Next is our Yerba Buena display banner (spray-painted by the best), complete with 4-cyl Excelsior-Henderson to attract the eye. I've never ridden one of these; it's time someone offered... I promise I won't break it!

Next pic, yep, custom mini-bikes. When I was a lad, we customized them with mud from the local fields. I'll never forget that put-put sound, and the jingle of the chain rattling around as we rode over bumps and levees on the dirt trails. Nowadays kids have autoboxes with variable drive on their minis - we never minded how crude our lawn-mower bikes were, it was all just big fun.

Last pic, Messerchmitt flying low.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Sometimes you sell a bike because you have to, and that's always about money, and money is the worst reason to sell a motorcycle. But, when it was 'buy your house or get out', suddenly a lot of iron went away from my garage. This bike is one of them.

My buddy Geoff has this amazing 1930 Norton now, but at least I know where it is. The engine is actually a Model 20, which is supposed to have a twin-exhaust port cylinder head, but some canny owner in the distant past installed a very worked-over ES2 head, with valves the size of dinner plates, and a whopping 1 3/8" brass TT carb. Does it go? You bet it goes, and that lovely little Zeppelin sidecar doesn't slow it down much.

The chair is a Mills-Furford, or 'Milford', which Norton catalogued that year as an optional extra. It weighs perhaps 120lbs, as the thin aluminum skin covers a delicate skeleton of steam-bent ash. The whole outfit weighs I would estimate around 420lbs; about the same as a 60's Triumph.
Top pic shows the 'stinger' end of the Zeppelin - that's an aluminum cone, and the ribs over the skin are alloy as well. According to my literature, the panels would have been painted with a transparent blue varnish, with red pinstripes; very deco. Note the volute spiral of the chair's suspension in the bottom pic - rigid sidecars are much more comfy than later models with swingarms and shocks, as they float on these springs like a baby carriage, immune from road shocks. A rare instance where suspension is a retrograde step!
The leather saddlebags are ammunition cases of some sort, with fusilier's markings (little bombs!). Note also George Dance kneegrips; very sporty. Not visible is the Brooklands can between bike and sidecar, which is very much louder than a straight pipe, acting more like a resonator than a muffler. The bike sounds great; I used to take Zoe to elementary school in this, and you can be sure that everyone stopped to look, and every kid wanted a ride.

Major Motorcycle Rallies for 2008 - It's Time to Plan

In the off season, many riders like to plan rides to various motorcycle rallies. I have just updated my motorcycle rally article and schedule for 2008 to assist you.

Motorcycle rallies (biker rallies) are simply gatherings of riders and motorcycles at specified times and places usually with attendant vendors, food, games, and other activities.

Motorcycle rallies or biker rallies may last from a day to more than a week. Some major motorcycle or biker rallies are built around organized professional motorcycle races.

Motorcycle rally attendance varied widely from a low of a couple of dozen riders or less to huge organized rallies with hundreds of thousands of riders.

My updated article, Motorcycle Rallies (Biker Rallies) - Major Rallies for Motorcycles, gives basic information about motorcycle rallies. The second page of this article contains my list of the top motorcycle rallies.

The picture shows me raising my arm after I parked my bike on Main Street at the 1993 Sturgis Rally. That was the year of the great Midwest floods.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


It's show time at the Cow Palace; this year the Hot Rod and Custom show asked our Yerba Buena chapter of the AMCA for some vintage motorcycles, to lend some cred to all those high-dollar checkbook custom cars filling the main hall. 25 bikes showed up, they gave us space for 50, so we'll be calling friends who need a parking spot for their old bike over the weekend. The theme of our exhibit was meant to show a history of the bobber/custom bike trend, and what was the Vintagent doing there? I have a bobber Velocette, of course!
Top pic shows one of the coolest fellows I've met in a long time, Max Schaaf, who hosts the funniest and grooviest blog,

4Q Conditioning. Max devotes 20 minutes a day to scanning and posting on his blog, and he has 'a drawer full of strange stuff' to keep the clickers happy. He builds very interesting custom Harleys, when not in professional skateboard mode - his '4Q' was featured on my 49-mile ride post.
The machine pictured is based on a Shovelhead motor, but everything is 'different', which I noted when I first encountered Max on the streets of Berkeley in December. Most noticeably, the forks are really narrow, and the front brake has been heavily worked. Click on the photos for clarity (sorry the pic of Max is blurry). The paint job and ancillaries have '69' subtly worked into them, unfocus your eyes for a moment and it all becomes clear. He made those crazy handlebars himself out of stainless tubing, and turned down that Sportster front brake drum and Wide-Glide front forks. Even the Sporty tank has been narrowed. Looks rideable too.

Next pic is my bobber Velo! See, I told you! Why? Well, it needed a home, and it found me - it's not the best bob-job in truth, and needs everything sorted out, especially those deflated Dowty air forks, which are bound to strike that 21" front wheel. Note Wassel alloy tank, and groovy custom megaphone exhaust. It's a '50 MAC, with an iron 350cc engine (the best for tuning, they say). The fellow who built it was a retired mechanic, and put bikes together as a hobby. It's for sale. I only kept it this long to put it in the Cow Palace show, as I don't have time to make a proper job of it! Not my cup of tea either, but not my first bobber by any stretch - I'll search the archives for ancient pix of others which have come my way.

Below is an interesting Harley custom, which uses two V-Rod front wheels, with a 45" sidevalve motor wedged between them. Tastefully constructed, it looks light and thin. Rich Ostrander tells the owner how it's done.

That's Rick Najera's gold Panhead bobber, still taped together, and below that, the Brisbane lady, which, if you click on it, is a lovely piece of paintwork. Brisbane is a town just south of San Francisco, and no I've never seen a woman who looks like that in Brisbane. I have seen a man who looked like that in San Francisco, though.

Now we get to the cars - the show is really all about cars, cars, cars, and there is a entire although separate building devoted to 'rat rods', ie cars which haven't been anally customized to within an inch of their life. For instance, that amazing multi-colored patina-mobile. Or the spectacular pinstriping of the car hood, in the pic below. Or the 'fun with fiberglass' slant-eye custom, or the super skullified bucket-T rod at the bottom. At least they look used.